That Untravell'd World

by Kass


I started writing this story after watching "Home" (S1 x 09.) My deepest thanks are due to Nestra and Speranza. This story needed some serious pushing, poking, and cajoling, and they were up to the task! They are awesome and I throw flowers at their feet.

Title cribbed from Tennyson's Ulysses


We're lounging in a couple of’—deck chairs, basically. Like the cheap plastic ones you can get for twelve bucks at Wal-Mart, only these are made of some Atlantean metal. "Home, like Earth, home?"

Rodney scowls. "Of course, like Earth, home."

I think about it for a split second. "Nope."

"Obviously our last attempt was’—flawed. But if we could find a ZPM to power the gate...?"

I consider pointing out all of the other applications we'd need that ZPM for, but don't bother. He knows the list as well as I do.

"You do much time on the Ice?" It sounds like a non sequitur, but it isn't.

Rodney laughs a short, sharp laugh. "Of course I did. We didn't have anybody on-hand with your genetics, obviously, so progress was painfully ’—"

"My first tour at McMurdo, guys were always talking about what they wanted to do when they went north."

"Yeah, everyone at the Ancient outpost did the same thing." Rodney sounds almost nostalgic.

"And everybody had something different they were jonesing for. Draft beer, or women, or nightclubs ’—"

"Clearly you were hanging around with a different crowd than I was."

I keep going. "Me, I wanted Ethiopian food. And video games’—not on the computer, a real arcade."

"Ethiopian food?" His voice is mournful. "There's another thing I'll probably never taste again."

"But it never failed, the guys who were the most desperate to get the hell out were always the ones who came back fastest."

There's a pause while Rodney considers. "The same was true in the scientific community, more or less," he says, grudgingly.

"Home is never as good as you remember."

Rodney sighs. "Well, that's depressing. Thanks a lot, Major."

"Glad to be of service."

"You're saying being here has effectively ruined us for going back. That no matter how much we miss Earth, it's never going to live up to our memories."

"Yeah, but so what?" I can tell Rodney doesn't get it, so I try again."Homesickness is kind of the human condition. But us’—we get to be homesick from here." I gesture to the spires and towers of the city, behind us, and to the sweep of ocean.

"I guess that's fair," Rodney admits.

"Besides, this place has advantages." I lean back in my chair and watch the waves some more.

"You're just saying that because you can turn things on and off with your brain."

I don't dignify that with a response.

Of course I'm attracted to Sheppard. So is everybody else we've met in this goddamned galaxy, and I'm not even sure that qualifies as hyperbole.

Yeah, I've had thoughts, late at night. Who wouldn't? I mean, maybe he goes for men. In my fantasies, he totally goes for men. And everybody knows the brain is an erogenous zone, and John Sheppard is smarter than he generally lets on. Obviously; I don't go for pretty boys just because they're pretty.

But "geekboy falls for flyboy" isn't a story that usually ends well. And I'm a little bit’—what you might call "risk-averse." I'm perfectly comfortable maintaining my fantasies in the safe space of my own head.

Oh my God. It hits me like a kick to the solar plexus: that sentient fog could easily have stumbled on my fantasies about him. Made those my virtual reality, instead of the one I actually got. I cringe just thinking about it, because now that it's crossed my mind, I know exactly how that alternate reality would have gone.

(While I'm taking that nap on the comforting surface of my own familiar couch, the knock comes at my door’—only this time it's Sheppard standing there. His slouch betrays his loneliness, and when he looks at me from beneath those long lashes I can see the homesickness, and the longing, in every inch of his lanky frame. Nothing here satisfies him the way he remembered, nothing's exciting or new, and certainly nothing turns on at the mere touch of his hands. I'm the only one who understands what he's missing --)

"This place kind of reminds me of Antarctica, actually."

Jesus, where'd he come from? The man moves like a cat. I drain my coffee cup, hoping he didn't somehow figure out where my mind was just now.

I'm not sure what's weirder: that he's acting like we're the kind of colleagues who maintain an ongoing conversation, or that it turns out we maybe kind of are.

"Reminds you of Antarctica? In what way?" I look around the mess hall, pointedly. There's a Hungarian scientist eating alone, and three security guys talking in a cluster in the corner. Okay, so the people could be anywhere, but the architecture isn't ours, the technology isn't ours, and outside, our alien city is lapped by an alien sea.

He gives me the kind of easy smile that makes people across the galaxy swoon. I try not to show how it makes my stomach do flip-flops. "Well, it's gorgeous," he says.

"In a way that has absolutely nothing to do with ice," I point out. "Or glaciers. Snow. Sastrugi." Just thinking about that stuff makes me shiver. It's a good thing Atlantis is a reasonably warm planet. Frankly if I never see another ice floe again, it'll be too soon.

"And it's a kind of gorgeous most people never see. It's so far out of their realm, they don't even know what they're missing."

He has a point there. "Hm," I say, trying to sound noncommittal.

"See, you agree with me!" He's practically jubilant. It's more endearing than I'd prefer to admit.

"Yeah, enjoy it’—won't happen again soon." I look away so he doesn't see me smiling.

"That's what they all say." He stands up and reaches for my cup. "Want a refill?"

Who am I to turn down another cup of joe, while we still have joe to drink? "Sure," I say. Hey, I'm not proud: it gives me a chance to watch his ass as he walks away.

Every so often women throw themselves at him. The more obvious they are about it, the less he seems to notice.

Case in point: the Athosian girl who followed us around all afternoon. I've never seen anything so obvious, and he totally misses it. Teyla and I are exchanging glances, and he's checking spreadsheets and crop yield projections like Sia's not even there.

Finally she has to go do some work elsewhere. She pouts all the way out of the room, which goes right over Rodney's head. He's got to be ignoring her on purpose; he can't really be that dense?

Curiosity gets the better of me and I bring her up. "I think Sia's into you."

"What?" Rodney doesn't even look up from his screen.

"She's totally flirting with you."

That gets his attention. Though the look on his face suggests I've grown a third eye. "Flirting with me? When was this, exactly?"

"All damn day." She attached herself to Rodney like a leech. Not that I'm going to phrase it that way out loud.

"You don't say." He doesn't sound convinced.

"You could find some excuse to stick around..." I stop short of actually nudging him, but he doesn't seem to get it.

"There's work to do." He's curt, cutting me off, returning to his laptop as if to say 'this conversation is over.' It's a colder response than I've come to expect. It kind of smarts.

He's not the only one around here who can be pissy. "Jeez, what crawled up your ass?"

He glares. "First of all, I don't need your help in identifying dating opportunities. Contrary to popular belief, I have, in fact, gotten laid in my life. More than once!"

"Hey, whoa ’—"

Now that he's talking, he just keeps going. "And I'm frankly not prepared to deal with the inevitable disappointment of things going bust."


His shoulders drop; all the anger drains out of him. "You don't know my track record. Believe me’—it's better this way. There aren't that many people on this planet; I don't need to alienate one of them, who would inevitably tell all the rest of them, and there go my chances for the forseeable future with the entire Athosian community. And don't even talk to me about dating someone from our expedition, because that's even worse."

"You've got this all figured out." I sound more resigned than I meant to, and he looks at me sharply.

"Why do you care, anyway?"

That's the million-dollar question, isn't it? I make myself smile as brightly as I can, and clap him on the shoulder. He pulls away, which is just what I intended. "Just looking out for my team," I say, and rise.

Once I get outside, I let myself lean against the wall for a second, my eyes closed, breathing deep. Knowing that in a minute I'm going to have to go back in there, and if he figures out what I've been thinking, I'm fucked.

And his "I'm too prickly to date" act just...heightens the appeal.

I can't explain the attraction. He's crazy, a hypochondriac, infuriating, self-obsessed. He drives me nuts, and not necessarily in the good way. I should be going after somebody else, but he's the one who gets my heart racing.

I sure can pick 'em. It would be funny, if it weren't so damn depressing.

How do I handle the kind of crush that gets stronger every day, on a guy who holds my survival in his hands? (I mean that’—Sheppard and his gun are basically what stand between me and everything that can go wrong in this galaxy, from child warriors brandishing spears to insane space vampires.) Same way I did it in grad school, only there the survival was more of a metaphorical kind of thing: I work. Constantly.

You want to get something done? Ask a busy person. Seriously. Any lab in the world, the guy who gets the most accomplished’—coauthors the most papers, likeliest to arrive at new insights’—is the one who's the most beleaguered, who doesn't let mundanities like calendars and nutrition get in the way of being married to the work. I've always been that guy.

And it has the convenient side effect of distracting me from how badly I want him to hold me down and’—

You know, on second thought, I'm not going there. This lab is filled with incredibly delicate equipment and last time I really let that fantasy get going I got dizzy and knocked over a chair.

When we first got here I thought the attraction would pass. That old adage about distance making the heart grow fonder’—there's not a lot of distance between the two of us. He's always barging into my lab, or dragging me to some far corner of the city. He gave me my first flying lesson last week, leaning all over me to show me where to put my hands. Offworld missions, he's supposed to be watching my back. (And of course, I'm always watching his. Though not for the same reasons. Well, I'd like to think they're his reasons, but I'm pretty sure they're not.)

The point stands’—I assumed we'd get sick of each other, because that's what always happens. It's why I've never had a close colleague in the scientific world. That, and the fact that most people drive me batshit crazy because they can't follow what I'm saying. Life is too short for me to spend it explaining myself to morons.

Scientific expeditions follow a clear pattern. No matter how much you think you like the people at McMurdo at the start of the season, after a month you're ready to kill the guy in the room next to you because he plays the guitar badly at weird hours. And the guy across the hall, because he's growing dreadlocks and they look stupid and they annoy you. And the whole group is collectively ready to murder the woman who drank all the gin during the first two weeks, because now you're stuck with cheap Russian vodka and even cheaper knock-off tequila, and the hangovers from that stuff are deadly even without the salt and the incredibly dangerous wedges of shriveled lime.

Other human beings get more exasperating the longer you have to deal with them, and being trapped in some isolated outpost generally just makes it worse. So I'm waiting for the day I wake up ready to hit Sheppard over the head with a spent ZPM. But so far it...isn't happening.

You'd think being in a limited population would be hurting my fantasy life’—that I'd be trying to get in on the porn-trading action. But I haven't hit that wall. Evidently I can cycle a near-infinite set of mental images every night, every last one of them featuring John Sheppard in some way, shape, or form. Maybe it's going to get old, but it hasn't yet.

Obviously when I'm working, I'm not thinking about sex. (Except sometimes. But mostly, not.) When we're offworld, I have about a fifty-fifty chance of being able to think about something other than Sheppard. At least half the time we wind up in hot water, and my self-preservation instinct kicks in. And if I have to allot some part of my brain to figuring out how to get us safely home again, the fantasies recede into the background. Kind of a relief, in a way.

But when we're home on Atlantis’—

’—well, I work myself to the bone, because that's what I've always done. And it's not like there's a shortage of things to do. Gadgets to understand. Stuff to fix.

Now that the thought's occurred to me, though, I can't seem to let it go. When did this place become home?

When did "home" become "wherever Sheppard is?"

All hell has broken loose. Again. I don't even know why I'm surprised.

The inhabitants of PQ4-766 don't take kindly to the intel that we woke the Wraith. They have no intention of trading with us. In fact, it turns out their intention is to trade us to the Wraith in return for God knows what. Amnesty from culling, maybe. I don't give a goddamn.

Teyla had a bad feeling about these guys. She and Ford gated back to Atlantis to ask some of the Athosians if they knew anything about the Ka'nor. If they're on their way to try to rescue us, they'd better be able to get themselves out of trouble, because Rodney and I aren't sticking around to lend a hand.

We've fought our way out of captivity, and I think we've shaken their trackers. We're running for the puddlejumper as fast as we can. Which isn't very fast, because Rodney's twisted an ankle and I've been shot in the leg.

It's not that far to the clearing where we left it’—shielded, and we'd better hope nobody stumbled on it’—but we're taking a roundabout route. I don't want to risk running into anybody. I don't think we can handle another fight.

We make it about halfway there before we have to collapse against some kind of enormous tree for a breather. My leg hurts so bad my vision is swimming, and Rodney's wincing and breathing hard.

I close my eyes, just for a second, and the pain almost recedes.

Until Rodney shakes my shoulder. "Hey," he whispers, too loud.


"Major! We have to get to the puddlejumper."

"I know that, McKay." I try to sound like I'm in command, but it comes out like a whine.

"It's not far."

"The hell it isn't. You try walking on this leg."

"Come on. If they find us ’—" There's panic in his voice, and it jogs me into something more like alertness. I open my eyes and look at him.

I'm not sure I'd ever noticed what an expressive face he has. There's worry etched in every line of his forehead. His eyes are wide and tears have streaked his cheeks. Pain or concern, I can't tell. Maybe both.

He puts an arm around me, as if we could help each other up. Without thinking about what I'm about to do I lean in and kiss him.

He makes a small sound of surprise against my lips. The kiss is tender, and his mouth opens to me immediately. His other arm comes up around me, he shifts the angles of our heads, and suddenly we're kissing desperately, like we've been hungry for each other for ever.

It's like we're on a rollercoaster that's been creeping slowly up this hill the whole time we've known each other. And now with a whooosh! we're plummeting into something new. It feels amazing.

Now we just have to live long enough to get off this rock.

When we break I haul myself up along the tree. He staggers to his feet, looking at least as dazed as I feel. "C'mon," I say, grimly, and we take off at a hobbled run.

"He's not awake yet," Carson tells me, for the hundredth time, and I glare at him. "Give the man time to heal."

"Elizabeth wants him for de-briefing," I snap, even though she's already told me three times that she is not interested in talking with the Major until at least tomorrow morning.

"I have work to do," Carson reminds me, pointedly. "If you won't go back to your own quarters, sit in there and wait for him to wake up yourself." Stop pestering me, is what he means, but I don't care; I limp to the bed where Sheppard is sleeping, find a chair to settle in, and drop my crutch with a clatter by my side.

He doesn't flinch at the sound. He's out cold.

He spent a long time in surgery once we made it back through the gate. Carson offered to show me the bullet they'd removed, but I didn't want any part of it. Gruesome and appalling. The number of ways you can get hurt out here’—the number of ways you can die out here’—

But he didn't die. We didn't die. We made it.

Waiting for him to wake up, I doze off. I wake sometime in the middle of the night, my body stiff and sore, my neck disastrously kinked from falling asleep in a chair.

"Ow," I mutter, groping for my crutch. This is ridiculous; I have to go and pee and fumble my way back to my own room.

Except Sheppard's eyes are open. He's looking at me. I forget everything else; I'm at his bedside in an instant.

"Hey," he whispers. It's almost a croak.

I look around wildly for water, and take a quick slug before handing him the bottle and straw. He quirks an almost-smile, and for a second I can't decide whether I'm more afraid that he spent his adolescence reading Heinlein like I did, or that he didn't. "Hey yourself." It's lame and I wince, but he doesn't seem to notice.

"We made it back."

"Firm grasp of the obvious, that's good." I'm so relieved I forget to be nice.

"I don't remember ’—" His voice trails off and he looks perplexed.

"Oh my God." Amnesia. Can amnesia result from a leg wound? Maybe the trauma of the shooting’—or maybe the bullet was poisoned with something. Why the hell didn't I ask Carson to see that thing? "Your name is John Sheppard; you're the ranking officer here on Atlantis ’—"

"I know all that, Rodney," and he puts extra spin on my name, like to mock me for assuming the worst. Which, excuse me, isn't such a ridiculous habit out here in the far reaches of the Pegasus galaxy. "I mean, I can't remember the end of the mission."

"Oh." Oh. Well, that's almost as bad. I can feel myself slump. Suddenly the adrenaline and anxiety and exhaustion of the day wash over me and I'm so tired I have to sit down at the edge of his bed, clumsily, trying not to jostle his leg.

Of course he doesn't remember. He was crazed with pain and probably some kind of toxin. He'd been shot in the thigh, for God's sake. The kiss didn't mean anything. He wasn't himself. He doesn't remember it, and I'm probably lucky, because if he did remember, I can only imagine how horrified he would be to think that he’—to think that we’—

"Hey. Atlantis to McKay," and he's snapping his fingers in front of me.

I blink, a little dizzily, and try to straighten my shoulders, as if he hadn't just knocked the wind right out of me. "Sorry, I was ’—"

"Maybe you're misunderstanding me. I remember our escape from the city," he says, quietly, and he's looking right at me now, his face unguarded. "I remember stopping in the woods for that breather."

"You do," I say, stupidly, because he doesn't look angry or disgusted. He looks actually kind of hopeful, and my world's been turned upside-down so many times in the last few hours that I'm not sure which way is up. He seems to be waiting for me to say something, so I add, "I do, too." It sounds weirdly like a promise.

"I just don't remember how I got the jumper home."

"Oh, that's easy, you didn't." He looks baffled for an instant and I can't help the jolt of pride when I say, "You passed out once we were in the puddlejumper. I got us airborne and back to the Gate."

"Wow. Nice work," he says, with admiration, and he's smiling now. The skin around his eyes is crinkling. I have to fight the impulse to lean down and kiss it.

"This is why it's useful to teach civilians how to fly," I remind him, a little primly. Not that he gave me a hard time about it’—he wanted to teach me; I was maybe actually a little bit the one who wasn't sure about the idea’—but I'm still happy to lord it over him now.

"I can do better than that. Once I'm mobile again, I'm going to drill you on target practice."


"You've got to be able to defend us if this happens again," and his face is all serious but I can hear the smile in his voice.

"If what happens again, exactly?"

"Our lives get endangered in unexpected ways."

"If it happens all the fucking time, is it still unexpected?"

I can see him considering. "Let me get back to you on that," he says, finally, and I remember in a flash that he's badly wounded’—this is no time to be giving him grief about anything.

"I should let you get some rest," I say, too fast, and begin to reach for my crutch, but his hand closes around my wrist and I don't move.

"Yeah," he agrees, but his thumb is rubbing little circles and it makes me want to purr. Or to’—oh, God, the minute I get back to my room, I swear I'm going to jerk off, because the mere touch of his hand on my arm makes me dangerously close to losing it.

"C'mere," he whispers, and I don't need any encouragement’—I'm bending over him, and it's like the kiss this afternoon, tender and then yearning and then aching. When I pull back his mouth is wet and slightly reddened and it takes every ounce of my willpower not to kiss him again.

"We can't’—not in here ’—" I'm babbling, but he understands me.

"Maybe Carson will let me out tomorrow. I heal quick."

Without even thinking I blurt, "Amazing powers of recovery, eh?"

And then he's laughing, weakly, and I'm laughing, and it hits me in a flash that what I'm feeling is gratitude. Gratitude that he's okay’—gratitude that we made it out of there alive’—gratitude that against all odds he seems to be as hungry for me as I am for him.

Gratitude that we've found this place that no one back on Earth could begin to understand.

"Get some sleep," I tell him. "You're home."

The End