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Curly Fries and Other Little Obscenities

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“You lost, son?”

Stiles spins on one sneakered foot, flailing when he sees the officer standing behind him.  The man’s wearing rumpled BDUs baring the SG-16 insignia and his neatly-laced boots are mottled with mauve mud.  The name patch on his jacket reads ‘Maj. A. Ford.’  He’s got a crooked smile, kind brown eyes, and a full head of close-cropped gray curls.

“You have no idea,” Stiles mumbles.

This has been the longest week of Stiles Stilinski’s adult life.

If you’d told him that a week ago, Stiles would’ve laughed.  He would’ve laughed long and hard, then raised a hand to list: dissertation defense, college finals, his dad’s wedding, and best friend gets bitten by a homicidal rogue alpha werewolf. 

That was all pretty exhausting.  But now he’s looking at secret government operations, wormhole travel, and evil aliens.  No, seriously.  Evil aliens.  Like he’s stumbled into an episode of Farscape after a decade of Buffy.

The Sheriff thinks Stiles landed a job consulting with the Department of Foreign Languages at the Air Force Academy.  In actuality, he’s undergoing orientation and training at a top secret military installation beneath Cheyenne Mountain.  It’s his first job out of school and he’s working at a secret base full of alien artifacts and technology, the best and the brightest mostly-humans from around the galaxy, and more firepower than he’s seen outside of the Argent’s basement.  And this place is huge.  He got turned around somewhere between Dr. Jackson’s office on Level 12 and where he thought the commissary was on Level 7.  Until Major Ford found him, Stiles thought he was going to starve before he saw another living soul.

“You okay there, kid?” Major Ford’s grin widens when Stiles snaps back to attention.

“Just dandy, Major,” Stiles grins back.  “But it’s my first week on the job and I’ve already gotten lost three times.”

“Only three?  You’re doing just fine, Mr.—” Major Ford extends a hand.

“Stilinski,” Stiles supplies, shaking the offered hand.  “Well, it’s Dr. Stilinski, technically, but that’s pretty new.  Plus it makes me feel old.  And nobody warned me, but if you tell people you’re a doctor they start to tell you about their physical maladies.  Not that that’s not interesting, obviously, but I’m an anthropologist and linguist not an MD, so—you can call me Stiles, sir,” he finishes.

“When I’m off-duty it’s just Ford, not ‘sir,’ Stiles.  Welcome to the SGC.  Can I point you in the right direction?”

“I’m about to pass out from hunger and lack of caffeine, so any help finding food would be great.”

 “You’ll be blending in with the science staff in no time,” Ford laughs and points behind Stiles.  “Two doors that way if you want the commissary.”

“Right.  Well.”  Stiles fiddles with the drawstrings of his Batman hoodie, trying and failing to align their lengths.  “That’s not embarrassing or anything.”

Ford smiles that crooked grin again and Stiles has a flashback to the rueful looks Danny would give him after patrols their senior year.  That look says Stiles is an adorably lost puppy in need of direction.  “Mind if I join you?  Just wrapped up a four hour debrief and wouldn’t mind some grub myself.”

“That’d be great,” Stiles waves Ford ahead, following him into the commissary, which is half-full despite the late hour.  There’s a fair mix of white coats and uniforms, chatting over trays and stacks of official-looking documents.  “Any recommendations?” he asks when they reach the counter.

“The curly fries are usually a safe bet,” Ford nods at the chafing dish, helping himself to a small portion of golden-fried deliciousness before filling the rest of his plate with steamed veggies and grilled chicken.

“They have curly fries?  Maybe this place isn’t so terrible,” Stiles begins heaping fries onto his plate before realizing what he said.  “Not that I think it's terrible, obviously.  New places are always an adjustment.  I mean, a secret military base underneath a mountain is a bit of a culture shock after Stanford.”

“Uh-huh,” Ford shakes his head, heading towards an occupied table.  At one end sits a balding man in an expensive-looking—if slightly disheveled—charcoal suit.  He’s seated across from an Air Force officer with salt and pepper hair (that seems to be defying both regulation and the laws of physics) in crisply starched dress blues.  “Looking sharp, sir,” Ford nods, taking a seat next to the general.

That gets an eye roll out of the other officer, a ‘Brig Gen J. Sheppard.’  “I never have to deal with the dress uniform at home.  I hate digging this thing out of the closet,” General Sheppard drawls.  He tugs at a stiff sleeve while Stiles settles into the seat across from Ford and next to the suited man.  Stiles’s neighbor is shoveling down reconstituted mashed potatoes like they’re his last meal on Earth.  Considering where they’re sitting, it might be.

“Obviously Sheppard’s tiring of the legions of fawning fans in his old age,” the suited man stabs his meat loaf with more force than seems strictly necessary.

“Sure, Dr. McKay,” Ford grins around a mouthful of carrots.  “Found you a Stanford man wandering the hallways, General.”

“No kidding,” Sheppard turns sharp green eyes on Stiles, who freezes with a mouthful of curly fries.  “John Sheppard, class of ’92,” he extends a calloused hand across the table.

Stiles gulps and nearly chokes before shaking Sheppard’s hand.  “Stiles Stilinski, finished my undergrad in ’19.  My defense was two weeks ago.  All this,” he gestures around the room, “is a little different from the post-doc I was planning at Berkeley.”

“Field of study?” Dr. McKay asks.  He has the brusque air of a man used to prompt, if generally disappointing, answers.

“Linguistics and Anthropology.” 

McKay snorts in derision, then grunts in pain when Sheppard kicks him under the table.  Ford ignores the entire display, as if senior staff squabbling like schoolchildren is par for the course.  He squirts a wide pool of ketchup onto his plate, earning a squawk from McKay when the condiment splatters.

“Be nice, Rodney.  You're working with Dr. Jackson, then?” Sheppard asks.

“Dr. Jackson’s my direct supervisor, but he’s having me cross train with General Carter’s staff.”

“Why would Sam want another anthropologist?” McKay asks, sounding more appalled than genuinely interested.

“Probably something to do with the undergraduate degree in Mathematics and the dual Masters in Aeronautical Engineering and Applied Physics,” Stiles shrugs, shoving a handful of curly fries in his mouth to keep from laughing in McKay’s purpling face.

“Why the hell did you switch?” Ford tilts his head to one side and studies Stiles intently enough to set him squirming.

“I, uh,” Stiles blushes, scratching at the back of his neck.  “Honestly, I didn’t think it would make sense to continue when there wasn’t an active space program anymore,” Stiles admits.

All three men stare at him for a long moment before bursting into laughter.

Stiles smiles sheepishly, ducking his head and taking a sip of soda.

“You’re very lucky to work with Carter,” McKay says, polishing off his potatoes with a wistful sigh.  “Not that she’ll ever believe you if you tell her I said that,” he adds with a broad wave of his spoon.  “And Dr. Jackson’s not entirely incompetent.”

“That’s as close to complimentary as he gets with the ‘soft sciences,’ I’m afraid,” Sheppard shakes his head, reaching across the table to pat McKay’s hand.  He snags McKay’s empty tray, stacking the dirty dishes with his own before standing.  “Best of luck, Dr. Stilinski.  Look us up if you’re ever in the Pegasus galaxy,” he grins at Stiles.  “Ford, all our best to Laura and the kids.”

“She says the Doc owes her twenty bucks and he’ll know why,” Ford says, eyes flicking to McKay.

McKay stands with an indignant huff, shuffling until he’s brushing shoulders with Sheppard.  “You tell her—” he begins, before Sheppard catches his eye and raises a judgmental brow.  “Tell her she still owed me twenty for the over-under on Zelenka’s pigeons, so now we’re even.”

“Come on, Rodney.  We’ve got a cottage at the Broadmoor and the 500-count sheets are calling my name,” Sheppard heads for the waste station with the trays.

“Yes, yes, we’ve just got to find your lackey in the motor pool and we can go.  Ford, Stilinski,” McKay nods, following Sheppard out of the commissary.

“Was that…did they travel to another galaxy for a vacation?”

Ford nods, shoveling down another forkful of veggies.  “Have you met Dr. Madison Miller?” Stiles nods.  His first day Stiles met a baby-faced blonde with serious blue eyes and a knack for shouting down marines while working magic with a wrench.  She reminds him a lot of Lydia, actually.  Well, if Lydia would deign to wear coveralls and a slightly-charred bandana over her hair.  “She’s the doc’s niece.  They were in town for her wedding.”

Stiles mouths 'in town' and tries to wrap his head around...all this.  “Huh.”  And he may’ve only been here for a week, but he's read the few  unclassified--and frankly mindblowing--publications by M. Rodney McKay PhD, PhD.  Plus the man's a program legend so— 

“Holy shit.  I just met Dr. McKay and there was no yelling.”

“Yeah,” Ford laughs at the shell-shocked expression on Stiles’s face.  “I thank God and Grandma Agnes every day I didn’t go with the original expedition.  Admittedly, there’s less yelling now.  He’s mellowed with age.”

“That…was mellow?”

“Oh, yeah,” Ford smiles, setting his fork next to his empty plate.  “I spent a couple months on a TDA to Atlantis when Carter and McKay first got the Gate Bridge up and running.  That’s when McKay set me up with my wife, actually.  Anyway," he waves a dismissive hand, "back then I wouldn’t have been surprised if you told me Doc had an aneurysm from dealing with incompetent minions.  He and the general started meditating after McKay’s blood pressure got out of control a few years back.  Seems to do a surprising amount of good.  I guess Teal’c taught ‘em a few kelno’reem tricks.”

“I understood nothing about what you just said,” Stiles says, shrugging out of his hoodie.  “But I just met one of my academic heroes.  Plus a guy I’m told saves multiple galaxies on a semi-regular basis.  Also, I’m eating curly fries and I didn’t blow up anything in any of the labs.  I’m declaring today a success.”

“You have a low bar for success, kid," Ford eyes the patchwork of scars running up Stiles’s bared forearms.  "Got a penchant for trouble?”

“More for getting out of it, actually,” Stiles takes a long pull on his Mountain Dew.  “My hometown’s not the safest place.  And I’m not a fan of bullies.”

“I can respect that.  Have they got you enrolled in any weapons training?”

“Tested out,” Stiles shakes his head.

Ford looks pleasantly surprised.  “Of everything?”

“Everything except the weird snake guns and a couple of the blue glowy thingies.”

“Hand-to-hand?”

“All set.  You guys sort of over-train the science staff considering we’re snugly tucked under a literal mountain of protection.”

“We have a tendency to recruit civilians and send ‘em into the field where anything can happen.”

“So the weapons training’s preparation for occupational hazards,” Stiles laughs.  “Good to know.”

“You interested in joining an SG team?” Ford tilts his head to the side, leaning back in his chair.

“Are you kidding?  Of course.  But Dr. Lee said not to expect off-world opportunities to come up much in my fields of expertise.  I can bide my time.”

“How’s next week sound?”

Stiles splutters, sending a spray of yellow soda across the remains of his dinner.  “I’m sorry?” he manages through a fit of coughing.

“The debrief I just got out of—my cultural expert is going to be on medical leave with a broken ankle.  I’ve got a vital mission negotiating with some medical researchers that joined the colony on P4X-650.  Rescheduling isn’t really an option.  If I get the go-ahead from Dr. Jackson, are you interested?”

“Am I—yeah, I mean yes, that would be.  Yes.  Yes, sir, I’m interested.”

“Great.  Report to Level 14 at 0700 Monday morning.  I’ll get you signed into the range designated for alien weaponry training,” Ford stands, lifting his tray.  “And maybe wear some shoes with a little more grip, kid.”

Stiles watches, mouth agape as Ford deposits his tray and exits the commissary.  He slumps in his chair, idly twirling a curly fry as he considers the events of the day.  When Stiles thinks about it, this isn’t nearly as strange as—

“There’s an alien weaponry training facility on Level 14?”