Stiles spent the last eight days sharing a hut with his teammates and a handful of goat-like creatures on P7K-172. Dad’s going to be pissed he missed Thanksgiving.
The Ivannans are technologically primitive, even amongst the peoples of the Milky Way, but their planet’s unique position garnered the SGC’s attention a decade ago. As one of the designated science teams, SG-16 makes bi-monthly trips escorting science staff through the underwater gate in Puddle Jumper 7. Unfortunately, the periodic warming and cooling caused by the binary stars results in unpredictable seismic and volcanic activity. The seismologists stationed at the SGC’s Ivannan base have been working on predictive models, but have been, as yet, unsuccessful. They’re further behind now. The last week was spent using the base’s two Jumpers, SGC Jumper 7, and a makeshift submersible bulldozer to clear enough wreckage to pilot a ship through the gate without collapsing any vital surface structures.
“I don’t get why you’re itching to leave, Stilinski,” Ford leans on the mallet he uses to pound fenceposts into the loamy soil. “Barn raising and fencing in goat-thingies is practically a vacation after our last few missions.” He grins crookedly at Stiles, swinging the nickel mallet over his shoulder. “Or do you not remember the High Priestess of the Last Great Whangdoodles on P3J-whatever-that-hellhole-was?”
Okay, they could be stuck somewhere way worse than Ivanna. Maybe Stiles is a little jealous that he and Ford are farmhands until they can gate home. It’s important work and Stiles is happy to help, but the rest of the team is busy doing, well, cool stuff.
Captain Calliope “just call me Callie” Taylor started her career with the 820th RED HORSE squadron out of Nellis. General Carter snapped her up five years ago for Area 51 and then transferred her to Stargate Command when Cadman started working as a consultant and opted out of regular missions. Callie could lead the gate excavation in her sleep.
Dr. Madison Miller, their usual fourth, was due back from maternity leave the day after their planned return. The last six days have seen her berating everyone for their general incompetence and specific failings via video transmission. She’s no less terrifying with a snoring newborn strapped to her chest. Madison’s stand-in—Kavya Patankar, a Canadian civil engineer with a background in heritage preservation—was snapped up by the natives to design a new water wheel for their gristmill.
“No, I have not forgotten P3J-whatever. The Ivannans have been great,” Stiles admits.
He’s annoyed with himself for sleeping soundly on an alien planet. Every night he’s exhausted down to his bones, drowsy and content with a belly full of warm stew and bread baked with flour from the new mill. High school Stiles would be appalled by his lack of vigilance.
“They make a mean horata cake,” Ford says, eyes glazing over for a moment.
“That they do.” Stiles can almost taste the lingering roasted-pumpkin-spicy-maple-cashew flavor of last night's sticky buns. “Plus their council’s granted me access to all the written histories, so I’ve got scans to take back to Dr. Jackson. If I had to be stuck in another solar system, planet P7K-172 gets four and a half out of five Puddle Jumpers.”
“Where’d they lose the half?” Ford asks, nudging a goat-thing to hault its assault on his boot laces.
“The straw tick mattress has been murder on my back,” Stiles says. “Ugh, listen to me; I sound like McKay.” He sticks his tongue out when Ford laughs and rights another fencepost. “It’s all fine, but I promised my dad I’d be home for the holiday. He’s gonna get worried if he doesn’t hear from me.”
“Yeah, I heard you mention that in the last transmission. You know, in that blissful, but brief, break between actual orders and Maddie insulting Kavanaugh’s parentage, hairstyle, and sexual inclinations. They’re going to send an e-mail from your address saying a work thing came up and you’ll be home as soon as you can. Relax, kid. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Stiles chews absently at his lip before pounding another post into the ground. “You’re probably right.”
Major Ford was not right.
Stiles is still running Jumper 7’s post-mission diagnostic—and no, he is not overly attached, but he’s got the ATA gene and she likes him, doesn’t zap him after long hauls like she does some of the gate techs—when General Carter places a firm hand on his shoulder. “Dr. Stilinski, if you could follow me.” It’s not a suggestion.
Stiles shares a startled look with Callie, whose brown eyes are darting from Stiles to Carter. “Is there a problem, General?” Callie asks, gaze fixing on the fingers splayed across Stiles’s uniform.
“Yes. With me, Stilinski,” General Carter releases him and heads through the open blast door, clearly expecting him to follow. Stiles stands and scrambles after her. He only avoids tripping on the ramp when Maddie yanks him upright by the elbow.
“She’s gorgeous by the way,” Stiles calls over his shoulder to Dr. Miller, whose infant daughter is drooling peacefully in a maple leaf Moby wrap.
Stiles and Carter are in the eerily quiet elevator headed to Level 25 before the general speaks again. “Someone came looking for you while your team was isolated on P7K-172.”
“Like…someone showed up at my apartment?” Stiles ventures.
“Like someone showed up at the entrance to the mountain and demanded he be taken to you,” Carter says, before stepping through the elevator doors.
“Is this…am I being taken to an interrogation room? Because I’ll take a polygraph; I’ve never broken the NDA I signed when I joined the SGC and—”
“Open the door,” Carter orders the mountainous sergeant standing guard. “If you didn’t tell him where you work, then how did he know you were here?” she asks as the door buzzes and slides open.
“I have no idea. Nobody knows I’m—oh.” Stiles blinks, staring at the room’s single occupant. “Well, he probably followed my scent.”
“Really subtle, Stiles,” Derek snaps, leaning as far back in his chair as he can manage while cuffed to the table.
“Just FYI, General,” Stiles enters the room, spinning the second chair so he can sit astride it, “those cuffs are only on out of courtesy. Deputy Hale here can break out of them any time he wants.”
“Stiles,” Derek says through gritted teeth, eyes fixed on Carter.
“So you admit you’ve disclosed the location of our base of operations to a Goa’uld?” Carter’s tone is icy.
“Oh, whoa, hey, no, that’s not.” And now Stiles is getting the picture. He looks from Derek, innocent-looking enough in his khaki uniform sans sidearm, to Carter, whose arms are crossed over her chest. She looks like she’d enjoy nothing more than sending Derek and Stiles through a space gate. “General Carter, you can’t think Derek’s—Deputy Hale is not an alien!”
“Not an alien—” Derek scowls at Stiles as if that’ll make him stop joking. When Stiles and Carter continue to glare at each other, Derek says, “Stiles, what kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into?” And now Derek’s staring at Stiles like maybe he’s an alien.
“Like you can talk about trouble,” Stiles says. “I can’t believe you tracked me to a top secret military installation, you, you crazy stalker person!”
“What were we supposed to do?” The chains attaching Derek to the table creak ominously as the deputy waves his hands. “We received a falsified e-mail and no one was able to make direct contact with you!”
“How did you know we faked the e-mail?” Carter asks, shifting slightly forward as the scientist side of the officer briefly takes over.
“We set up a verification system years ago,” Derek shakes his head dismissively. “And I swear I’m not...that gold or whatever thing you were saying. Stiles, they saw my eyes.”
“They saw…well, shit.” Stiles ponders this piece of information, resting his chin on the back of his chair, fingers tapping restlessly against his knees. “I don’t think we can hand wave that one away, Derek. General, I swear to you he’s not a Goa’uld. He’ll willingly submit to a medical examination that will prove he doesn’t have a symbiote. Right, Derek?”
“Right. Wait, have a what?”
“Well, good news,” Dr. Jennifer Keller smiles, brushing back a stray strand of silvering blonde hair. She looks up from her tablet and says, “I can definitively say that he’s not a Goa’uld.”
“Thank you!” Stiles hops up from his stool. He eyes the restraints still attaching Derek to the hospital bed. “Can we lose the Cuckoo’s Nest accoutrement, now?”
“Just a minute, Dr. Stilinski,” Dr. Keller puts a gentle hand on his forearm. “He doesn’t have a symbiote, but Deputy Hale shows too much genetic variance to be a Tau’ri human.”
“That’s because I’m not human,” Derek says, completely unhelpfully.
Everyone in the room turns to stare at him.
Stiles drops back onto his stool and hisses, “Shut up, shut up.” Stiles grips Derek’s left hand below the leather cuff anchoring him to the bed. “You idiot, they’re going to lock you up in Area 51 and throw away the key! Incompetents like, like Greenberg will slice and dice you into itty bitty pieces. Derek suffers from delusions, General Carter. He sometimes believes he’s a pineapple.”
“Stiles,” Derek's grip on Stiles’s hand tightens. “A pineapple? Really, that’s what you’re going with?” To Dr. Keller he adds, “I’m a shape shifter. It runs in the family. Nearly all of us could.”
“Really?” Dr. Keller sounds fascinated rather than disgusted or frightened. Stiles is sending a massive muffin basket to the SGC’s Head of HR. Nothing fazes these people. Keller pulls a stylus from her pristine lab coat and begins scribbling notes onto Derek’s e-medical file. “So ‘could’ would imply it’s something you normally grow out of?”
In lieu of Derek’s reply, Stiles explains, “He means he’s the only one left.” His eyes are fixed on Derek’s face, which is carefully blank.
“Oh,” Dr. Keller’s hand freezes. She pulls off her reading glasses and looks at Derek with watery brown eyes. “Oh, Deputy Hale, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“It’s fine, Dr. Keller,” Derek’s death grip on Stiles’s hand loosens infinitesimally. “I wasn’t clear.”
“It’s not fine, Derek, Jesus,” Stiles snaps. “You don’t owe them any answers.”
“I tracked you to a secret government installation way outside of my jurisdiction and demanded entrance,” Derek replies, the hint of a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. “I definitely owe them some answers.”
“Look, just—can we at least uncuff him?” Stiles asks, directing his request to General Carter. "Please?"
“We had a chance to look over Deputy Hale’s records while Jennifer was running her tests,” Carter says, glancing at her own tablet. “One arrest, but no official charges filed. Near-perfect scores at the academy. The recommendation letter from one Dr. Deaton describes you as ‘a pillar of the Beacon Hills community and a friend upon whom any and all may rely.’” Derek flushes deeply, avoiding Stiles’s pleased grin. “You’ve been an exemplary member of the Beacon County Sheriff’s Department for the past six years. Excellent reviews from your supervisors, particularly a, what was it? Ah, yes, a Sheriff John Stilinski.” The general’s blue eyes zero in on Stiles before studying Derek’s downturned face. “It seems this isn’t the only place where those given a second chance surpass all expectations.”
Keller, Derek, and Stiles all stare at Carter. “You can remove the restraints, Dr. Keller.” As Keller scrambles to comply, Carter raises an eyebrow in challenge and says, “Stilinski, if you get him to sign the NDA I can have him transferred to the SGC before Christmas.”
“What exactly is the SGC?” Derek frowns.
“Oh, Derek,” Stiles grins, “you’re gonna love this.”