Thanks to Patrice Badger, Gabrielle Bessey, Karen Evans and "Speedbump" for all their help and virtual Oreos!
Christy Ames, Mark Miller, "Crazy Judy" Ellison, and all other characters not belonging to Glen Morgan and James Wong, Fox Broadcasting and Hard Eight Productions, are my creations and property. Permission is hereby granted to use them in fan fiction, providing that the author acknowledge my rights to them.
The quotation from The Art of Peace came from an e-text which was unfortunately uncredited, I have no idea whose intellectual property this is. This quotation is used without permission, and I have no intention to infringe upon the rightful owner's copyright of it.

Even Kittens Have Claws
by
Becky Ratliff


Part One

"Who's Who"
USMC
83rd squadron "Cats"
Major Todd "Wildcat" Flannery, C.O.
Captain Rob "Jaguar" Trent, X.O.
Captain Jennifer "Bobcat" Haskell
Lt. Sam "Lynx" Smith
Lt. Billy "Panther" Fulton
Lt. Mike "Tiger" Mershon
Lt. Kimberly "Leopard" Snowdon
Lt. Richard "Lion" Parker

USN
Lt. Commander Mary O'Leary, MD -- flight surgeon
Dr. Walker (Rank ?) -- another flight surgeon
Lt. Commander Judith "Crazy Judy" Ellison -- C.O. of the Saratoga's recon squadron
Lt. Mark Miller -- Search and Rescue (SAR) pilot
Lt. Christy Ames -- nurse, also SAR
Lt. Gloria Fallon -- nurse, also SAR
Sandy, Melissa -- more nurses
Lt. Sedley -- launch controller
Ens. Julie Giordano -- quartermaster corps and paintball fan


(On the Saratoga, August 2064, Monday)
Vansen lay on her bunk staring out at perpetual night. On one of her doctors' recommendations, after Marged, she had started a journal. The doctor had realized she wasn't forthcoming about anything too personal in sessions with the psychologists, and he viewed them with as much suspicion as she did anyway. Understanding, he had suggested the diary as a way of privately organizing her thoughts.

She saw no use for a typical "Dear Diary" type thing. She filled out too many daily logs to do more of the same in her private time. Instead, it had turned into more of a scrapbook, with "scrap" being the operative word. Here was the latest picture of her niece, which had come attached to email from her sister. A lot of it was poetry....if you could call it that, it didn't rhyme....and she thought it was pretty bad. But the doctor had been right. Putting things down in words helped sometimes. So, she had kept the thing up even after she felt like she no longer needed to talk to anyone about what had happened on Marged.

Her beeper went off, there was a number to call which she didn't recognize. She crossed to the phone and dialed. It was Todd Flannery, the C.O. of the 83rd, trying to organize a paintball game for that Friday.

She checked the roster. "It looks now like we're clear after 1600, but I still haven't got my newbies yet. There are only four of us."

"Damn it, I need another team. More than half my squadron are FNK's, don't you think you can handle them?"

Cooper came in, as usual he let the hatch slam. It wasn't supposed to do that, and she HATED that noise. She was going to have to find out why somebody from maintenance hadn't got his butt up here to fix it yet.

She thought about Todd's challenge. Probably...but one of those FNK's might have been a paintball expert back home, and she could trust Flannery to skim over that fact. "Tell you what...I can probably get four other people to fill out a team, just to keep things even. There's Julie down in supply, she likes a good paintball game."

"Yeah, a pickup team's fine with me. As long as it's eight people slinging paint."

"All right, you're on. We can get together at Tun's....Thursday after patrol? To agree on the scenario and victory conditions."

She heard his chair squeak as it swiveled. "Umm, yeah, Thursday's good. See you then."

"See you." She hung up. "Hey, Coop, we're on for a paintball tournament Friday afternoon. Think Christy'd want to play?"

"Umm...yeah, if she's off. This is a cute picture of Marion the Bug." Her niece had got that nickname among the 58th because her Halloween costume this year was a ladybug, Anne had sent a picture which had got passed around the squadron.

"Hey, give me that!" Shane grabbed at her diary, but Coop was faster. Seeing a chance to royally pester Shane, he stood up and held the diary high overhead -- well out of her reach.

"You write poems!" He exclaimed, craning his head back to read.

"COOPER HAWKES!"

"What'll you give me for it? Hey....this one about your parents....wow, that's really good, Shane. I didn't know you could write poems."

"You didn't know I could do anything except shoot chigs! Damn it, Coop, give it back."

Cooper laughed and skipped nimbly just out of her reach. But then he hit Page Up and happened onto another poem. After reading only a few lines, he sat down hard. Shane grabbed the notebook and turned to the viewport. She was shaking with fury and embarrassment and she realized she was about to start crying. She was *not* going to start crying in front of Cooper!

"That's...about you...and McQueen?! Is that for real or were you just making it up?"

Shane didn't answer. Cooper saw her shoulders trembling slightly and only then realized how he had trespassed on her privacy. "Oh, God. Shane, I'm sorry. I was just fooling around....I never meant....Shane, will you LOOK at me!"

The fear in his voice got to her, she turned around. "What do you want me to say, Coop!"

"I don't know--Shane, it wasn't like I had ANY idea!"

"Yeah...."

"I'm sorry, Shane. I swear."

She blinked hard and put the notebook in her footlocker. "I shouldn't have left it lying there while I used the phone."

"No, I shouldn't have touched it, I knew it was yours." Very hesitantly, he reached out to touch her cheek. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

"I know. It's okay, Coop. Forget the diary. You're not gonna forget the rest of it."

"How long -- how -- oh, crap, you are both gonna get in such trouble."

Cooper's eyes could be so expressive, sometimes, like a little kid's, and now what she saw there was a very real worry. He was right, damn it. She said the only thing she could think of that had enough of the truth in it to be a reassurance. "No! Not as long as the Colonel's on this advisor status thing. There's no chain of command right now."

"But there WILL be! This bullshit isn't going to last forever. Shane, he could go to the brig, and I don't know what they'd do to you!"

"I know that!" She sat down across from him. "Coop...you've got to understand. We didn't go looking for this to happen! But when it does....oh, hell."

"People make falling in love sound like some kind of a disease. Like when you catch it you start acting like a goof."

"Well...I guess that's partly true."

"I don't understand. What did I do wrong--"

"Huh?"

"You never liked me that way."

"Oh, God, Coop. It wasn't anything you did wrong. I love you more than my life, you know that, don't you? But it isn't the same kind of love."

Shane had never said "I love you" to him before. Even though for all these months, especially since the peace conference had gone haywire and everything that had happened after that, it had been there unspoken whenever any of the five of them were in the same place. It was hard enough to understand love without trying to understand different kinds of love. "Kind of like, the way you love your sisters or Marion the Bug?"

She looked up. "That's it exactly."

"And once NB's decide you're family, there's no way you're ever gonna get to do it," he said.

"Well...yeah."

"Why?"

"Because, Coop," she said, getting exasperated. "I feel like you're my brother, or sometimes even like my son...you know I raised my sisters after our parents died...and I just couldn't imagine--"

A loud alarm cut off the conversation. General quarters. For an instant Shane was glad she had been rescued from explaining that one. But then half a second later a hit rocked the ship and more alarms went off. Hawkes jumped up, grabbing gear to run for battle stations. "That sounded like a freakin' big one--!"

Vansen jumped off the bunk, instinctively looking to see if she'd closed her footlocker. "Yeah, I wonder where it hit? Let's go!"

Cooper grabbed her arm for a second. "Shane, I'm okay with this. I swear to God, nobody'll find out from me."

That was another hard learned lesson. Never, ever leave unfinished business when general quarters went off. If she didn't come back....if he didn't....this had to be put to rest now. She smiled and took his hand for a moment. "It's okay." Anyway, Vansen believed the part about nobody finding out from Cooper, but she wasn't so sure he was okay with it.

There wasn't any more time to talk about it as the hatch closed behind them. Movement in the corridor was quick, but not panicked and there was no sign of smoke or damage. Whatever it was, it hadn't affected this section.

She opened her locker and geared up. Damphousse and West scrambled in two steps behind them. By then they had orders to get wheels up on the double.

Vansen didn't know where McQueen was. If he hadn't been on the bridge, he'd have been on his way there as soon as general quarters sounded. *Where* had they been hit and how badly? She forced herself to leave her worries about that in her locker as she got into her gear. Anything that could threaten McQueen was a threat to the carrier, and it was her job to protect the carrier. So the only sensible thing was just shut up and fly.

The flight deck was controlled chaos. The ready squadrons were already gone and the 5-8, like the others on alert, were getting off the deck as fast as they could. Vansen dropped into her cockpit; right away, a mechanic leaned over to help her with her helmet.

Across from her, Hawkes was all business--until he noticed her glance and gave her his typical grin and thumbs up...and then a long, speculative look. She let that pass...for now...until she figured out how to handle it. Please God, she didn't need Cooper jealous. She didn't need Cooper jealous of Ty.

She was relieved to hear McQueen's voice over her radio, asking their status.

"Ready to rock-and-roll, Queen-6," she replied crisply.

"Okay, here's what we've got...."

The situation was one they had been dreading for some time, the Saratoga had been surprised by a chig mother ship. Sooner or later, it had been bound to happen. It wasn't, thank God, one of the big hive ships they'd seen at the Battle of Jupiter--one of those could give several supercarriers a fight to remember, and the Sara and her entourage would have been no match for one. There had been reports of these smaller, faster but less heavily armed carriers for about six months now, but Vansen had never actually seen one before.

They roared out of the launch bays and formed up. Vansen could see from out here that the hit had come aft and damaged the hangar bay right below the bridge. That was bad enough...it could have been a hell of a lot worse.

She wasn't the only one looking. "Okay, people, there's nothing to see here, move along!"

Two mikes later, she was in the middle of a furball, as first they took care of a bomber squadron then joined up with the 83rd to deal with a truly persistent gang of chig fighters. A couple of the 83rd's newbies were in serious trouble. They'd been cut off from the rest of their squadron, which left them suddenly on their own against a superior enemy. Vansen and Damphousse evened the odds considerably when they arrived on the scene.

Almost immediately, though, Vansen had her own survival to worry about. The chig squad leader singled her out as the best pilot of the lot and took her on as a personal project, and she found herself drawing on all her experience and skill just to stay alive. She got inside his turn, though, and half a mike later she was juking to avoid flying through the fireball that had been his plane.

The fight went on in a similar vein for a long while, but the fighter battle was secondary to the battle between the two capital ships. The Sara finally got payback for that launch bay hit; Vansen saw one hell of a big explosion in the bottom wedge of the chig ship. The enemy broke off and they were ordered not to pursue, low on fuel and ammunition as they were.

She saw emergency personnel over in the 83rd's area. One of Todd's had been hurt but survived. All in all, both squadrons had been pretty lucky, considering. The losses among the new people especially had been serious. A lot of C.O.'s were going to be writing letters to next-of-kin tonight, and she was very, very thankful she wasn't one of them.

Coop did have a sore hand, she noticed that in the locker room later. He tried to pass it off as nothing, but she made him let her look at it. "How did you do this, Coop?"

"I don't know, it just started hurting. I think I might have hit it on something when I got jumped by those four or five chigs. I wasn't paying too much attention, there were too many of 'em out there."

"Go down to medbay and get it looked at."

Coop hated medbay with a real passion. Shane didn't blame him, not after some damn quack down there had got him hooked on drugs. "I don't wanna go to medbay, Shane, it's nothing--"

"Oh, yeah? Make a fist."

He got his hand about half closed before he winced and swore. Nathan looked up from his locker. "Think he broke it?"

"Would I have told him to make a fist if I thought he broke it? No, but it looks like a bad sprain and that can be almost as much trouble. No more arguments, Coop, get moving, you just need a scan to make sure. Quit bitchin' and get it over with." She watched him out the hatch, shaking her head. Her day wasn't over yet, she still had to wrap this one up.


Hawkes still wasn't convinced about the necessity of going to medbay with a sore hand, but he wasn't about to set Shane off again. Not after this morning. Crap. He hadn't thought about it since before the fight...he wondered if she was still mad at him.

Vansen and McQueen. It was so hard to believe...but then, looking back, maybe not. A lot of things started making sense. They way they'd acted after Marged, for one thing...the look in their eyes had scared him for a long time. And it had only got better when they were together. He'd thought it was just a matter of having been through things together, godawful things, that no one else could understand. But now he knew the truth.

At first he was a little mad they hadn't told him. But then he thought, that was stupid. If you had to keep a secret, you didn't go telling people. NO-body. He understood THAT. He hadn't told anyone except McQueen about that monitor...just thinking about it now still scared him. It had been self-defense...but he was sure that wouldn't matter. It wasn't like Shane and the Colonel had killed anybody...but still....

He decided that the trouble they could get in was what was bothering him the worst...but McQueen had been a survivor for a long time, he wasn't likely to do anything to get caught. Shane had proven she could keep a secret as well. So, when McQueen went back on active duty, Cooper would just have to trust that they'd be careful.

Sickbay was crammed. He saw the new guy from the 83rd in the corridor, the one who'd been hurt--he had burns and he was waiting in the corridor for the doctors to get to him. He looked like he was pretty well out of it. His wingman, also a newbie, was staying with him, his face was gray and drawn with worry. Coop stopped for a while. "How's he doing?"

"I don't know. They just left him out here. There's no beds in there...there was a bunch of people in that bay when it was hit. Man, it looks like hamburger in there--but the doctor said most of them are gonna live. The emergency doors closed in time." Cooper saw his tags, he was Lieutenant Sam Smith.

"That's good! It must not have hit right where they were."

"Billy has got to...it wasn't his fault what happened, it was mine. I should've been watching better, I should've been there!"

Coop shook his head. "No way, I saw the whole thing, remember? You didn't have time to do anything before they were all over both of you. Anyway, he doesn't look too bad."

"Not for IVs like us, no--but he's an NB!"

Coop didn't tell the kid he hadn't noticed who was what until just now. "Oh, yeah, that's just burn gel, it looks like that. He's breathing okay. When you get a bad burn, that's what they worry about first. And if he's a natural-born, that's lucky in a way. They have lots more kinds of medicine they can use on them. Did you guys go through basic together?"

"Yeah, at Cherry Point."

"We were at Loxley. What are you doing in the Marines?"

"It wasn't my fault. I didn't take it. I was going to buy a battery off of these guys, I didn't know they stole it out of a car. But they saw the cops and ran off, I got caught with the battery. I think the judge kind of believed me. She said she thought I could make it in the service, so she gave me the choice between enlisting and jail."

Coop nodded. "I got in a fight with some guys and busted the windshield of a cop car. The other guys started it."

"Billy volunteered, he wasn't in any trouble with the law."

"One thing, it isn't how you get in, it's what you do after you get here...and you two did okay for yourselves out there today."

"Yeah, if you don't count getting shot up," Sam said. He was trying to sound tough and sarcastic, but he couldn't quite pull it off looking at his friend.

"You came back," Hawkes pointed out.

Christy Ames came out. Coop was glad that she and the survivors of her outfit, Gloria Fallon and Mark Miller, had been assigned to the Sara. Christy was a lot of fun to be around. "Hi, Coop. I didn't know you knew Billy. But only one of you can stay here with him at a time, otherwise we'll have too many people out here when everybody else starts thinking all their friends can stay too."

Hawkes said, "Major Vansen sent me down here to get my hand looked at, but we didn't know you were so busy. I can come back later." He sounded hopeful.

"I'll look at it in a minute." Christy examined Billy, and gave Sam a big smile. "He's doing fine. He's asleep because of the pain medicine, but he'll be okay in a couple of weeks. You ought to get back to your squadron and tell them. Then get some rest. He won't know you're here today. Come back tomorrow when he's awake and needs the company."

"Well...okay, I guess."

"Check back around afternoon watch, he should start waking up by then."

"Will anybody tell us if...if he needs us?"

"Yeah, but if I know your C.O., he'll keep checking anyway."

Sam reluctantly allowed himself to be talked into leaving. Christy asked, "Cooper, what was that about your hand?"

"Nothing, really. I hurt it somehow in a high-g turn, I guess I must have hit it on something. But you're swamped, I can come back."

She looked both ways and answered softly, "No, it's better to take care of it now. I'll make sure you see Dr. O'Leary instead of one of the other doctors. Some of them you don't want to go to. Just Dr. O'Leary and Dr. Walker."

"Tell me about it. Some doctor got me hooked on drugs once."

"You're lucky they didn't poison you. Commander Holsinger used to warn me about some of those civilian doctors but I never--just wait here, act like you're with Billy if anyone comes along."

Cooper shrugged and held up the bulkhead for a while. Billy wasn't much company, as Christy had said he was sound asleep. The guy on the next gurney kept mumbling something about "Die Chiggy." He could relate to that.

About ten mikes later a woman poked her head out the hatch. "Hawkes? Busted up your hand in a g-snap?"

"Yes, ma'am. Dr. O'Leary?"

"That's right." She was an older woman, Hawkes would have guessed early fifties, with eyes the color and brilliance of emeralds. She was tired, and some unruly wisps of salt-and-pepper hair escaped a bun on top of her head.

"Come on in, this won't take half a mike." She sat him down in front of a scanner. "Just lay your hand on the plate...hmmm. Nothing's broken. Some soft tissue damage though. What you'd commonly call a sprain. Ace bandage and a cold pack, comin' up." She expertly wrapped his hand, swiped a wand across his tags to get his ID and ordered "light duty left hand, next exam 3 days".

"That wasn't so bad, was it?" She grinned.

"No, ma'am. Ma'am?"

"What is it, son?"

"When do you think Lt. Ames will be getting off duty?"

She laughed. "Tomorrow! Look at this!" Her hand swept the corridor outside. "Haven't had 'em backed up like this since we pulled the survivors off Demios. We're all going to be working overtime down here tonight, that's for sure."

Hawkes wasn't sure if she was going to pat him on the head, or draft him and put him to work as an orderly. Either way, he decided that a strategic retreat was the wisest course. He excused himself and, followed by Dr. O'Leary's good natured laughter, he made a beeline for the nearest lift.



Vansen finished filling out the reports on the mission and got up from her chair, stretched until the kink in her back popped, and sighed with relief. Nothing like one giant furball after another, followed by a whole damn watch of filling out forms! Nathan and Vanessa had already left, finding something to do to wind down while they were off duty. She got her diary out of her locker.

It was lucky Coop had been the one to find it. If she'd left it lying around and some stranger had happened to be in here...for instance, the guy who was supposed to fix the hatch...God, how could she have been so stupid! Vanessa had promised to fix the problem. Ten minutes later, she had given Shane a chip, and told her to slot it up and run the program on it. She did so now.

After that, her notebook always opened up to her bank account. To get to the diary, she had to type in a password. Security could always be broken, but at least there wouldn't be any more accidents like this morning!

For a moment, she almost got rid of the diary entirely. But then she thought, there was no proof of any actual wrongdoing in there. It was all dated after Ty had left for Earth. And after that close call, she certainly would not write down anything incriminating. As for a scandal, well...anyone who went to the trouble to find and break into her diary would have to already suspect there was something in there worth reading.

She laughed and flopped back on her rack, looked at her pictures on the bulkhead. Nothing suspicious there--the only picture she had of Ty was one taken with the whole squadron, and they hadn't even been standing next to one another.

Her eyes traveled to the next picture, of herself and her sisters at Anne's wedding. What would they think of all this? Anne would be a little scandalized, a LOT amused....serious, hardworking, (boring) old Shane, sneaking around sleeping with someone. Imagine that! Lauren, on the other hand, would think it was all terribly romantic, like the situations the heroines of the fantasy novels she read always seemed to get into. Sometimes Shane thought Lauren was waiting for her hero to come riding up on his white horse and sweep her away from UCLA.

The last picture was of her parents. She had obtained that one from the Marine Corps after enlisting, and sent copies of it to Anne and Lauren. Like nearly all their belongings, they had lost every original family picture they'd ever had in the foster home shuffle. Shane had her dad's pool cue, Anne had her mother's wedding ring and Lauren had the family Bible. One thing for each of them...to show for a lifetime. Shane knew what her mother would have said about that. Their children were their legacy.

She wondered what her parents would think about her and Ty. They had met in the Corps, and her father had transferred out of her mother's squadron before they got married. Maybe they had gone through the same thing before that. Not for the first time, she wished she could sit down with her parents over a cup of coffee and talk things over. One thing was sure, they would understand about love that lasted a lifetime....

She heard the hatch, recognized the sound of McQueen's step and smiled. "I'm back here."

"That's what Damphousse told me, when you weren't at Tun's with everyone else."

"Just filed the reports a minute ago," she said. "OH, God, I don't need too many more days like today. Where were you when we got hit?"

"In a meeting with the Commodore and a couple of other people, let me tell you we really felt it, too. But there wasn't any damage outside the docking bay itself," he hastened to assure her.

"Ty, there's something you need to know. Cooper found my diary. He knows about us."

"What was Cooper doing with your diary?"

She shook her head. "Just being Coop, he didn't mean any harm. It was my fault."

"The hell it was, he knows better than that. So what happened? Have we got a problem?"

"I...don't think so," she said cautiously. "He was worried we'd land in the brig."

"That's reasonable," McQueen said. "If we were serving under anyone other than Commodore Ross, I'd say it was even likely."

"Well, when general quarters sounded, the first thing out of his mouth was to swear to God he wouldn't let anyone find out from him."

"I believe him, Shane. Did you know that Nathan's been onto us from the start?"

She nodded. "We never talked about it, but...I never thought I was pulling anything over on him. What, did he say something to you?"

"No...not exactly. After we got back from Vesta, he just...sounded things out to make sure there wasn't a problem."

Shane laughed. "You mean he was asking your intentions?"

"Something like that, I guess," he replied. "He was concerned about both of us."

"Oh, God." She rolled her eyes towards the ceiling, her trademark why-me expression.

"We knew we couldn't keep this a secret from the 'Cards for very long," McQueen said reasonably.

"Ty, what are we going to do when this mess with your military status gets straightened out? We'll have our newbies by then, it won't be just the five of us anymore."

"A lot of cold showers for the duration, Shane, you know that as well as I do. We're not going to risk ruining both our careers, or worse, over a roll in the hay."

She gave him that minxy look of hers, the one that could melt a hole clear through the bulkhead. "You might have to keep your hatch locked to make that one stick. And you'd better put a chair up against it while you're at it, because I think I know where there's a master key for that corridor...."

He laughed and reached across the distance between the two bunks to catch her hand. "I never said it was going to be easy."

"A lot of things fall under the category of 'not easy', Ty. Staying away from you is going to be damn near impossible." She drew his hand to her lips.

"Easier than staying away from you," he told her.

"Maybe we should save up while we aren't breaking any regulations," she said.

"Give me ten mikes. I won't have my hatch locked."



Next : Part Two

Becky Ratliff 10/96