Lt. Col. Devon Matthews, Captain Sheila Dunham, Lt. Sam Fletcher, Captain Mike Dobss, and Dr. Withers belong to me, as well as any other names and squadrons you don't recognize.
I make no claims as to the accuracy of any military strategy...hey, I'm more into the people part. If there are glaring errors, please let me know and I'll try to correct them. The same goes for poker. This takes place after "Dear Earth", but before "Tell Our Moms..." Thanks to Karen Evans and Becky Ratliff for reading behind me. This is dedicated to C, who inspires me for all the especially juicy parts!
Tiger by the Tail
Cooper and Nathan stared from the observation deck as the 21st Attack Wing stepped from their cockpits.
Without taking his eyes off the group, Nathan leaned over and spoke, "I hear they're pretty tough. They've been in some pretty hairy furballs, and kicked some major Chig asses. Their CO is Lt. Colonel Devon Matthews, and I hear she's almost as tough as McQueen."
The pilots filed out and headed for the briefing room. There were quiet jokes and snorts of laughter as they jostled each other and waited to meet Commodore Ross. They'd been through it too many times to count...new bases...new missions...same enemy.
"Attenhut." Commodore Ross stepped into the room followed by Lt. Colonel McQueen
"2-1, welcome to the Saratoga. I am Commodore Ross. This is Colonel McQueen, he handles all Marine fighter squadron assignments and will be directing your missions. Here are your assignments for quarters. Welcome aboard. Dismissed."
Jenkins, sitting on the end, muttered as Ross and McQueen left. "I didn't plan on following some damn tank into Chig territory." McQueen paused long enough for Colonel Matthews to notice. Anger began to burn in eyes as golden as a sunset. Devon let McQueen leave the room before she turned to face her squadron.
"Congratulations, Jenkins. You just volunteered to strip everyone's weapons and clean them with your toothbrush."
Jenkins sputtered. "But, Colonel, I was just joking. You can't be punishing me for that?!?!?"
"Of course not, that wouldn't be proper. You're being disciplined for failing to follow orders during our last recon mission. I don't know where your mind was, but it wasn't in your Hammerhead. Your lack of attention is going to get someone killed if I don't take care of this problem right now. Besides that, I've been listening to you bitch and moan for the past three months that you couldn't wait to get aboard the Saratoga. Now that you're here, you're whining again."
Devon moved to the podium and stared at her squadron. Even covered in a flightsuit that had seen better days, she was a sight to behold. At 5'9'', she stood as tall as most of her pilots, with a face that had quickened many hearts and an attitude that had cut them all down. She was a 13-year veteran of the Corps and intended to end her days with it. She had fought in the many little wars that had popped up around the globe, "bustin' her cherry" in a 4-day siege that had left most of her squadron dead. Though tough, everyone who served under her command swore she would stand beside you in a fight to the death and back you up with her life.
"Hear me loud and clear, people. If I *ever* hear any of you show that kind of disrespect to a superior officer. I'll have your asses in the brig so fast you won't have time to think 'I'm sorry'. Colonel McQueen is a highly decorated officer who has more experience and talent as a warrior than you will ever hope to have..." Stepping away from the podium, she relaxed into parade rest. "...and if I were you, I'd be kissing his boots because he's the reason none of us have to face Chiggie von Richthofen."
Devon headed for the door. "Grab your gear, and let's get settled."
McQueen moved away from the hatch before the 21st saw him.
She stood at the doors of Tun Tavern, eyes calmly surveying the activity...pausing at the man sitting by himself at the bar. Pushing them open, she strolled towards an empty table, not even noticing the lingering glances of the young pilots who thought they'd just gotten a glimpse of paradise. She never understood the zeal of the men who chased her, never looked in the mirror and saw what they desired--Devon looked into the mirror and saw a Marine. The men who wanted her saw fiery curls that hung down a perfectly arched back. They saw hands that caressed a throttle or a trigger with the same passion as when she caressed the ivory keys of piano...and fervently wished they would be caressed that way. Eyes that smoldered with a burning passion for life, and full lips that that savored the mellowness of 12-year-old Scotch. When she laughed, it was infectious, and her voice always sounded as if she just gotten out of bed...all wrapped in a body that begged to be touched.
McQueen smiled into his glass as the young bucks jockeyed into position for a chance at fresh meat.
Lt. Mike Adams sauntered over to her table. "Hi, I'm Mike Adams, with the 58th Squadron. We're the WildCards...maybe you've heard of us?" He grinned as if Devon had been accorded some great honor.
Slowly raising her eyes, Devon studied his cocky grin. "I'm with the 21st, the Fighting Tigers. My name is Lt. Col. Devon Matthews...perhaps you've heard of me?" She smiled an almost predatory smile, and Lt. Adams shifted uncomfortably as if he wanted to cover himself with his hands for protection. Deflated, Mike's grin faded, and he headed off with his tail between his legs to warn the others.
Devon got up and wandered over to the bar. Sitting down, she ordered, "Double Scotch, straight up." Handing her billet card to the bartender, she drummed her fingers on the bar. Taking the glass and tucking her card into her pocket, she studied the amber liquid then downed it in two gulps. Turning on her stool, she found McQueen studying her. She returned his gaze, then moved to sit on the stool next to him.
"I apologize for Jenkins' behavior, Colonel. I don't think it will happen again." Signaling, she ordered another drink.
"You can't order him to change his mind, Colonel. Most people don't like working with tanks." McQueen raised his glass to his lips and sipped his Scotch.
"I may not be able to change it, but I damn sure don't have to tolerate it. You were with the Angels...the best of the best, and you're an officer in the Corps, you deserve his respect." Devon slowly sipped her drink, closing her eyes as the Scotch warmed her throat. Opening her eyes, she found McQueen studying her face.
"Is there a problem, Colonel?"
"No...from everything I've heard about you, I just expected something different--harder, I guess. I was surprised when you climbed out of the cockpit."
"Don't let the face fool you. I can be one cold-hearted, evil-minded, Chig-killin' bitch when I want to be...and right now, that's pretty much every minute of every day." Setting her glass on the bar, Devon stared at McQueen.
McQueen's mouth quirked into a momentary grin, then disappeared as quickly as it had come.
Returning his glass to the bar, McQueen nodded to Devon. "Colonel."
Devon nodded back. "Colonel."
Watching McQueen walk out of the bar, Shane got up and walked over to introduce herself. "Colonel Matthews." Devon turned. "It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Captain Shane Vansen, with the 58th."
Devon smiled and extended her hand, noticing that Shane's handshake was the no-nonsense grip she had expected from the honcho of the WildCards. "I hear you do good work, Captain. It'll be a pleasure to work with you and the 58th."
"Thank you, ma'am." Shane returned to her table and watched as Devon followed McQueen's lead and left the bar.
Both the 58th and the 21st had watched the interchange between their respective COs, the beginning of a wary relationship based on the respect of their mutual careers.
The debriefing room was full as both squadrons awaited mission details.
"Attenhut." All aviators rose to attention as if pulled by one string.
"At ease, people." Commodore Ross moved to the podium. "Intelligence has placed an enemy communications center on Corona Matrium and says that it is a strategic arm in Chig communications throughout this system. 5-8, you will be deployed via ISSCV and destroy this center. 2-1, you will fly air support." Stepping from behind the podium, Ross paced the floor. "This could get hairy. Intel says the target is soft, but enemy squadrons will be arriving in 36 hours. Deployment is at 1330 hours; it will be 1030 hours at...ready, ready, hack." Ross stared out at the young faces--faces of children that had been hardened by war. "Dismissed."
Watching them stow their gear aboard the ISSCV, McQueen made a final check of the 58th. "Remember, stay alert. Intel says this is a soft target, but the way they're getting info these days, intelligence is an oxymoron. Watch your six."
Cooper leaned over to Paul. "An oxy what?"
Paul laughed. "An oxymoron. That's when you put two opposites together...like girlie man."
In the launch bay, Devon watched her pilots prepare for the mission. Flight crews hurried out as bay doors began closing.
"Saratoga, this is Tiger1. All systems are go."
"Roger that, Tiger1. You're first on deck."
Devon loved flying...dancing among the stars was the only time she really saw how infinitely beautiful life could be. Even though death could arrive at any time, she would never willing give up the chance to soar though the skies. Focussing on her instrument panel, she spoke into her comlink and connected with the ISSCV. "Queen of Diamonds, this is Tiger1, LIDAR reads no bogeys at this time. You're clear."
Two hours later, the ISSCV dropped the 58th off two klicks from their target under cover of darkness.
"Tiger1, this is Queen of Diamonds. We are go for the target." Shane crouched near the underbrush as the rest of the 58th spread out to lay cover fire if needed.
"Roger that, Queen. Watch your six."
Devon led the 21st over the communications center, listening as her wingman reported in. "Colonel, we've got bogeys on the LIDAR. Make them to be 9 in number." Captain Sheila Dunham informed the squadron of the Chigs' approach.
"Let's take 'em out of the sky. Everybody...stick with your wingman, don't be heroes." The Tigers headed straight for the Chig fighters, distracting them from the communications center. Each Hammerhead darted between the fighters, playing tag.
"Jenkins, you've got one locked on your six. Juke, juke." Devon yelled into her mike. Cutting to the right and coming up from below and behind, she looked up to see Jenkins' SA-43 explode into a fireball. Unexpectedly, the Chig fighter swung around and came through what was left of the Hammerhead, destroying Devon's left thruster in a spray of fire. Sheila destroyed it before it could finish her off.
"Colonel, are you all right?" Sheila came up alongside Devon as the last of the Chig fighters was destroyed.
"Son of a bitch...she's losing power fast. I'm going to have to ditch her. I'll radio the 58th and tell them I'll meet them at the LZ. Take 'em home, Sheila." Devon began flipping switches.
On the ground, the WildCards completed their mission with speedy efficiency. Months of living and fighting together had honed their teamwork skills to a fine edge, giving their missions an almost unparalleled success rate.
"Queen of Diamonds, this is Tiger1, do you copy?"
"Roger that, Tiger1. Problems?"
"Lost my left thruster, and I'm ditching the plane. I will meet you at the LZ."
"Roger, Tiger1, out."
"Damnit." Devon coasted in, looking for a soft crash-land spot. "Like one ever really exists" she smirked. It was relatively painless, only body-jarring, not bone-breaking. Emerging warily from the cockpit, she got her bearings, drew her weapon, and headed for the LZ to meet up with the WildCards. No Chigs were encountered, and Devon reached the 58th with little problem. Crouching beside Shane, she smiled. "Thanks for the lift."
The two squadrons worked together well, learning from each other and recognizing boundaries that should not be crossed. They settled into an easy pattern of fighting and socializing, a fact that did not go unnoticed by their COs.
In a similar manner, Colonels McQueen and Matthews settled into a respectful relationship, each contributing their best to it. McQueen found Devon to be student of military history, and what she didn't know, she quickly learned as she listened and watched his actions. He found himself asking her more questions, and, sometimes, taking her advice in certain areas. Only to himself would he admit that she was becoming somewhat more than a peer and acquaintance.
McQueen was about to leave the flight deck when he saw the legs sticking out of Devon's cockpit. Walking over, he saw her hand feeling across the equipment cart towards a torque wrench. He pushed it over to her, stilling as her hand slid across his. Looking up, Devon found her eyes at crotch-level...McQueen's crotch. Lingering for a moment, she tilted her head to look into his eyes, tendrils of red curls escaped from the braid she always wore. Then she reached down and tightened the screw in the flight panel.
"Can I help you with something, Colonel?"
"Just checking the cockpits."
Pushing herself up and out, she walked around, wiping her hands on a rag, then stroking the metal and glass canopy. "Have you ever wondered why they still call them cockpits?"
McQueen looked at her, a slightly puzzled expression in his eyes.
"I mean, combat is not reserved exclusively for men anymore." Devon smiled, and the corners of her eyes crinkled. McQueen couldn't help grinning in response, and Devon felt her breath catch to see the smile light up his whole face.
Seeing that he stood between her and the cart, Devon stepped up almost nose to nose with McQueen and reached around him to replace the wrench on the cart. As she replaced the wrench and drew back, her breast brushed across his arm and she felt her nipples tighten in response. When she was face to face with him again, McQueen looked down and noticed that she was not immune to him, which was good, because he was definitely not immune to her. As if they shared the same thought, two mouths closed the short distance between them and gently pressed together. McQueen made no move to reach for her, caressing her lips with his tongue. Devon parted her lips, inviting McQueen in. They stood there with only their mouths touching, tongue stroking tongue. Slowly, McQueen pulled away, watching Devon with unreadable eyes. She licked her lips, tasting him on them, and realized that she liked tasting him.
Tossing the rag to the cart as she walked around the cockpit, she stopped and looked at him for a moment. "Goodnight, Colonel."
"Devon." With a slight nod, she disappeared down the corridor.
McQueen continued through the corridor to the next bay, shaking his head and wondering what he'd just gotten himself into.
Days later, he found himself discovering exactly that.
He heard the collective gasp and turned to see what had disturbed everyone in Tun Tavern. He took one look, saw that she was heading in his direction, and knew trouble wasn't far behind.
Even her own pilots had never seen Devon look like this, and all of the men in the room desperately wished that she was heading for them.
She wasn't wearing anything special, just a black tank top and cammie pants with combat boots... but it was the whole atmosphere around her that drew them in. The air practically sizzled, and there wasn't a doubt on anyone's mind what she wanted when she headed for McQueen.
He sat on the stool and watched her stride across the room with an almost amused expression on his face. He didn't ever think he'd seen hair quite like that before, the way it moved and curled about her. The red curls draped her face, slipping down her shoulders to trail across her breasts and back. As he watched, she took her hand and ran it through her hair, dispersing the curls even more.
Reaching the bar, she stood on the other side of the stool that sat between them...and smiled. "I'd like to buy you a drink."
He nodded slightly.
"What'll you have?"
Handing her billet card to the bartender, she held up two fingers. Feeling eyes boring into her back, she spun around to stare at their respective squadrons. "Do you people have a problem?"
"No, ma'am." Their response was loud and clear.
"Then stop staring, it's disrespectful."
Turning back around, she tried to keep from laughing, but she couldn't hold it in and her laughter flowed over McQueen and rest of the bar.
"Ty," He turned to look into her face. "I came to ask if you wanted to have dinner."
"Yeah, just dinner."
She'd expected some sort of argument, had been prepared to wear him down, but his sudden agreement threw her. "Fine, I'll see you at..." she looked at her watch, "...how about 1930 hours in the officer's mess?"
"I'll be there."
"So will I."
She was nervous, she hadn't been nervous in years, but this man was different, and not just because he was an in-vitro. When she had been a child, her father, home from various wars around the world, would tell her stories that her grandfather had told him. Stories of bravery, honor, integrity...everything she saw in McQueen. That was one reason she had never married, she'd never found anyone who even remotely tried to live up to a code of honor like the one that had been instilled in her by her own family.
Walking down the corridor towards the officer's mess, she saw McQueen standing there waiting. When he saw her, he was a little disappointed because she'd rebraided her hair. Seeing him staring at the braid that hung over her shoulder, she grinned. "It gets in the food."
There wasn't a line, it was an off time between shifts, and they practically had the mess to themselves. Finding a corner, they sat down and began to eat, saving questions for coffee. When McQueen got up to get a cup, he looked down at her. "Coffee?"
"Sure, lots of cream and four sugars."
"Indulge me." Again that grin and McQueen felt himself tighten.
Returning with two cups, he set one in front of her and sat back down, watching as she sipped the sugar-milk-just-a-little-coffee concoction.
Staring at McQueen over the rim of her cup, her eyes smiled. "How long have you been in the Corps?"
"Nickel and a dime. You?"
"That depends on if you only count active duty." Devon laughed at McQueen's confusion. "I'm Corps to the core. My family has been in the Marines since Guadalcanal, so I was raised on 'Death before Dishonor'. There was never any choice in my mind as to what I would do with my life. Active duty...I've been in 13 years."
They sat in the quiet room, just sitting.
"Ty...may I ask you a question?"
"What was it like going against Chiggie von Richthofen?"
McQueen sat there a moment, looking out at the stars through the porthole next to their table. "Have you ever known, with surety, that you had to do something and you wouldn't fail--no matter the odds?"
"That's what it was like. I knew that I would go out, and I knew I would come back."
Devon nodded again, understanding what he meant. She leaned over and touched his hand briefly. Feeling her touch, he turned to look at her.
They sat there looking at each other, then Devon mentally shook herself. "I wonder what's going on in the devious minds of our kids?" She noticed that whenever the 58th was discussed, McQueen got this look of paternal pride, and a small smile played on his lips.
"Probably wondering if we're in one of our cabins, ripping each others' clothes off."
Devon laughed. "Yeah, that's it. They're going to be all over us tomorrow." She paused. "At least mine will be. I can't see the 'Cards coming up and slapping you on the back and asking if you got lucky."
"Not if they don't want to clean the head with their toothbrushes."
"Ty...you have a wicked sense of humor." Devon paused. "I really like that."
They had been at it for three hours, and their squadrons were beginning to wonder if something more than poker was being played. As McQueen prepared to deal another hand, Devon took a long swallow of her beer and studied the money laying next to her hand.
"Tell you what, Ty. Let's end it right here. This hand is 5-card stud, deuces wild. We'll forget about money."
"Then what's the bet?" McQueen finished his beer and looked inquiringly at Devon, a strange glint in his eyes.
"I'll bet you...anything."
"Anything?" She could hear the smile in his voice.
"Anything." She looked at her cards and placed two face down on the table. "I'll take two."
McQueen laid two new cards on the table, then looked at his own. He also took two new cards.
"I'll call with..." He paused for a moment, "...anytime."
The 58th and the 21st gathered around, anxious to see who could come out on top.
McQueen laid down a full house, three tens, jacks high. "Your move."
Devon stared at his cards. "That's a great hand..." The 58th began laughing and congratulating McQueen. "...but it isn't good enough." Devon laid down three queens, then laid a deuce across the cards.
The 21st slapped Devon as she got up and prepared to leave.
"Devon," She looked down at McQueen. "What's it going to be?"
She winked at him. "I'll let you know." Smiling at everyone, she walked out of the bar.
Next : Part Two
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