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Author's Note: made it WAY better by talking me through stuff right up to the last second. It was originally written for the 'Ship Olympics prompt "Origin Story". Caitlin Barry first appeared in the novel Vulcan's Glory by Dorothy Fontana.
At the end of Gamma shift, the Yorktown mess hall was nearly deserted. From her corner, Chief Engineer Caitlin Barry watched as CMO Boyce retrieved a cup of coffee from the food slots.
It had been a rough night. The Yorktown had been patrolling the Klingon Demilitarised Zone for the past two months with no incidents of note, until 1300 hours when a single Bird-of-Prey de-cloaked just inside the Fed side of the DMZ.
Despite repeated warnings that crossing over to the Federation side of the border or firing on a Starfleet vessel would be considered an act of war broadcast on all channels, the ship had engaged the Yorktown. It had all been over in a matter of minutes, as the Yorktown had targeted the vulnerable underside of the hull, disabling their weapons systems.
But before the Klingon ship had limped back across the border, the Yorktown had taken heavy damage on three decks from the initial barrage of disrupter fire. Casualties had flooded Sickbay. Even after the ship had stood down from Red Alert, Barry had supervised Engineering crews all over the damaged areas of the ship, sealing off hull breaches, re-routing circuitry as the ship limped towards Starbase 47 for repairs. Thirteen hours since the attack, and they were still on Yellow Alert.
As Cait waved him over, she could see the same weariness etched in the lines around Boyce's eyes that she felt in her bones. She pushed a chair toward him with one booted foot and he sank into it, hands cupped around the mug as he breathed in the steam.
"You know it's bad when we're happy to call this stuff 'coffee'," Cait pointed out, lifting her own cooling cup and Boyce smiled faintly.
"How are you holding up?"
"We've got all the primary and secondary systems in the damaged sections patched, and the seal on Deck 22 is holding." She shrugged, as if doing a week's worth of work in a single shift was standard operating procedure. "You?"
"Twelve critical, all currently stable. Lt Palmer is going to need regen treatment for the burns, and Crewman M'k'n lost part of her tail. But lucky for her, it'll grow back. Wish I could say the same for Ensign Koord."
Cait recognised the name, but couldn't picture the face. But losing anyone—whether they'd been with them for a week, a year, or a decade, tended to have the same effect on Boyce. His usual jovial manner dissipated, replaced by a sternness that made him seem even older than his prematurely white hair.
"Was Koord the only fatality?"
"So far," Boyce touched the tabletop out of habit, despite the fact that it was recycled aluminium and not wood. "We were lucky—most of the damage on 22 was to the storage areas, rather than dorsal side."
One third of the ship's crew at any given time were assigned to Gamma shift—which meant that when Klingons had attacked, they would have been sleeping in their beds. The senior staff all had cabins on the upper decks, but down in the lower decks, enlisted crewmen and junior officers lived two or three to a room, dormitory-style.
"Have you given her the Butcher's bill?" Cait ask, inclining her head toward the bridge where their tireless captain was still in the centre seat—despite being on-duty for back-to-back shifts.
"Not yet. As soon as my head nurse releases Atoa, we figured we'd double-team her."
Barry smiled despite the grim tidings. The Yorkie's First Office was 195 centimetres tall, of mixed Samoan and Ma-ori heritage, and built like the proverbial brick shithouse. If he had to physically haul their captain off to her quarters to get her daily recommended dosage of sleep, he'd do it with a wink and a smile.
Atoa'd been on duty when the Klingon Bird-of-Prey had de-cloaked, and had sustained minor injuries during the first barrage. He'd stayed on the bridge, the blood drying on his face, neck, and gold command tunic right up until the captain had ordered him to Sickbay. That had been hours earlier. Barry was practically seeing double from pulling three straight shifts as it was. She could only imagine how Phil was still on his feet, having two decades on her.
"I'd bring a hypo loaded with sedatives, if I were you. You know how she gets." Cait rolled her eyes theatrically, and this time, Boyce's smile was genuine.
"I do at that. Ilyrian physiology or not, every ship needs her captain rested and at her best."
"It's been eight years—you'd think that song would get old."
"Well, I do change up the tune, now and then." Phil took a long sip of coffee, and grimaced. "You ever think about how we got here?"
"No, here here."
"You mean, how Admiral Pike put up with Captain Pike before Captain Pike was Captain Pike, and Admiral Pike was Captain Pike?"
"That's a mouthful."
"Please. He thought she'd hung the moon—even right from the very beginning. You know that."
Barry had been a green junior engineer when then First Officer Pike had steered his prickly Ilyrian helmsman her way. Cait had been having dinner in the mess when the tall, willowy brunette had plunked her tray down next to Barry.
They had been at Starfleet Academy at the same time, but had never met. Command Track and Engineering Track students rarely mixed except in practical exams. Cait had heard all about the lieutenant's Kobayashi Maru test from her Tactical Systems lab partner, an Andorian named Thren. According to Thren, it had lasted all of eleven and a half minutes, as the Lieutenant had apparently ordered the crew to lifeboats and then destroyed the ship.
Thren had assumed they had all failed. However, when the exam results had been posted, not only had they passed—they'd passed with the third highest score in the test's history. Thren and the rest of the students had invited her out for drinks to celebrate, but she'd stayed in her dorm room, revising for her next exam. Thren had declared her a cold fish, and Cait hadn't thought about her again until she'd reported for Gamma shift her first week aboard.
"Can I help you...?" Barry had asked around a mouthful of starch masquerading as scalloped potatoes. "Um, Lieutenant?" she finished lamely, suddenly realising she had no idea how to pronounce the lieutenant's given name.
"Commander Pike has ordered me to socialise," the lieutenant said without preamble. Her tray had a single plate with dark leafy greens, and a glass of water. Cait actually felt self-conscious about her rubbery Salisbury steak and bright orange potatoes. However, the lieutenant didn't seem to notice. She pushed around a forkful of salad, looking younger than Barry usually thought of her. From the Engineering station on the bridge, the helm officer always seemed so polished, crisp, professional and...together.
She appeared less than together as she met Cait's gaze. In fact, she looked a bit nervous. Almost like a puppy waiting for a kick.
Not a cold fish at all, Cait realised. Just a lonely, socially maladjusted fish.
"I was actually going to say 'yenta-ish'."
The lieutenant's blank look prompted a twenty minute discussion of borrowed words in English, brief digression into the history of German-Jewish theatre of the Earth 20th century, and an appointment to meet for lunch the following day, which turned into after-hours Null-G ball game in the ship's gymnasium, which led to weekly games where not only did Cait hold her own, but she even beat the "perfect" helm officer a time or three.
Cait even learned how to pronounce the hem officer's full name—although it was cumbersome and awkward. Despite her insistence that her people didn't use diminutives, she allowed those onboard close to her to call her "M'hari". Even thought those close to her could be counted on one hand.
Despite being from radically different backgrounds (genetically modified Ilyrian children were wards of the state and raised in dormitories; Barrys grew up primarily on Earth and usually close to the sea, surrounded by several dozen cousins, and the occasional horse farm) with wildly diverging interests (in her spare time, the helm officer did complex maths, studied Vulcan philosophy, and read obscure vintage locked room mysteries. The junior engineer preferred swing dancing, Andorian soap operas, and skimming Engineering journals), and having fundamentally different outlooks (Cait tended to be cynical and slightly jaded when it came to humanoid behaviour, while M'hari put her faith in empirical evidence and mathematical probability and as a result was continually surprised by the beings she served with) they got along well together—both on-duty and off.
Physically, they were almost of a height, but that was where any resemblance ended. Where Cait was curvy, M'hari was willowy and slim. Cait's dark red hair fell in soft curls when she wore it loose. M'hair's dark hair was usually worn in a simple no-nonsense bun at the nape of her neck, and she rarely bothered with cosmetics. Cait's hazel eyes were usually outlined with kohl in the latest fashion, whereas M'hari would avoid cosmetics completely if she could get away with it. Under an M-class planet's sun, Cait freckled, while the lieutenant would burn if she didn't apply sunblock liberally and hourly.
Over the course of that first Five Year deep space mission, what began with shared meals and the occasional Null-G game turned into a genuine friendship. They would take shore leave together when they could, despite M'hari's preferences for museums and Cait's love of night clubs. It was good for each of them. Cait learned a new appreciation of alien cultures, while the lieutenant learned to cut loose a little when they were out of sight of their fellow crewmembers, and dance til dawn. But she was always still the first one to arrive for her duty shifts, and the last one to actually put in for shore leave.
The thing about the M'hari was, when she was with Cait, some of the walls she put up came down. The "perfect" Ilyrian disappeared, and there was just M'hari.
She might have been supremely confident in her abilities at the helm, or even in the centre seat, but when it came to her relationships she was a complete disaster. In all the years they'd known each other, she had rarely become romantically involved with anyone—even before it became obvious to everyone but them that she and Pike were hopelessly gone on one another. She could do complicated pure applied mathematics in her head—but ask her to make small talk, and she would go white as a sheet.
When Captain Shundresh was killed and Pike made her Acting First Officer, she'd accepted both the responsibility and the honour with a poker face. But behind closed doors, Cait had been the one to assure her that she was ready for the responsibility, and to help her get over her reservations about interacting with the crew on a more personal level.
"What works for Pike works for Pike. Just because he knows everyone names, and greets them in the halls doesn't mean you need to be everyone's best friend."
"I don't want to be everyone's best friend," Number One had replied with a panicked edge to her voice. "I can barely manage having one friend."
"Don't be disingenuous."
"I can't be your only friend," Cait had said with a laugh, but the look on M'hari's face and her smile vanished. "Oh, honey!"
"I was not popular at the Academy."
"Because you hid in your room, or the campus library!"
"I wasn't hiding—I was studying."
"Well, you should have studied how to be a better liar, because you're still crap at it. I studied—I studied hard, because some of us don't have eidetic memories—"
"—and that didn't stop me from going out and having fun, now and then. Pike may be a bit of a busybody, but he was right about one thing; it won't hurt you to become more of a social butterfly."
"What do insects have to do with this?"
"Now who's being disingenuous?" Cait managed to work up a proper glare. "You've spent the last decade among Terrans—don't tell me you haven't picked up most of the common slang by now. Operative word being social. Which means actually interacting with other people outside of work, on a regular basis. And for that, I have a brilliant plan."
The look in her best friend's eyes at that pronouncement could only be described as "pure abject terror".
"A poker game," Boyce paused in the act of removing his surgical coat, and gawped at her. "Seriously?"
Barry had met him her first day aboard, when Chief Engineer Marvick had told her to toss her kit-bag in her quarters and report to Sickbay for the standard physical. He'd chatted with her about her previous assignment as he'd run the medical tricorder over her and made notations on his PADD. He'd been friendly, but not overly friendly. However, their interactions had always, from the very start, contained a hint of flirtation. According to his head nurse, Carlotti, Boyce had a thing for redheads. But the teasing banter had never crossed a line or made her feel uncomfortable—and the truth was, Barry gave as good as she got.
So it made complete logical sense to Barry that the first person she had thought of, when she'd decided to set up a senior staff standing game, was Boyce. Pike had known the CMO since they had both been aboard the Constitution, and the two often ate side by side in the officers mess. If anyone could get the captain to come to the table, it was Phil.
"Have you seen her? She was born with a poker face. Or decanted, or hatched, or whatever."
Boyce laughed, and patted her hand. "Why poker?"
"Why not? Every assignment I've had, there's been a standing game somewhere. Whether it's the Engineering Gamma crew, the senior staff, or the nurses—it's as inevitable as Engine Room Hootch."
He put a hand to his chest, mouth a perfect 'o' of mock surprise. "Are you saying this fine vessel has a still?"
"Are you saying you haven't sampled it yet?" she countered, cocking a brow.
"Please. That stuff'll make you go blind. Now, the Lionheart's hootch—"
"Oh, do not even start with me about the Lionheart." Cait rolled her eyes, and then tucked her arm in his as she steered him out of his office and towards the officer's mess. "But if you insist—I bet they have a standing poker game."
"Why the sudden interest in card sharps? And why do I have a feel you've got an ulterior motive, Ms Barry?"
"What ulterior motive could I possibly have?" Cait batted her eyes at him, the picture of innocence.
"Maybe you're just looking for an excuse to spend more time with me?"
"Hmmm," Cait looked him up and down, as if taking his measure. Sure, he was old enough to be...well, her father's very fit younger brother. But Cait had a different motive in mind. "Let's just say I am acting on behalf of a near and dear friend who is in dire need of a wider social circle. And by wider, I mean one that includes people other than just me."
"That obvious, huh?"
"Actually, it was Chris who pointed out to me that you two seemed joined at the hip."
"Yeah, well—as far as meddling goes, he started it when he sicced her on me. Turnabout, as far as I'm concerned, is only fair play."
"Don't tell me you're only spending time with her because Pike suggested it?"
"Of course not! I'm perfectly capable of losing an unwanted hanger-on, if in fact they're unwanted. I'm genuinely fond of her, and I think you'd be too once you got to know her. But you may have noticed that our resident Ilyrian doesn't exactly mix and mingle with other members of the senior staff. In fact, aside from the Science Officer, and occasionally Tyler, I've never even seen her voluntarily have a conversation with someone outside of the bridge."
"She always come across as a bit... formal," he said carefully.
"Stiff, reserved, cold, formal—take your pick. But the fact of the matter is, underneath that crisp efficiency there beats the heart of a real live girl, Geppetto, I swear. You just have to dig a bit to find it. And I get the feeling since she joined Starfleet, not too many folks have taken the time to get to know her."
"Chris isn't exactly known for being the easiest man to get to know either."
"Really? You two always seemed pretty chummy from where I sit in the Staff Briefings."
"I was acting CMO on the Constitution while Sarah April was teaching at Starfleet Medical. Once you've set a man's arm four times in six months for stupid reckless behaviour on Landing Parties, you drop most of the formalities."
"The same arm?"
"He's a creature of habit, our Captain Pike. Speaking of habits... I've never really known him to gamble."
"Oh, I'm not talking about gambling. Just a friendly little poker game between friends and colleagues, that's all."
"Oh, it's gambling, all right. Just where only you and I know the stakes."
They tucked themselves into a quiet corner of the mess hall, and Barry leaned forward conspiratorially.
"Look, you and I both know Pike trusts her. He wouldn't have put in a word with the brass to push her promotion through if he didn't. But aside from staff briefings, they don't really know each other. And it can't hurt, to foster a better working relationship between the captain and his first officer, right?"
Boyce's lips had twitched in amusement in a way Barry was beginning to recognise. Balancing his weight on his folded arms, he leaned forward, one brown raised. "And your interest would be strictly professional."
"Of course. We are professionals, after all," Cait said with a wink.
True to his word, Boyce had convinced Pike that a staff card game was a good idea—although they had kept the gathering small. Cait, although only a lieutenant, was granted access to the Boyce's quarters by virtue of her friendship with the Exec. Occasionally, they might be joined by another member of the senior staff. Before he transferred to the Lexington, Marvick occasionally joined them for a hand, and even Communications Officer Garrison was dealt in now and then.
But in the end, it was almost always just the four of them. It went from being "the staff game", and became "their game". Nights spent in Boyce's quarters or even Pike's became less about the game, and more about unwinding and sharing the burden of responsibility among the four of them. More often than not, Phil or Cait brought a bottle of wine, and it was not lost of either the CMO or the Chief Engineer that Pike's eyes would linger on the first officer's mouth as she drained her glass. Or the way she would smile more often around him, and even (under Cait's careful tutelage) wear her hair in less severe, more elaborate styles. And Phil was the one who told Cait that Pike had a thing about the different colour nail polish the Exec began sporting once she no longer cut her nails close and square.
When Pike had been tapped for command of the first Enterprise-class ship, both Cait and Boyce figured that was it. No more stalling. Clearly, something would have to happen, before he relocated dirtside and Number One took the centre seat aboard the Yorktown in his place. But frustratingly, they simply refused to get drunk and jump one another like normal human beings.
"How many nights did we sit here—you and me—when she was his XO and watch the two of them dance around each other?" Cait mused, lost in the memories.
"More than I'd care to admit," Boyce admitted, leaning back in the moulded plastic chair. Phil's hair had more salt than pepper these days, but he'd changed remarkably little in the years she'd known him. He was still Starfleet-fit, the lines around his eyes and mouth and his white hair the only signs of age. "It's not nice for a man to spy on his best friend, after all."
"It wasn't spying!" Cait was quick to protest. "It was like a documentary on the nature channel."
"Mating Habits of the Adult Starfleet Command Crew?"
"You said it—not me." She rested her cheek in her hand, feeling some of the tension of the long day draining away as they talked. "Poor Tyler. I think he only gave up the pool a month or so before she finally threw herself at him."
"Oh, is that how it happened?"
"Didn't he tell you?"
"You know Chris—he plays his personal life pretty close to the chest. I only found out when I found them necking like teenagers in the back of my sickbay, after the first round of nano-reconstructive surgery. When I asked him how long that had been going on, he just said 'a while.'"
Cait laughed. She could picture that all too clearly. She just wished she could have seen it. Over the years, she'd gotten to know Chris Pike pretty well, but he could be closed off, even aloof, even with his friends. What made him a good commander—that unshakeable belief in his own abilities, and quick-thinking that allowed him to make a hundred decisions in the moment—could make him a hard man to be friends with, sometimes. For all that the four of them had been as close as Starfleet officers came to family in the past eight years, Cait didn't have that shorthand that he had with both Phil and M'hari that let them communicate with just a glance, or less than that sometimes.
But she never stopped being grateful that Chris and M'hari had got past their inhibitions and found one another. They'd worked incredibly well together as shipmates—Chris's gut instinct backed up by M'hari's cool head, balancing each other out. As a couple, that dynamic seemed to steady both of them, even when they were separated by their individual postings, vast distances of cold empty space between them. If any two people could make it work, Cait have never once doubted that they could and would.
She still remembered the look on M'hari's face as she'd beamed back aboard the Yorktown in dry dock. She'd grabbed Cait's arm, and practically dragged her back to her quarters, two bright spots of colour on her cheeks and ice-blue eyes dancing as she'd recounted her time in Mohave. She'd obviously been dying to tell Cait, but at the same time, it was hard for her to be so open about a relationship that had meant so much to her, for so long; even with her best friend.
"M'hari was only a little more forthcoming. From what I was able to pry out of her, she showed up on his doorstep when I was still working on the Yorkie's engines in dry dock. First time they'd been in the same room since the Narada—well, first time he'd been conscious, anyway. From what I read between the lines, she made the first move."
"Good for her. I'd wondered."
"Well, if we'd left it up to Chris, Tyler might still be running a pool." She shook her head ruefully. "God, how many times did I just bang my head against this very table, waiting for him to haul off and just kiss her already?"
"In public? In front of witnesses? Silly girl." Boyce's chuckle was a low rumble originating deep in his chest. "Christopher Pike may be many things, but an exhibitionist has never been one of them."
Cait couldn't resist pouting just a little. "It would have been romantic as hell."
"It would have embarrassed them both."
"They'd have gotten over it. Think of all the time they wasted! We're not talking months, Phil. I'm talking years."
"Well—they got there in their own time. And in their own way, might I add. Anyway, you're just sore because you had some serious money riding on Chris finally getting his act together the night of her promotion, in Tyler's pool, if I recall correctly."
"Damn straight. Think of the shoes I could have bought!"
"You and your shoes."
"Hey—do I make fun of your weird little trees?"
"Only on days ending in 'y'."
"You really think he shoulda done it? Right in the mess, in front of the crew, God, and everybody?"
"You bet. Just like in the vids. Cue the violins, the whole sheban—"
She didn't finish that thought, because Phil had snaked one hand around her neck and pulled her toward him, just as his mouth came down on hers. Her eyes went wide for the fraction of a second it took for her to regain her balance, the hand that had been wrapped around her coffee cup pressing flat against the tabletop to keep her from toppling out of her chair onto the deck.
She should have seen it coming. It wasn't like they hadn't done their own share of flirting over the years spent commiserating while their best friends worked out their romantic issues. But flirting was flirting. Actually honest to God kissing... that was something new.
There had been quick pecks under the mistletoe at half a dozen 'fleet holiday parties. The first time all four of them had taken leave together at Phil's house at the Cape, there had been plenty of wine and dancing, and she'd let Boyce spin her around the floor most of the night, She'd certainly enjoyed the way his sure hands guided her steps and the way he'd caught her when she'd stumbled and finally kicked off her shoes and dancing in her bare feet on the braided rug in front of his fireplace.
But she'd gone to bed alone that night. It hadn't seemed a hardship. Just the way the four of them had always been. Phil and Chris, Cait and M'hari. Chris and M'hari. Phil and Cait. But never Cait and Phil the same way it had been Chris and M'hari. That had been fine. That had been the status quo.
From the way she was leaning into Boyce's touch, Cait had a feeling the status quo had just taken a definite shift away from strictly platonic.
What Cait wasn't at all surprised by was how good a kisser Phil Boyce was. She felt it right down to her toes, which curled inside here boots involuntarily as his large warm hand curled around her neck, fingers massaging the tendons as he almost lazily teased her lips apart with the tip of his tongue. He tasted like bad coffee, but then again, so did she. And that didn't seem to be stopping her from melting just a little bit.
"Romantic as hell, huh?" His eyes seemed ridiculously blue as he pulled back just enough for her to catch her breath. She dimly heard a wolf whistle from the opposite corner of the mess, and instead of answering him, Cait found herself leaning forward, lips brushing his as she spoke.
"You sneaky son of a bitch," she breathed against his mouth, and felt him smile. "How long have you been waiting to do that?"
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