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Pearls of Wisdom

Posted on Tue Aug 13th, 2019 @ 5:08pm by Captain James McCullen

Mission: Reaching Out in Hope
Location: Quarks Bar, Deep Space Nine
Timeline: MD5, 1900 Hrs

James McCullen was tired, not physically so much as mentally, it seemed to be a common theme in his new role as CO of a starship. He had hoped that once the ship was settled in and running that he'd adjust to the stress, the workload and the constant demands on his time and attention, but the pace never seemed to slow down and he never seemed able to catch up. Between his duty and the six or seven hours of sleep he forced himself to take nightly, there was precious little time left for himself. A few precious hours snagged here and there of his own was all he could hope for.

Therefore, when he had finished up his meetings with the station's CO, the local Strategic Operations Officer, the local Intelligence Chief, and the myriad of other small things a CO had to accomplish when visiting a station and had found himself with a whole two hours to himself, he had made a beeline for Quarks, intent on squeezing every second out of the precious free time he'd been given.

What he hadn't counted on was the bar being full of Sentinel crew. A Captain, he had learned by careful observation during his time as XO, needed to maintain a certain distance from his crew. Oh, he could mix and mingle with the senior officers a fair bit, he wasn't as aloof as other captains he'd served with, but the rank and file had an expectation, an image of what a captain had to be, and it was part of his duty to live up to that image. Thus, his initial plans to let loose, drink some synthetic whiskey, play some Dabo and flirt with some Dabo girls were scuppered, and he found himself sitting at an upstairs table, alone, nursing a coffee and feeling... decidedly lonely.

"Oh, well stuff me in a torpedo tube and fire me out sideways... Jim McCullen? What the hell are you doing here?" The voice was deep, with a gravel growl and a bent of sardonic humor, the captain would have recognized it anywhere. He spun in his chair, rising as he did to come practically nose-to-nose with the very last person he'd expected to meet this side of perdition.

"Red?" McCullen took a step backwards to recalibrate his eyes and confirm that he was actually looking at Peter "Red" Rouge. They had come through the academy together and had, for most of the time, been the best of friends and the most bitter of rivals in almost everything. There had been more than one time when they'd beaten the ever-living hell out of each other in a martial arts bout and then gone and gotten blind-drunk together. They'd loved, hurt, hated, cried and laughed together. It had been at least ten years since they'd last met, and as far as the captain could tell, the man hadn't changed at all.

"I repeat my question, Jimmy, since it appears you've lost what little mental capacity I didn't already beat outta that thick skull of yours. What the hell are you doing in my neck of the woods?" Red grinned, stepping around the captain and planting himself in the chair opposite, eyebrow raised in expectation of an answer.

McCullen turned, dropping back down into his own chair and shaking his head, "trying to figure out why I had the damn awful luck to run into your ugly-ass all the way out here," he growled a reply, dropping in a grin as he noted the three gold pips on Red's collar. He tapped his own pips, "I'm CO of the USS Sentinel, shouldn't you be callin' me sir, Commander Rouge?"

"Frack that," Red frowned, "I'm still two up on you, McCullen. You gotta beat my ass in the ring at least twice more before I need to call you anything. You still fight?"

"Nah," Jim shook his head, remembering his recent visit to sickbay, "got too old, body's not what it used to be."

"Hah! You and me both, old man. Last time I stepped into a ring I ended up in sickbay with a herniated disk and a pissed off doc." Red grinned, "I heard you got your own command. Frankly, I couldn't believe someone was dumb enough to give you your own ship."

"Sometimes, Red, I wonder..." McCullen sighed, "it's a hell of a job."


Two hours later, Captain McCullen found himself three actual whiskeys deep, his uniform tunic was dropped on the back of the chair and he was laughing his ass off at Red's stories of misadventure, decorum and image forgotten in lieu of a good time he hadn't realized he had so desperately needed. The first time he'd caught a Sentinel crewmember staring, Red and leaned forward and growled "don't you dare, McCullen. You are not, as much as you damn well wish you were, a robot. Who the hell cares if your crew knows that you're an actual human, made of actual flesh and blood? You think they're going to think you're what? Weak? Not the paragon of Starfleet? Don't be an ass and let it go, Jim. Be yourself, or you'll end up forgetting who you are."

It had been a slap in the face, an epiphany moment - to realize that the reason he'd been so out of sorts, so down and depressed, was that he was trying to be what he imagined a Starfleet Captain had to be, without taking into consideration who he was and applying his own style to the role. He had vowed, to himself and verbally, to work on integrating Jim McCullen and Captain James McCullen into one whole being and the start of that had been letting his hair down and having a laugh with an old friend, and damn the image.

"And that's when I told her..." Red wheezed, his face red from laughter, "that's not a tribble you're touching my dear!"
Fresh peals of laughter spilled out, the bar patrons, even those of the Sentinel, had long since stopped turning to stare. Jim thought his sides were going to split, he hadn't laughed so hard or so often in so long. "Jesus, Red," he gasped out, "how are you still alive?"

"Luck, whiskey and charm, my friend." Red grinned, "that, and I know the darkest secrets of half the admiralty in the sector."

"I don't..." The captain began, then his comm badge chirped.

=/\= "Sir," came Bast's voice over the comm. "The departmental readiness reports are in."

Almost, Jim replied that he was on his way. A pang of guilt welled up, a nagging feeling that he was shirking his duty by not being there to talk to his XO and personally look over the reports. But a pointed glare from his friend reminded him that he did, in fact, have a crew and an exceptionally competent XO. Another pearl of wisdom from Red that he'd had to swallow came back to him. "Delegation, Jim. I know you feel like you need to have a hand on the tiller and keep track of all the details, but that's a fast way to a breakdown and you should know it. You have a crew, you have an XO, you have to let go and trust that they can do their jobs without your input. I'm sorry to break it to you, buddy, but you're not supernatural, you can't expect to deal with everything yourself."

=/\= "McCullen here, number one. Review the reports and give me a summary when I get back to the ship, please." Was the captain's reply as he shoved the feelings of guilt aside, earning him a nod from his friend.

=/\= "Aye sir. Bast out."

The complete lack of surprise in Bast's reply was a relief the captain hadn't expected to feel, but it was there anyway. "Now then, Captain McCullen of the USS Sentinel..." Peter spoke, mirth dropping away, "you had actually better be getting back to your ship, but first, here." He leaned over the table and without warning, injected the captain with a hypospray.

"For the whiskey," the man explained before McCullen could do more than raise an eyebrow in question, "it wouldn't do to have a tipsy captain."

"I suppose not," Jim smiled, "Pete, joking aside, I'm glad I ran into you today. You've given me just what I needed, I think. I was starting to fray at the edges, there."

"I know," Red grinned, hunching a teal-colored shoulder. "A certain lady we both know called me up out of the blue and told me that she was worried about you, and I happened to be in the sector."

"Elizabeth called you?" The surprise was double-felt, his wife and Peter "Red" Rouge had been an item, once, long ago and hadn't really seen eye-to-eye ever since. They'd learned to tolerate each other, but the idea that she'd call him to ask for help... the captain felt a confusing mix of embarrassment, shame, gratefulness and love for his wife.

"Hey, she was worried and by the sounds of it, she was right to be. And anyway, I've really enjoyed these few hours, it's been way, way too long since we last shot the breeze and I miss making fun of you, you're still a damn easy mark, so she did us both a favor."

"I suppose she did," Jim replied, "you're not looking for a counselor position, are you? We could use a good head fixer on the Sentinel."

"Ooh no you don't," Red grinned, "I'm quite happily posted, thank you very much, Captain McCullen. You couldn't drag me away from Starfleet Headquarters with a team of Nausicaans and a bucket of latinum."

The captain was already feeling the effects of the whiskey fade thanks to the medication, but he felt happier than he had since he'd assumed command of the Sentinel, what seemed like forever ago. Newfound perspective and a few hours of relaxation had, at least for the moment, given him exactly what he'd needed. He could honestly say he was feeling excited to return to his ship and get going without at least partially lying to himself.

"Red, thank you." It was what he should have said first, but it came to him last. "I owe you for this."

"Damn right you do," Peter grinned, "now get going, sir, before I get all teary-eyed and soppy."


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