Posted on Saturday, 2 July 2022 - 12:41pm by Lieutenant JG Charles McCullen
Operation: My Unfair Lady
Location: New Bajor
Timeline: Two days ago
The cold, expressionless eyes of the synthetic man bored twin tunnels in Charlie McCullen's soul, fixing him against the wall as if he had been nailed there. The synthetic spoke, a sound drowned out in the cacophony of sound around them - the wail of a red alert claxon, the screaming of a female voice, the sound of phaser fire and incoherent yelling.
A hand, slightly yellow in tint and impossibly strong clamped around his throat in an unbreakable grip. Blood thumped in his ears, his chest heaved as his lungs tried in vain to draw air, and his fingers clawed pointlessly at the cold vice. It spoke again, closer this time.
"The time is zero six-fifteen hours."
Confusion for a moment, quickly overridden by fear and panic, and another hand, softer, touched his shoulder, moving gently. The android spoke again with a voice he knew, warm, murmuring nothings that spread like the light at morning's dawn, driving away the fear and the horror.
He opened his eyes, blinking at the bright morning light, the vestiges of the dream fading as quickly as they had assaulted him, and rolled his head to the right, following the soothing voice. He was greeted with a sad smile. "Hey there, Starfleet."
"Uh..." Charlie managed, wincing at the taste of his own mouth and the flop-sweat soaking his skin.
"As articulate as ever, I see," the smile warmed into something closer to amusement, "bad dream?"
"Don'member," The smaller human grumbled, closing his eyes and making an effort to shove all his historical baggage back in the black box at the back of his psyche where it belonged. He dredged up a grin, thought it felt like a Sysyphusian effort, "don' matter when I wake up to a view like that."
"You," Darys tugged the bedsheet over himself, "are changing the subject, lover mine."
"Yep," Charlie affirmed, turning the grin up a notch to mischievous. "it's my first day back an' I don' wanna spend it talkin' 'bout old crap."
Darys frowned, the wrinkles at his brow deepening. Flashes of annoyance, sadness and then resignation crossed his features as Charlie watched. Eventually, the Bajoran scientist pushed himself up on one elbow. "Your breath smells like rotten kava on a tin roof in summer. Why does that happen to humans?"
"I dunno," Charlie shrugged, letting the wild grin fade to a genuine smile, grateful for the pointed change in subject. "Natural bacteria or somethin', you're the scientist."
"Mmm, maybe I should run some experiments." The taller man grinned, his voice full of amused suggestion as he pushed himself up and out of bed, letting the sheet fall away and unashamedly striding across the tiled floor of the summer villa they had rented. "Go clean up, stinky. I'll do breakfast."
"Yes sir cap'n no-pants," Charlie replied. It took him a minute of mental gathering while Darys did breakfast things before he rolled himself out of bed and took a moment to slowly stretch stiff muscles. Noting with some satisfaction that the sounds of 'breakfast' had stopped. Slowly, he rolled his head over his shoulder, meeting eyes with his partner and allowing a full-power shit-eating grin to spread across his features.
"Devil." Darys mock-glared, "Water. Soap. Body. Go."
On impulse, Charlie reached out his hand, a clear invitation, and Darys shook his head, sighing in what sounded like exasperated resignation, belied only by the look in his eyes. The Bajoran's mock-glare morphed into a hungry stare as set down the knife he had been holding and took a half step, close enough to slip his hand into Charlie's.
= Later =
Charlie nibbled experimentally at the mapa bread and moba jam. The bread was thick but surprisingly light, filled with tiny air bubbles soaked up little reservoirs of jam. The jam was tart, just on the good side of sour and filled with chunks of berries. Together with the sweet juice which he had been served, it was an ideal breakfast to sate the appetite he and his partner had worked up. He smiled appreciatively across the table.
"I thought you'd like it," Darys replied, "I used to..."
The Bajoran was cut off by the unmistakable sound of a Starfleet communication channel. Charlie's hand went immediately to his pocket, touching the communicator he had there, but hesitated, watching his partner's eyes, unfiltered windows to whatever he was feeling if you knew how to look through them, show surprise, then anger, then an upwelling of sadness.
With a sigh, the pilot pulled the communicator out and set it on the table next to his breakfast and tapped it.
=/\= "Lieutenant Charles McCullen."
"Lieutenant McCullen, this is Starfleet Operations. You are ordered to report with immediate effect to The USS Standing Wolf and to take up the position of Chief of Flight Operations upon reporting to her captain." A disembodied voice explained flatly.
=/\= "I'm on leave for the next five days," Charlie responded, glowering at the comm badge. He had been promised this time and had promised it in turn. But even before he had begun to argue, a resigned sadness was creeping over him. He knew how this worked.
"With apologies, Lieutenant McCullen, operational needs require the rescheduling of your leave. A transport is waiting for you at New Bajor dock for Starbase 129. It is due to depart in six hours. You have that long. Starfleet out."
For what seemed like an eternity, a clammy silence descended over the table. Charlie didn't dare look at his partner. Slowly, he slid the communicator off the table and back into his pocket.
"Kheet'agh Starfleet. Phekk!" Darys threw himself up out of his chair and flung his juice, glass and all, across the terrace to smash against the stone tiles, and Darys was on his feet, striding away from the table, fists clenched. For all he was a scientist, usually the calm and composed one of the pair, he was still Bajoran and once in a while, that Bajoran temper reared its head.
Charlie compartmentalized, swallowing the lump in his own throat and squeezing his emotions into a locked box. He knew better than to follow his partner when he was in that state, instead giving the man his space and taking his own time to get his heart and his head around what had to be done. A week of shore leave, his first in a year-and-a-half and the first chance he and Darys had had to be together, face-to-face and skin-to-skin, in almost six months. He had been promised this time, and in turn, had promised it to Darys. Starfleet taking it away was a punch to the gut.
"I'll help you pack." Darys spoke from across the room, back still turned. It was almost a whisper, flat and emotionless. It drove Charlie to his feet, the truth welling in his heart that Leola Darys had finally had enough of him. That the Bajoran had finally come to the realization that Charles James McCullen just wasn't worth the effort. He had known it would happen one day, had known that it was only a matter of time until the Bajoran, the beautiful, incredibly smart, socially graceful scientist, realised that his time and effort were being wasted on a low-rate, awkward little fly-boy.
Knowledge was no balm, however, and it was all Charlie could do to squeeze the hurt away, compressing it into a ball of agony that threatened to choke him to death. He gripped the edge of the table and swallowed it all, as best he could. It was a long moment of silence before he could find his voice.
"S' Okay, I'll manage," He had aimed for flippant, but even in his own ears it had come out thick with emotion.
He watched Darys' head whip around, he saw the flash of realization morph the Bajoran's sadness into shock and then pain and then an odd bastard mix of anger and tenderness, all in real-time. "Don't you dare!" His partner growled, closing the distance between them to jab one accusing finger across the table into Charlie's chest. "Don't doubt me, Starfleet. Don't doubt us. Not for a second."
You don't mean...
No, you idiot!
I love you?
Prophets only know why I put up with you, you stupid Fabor.
'cause I'm cute?
Because you're cute. And I love you too. Now let's get you packed and ready to go.
= Later =
Lieutenant Junior Grade Charles James McCullen adjusted the collar of his uniform, tugging it straight as he settled down in the rear of the transport shuttle. The journey to Starbase 129 was several hours long and he planned to use the time to prepare. The loss of his shore leave stung still, but it was offset somewhat by the prospect of a new ship and his first chance at a senior staff position.
From his bag, he pulled a PaDD, pausing to smile at a jar of moba jam that had been stashed in his belongings, and logged in. "Computer," he instructed, "transfer a deck plan and specifications of the USS Standing Bear-A."