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Returning to the The Well

Posted on Mon Jun 6th, 2022 @ 2:52pm by Captain Jocelyn Blake & Vice Admiral Nathan Cowell, MD
Edited on on Mon Jun 6th, 2022 @ 2:52pm

Mission: Episode 3: Conflicts of Interest
Location: The Well on the Presidio
Timeline: Mission Day 2 at 2000

The Well was quiet that evening, but to Jocelyn the introduction of any amount of people felt alarming. She was trailed by two security officers, though, her ever-present shadows in the last 24 hours. One stayed outside while the other slid into a booth in the bar, eyes scanning the room as she did.

How many days had it been since she’d set foot in this bar? She tried to calculate as she slid into one of the seats, eyes scanning for Mike, hoping for the familiarity of the bartender who was usually on at this hour.

“Captain Blake…” Mike said as he came around the bar from the back, a grin on his face. “I was beginning to think a search party might be warranted.”

Jocelyn offered him a weak sort of smile, “No search parties warranted. You wouldn’t have been able to find me anyway.”

The bartender’s eyebrows shot up, but he didn’t ask. “What’s your poison tonight?”

“Whisky,” she said with a shrug. “Seems like the right place to start.”

“Make it two,” a voice called out from just slightly behind the woman. Footsteps that hadn’t been heard on his approach seemed to suddenly call out as the owner of the voice pulled a stool out from underneath the bar. When the figure came into view, the visage of an elderly man became clear.

“So, out of the hole?” Cowell said with a snort as he leaned up against the bar.

She shouldn’t have been surprised, but she was all the same. With a quick glance to the side she nodded, then turned back to stare down at her hands where she’d settled them in front of her on the bar. “That I am,” she remarked. “Apparently it’s safe to come out of hiding.”

“And the first place you go is the bar,” the old man said with a smirk, “Can’t say I’m not proud of you for your stick-with-it-ness.”

“The first place I went was Andolini’s house to get ahead of the press. Then home. Then bed. Then work. And now here. I’ve been out of the hole almost a day. But yes… first free moment… here.” She smirked down at her hands before looking up again. “You seem to be all in one piece despite the lack of a drinking partner.”

“I’ve been drinking alone longer than your people have been able to fly in space. A few months won’t kill me. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a pain in the ass having to deal with the bar flies that buzz around sometimes when you try to sit in a corner and sip a drink or two without being social,” Nathan grumbled.

Mike walked back up to the bar, sliding the two drinks in front of his two patrons, “You missed a good show while you were gone. The old man chased off a mess of fresh graduates who wanted to celebrate just by clearing his throat. I haven’t seen kids bolt like that in a good while.”

“Pfft…” the old man rolled his eyes at the bartender, “If one good grunt is enough to run them off, Starfleet’s headed down the toilet and there’s no savin’ it.”

“Sorry to have missed that,” the redhead commented, though there was a little less joviality to it than her usual. She snagged the glass that had been set in front of her and lifted it, looking at the whisky a moment before tipping it back in one go and setting the glass back down.

“Probably better to bring the bottle,” she commented to Mike with a shrug before turning back to the elderly man next to her. “What?”

“What what?” the old man asked with a deadpan look, “That’s nothing unusual.”

Mike shook his head at the exchange and moved off to grab the bottle that he’d just opened. The bottle hadn’t even made it to the counter before Cowell’s hand was around it, “I’m gonna grab the usual booth. Rustle up a snack for us if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Gotcha,” the bartender nodded as Cowell slipped off the stool and made his way over to a secluded booth near the rear of the floor. The bottle he was holding found its way to the table top before the old man’s posterior slammed roughly into the cushions of the booth. A few obviously exaggerated groans later and he was sitting roughly half way in the middle of one of the two seats.

“So, since we’re going to get fucked up anyway, you might as well tell me what’s got you flustered while you’re not already three sheets to the wind. It’ll probably be a better story if you’ve only just started drinking,” Cowell said, bringing his own glass up to his lips for a sip.

Jocelyn had followed the old man, trailing behind with a nod to the security officer. She hoped they’d recognize who she was with, but then again, she’d no reason to be sure. Once she’d settled opposite him, the bottle in the middle of the table, she reached over, pouring a few fingers back into the glass she’d drained.

“Well…” she said slowly, buying a moment to decide how to proceed. She brought the glass to her lips again, sipping this time. No point getting too far ahead of herself. “There’s an assassin caught, but no certitude of who he was after yet. So that’s fun. There’s a solid chance the press is going to take a crack at me sooner than later because that’s something they like to do. Last time that happened someone vandalized my apartment, so…” she shrugged, sipping again. “And you know… you could have mentioned what was going on with the CinC when you stopped by.”

“He had a right to keep it to himself if he didn’t want to discuss it,” Cowell said flatly, “Telling you anything wouldn’t have made a whole hell of a lot of difference in the long run. Don’t get me wrong, I wish I could have at least given you a few more hints than I did but even what I did give you was pushing the boundaries a bit. Much as I like you, Red, I’m a doctor before I’m your friend. Just some things I won’t go into without the patient saying it was alright to do. And anyway, he swore up and down he could keep it in his pants. Why? Did he drop trow after all?”

“I know that,” she said resignedly, “and I wouldn’t have honestly expected you to tell me anyway.” She turned her glass absently on the table, fingers shifting along the edge. How much to say was a bit of a question, but her cheeks had already flushed pink and so she knew she wasn’t going to get away with withholding much. “Yup,” was her very short response to that question. Even that much resulted in a bit deeper of a blush.

“Regretting it? Or just sorting it all out still?” Nathan asked abruptly.

“Sorting,” she replied without hesitation. She’d considered whether she should be regretting it over the last two days, but even with the mess of bureaucracy that was about to take place she felt pretty confident she didn’t. And… she knew he didn’t either which helped. “It’s a lot to take in,” she commented. “And I wasn’t exactly… aware… of what was involved beforehand.”

“Tends to just reach out and bite you in the ass. Been through it a time or two myself,” Nathan nodded as he drained his glass, “But if you’re not wallowing in regret and self-loathing by now, I’d say just run with it and see what happens. Worst case scenario, you two don’t work out. Not the end of the world.”

Cowell reached out and grabbed the bottle, whiskey slouching into his glass before it was returned to the tabletop. Just as the old man was about to take a good sip of his newly poured drink, Mike appeared with the snacks that Cowell had asked for, though he hadn’t actually bothered to specify any sort of preference.

“You know us well,” the old man smirked as a tray of mozzarella sticks was positioned in front of him.

“You come here enough. I’d be pretty lousy at this job if I couldn’t remember something as simple as your snack order by now,” the bartender chuckled.

“You make a damn good point,” Nathan said, hoisting his glass in a mocking toast.

“Thanks Mike,” Jocelyn called to the retreating bartender’s back. She fished a mozzarella stick out of the basket and popped the end in her mouth, pulling back for the satisfying enjoyment of a long string of mozzarella.

“This feels weirdly normal,” she commented once she’d finished the bite, gesturing with the half eaten snack as she did. “And yeah. We’re going to give it a go and see what happens, but…” she took another bite, chewing quickly. “Unless you were also partaking of the… benefits… of a relationship with the CinC of Starfleet… I am hoping you didn’t have to jump through quite so many hoops or as many people needing to know.”

“Can’t say I’ve slept with a CinC…” Nathan said before pausing, “Wait… I think I actually did once. But that was before she took over, so it doesn’t count. I think we were on the Lexington together, if memory serves. Nice girl. Tight ass. Wasn’t much of an engineer though. Don’t know who recommended her for a command billet but… meh.”

Another mozzarella stick disappeared while the old man mulled over his past relationships before he got back around to the topic at hand, “As long as you two can keep your professional lives separate, there’s not a whole lot anyone can really do about you two knocking boots or… whatever the hell it is Vulcans do these days. Last one I was with was back in my Fleet days…”

She’d been sipping her whisky as he spoke and looked down at her glass a moment, noting that perhaps sipping wasn’t the right descriptor. With a sigh she set the glass back down. “Sure,” she said. He was, technically, correct, but he hadn’t been accused of getting his position through exchanges of favors. Even if that accusation came from someone whose words shouldn’t hold any weight, it had gotten around and the way it had been shut down wouldn’t help this situation.

“Any tips?” she said, finally. “The hand holding thing is pretty convenient. Considering how hard they are to read.”

“That’s true. Touch telepaths have a way of surprising you with things like that. Probably why they never liked shaking hands when humans first started having regular contact with them,” Cowell smirked.

“As for tips…” the old man said as he leaned back, “Best advice I can give you is never take what a Vulcan says about their feelings at face value. For all the shit they talk about being honest, they’ll lie like a Ferengi looking to seal a deal if you start asking them how they feel, what they feel, all that jazz. Funny part is, they’re lying to themselves more than they are to you. Makes it a bit comical when you stop and think about it.”

Nathan took another snack out of the basket and rolled it in his fingers, “Just don’t get wrapped up in your own species’ tendency to demand outward affection. You’ll rarely get that from a Vulcan. If you’re fine with a touch here and a nod there, it can actually be rather fulfilling to be with one. And hell, you’ll never run out of things to argue about as long as you don’t use any semblance of logic in your arguments.”

That earned him a laugh. She couldn’t even imagine being at a spot where arguments were a thing to think about–it was that new. She tipped the bottle, returning her glass to the appropriate volume before lifting it and swirling the glass and taking another long sip. “What about you?” she asked, not changing the subject for any reason so much as being curious what the old man had been up to in the window where she wasn’t his regular drinking partner. “Other than scaring off kids, what have you been up to?”

“About the same as always, stitching up holes that didn’t come naturally in people, shit like that,” Cowell said with a shrug, “Don’t have much in the way of an entertaining life outside of work. If I’m not scaring off spineless babies at least once a day, I can’t say I’ve really contributed to the world, now can I?”

Giving him a look over her glass of whiskey that made it clear she thought full well he contributed plenty, scaring kids or not, she made a non-commital noise in response. “No new bombings at least, so… that seems like a plus in your line of work.” The glass returned to her lips as she sipped, slower again. Returning the glass to the table she frowned over at him. “It wasn’t a huge amount of time, but it feels like I missed an age of things while we were hiding away.”

“Can’t say that you did,” the old man said with a noncommittal shrug, “But I suppose you’d be a bit more apt to think like that than I would. You just haven’t seen enough yet to make it all seem kind of routine… even the bombings.”

“You were right, you know,” she said after a few moments of quiet between the two. Comfortable silences had become a normal thing in the evenings they found themselves at the same bar. “About him being right in front of my nose.” A memory from a conversation they’d had before the incident at 18th and Constitution nudged its way to the top of her mind. “What did you tell him during that visit? Or am I not allowed to know even after…”

“Something about if he were going to do it, he shouldn’t do it half assed,” Nathan muttered with a frown, “I don’t know… something to that effect. Can’t remember every conversation I have with love-sick idiots. I’m a doctor, not a therapist.”

The image that formed in her head was comical. The Doc giving Sturnack relationship advice… no… more likely sex advice in light of the circumstance… in the language he tended toward. She pressed her lips together trying to stifle the giggle that threatened to escape at the scene. “What I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation.”

“Wasn’t that great,” Cowell grunted, “Your man isn’t exactly the type that listens with those big ass ears of his. If he was, you two probably would have been together a hot minute already. But it is what it is, as they say. Just good that you two aren’t still fumbling around in the dark.”

Cowell leaned back and came to rest on the plush backrest behind him, “Some folks go all their lives fumbling around. Seen a lot of good folks go down the winding road to nowhere with the person they were yearning for staring holes in their heads, oblivious to it all. That’s a true waste of a life, if you wanna know what I think. I have to admit I’m jealous of you short lived kids… you only get a hundred or so years to fuck it up. Imagine how horrid it would be if the universe had given you a few thousand to work with?”

One eyebrow quirked upward at his remark, the expression uncommon on her features… at least in the form it took at that moment. “You sound almost maudlin there Doc,” she commented wryly. “Never known you to regret any ounce of the time you’ve had no matter how many centuries.” Her expression evened out then, forehead creasing slightly as she gave him a slightly incredulous look. “Though I admit… nice to enjoy the intimate parts of it while I’m young enough to participate well.” It was a jab, though a toothless one. She was aware that her own experience far paled in comparison to anything she could throw at him. A bit like a toddler standing in front of an adult stamping its feet and insisting that it does, in fact, know better.

“You can go through your entire life not regretting a thing and still look back on it thinking you could have done something… or a whole mess of somethings a whole lot better than you did. Part of getting old. Looking back becomes less of a novelty and more of a necessity. Who knows… maybe that’s why growing old isn’t something everyone does, they didn’t take the time to stop and look back to learn a lesson or two and ran head first into the void,” the old man said with a somber chuckle.

Nathan leaned forward after an extended pause and seized his glass, raising it up to just above eye level. “Here’s to all the magnificent bastards that never had to worry about looking back.” Without waiting for any manner of reply, Nathan downed his remaining whiskey with a flourish and slammed the glass against the ground, shattering the drinking vessel.

“The fuck, old man!” came the indignant shout of the bartender.

“Oh lighten up, you tightwad… you know damn well you replicate those things anyway,” Cowell shouted back.

“I’m talking about the clean up, you selfish prick,” came the immediate reply.

Nathan rolled his eyes and scooted to the edge of the bench, catching sight of the man that had been his drinking companion’s shadow.

“Oi!” the elderly man barked, “Get a broom, will ya?”

Jocelyn’s security detail… or half of it at least… looked up at the old man, a bit of a deer in headlights look on his face, his head swiveling to make sure that it was, in fact, him that the doctor was addressing. “I’m sorry, sir?” he said, thinking perhaps he’d heard the man wrong.

“I didn’t ask you for a life history, boy. I told you to grab a broom. You do know what those are, don’t you son? About yay tall, bristles on the end of them…” Nathan said, making several explanatory gestures from his seat.

From her spot across from Cowell, Jocelyn had brought a hand to her mouth in a poor attempt to mask the laughter in her expression. The officer glanced from Cowell to her, clearly not aware of who he was talking to after all, but not exactly sure about leaving his post to do as he was told.

Working to compose herself Jocelyn gave the man a nod resulting in an expression mixing mortification and sheer and utter disbelief at her agreement with the order.

Getting slowly to his feet the man made his way over to the counter, glancing back several times as if he thought maybe the two were playing a prank from which he would quickly be relieved. They weren’t though, and a moment later, broom in hand, he returned mumbling something about elite training and brooms never being part of the curriculum.

The young man’s grumble did not escape Cowell’s notice and the old man flashed a rather malicious grin at Red before suddenly leaving the table in a flurry of motion. By the time either of the two realized what had happened, Cowell had the broom against the man’s throat, pressed just firmly enough to let him know that he couldn’t worm out of it even if he’d tried.

“Back during the Second World War here on Earth, I learned a whole hell of a lot about taking a man out with something as simple as a broom. Get the drop on anyone with ‘elite’ training and he’s about as helpless as you are now. If you’d have been alive back then, kid, you’d have died the first day with that kind of attitude. Maybe before you go bitching about why you’re doing something, you might want to think about why you’re being asked to do something. You don’t know who I am, do you son?” Cowell almost whispered into the young man’s ear.

He shook his head quickly, prompting Cowell to continue, “Doctor Nathan Cowell. In the time you’ve spent sitting in that booth pretending to watch Red over there, I’ve already gotten a pretty good handle on how good you are at what you do. I ain’t impressed. So do me a favor, kid, and sweep this glass up, then march your happy ass outside and wait with your less inept partner. Ain’t nothing going to get her in here while I’m around.”

The old man let go of the man and patted him on the back, “There’s a good kid.”

Jocelyn’s expression had turned from mirth to concern as she watched the event unfold faster than she could even blink at what the old man was doing–a reminder to her that despite all the grousing he was still far less elderly than his outward appearance let on. Or at least far less incapable than someone who looked his age was expected to be.

“You do know that I want them to… you know… like me… right?” she asked when the doctor resumed his seat. “You can’t follow me everywhere and…” Here her eyes darted around the space again, seeing ghosts in corners where there was nothing to see. She threw back what was left in her glass, setting it down carefully before setting her hands in her lap. The return to a space less heavily guarded… even though they’d told her the assassin was caught… even though the threat had seemingly passed… hadn’t been the easiest transition. “And I’d just as soon not get shot at or find myself on the receiving end of shrapnel again anytime soon.”

“Not for nothin’, Red, but I couldn’t give a shit whether they like you or not. What I do care about is whether they can actually protect you or not. And from what I’ve seen…” Cowell gave the young security officer a very withering look before continuing, “You’re not in the best of hands. Lucky for you, I can be in most of the right places… and I have a few friends that are in a few more of the right places. We’ll just work on the assumption that I’ve called in a handful of favors and you shouldn’t jump at shadows.”

Cowell motioned toward the window that was sitting at the other end of the booth meaningfully.

She frowned, heart in her throat for a moment as he spoke and her eyes followed his motion toward the window, seeing nothing worthy of note. “Are you moving into my apartment with me?” she asked, though the sarcasm of the comment was weak at best.

“Hardly,” Nathan said, “Just take a good look at what’s out there.”

The frown deepened, but she did as he asked, scanning the space beyond the window. “Nothing,” she commented. “Am I supposed to see something out there?”

“You found it already,” the old man smirked, “There’s nothing out there. Nothing that’s going to get you. You just enjoy your honeymoon with your Vulcan and let me worry about what’s out beyond the periphery. Although, I’m not actually going to be lifting a finger. That’s what calling in favors is for.”

The temptation to disagree with him was high. Experience over the last few months had given her plenty of reason to believe something was out there and that something could get her. They had barely caught on to the danger when the assassin struck and as it was one of the two security personnel had lost their life. Still she’d had no reason not to trust Cowell until now. So she kept her reservations to herself, drawing in a slow breath and nodding.

“We’re not married,” she commented with another quirked eyebrow. “And if this is a honeymoon… shouldn’t I be in a sumptuous room somewhere being… what was the term… broken in half?”

“If you were with anything other than a Vulcan, probably. But you had to go and pick a weird one,” Cowell snickered, “Maybe one of these days you’ll get to see him when he isn’t in control of his emotions and you’ll get to enjoy the wild ride.”

Nathan gave the woman a coy wink, “It’s worth the wait.”

Her expression matched coyness for coyness. “That was… sort of… the entre to the relationship,” she said with a pointed look. “But you know that already because you’re his doctor.”

“I know that already because I have eyes,” the old man snorted indignantly, “Remember, I have about 500 years of experience to go by.”

“There is that,” she said back before sliding back out of the booth and making her way to the bar. She returned a moment later with a fresh glass and slid it in front of the old man. Without pausing she hefted the bottle, tilting a not insignificant measure of whisky into the glass before topping up her own.

“I have missed you,” she said fondly, tilting her glass in his direction before tipping it back to take a long draught.


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