Captain Lorca, the man who pressured Paul to make his drive work to the point where he endangered his life, had escaped from the consequences of his actions. It wasn’t right. Hugh clenched his fists at his side, but released them. Anger wasn’t going to change what happened to Paul. He had to protect him now. Hugh opened his mouth to respond to Tilly’s statement, but he stopped at the sound of Paul’s voice.
“Paul,” Hugh said, moving to his side. “How’re you feeling?”
“A little… better.” Paul lifted his head and saw Tilly’s face on the screen. “Hey Tilly.”
“I didn’t mean to wake you. I’m so sorry!”
“Please stop apologizing. I knew Hugh was waiting for me to wake up.”
Tilly’s smile faltered just a little, but Paul didn’t seem to notice. She brushed a stray curl from her face. “It’s good to see you, sir. You look good.”
Paul laughed once; it came out as a pitiful sound. “You’re a terrible liar. I look like shit. But Hugh is taking care of me. I’ll be okay.”
“I’ll let you two be alone,” Tilly said. “Is it okay if I call tomorrow? I’ll pester Michael for more information on the investigation and I’ll keep you posted.”
“That sounds good. Thanks, Tilly.” Hugh smiled at her. She gave a quick wave with her hand and closed the connection.
As soon as the connection closed, Paul’s face tightened and he put his hands on his stomach. He rolled to his side and let out a low moan. The movement pulled his IV slightly. Paul looked at the needle in his hand, but didn’t seem to have the energy to care. Hugh immediately checked the bio-readings. They had changed slightly, but not much. The medication had just begun to be administered through the IV. There must’ve been a lag between doses and he was feeling the symptoms again. Hugh adjusted the timing so it wouldn’t happen again. He rubbed Paul’s back, waiting for him to relax as the medicines took effect. After several long minutes, the tension in Paul’s body lessened.
“Can I have a drink of water?” Paul whispered.
“Of course.” Hugh gave his arm a brief squeeze before getting a cup of lukewarm water with a bendy straw. He stepped back up to the bed. “Do you feel dizzy or would you like to try sitting up?”
“Not dizzy. I’m okay siting up a little.”
Hugh slowly moved the bed up a bit. Paul’s face went pale, but he didn’t seem to be out of it. Hugh waited for a moment before offering the cup to his love. Paul tried to grasp it, but his hands slipped off the cup.
“Don’t worry about it. Here, take a sip.” Hugh turned the straw to face him. He moved the cup closer and guided the straw to Paul’s chapped lips.
Paul took a few small sips and let his head fall back against the biobed. “Thanks.”
“Are you hungry at all?” Hugh asked, touching the side of his face. “If you aren’t feeling nauseous, we should see if you can keep down some food. The IV is keeping your hydrated, but you need to eat to keep up your strength.”
Paul shrugged. “Maybe? I could try. I don’t feel like throwing up right now, but I don’t want to be sick later.”
His response broke Hugh’s heart. He didn’t want him to be apprehensive about eating since he already didn’t eat much. There were many days he had to hunt Paul down and strongly suggest that they have lunch together. Coffee didn’t count as a meal in Hugh’s book, although Paul tried to convince him it was. After the Tardigrade DNA injection, Paul’s system couldn’t balance right away. His blood sugar levels wavered, along with his nutrient absorption. Hugh convinced him that eating better would help. And it did. At first. Paul met him for meals and expressed excitement for the different foods. But as the situation changed, Hugh found himself eating alone and Paul making excuses. He should’ve seen it, but he was blinded by everything going on.
Hugh forced a smile on his face and went to replicate some broth for him to see if he could keep it down. He prayed he could. He needed to stabilize him.
Paul was sitting up more when Hugh came back. He stared at the PADD on his lap with a furrow in his brow.
“Something wrong?” Hugh asked.
“No. I was just… thinking.” He moved his PADD to the bedside table.
“I brought you some chicken broth. It’s not much, but if you can keep it down, I’ll get you something better later.” Hugh set the bowl on the table and perched on the edge of the bed.
Paul looked at the bowl, but didn’t move to pick it up. He lifted one hand. It quickly dropped back to the blanket. The lack of strength simple enough to feed himself worried Hugh, but he hoped some of his strength would come back soon.
“Let me help you,” Hugh murmured. He held the bowl in his hand and slowly gave him a bite.
Paul made a face. “It’s not the most appealing taste. Bland.”
“I know. I want to make sure you can keep it down. Okay?”
The two sat in comfortable silence. Paul managed to eat almost all of the broth before he lifted his hand to push the spoon back and shook his head. It wasn’t quite the entire small portion, but it was enough for now. Hugh removed the bowl and briefly looked at Paul’s bio-readings. They were slowly improving some, but not all of them. He was still quite sick.
“I keep dreaming… of myself, but it’s not me. Me, the other me, is trying to tell me something, but I can’t focus on his words. It just fades in and out.” Paul rested his head against the bed. “I don’t get it.”
“Dreams can leave us feeling unfocused at times.”
“It’s more than that, Hugh.” Paul sighed. “I don’t feel right… like me. And I don’t like it.”
“I know. We’re working on it.” Hugh took a small step back from Paul to give him some space and to check on the results of the blood sample. Paul needed to rest and honestly, so did Hugh. He’d finish the blood sample, check up on Paul’s medication reactions, and then head to get some sleep. Paul would be asleep by then. He started to move to the main medbay station.
Paul grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “Don’t go.”
His heart contracted in sympathy. Hugh leaned over and brushed the hair behind Paul’s ear. “Paul, I’m not going anywhere. I’m gonna stay right by your side. It’ll be okay.” He gently kissed him. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” Paul yawned and closed his eyes.
The door to the medbay opened, admitting the night nurse. She smiled at both of them and headed over to her station. Hugh glanced back at Paul to see he’d fallen asleep. His stats wavered a little, but held steady.
“May I?” the nurse asked.
“Of course, sorry.” Hugh touched Paul’s shoulder and stepped back.
“No problem. I don’t want to bother you, but I just want to check his IV line and make sure everything is functioning properly.”
Hugh nodded. He watched as she checked Paul’s IV line. She was young, probably in her first years of being a nurse, with a slight build and long brown hair, tucked up in a bun. She tenderly moved around Paul, making eye contact with his sleeping form and treating him as if he were important to her. It was a sign of respect for her patients.
“What’s your name?”
“Nurse Cassie.” She finished her work and added her notes to Paul’s chart.
Hugh pulled up her check and confirmed it. “Nice to meet you, Nurse Cassie. Doctor Hugh Culber.”
“Dr. Culber, we met earlier, but you were a bit distracted.” She smiled at Paul’s sleeping form. “You care a lot about him.”
Hugh smiled. He wanted to answer her, but it wasn’t professional to declare his love for Paul. Instead, he said, “I should get some rest. Thank you. If anything changes –”
“I’ll be sure to page you. Sweet dreams, Doctor.”
He should stay. Paul could wake up again, confused and need him. But at the same time, Hugh knew he needed to take care of himself so he could help his love. “Keep an eye on his water-electrolyte balance. It’s a little abnormal.” There was so much that wasn’t normal, that wasn’t Paul anymore, but Hugh had to focus on the medical problems he could understand.
“Understood. I’ll keep him safe.”
DISCOVERY * DISCOVERY
Hugh heard the sound of Paul screaming as soon as he entered the medbay. He ran to the biobed as Dr. Zekel ordered a nurse to bring him a hypospray of Ketorolac, 3 ccs. Paul’s face was contorted in pain. Sweat ran down his brow and had soaked parts of his clothing. Hugh had only been asleep for eighty-three minutes when Nurse Cassie paged him, due to instability in Paul’s blood results and enzyme imbalance. She stated Paul was agitated and asking for him. He talked to Paul a little over the comm, but it didn’t seem to calm him and his breathing wasn’t right. It was uneven and tight. Hugh dressed and paged for Doctor Zekel to join him. By the time, he arrived, Paul’s condition has deteriorated and he cried out in pain.
“Paul!” Hugh immediately touched his bare arm, feeling how cold and clammy he was. His blood pressure was low, but his heartrate was quick and thready. “I’m right here.”
“I – can’t!” Paul groaned.
“It hurts. It hurts.”
Hugh ran the back of his finger down Paul’s face, from his temple to his chin. Paul leaned into the touch for a moment, but he pulled back. Doctor Zekel yelled something, but Hugh didn’t catch it. Paul opened his mouth to say something else, but groaned and wrapped his arms tighter around his middle. Hugh tried to coax him to lie back, but he didn’t. He touched his hand, seeing that Paul’s fingers were swollen. He looked up at the bio-readings, noting the decreased urine output, electrolyte imbalance, and decreased oxygen saturation.
He locked eyes with Dr. Zekel. “Acute kidney failure.” How? His stats had been poor earlier, but they hadn’t been this bad. Things were getting worse and too quickly. The medication wasn’t stabilizing him as they wanted.
“Yes, but we don’t know the exact cause of kidney failure. We need to treat the symptoms and stabilize him until we can discover the source of the culmination of his symptoms.”
Hugh looked down at Paul as he gasped. He grabbed Paul’s hand, squeezing it.
“Hugh, some – something is wrong,” he hissed.
Paul let out a cry that made Hugh feel physically ill. Seconds after he cried out, the lights in the medbay flickered and a crack formed in the middle of the display screen. The energy seemed to evaporate from Paul and he splayed out on the biobed. Hugh steadied Paul’s head as it rolled to the side. His eyes were closed. What the hell just happened? Did Paul do that? Hugh watched as Paul’s stats stabilized a little, but stayed critical. Doctor Zekel administered medication to help Paul’s kidney function, but it was only a temporary fix. They had to find out the reason for Paul’s gastrointestinal distress, acute kidney failure, and a way to solve the problem with his mind.
“He’s unconscious,” Dr. Zekel stated. “His pulse is becoming stronger.”
Hugh stood up straight and backed up to give the nurses a chance to fix the IV that Paul had ripped from his hand and to clean him up. “Is it possible that Lieutenant Stamets caused the electrical flicker and damage to the screen?”
Doctor Zekel shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t know.”
“I feel the same. All I know is that we have to help Lieutenant Stamets, to help Paul, or he’s not going to survive this.”
Hugh spent the next three hours dissecting all of Paul’s scans, going back to the beginning. He stayed in the medbay and kept a close eye on Paul. He didn’t regain consciousness, but he did mutter a few times about being trapped. Nurse Cassie brought Hugh a cup of coffee before she went off-duty. He rubbed his forehead, trying to stave off the headache creeping up on him, but it wasn’t going to stop it. He sipped the coffee and watched Paul’s chest rise and fall. Dr. Finch changed up the medication, adding something to stabilize his kidneys. Hugh approved of the treatment, but he knew it was only a Band-Aid.
“Doctor Culber, do you have a moment?” Dr. Zekel asked.
Hugh nodded. He followed the other two doctors into the office area. It felt like a part of him remained in the medbay, but he didn’t turn back. He had to stay focused. The group sat down at the table. Dr. Zekel pulled Paul’s bio-readings up on the view screen.
“Lieutenant Stamets is showing signs of acute kidney failure, along with fluctuating liver enzyme levels. He is experiencing nausea, dizziness, low and high blood pressure, and random electrical surges in his temporal medial lobe. It is my opinion that Lieutenant Stamets caused the electrical problems and the crack in the view screen. I don’t know if he’s dangerous, but he is in critical condition.” Dr. Zekel paused.
“Do you believe he’s a danger to others?” Doctor Finch asked.
What? Hugh wanted to shout that Paul wouldn’t hurt anyone, but he closed his mouth as Zekel held up his hand. “At this time, I don’t believe so.”
“Alright.” Dr. Finch gestured at the screen and turned his attention to Hugh. “Was there anything else on Discovery that could have aided in his rapid deterioration?”
Hugh shook his head. “No. Paul was eating healthy, for the first time in a long time, and I closely monitored his levels. He was stable. Until the multiple jumps, Lieutenant Stamets was only showing personality changes, not physical. Admittedly, I didn’t know about the other side effects until later.”
“That wasn’t your fault.” Doctor Zekel brought up the scan of Paul’s temporal lobe after the last jumps. “This is a scan after his last encounter with the spore drive.” He pulled up another scan and it was clear by the image, his condition hasn’t improved, but gotten worse. “There’s something we’re missing and I don’t necessarily think it’s medical.”
“Could it be related to the spore drive itself?” Hugh asked. An idea was forming in his mind and it might actually make sense with some of his symptoms.
“Anything is possible at this point. All I know is that something has to be done or we aren’t going to be able to keep Lieutenant Stamets alive without substantial artificial support. His body is failing.”
“Let me consult with Cadet Tilly. She worked closely with Lieutenant Stamets on the spore drive and she might be able to help interpret what’s happened to him in a way that we don’t understand.”
“You have my approval,” Doctor Zekel said.
The comm beeped, halting the conversation. One of the nurses spoke quickly. “I’m sorry for the interruption, Doctor Zekel. Lieutenant Stamets is conscious.” The nurse paused. “He’s asking for Doctor Culber. Alone, sir.”
Hugh pushed up from his chair before she finished speaking. He stepped into the medbay, aware that the other doctors were close behind him. Paul turned his head. A tear ran from Paul’s eye and trickled down his cheek before falling on the biobed. Hugh looked at the new screen, seeing Paul’s temperature had increased to 38 degrees Celsius. Despite the fever, Paul shivered. The redness around Paul’s eyes were stark against his pale skin.
“Hugh?” Paul murmured.
Hugh grasped Paul’s hand. “I’m right here, honey.”
“I – I’m scared. I don’t feel good.” Another tear escaped from his eye.
Hugh used his thumb to brush away the tear. “I know you don’t, but I’m gonna fix this. I promised you and I keep my promises.”
“He keeps saying that I’m gonna lose you, but I can’t. I can’t lose you.” Paul put out his other hand and grabbed a fistful of Hugh’s shirt. His loose grip couldn’t hold on for more than a few seconds.
“Who?” Hugh held Paul’s other hand and gently pressed it to his lips.
“Me.” Paul groaned and closed his eyes. The bio-alarm went off as his heartrate climbed.
Hugh frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“Me either. I’m so tired.” Paul tried to smile, but it quickly fell. “I love you, Hugh.”
“I love you too.” Hugh leaned over and kissed him softly, letting his tears mix with Paul’s. “Please, you have to fight.”
Paul nodded. It wasn’t enough, but it would have to do.