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Without You

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Doctor Hugh Culber tried not to listen to the good-byes behind him. He’d already said good-bye to the staff in the medbay and his friends. He made sure the last of their things were loaded into the shuttle. Out of the corner of his eye, Hugh glanced over at his love. Lieutenant Paul Stamets stood with his favorite red-haired cadet as he wished her the best of luck. It was sweet. He’d enjoyed getting to know Tilly and watching her grow. Hopefully, they’d see her again.

“I’ll miss you. It won’t be the same without you.” Cadet Tilly sniffled as she forced a smile on her face.

Paul put both hands on her shoulders and forced her to look at him. “You’re so strong. You’re going to do great things,” Paul said. “I’ll be okay.”

“You better be. Doctor Culber said he could send me updates on how you were doing.”

“I’m sure he will,” Paul’s response was stilted and it should be.

Hugh tried not to focus on it, but Paul had been hiding the side effects from him for weeks and didn’t tell him. They hadn’t even had time to discuss the damage the spore drive was causing before Lorca swept Paul from the room. Neither Paul, nor Hugh had time to talk before Lorca’s crazy idea of micro jumps. Hugh wanted to ask Paul not to do it, but he knew he would. The hardest part was finding out that his love lied to him about the side effects, but he’d told Tilly. Paul was her superior; he didn’t blame Tilly for not saying anything to him. Paul was to blame.

“I’m sure the Lieutenant has a good explanation for keeping that a secret.”

“Hugh.” The raw pain in his voice almost overwhelmed Hugh.

“There’s no time. This cuff will let me treat you while you’re in the chamber.”

Paul didn’t say anything as he stepped into the chamber. He wanted him to protest and not do this, but he didn’t. Hugh found it hard to look at him as he stared at the screen with Paul’s stats. His blood pressure was already up. The first few jumps weren’t bad, but they didn’t even count toward the looming number. Paul stayed relaxed, but his body showed signs of anxiety. Lorca gave the order. Hugh could hear Tilly counting down. It felt harder to breathe.

“I love you.” Paul’s voice was unsteady, but certain.

Hugh locked eyes with him. And then the jumps began as Paul winced.

It was hard to watch, but Hugh wouldn’t look away. He had to protect Paul and to make sure he made it through this. As the jumps progressed, Paul started to make soft sounds of discomfort.

“Heartrate is at 182.” Supraventricular tachycardia; but the jumps weren’t stopping. His heart was contracting so quickly that the muscle couldn’t relax between contractions. Hugh could tell it was making it harder for Paul to breathe and it was probably making him dizzy. They still had ninety-six more jumps.

“Jump 59. Jump 60,” Tilly’s voice kept counting.

Paul’s eyes snapped open and shut. His respirations increased, but his oxygen levels decreased. He was starting to panic. Sweat ran down his face and drenched his hair, making it appear darker. Hugh loved when Paul emerged from the shower with wet hair, darkened with water, but this was wrong. It wasn’t sweet.

“Jump 62.”

The stats on his medical PADD turned red. He had to help him. Hugh walked over to the glass. “How’re we doing, Lieutenant?” Paul. He should’ve called him Paul. Maybe it would have grounded him again.

Paul tried to look at him, but his eyes weren’t focusing right. His body kept jolting as if he were having a minor seizure with each jump. “There’s a clearing in the forest. That’s how they go.” He gasped as the next jump commenced.

Hugh immediately hit the comm button. “Engineering to Bridge, we have to abort.”

His sinoatrial node was firing above 200 per minute. It was too fast. There was no way Hugh was going to watch his love die. But Lorca didn’t listen.

“Call it off. Now!” Hugh begged.

Yes, trillions of lives were at stake, but the only one that mattered to Hugh in the entire universe, could die for them. Hugh knew he had to let Paul continue. Lorca ordered him to do whatever he had to do to keep him alive until they finished the jumps. Alive only until the jumps were finished. He didn’t care what happened to Paul after that. Hugh knew.

“I love you too.” Hugh placed his hand on the glass, but Paul didn’t look at him. He didn’t know if Paul heard him. He administered the mediation, praying it would stabilize him enough to save him.

“Jump 65.”

The rapid succession of those one hundred thirty-three jumps almost killed him only fourteen hours ago. As soon as they finished, Hugh practically tore the door to the chamber open. Paul collapsed into Hugh’s arms. They immediately transported him to the medbay.

In the flurry of action, Hugh was pushed back and not allowed to get too close to his love. It almost broke him when the first words Paul uttered, out of breath and in extreme pain, were “love you.” Hugh gasped. The CMO gently pushed him back as Paul convulsed on the table. Hugh had to look away from him for a moment, regaining his balance by holding onto a console as he listened to the wails of the biobed alarms. Tilly gently touched his arm. He looked at her, fighting to blink the moisture from his eyes and silently thanking her for the support.

Hugh had been forced to watch from the sidelines, but not anymore. Lorca asked Paul to do one more jump to take them to Starbase 46, but Paul refused and since Hugh had already filed the medical report with Starfleet Command, Lorca couldn’t force him to do it.

Hugh was going to Starbase 88 with Paul in a shuttle while Discovery headed to Starbase 46. Starbase Eighty-Eight had an advanced medical lab and since he was the one to witness Paul’s deterioration, Hugh was the most competent to start working on a solution, a way to heal Paul’s mind. Also, he was Paul’s partner. He needed to be there. Hugh would be working with a team, so he wasn’t head of the case, but it would help to keep Paul calm and to make sure things didn’t go awry again.

Hugh watched as Paul’s arms fell when he broke contact with Tilly. His movements were slow. He’d only been awake and upright for an hour before Hugh received the final confirmation to leave Discovery. Paul hadn’t recovered fully. He was still exhausted and weak.

“Paul, we better get in the shuttle,” Hugh stated, coming to stand next to him.

“I love when you call him Paul. I mean, of course, you call him Paul because he’s… he’s your Paul. It’s just so odd not to hear someone call him Stamets or Lieutenant,” Tilly babbled. “I’m sorry.”

Hugh gave her a soft smile. He knew she blamed herself for what Paul did by injected himself with the tardigrade DNA. She wanted to stop him, but she couldn’t and Hugh didn’t blame her at all. “Thank you, Tilly. I’ll send you an update as soon as I have one.”

“Thank you, Dr. Culber.” She grinned at Paul. “Thank you, Lieutenant Stamets. Good luck.”

They boarded the shuttle in silence. Paul seated himself toward the front of the shuttle so he could see everything. Hugh made quick work of adjusting Paul’s medical sensor on his wrist and checking his stats. They were elevated, but holding steady for now. He started to move away, but Paul’s fingers grasped his.

“Hugh, sit next to me. Please.”

Hugh couldn’t resist the uncertainty in Paul’s voice. “Okay.”

Paul opened and closed his mouth without saying anything. Hugh looked straight ahead. This wasn’t the time or place to have the conversation that they needed to have.

“Disco Two, you are cleared to depart. Have a safe trip,” a voice said.

The first part of the shuttle trip, neither spoke. It was uncomfortable at first. Paul watched as the stars flew past the view screen and then he fell asleep with his chin against his chest. Hugh wanted to move his head so he wouldn’t get sore, but he didn’t. He needed a little space at the moment. He brought up some of Paul’s medical charts on his PADD and started studying them. He’d need to be prepared to present his findings with the team when they arrived.

After almost an hour, Hugh heard a soft moan beside him. He glanced over at Paul. He was awake, but seemed listless. He tried to shift positions, but the harness held him in place. An uneven breath escaped his lips. The medical PADD chirped, letting Hugh know that Paul’s heartrate was rising quickly.

Hugh placed a hand on Paul’s knee. “Hey, it’s alright. We’ll be there soon.”

Paul shook his head and leaned his head back. He closed his eyes and let out another soft moan.

Hugh almost realized too late. He managed to grab the emesis bag from the med kit next to him as Paul tried to lean forward again with one hand wrapped around his waist. It was too late for medicine at the moment. Hugh waited. Paul tried, but quickly lost the battle with his stomach and threw up into the bag. Hugh rubbed Paul’s back, soothing him as he waited for his stomach to calm down. Thankfully, he didn’t have much in his stomach to throw up.

“Done?” Hugh asked.

Paul nodded weakly.

Hugh unbuckled and took the container to the back, disposing of it quickly. He returned and immediately opened the med kit. He administered a low dose of an anti-emetic that he knew Paul wasn’t sensitive too. Paul had quite a few allergies; food, environmental, and medications. It made treatments tricky at times; another reason for Hugh to accompany Paul to Starbase 88.

Paul’s facial features relaxed a little. “I’ve never got space sick before.”

“I doubt it’s that. Your body chemistry is all out of whack and the change in environment made you ill.” Hugh handed him a tissue for his mouth.

Paul quickly wiped his mouth to get rid of the taste. He leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes as he shivered. Hugh checked his PADD, noting that Paul’s body temperature was elevated slightly.

“How’re you feeling?”

“My head hurts.” Paul kept his eyes closed.

“Unfortunately, that can be a side effect from the anti-emetic. It could also be a side effect of the 133 micro jumps and from extended use of the spore drive.” Hugh put his hand on top of Paul’s. “You know that injecting yourself with the tardigrade DNA was the stupidest thing you’ve ever done, right?”

“I saved you.” Paul opened his eyes and gave him a soft smile. “I know you’re mad I didn’t tell you about the side effects and I’m sorry.” He sat up a little more so he could look at him better. “If I told you, you’d have to report it and my genetic manipulation to Starfleet. I mean, they knew, but they didn’t know it was causing me harm. I didn’t want to hurt you. But by not telling you, I hurt you and I’m sorry.” Paul couldn’t look Hugh in the eyes.

Hugh put his hand on Paul’s cheek and gently turned his cheek. “I’m sorry too, but I’m not ready to talk about this. I need to focus on saving your life.”

“Okay.”

 

Discovery Discovery

 

 

“Disco Shuttle Two docking at Starbase Eighty-Eight,” the pilot reported.

Hugh glanced at his sleeping partner. Paul dozed in a restless sleep the rest of the trip to the starbase, but his stats remained the same. Hugh touched his arm, waking him gently. Paul’s eyes were heavy, but he didn’t protest. Hugh stood up and started to gather his things. He looked over at Paul as he tried to undo the harness buckle, but his fingers slipped. It was if he didn’t have the strength to press the release.

Hugh’s heart skipped a beat. “Let me help you,” he said softly.

“Thanks.” Paul’s cheeks turned red, which was very visible on his pale skin. He stood unsteadily, putting a hand toward the seat.

“Lieutenants, you are free to disembark. Good luck,” the pilot said. He ignored them as he started to prep for the return trip to Discovery without them.

Paul didn’t move.

“Do you need help?” Hugh asked, shouldering his duffle bag.

Paul shook his head.

“Really?”

This time, Paul nodded.

Hugh put Paul’s arm over his shoulder and was a little surprised when Paul put most of his weight on him. It wasn’t a problem though. “We’ll take it slow. One foot in front of the other.”

It was as if talking expended too much energy at the moment. Hugh wanted to make a comment about how much he was supporting Paul, but he didn’t. He focused on keeping him upright. A crewman unloaded the rest of their things from the shuttle, assuring them that it would be transported to their quarters soon. Hugh guided Paul into the shuttle bay where a tall, thin man, dressed in a medical uniform waited.

“Hello, you must be Dr. Culber and Lieutenant Stamets. I’m Dr. Zekel and I’ll be the coordinating doctor on your case. I can guide you both right to the main medical lab where we’ll be working and we can make Mr. Stamets comfortable –”

“No,” Paul interrupted. “Please, is it possible to just stay with Hugh for tonight? It’s been a long day. I feel fine, but I’m tired. I just want to sleep before I’m poked and prodded like a lab rat.”

Hugh prepared to defend Paul’s position to the new doctor. As much as Paul needed the medical attention, he’d be okay for one night. They both needed this.

“That is acceptable. I understand the need for a good night’s sleep. I will escort you to your living quarters for your stay here. Then I can talk to Dr. Culber a little if you want to go right to sleep.”

“Dinner first,” Paul added.

“Of course.” Dr. Zekel smiled. “Follow me. We’ll take the nearest transport to make it easier on you.”

Dr. Zekel gave them a few details about the station as they walked slowly. He also stated that Admiral Cornwall had come through her surgery well and was in recovery. Hugh asked a few questions, but Paul seemed distracted. They arrived at a small transport station. An eager Ensign transported them to the correct location.  Dr. Zekel informed them that the living quarters were only a five minute walk from the medical lab for their convenience. Hugh started to get the sense that Starfleet was trying to make them comfortable, despite what they’d done. They had a unique opportunity to study Paul. Hugh wasn’t sure if it was good or bad, but he swore to make sure no one harmed his love.

The quarters were a bit larger than the one they shared on Discovery. There was a small living space with a couch, a desk and computer terminal. Off to the right was a small kitchenette with a replicator. The bedroom and a decent sized bathroom, complete with bathtub, were set behind a door, separating the living quarters into two areas. Paul smiled at the sight of the bathtub, though he tried to hide it from Hugh. They’d both enjoy a relaxing bath later.

Their luggage arrived as Hugh discussed a few things with Dr. Zekel, but he couldn’t focus. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Paul flop down on the couch and cover his eyes to block out the light. It wasn’t too bright in the room. Gosh, he was worried about him.

Dr. Zekel noticed his gaze. “I will let you have some dinner and get settled. We will get started tomorrow at 0800. Have a nice night.”

“Thank you. See you tomorrow.” Hugh closed the door and had the computer lock it. He looked over at Paul again, wondering it maybe he should call him back and they could admit Paul tonight and start testing him. At the same time, he knew Paul needed to rest and Hugh needed a night with him before things got more complicated.

Hugh programmed some food into the replicator, letting Paul lay on the couch.  He discreetly pulled up his stats from the medical sensor, noting that nothing had changed other than it appeared he did have a headache. Hugh prepped a hypospray and knelt next to Paul.

“I have something for your headache. It’s mild, but it might make you a little sleepier.”

“No,” Paul muttered. “I don’t want to feel more tired. I want to spend some time with you and I need to be awake.”

“Okay. Do you feel up to eating something? No more nausea?”

“Nope.” Paul pushed himself upright on the couch.

Hugh brought the food in and set the tray down on the small glass table. He watched as his partner smiled at the sight of the food; mashed potatoes, BBQ meatballs, steamed asparagus, strawberries, and even a small plate of chocolate chip cookies.

“This isn’t my last meal, right?” Paul teased. “If so, I would’ve requested pie.”

“No pie and it’s not your last meal. You’re gonna be okay. I will find a way to fix this. Promise.” Hugh ran his fingers through Paul’s hair as Paul took a bite of the mashed potatoes and leaned back against the sofa. “You’re important to me.”

“And you’re important to me.” Paul took his hand and squeezed it. “But these potatoes are fantastic.”

Hugh dished up a plate of food for Paul, making sure to give him healthy portions of everything but the chocolate chip cookies. Paul dug into the potatoes, but slowed down quickly.

“This isn’t what I had planned for us next,” he muttered.

“Did you plan on us laying on a nude beach and sunbathing?” Hugh teased, pushing Paul’s cup of water toward him.

“Not exactly.” Paul pulled his legs up on the couch and rested his head on his knees. “There’s a moon, not far from Starbase 46, and I understand they have the most esteemed Kasseelian opera house, where they are currently performing La Boehme. I was gonna be your date.”

“You were actually going to sit through that?”

“For you? Yes.”

Hugh gave him a soft kiss before starting to eat his own dinner.

They ate in a comfortable silence this time. Paul only finished half of what Hugh gave him and barely touched the strawberries, which were his favorite fruit. It wasn’t enough in Hugh’s opinion, but he didn’t want to fight with him right now. He did make sure that Paul drank quite a bit of water to rehydrate him. Paul protested, but followed his doctor’s orders.

“I have a confession to make too,” Hugh said. “I requested quarters with a bathtub. Remember that tub we found on Alpha Centauri when we got a hotel room in order to keep our relationship a secret from Straal? You said you could’ve stayed in it for days.”

Paul grinned. “I forgot about that. Thank you for being so considerate.”

“Are you too tired, honey, or do you want to take a bath and relax?”

“Bath.” Paul moved to stand, but his arms shook as they supported his weight. Hugh had hoped the nutrients in the food would help his strength a little, but it didn’t. At least not yet. “I might need some help.”

Hugh smiled softly. “I can do that.”

They quietly moved into the bedroom. Hugh moved their luggage into the room and pulled out a few things, such as their toothbrushes and pajamas. Paul perched on the edge of the bed, watching him.

“I don’t tell you enough, but I love you,” Paul whispered.

“You do. You tell me all the time in the things you do.” Hugh stopped unpacking and put a hand on Paul’s shoulder. “I love you too.”

Hugh ran water in the tub and helped Paul get undressed as they waited for it to fill up. Paul didn’t say anything as his arms shook. Hugh’s eyes focused on the augments in Paul’s arms. As his clothes fell away, the only things remaining was the manipulation he did to the arms he loved. Hugh gently touched the edges. At least it didn’t appear that they were infected this time. He’d treated them only a few days before. Hugh put an experimental device in his honey’s arms and it helped him connect to the spore drive, but it was painful to look it and it made cuddling difficult.

“I’m sorry too.”

“We both messed up.” Paul laughed once.

“I’m going to fix this.”

Paul didn’t say anything, but Hugh knew he understood and trusted him. They both relaxed in the tub together, talking about nothing as they enjoyed spending a little time with each other. Hugh couldn’t forget that Paul wasn’t alright. He was sick. After a while, he started to doze in the water. Hugh didn’t say anything as he gently washed Paul’s hair, rubbing his fingers in a tender motion to get him clean. He didn’t know when he’d get a chance do to this again. Paul smiled. He loved having his hair combed and played with. It was quite adorable.

It was a bit harder to get Paul out of the bathtub and into his pajamas. His exhaustion began to overwhelm him and he wasn’t much help. But Hugh managed. He kissed Paul’s forehead after he tucked the blankets around him. Paul let out a soft sound of content. Hugh settled beside him and pulled up his stats. Paul’s pain indicators had risen despite the relaxing bath. Hugh administered a low dose pain reliever to help him sleep better. Hopefully he didn’t have any bad dreams. He started to work on Paul’s charts, but quickly dismissed the idea.

Hugh laid back and put his arm around Paul. Paul immediately attached himself to Hugh, putting his head on Paul’s chest. Underneath that prickly astromycologist façade was an incredibly stubborn man who loved to cuddle. One of Paul’s hands rested by Hugh’s cheek and almost touched it. His other hand lay on Hugh’s chest above his heart. Hugh gently put a hand behind Paul’s neck and the other rested on his back. They fit together likes pieces of a puzzle. There were so many nights that Hugh woke up with Paul’s arms around him, holding him tightly. It was perfect.

Tomorrow it would change. Tomorrow, Hugh would try to find a way to save his love.

Chapter Text

0422

Hugh rolled to his side, immediately reaching for Paul next to him. His hand brushed the smooth sheets, but he didn’t feel Paul. Hugh glanced at the clock and sighed. He’d only been asleep for four hours. He’d had trouble falling asleep with Paul sleeping restlessly. It took him a moment to realize the sound that woke him up must’ve been Paul. He heard the sound again and wanted to run to the bathroom, but he didn’t. Paul’s dinner must not have settled well and the sound was him getting sick again. Hugh waited. He didn’t want to embarrass him or make him uncomfortable. Paul really hated to be weak in front of others, though not as much in front of his lover.

A few minutes passed and Paul didn’t emerge from the bathroom. Hugh slipped out of the covers and padded barefoot to the bathroom.

“Paul?” he murmured.

“Mmm,” Paul responded.

“You okay?”

Paul didn’t answer at first. “My head hurts.” His voice was so soft that Hugh almost didn’t hear him.

It was dark in the bathroom and he couldn’t see where Paul was or if he needed help getting up. Hugh made a quick decision. “Computer, lights to 40 percent.”

As the lights rose, Paul immediately put his hands over his eyes and cried out.

“Computer, lights to 20 percent,” Hugh quickly ordered. He knelt down in front of Paul as he took short breaths. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Paul.”

Paul kept his eyes tightly closed. He was very photosensitive and experiencing nausea; it would probably be a good idea to scan him. Hugh fetched his tricorder and came back. Paul hadn’t moved, but his breathing had slowed a little. The results came up on the screen. His headache had returned and was worse than before, no doubt causing the photosensitivity and nausea.

“I should take you to the medbay. This was a bad idea,” Hugh murmured.

“No.” Paul slowly opened his eyes and reached for Hugh’s hand. He grasped it tightly. “I want to stay with you. Just you and me for a little while longer. Please.”

“Okay. But let’s get you back into bed.”

Paul didn’t even attempt to get up. Hugh slid one arm under Paul’s legs and the other behind his shoulders. He gently lifted him and carried him back to bed. Paul snuggled against his chest. He kissed the top of Paul’s head before laying him back down.

This wasn’t right. Hugh grabbed his PADD before lying back down beside Paul. As soon as he settled under the blanket, Paul resituated himself so he was resting his head on Hugh’s chest. His eyes stayed open as he made a small circular motion on Hugh’s chest. Hugh needed to fix this right away. He couldn’t let Paul be in pain. He checked his messages, making sure the screen on his PADD wasn’t too bright. One hour previous, Dr. Zekel had sent a preliminary schedule of tests for later that morning. Hugh wondered if he was still awake. He couldn’t make a decision on his own anymore. He had a team that would be helping him heal Paul. He sent a quick message with the scans to Dr. Zekel for a consult.

Every medication administration, every scan, every calories and sip of coffee, was now going to be analyzed by the team of doctors and scientists. It was like Paul wasn’t his anymore. He had to share him in order to keep him. To keep him alive. To keep his love alive. Hugh saw Paul’s eyes were closed, but he could tell he wasn’t asleep. He ran his fingers through Paul’s hair, loving how soft his hair was after their bath. Paul relaxed a little. It was going to be worth it. If he had to share Paul to save him, it was worth every bit of it. And then after, maybe he could have the man he loved back.

About five minutes later, Hugh received a message, thanking him for asking and suggesting a low dose of a mild pain reliever. It wasn’t one he’d recommend to Paul due to his allergies. Dr. Zekel responded kindly, suggesting another one. Hugh administered the analgesic and waited. He cuddled Paul, feeling him slowly drift to sleep again.

Hugh tried to fall back asleep, but he couldn’t. His own stomach churned with worry for the man he loved. He updated Paul’s charts, making a clearer notification about his allergies and sensitivities. The small note for the administration of the analgesic went at the top of the most recent information. Hugh also included his scans prior to the medication and afterwards. He hoped it was sufficient.

“Have you experienced any side effects as a consequence of that?” Lorca’s question wasn’t sincere. It was… just a question that plagued an inconvenience with his navigator.

“No, Captain.” Paul’s eyes were down and he couldn’t even look at Hugh. Hugh should’ve known he was lying. His downcast tone told him Paul was upset and he felt trapped, but he couldn’t admit that he was lying. He’d felt lost lately and his personality kept going up and down. Hugh hated to see him like that, but he was still his Paul. It was confusing for both of them.

“Well, I’m not ready to play roulette with his brain.”

But he was playing roulette with Paul’s brain. They had to find a way to stabilize and restore the remapping of the white matter in his medial temporal lobe. It wasn’t going to be easy. The Tardigrade DNA blending with Paul’s DNA had created a puzzle; one which two hours of hard work couldn’t finish. It would take time. Hopefully Paul had the patience for all of the scans later that morning. It wasn’t going to be easy. Hugh rubbed Paul’s back as he tried to move a little.

He whispered softly, “I’m right here. Just sleep, my love.”

 

DISCOVERY * DISCOVERY

 

“0700 reminder for wake-up, 0700 reminder –”

“Computer, mute.” Hugh ran his hands over his face. He’d barely dozed off again. It only took him a moment to realize Paul wasn’t lying on his chest anymore. He’d rolled to his side and was curled up in a ball. Most of the blanket was tucked around him.

Hugh slipped out of bed and headed to the bathroom to get ready for the day. When he freshened up and changed into his medical uniform, Hugh stepped back into the room. Paul was sitting up, but still cocooned in the blanket.

“Hey, how’re you feeling?” Hugh asked, flopping down on the bed on his stomach and getting a small smile from Paul.

“I’m okay. Still a bit tired.”

“Are you feeling nauseous at all? How’s your head?” Hugh restrained himself from reaching for his PADD. It was better to let Paul answer.

Paul shook his head. “It feels better.”

“Good.” Hugh pushed himself up and busied himself by heading toward the living area to make breakfast.

He worked in silence at first, but found himself humming one of his favorite Kasseelian arias. Paul emerged from the bedroom, dressed in black sweatpants and one of Hugh’s t-shirts. Hugh’s heart skipped a beat at the sight of his love wearing his shirt. It was incredibly endearing and cute. Paul slowly sat down on the couch, biting his lip as he sat. He must’ve still been in some pain, but he didn’t complain. Hugh carried over the warm pretzel bread sandwich with black ham, eggs, cheese, and garlic spread. It was one of Paul’s favorites for breakfast.

“Another last meal?” Paul teased.

“No. Just a special treat to help convince you to cooperate for the scans today.”

“I can cooperate.”

Hugh raised one eyebrow as he started in on his own sandwich.

“Okay, fine. I will. I won’t try to escape or bother the nurses with stupid questions.” Paul sighed and took a bite of his sandwich. “You’re no fun when you’re worried.”

“Honey, you’re worried too. I can tell.”

Paul shrugged. “It’s true.”

Hugh grabbed his hand and gave it a tight squeeze. “I’m gonna be there the whole time. They won’t force me to leave you. If you have any questions or don’t understand anything, I’m there to explain it. But mostly, I’m there to help you feel better in any way I can.”

“Thank you.”

They finished breakfast and got ready to leave. Hugh would be back later, but Paul wouldn’t. He was being admitted to the medbay for close monitoring. Hugh carried Paul’s duffle bag, making sure that he had Paul’s PADD or he’d be bored, complaining about the lack of color on the walls, in less than twenty minutes. As they walked down the corridor, passing by a few officers on their way to work, Paul reached out and grabbed Hugh’s hand to anchor himself. Hugh gently rubbed his fingers.

The medbay doors opened in front of them. It was larger than the medical bay on Discovery, but it was set up differently. Dr. Zekel saw them enter and greeted them. He guided them into a smaller room off to the side. Hugh sighed from relief, seeing it was more private. It contained one biobed and all of the equipment they’d need to study Paul and hopefully find a solution to his health problem. Dozens of doctors and staff introduced themselves to Hugh. Paul was given a pair of medical scrubs to change into. He glanced back at Hugh. Hugh gave him a smile and nodded. Paul didn’t say anything, but stepped into the bathroom to change.

Dr. Zekel showed him the tests they’d be performing that morning. It was all in order. Hugh nodded, having a hard time finding words. They’d be doing extensive tests on the man he loved. It all became very real.

Paul emerged from the bathroom in his light blue scrubs. Hugh took note of how pale Paul looked, more than normal. He stepped over and took his arm, guiding him to the biobed. He breathed uneasily as he lay down. The biobed immediately displayed his stats, which were unsteady and abnormal.

Paul tried to smile at him, but it fell. “I’m ready.”

“Okay.”

Most of the staff dispersed, heading back into the main medbay. Only two doctors, including Dr. Zekel remained. The first thing they wanted as a recent blood sample. Hugh asked to do it. He was incredibly thankful that none of the staff protested or insisted Hugh remain more neutral. They respected his relationship with Paul, which Captain Lorca never did. Paul laid his arm flat on the table, but kept his hand in a fist.

“I’ll be gentle, promise,” Hugh whispered.

“I know.” Paul opened his hand and relaxed his arm.

Hugh took the blood sample, being cautious not to draw too close to Paul’s augment.

Dr. Zekel had Hugh begin analyzing the scans with his help as another one of the doctor started a deep neurological scan, one that they needed Paul awake for. Paul didn’t protest, but Hugh could tell he wasn’t comfortable with the other doctor so close to him. Hugh kept glancing over at Paul to make sure he was doing okay. Paul closed his eyes, but Hugh knew he wasn’t asleep. He was trying to stay calm. He couldn’t distract himself with his PADD during this specific test.

“I’m sorry,” Dr. Zekel said softly.

“Excuse me?” Hugh was a little taken back by the doctor’s statement. There was no reason for the doctor to be apologizing. He should’ve been apologizing for not staying detached and being distracted by their patient. His patient.

“I doubt anyone has said this to you, but I’m sorry about what you are going through. I can’t imagine watching my wife go through this, even if she did willing make a choice to put her health in danger. I’m sure Lieutenant Stamets was under extreme pressure to get his experiment to work and to rescue the others. He may have known what he was doing, but he didn’t fully understand the repercussions for you.”

Hugh looked down at the data, adding a notation. “There are no repercussions for me. Just Lieutenant Stamets.”

“Watching someone you love suffer is almost more painful than them being in pain. You don’t have the physical pain he does, but it can break your spirit and make you exhausted. My job is to help assist with Lieutenant Stamets, but I’m also here for you. I can be a sounding board or just someone to listen.”

“Thank you. I need to be here for Paul. That doesn’t change because I’m worried sick about him.”

“You have to take care of yourself so you can take care of him.”

Hugh nodded, fighting to keep his emotions at bay. “I understand. Thank you.”

“I’m not saying you can’t glance at him to make sure he’s okay. You are welcome to do that. I just wanted to let you know that I understand.”

Hugh was grateful, even if he couldn’t fully vocalize it. They spent the entire morning performing various tests on Paul. He remained quiet, which was starting to make Hugh question if he was okay. He hated this. Hugh pulled up Paul’s stats on his PADD so he didn’t have to bother the test in progress. His blood pressure was climbing, along with his heartrate. Dr. Zekel hadn’t said anything, but he must’ve noticed the stress in his patient. Hugh waited until the test was complete to walk over to Paul.

He ran his fingers across Paul’s knee, letting him know it was him. Paul slowly opened his eyes. “Do you want me to give you something to help you relax?” Hugh asked.

Paul shook his head.

“How’re you doing?”

“I feel a bit dizzy and my stomach hurts some.”

Hugh touched his shoulder. “Well, an honest answer, I appreciate that.”

“I figure we started our relationship with honesty and I owe you that. I won’t lie to you again. Not like I did. I didn’t want to hurt you.” His voice choked up a little. “I’m sorry, Hugh.”

“Me too.” Hugh smiled as he blinked the moisture from his eyes. “I’d kiss you, but not now. Maybe when we’re alone.”

“If we get to spend time alone anymore,” Paul said, looking down at his hands.

“We will. I’ll make sure that we get time each day, just for us. Promise.”

Paul smiled and leaned back against the biobed. Hugh went to see if Dr. Zekel would allow something to help Paul feel a little more balanced and to see if they could discover the source of his stomach ache.

 

DISCOVERY * DISCOVERY

 

Hugh finished the blood draw and ran his fingers across the spot on Paul’s arm. He didn’t stir. Hugh took the sample to begin analyzing it. He watched for a few minutes as Paul’s chest rose and fell. He was in a peaceful sleep, but Dr. Zekel and the team wanted to check his blood every twelve hours. Hugh had gone back to his quarters after dinner, but he couldn’t stay alone. He came back to observe Paul for a while. The nurse was taking a break and it was just them. He could call for help if he needed.

There wasn’t much progress yet. Dr. Zekel and Dr. Finch decided on a short acting medication cocktail to see if they could keep ahead of the current symptoms. Paul had complained of dizziness in the morning and by afternoon, he couldn’t sit up without it bothering him. His stomach ache progressed to cramps and he’d thrown up several times. After the last time, Paul made an odd comment about seeing himself in his dreams, but knowing that it wasn’t him. Dr. Zekel gave him a mild sedative after that. They forced Hugh to take a break while Paul rested. When he returned, they shared the medication cocktail with him. It was fine. They also wanted to add an IV to keep him hydrated with the vomiting and to be able to administer the short acting cocktail. Paul would’ve refused the needle, but he was asleep. He hadn’t woken up yet and Hugh hoped he’d sleep all night.

There was a soft ringing from his computer terminal. Hugh focused his attention, making sure the sound hadn’t interrupted Paul’s rest. Nope. It was an incoming transmission from the Discovery. Hugh put a neutral expression on his face as he answered it. The first thing he saw was a flash of red curls. He smiled and relaxed a little.

“Sorry, I hope I’m not disturbing you. I just realized what time it is and I shouldn’t have –”

“Tilly,” Hugh interrupted. “It’s fine.”

Her hair was wet and she was clearly dressed in off-duty clothing. Hugh guessed she was calling from her quarters. “Sorry.”

“Really, it’s okay. How are you, Tilly?” Hugh watched as Paul’s heartrate went up a little, but he kept sleeping.

“I’m okay. How’s Lieutenant Stamets doing? I know that it’s not been very long since you left, but a lot has happened and I just wanted to check on him and make sure that he’s not getting worse and –” She stopped herself. “Sorry.”

Hugh sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. “Paul is… stable. He’s having some stomach issues and he’s dizzy, but right now he’s asleep. We haven’t made any progress yet. Dr. Zekel and Dr. Finch have him on a cocktail of medicines, hoping to minimize those symptoms until we can find the source. He... was a bit confused earlier, but… honestly, I don’t know.”

“I’m so sorry, Dr. Culber.” She rested her chin in the palm of her hand. “I can’t imagine how you feel.”

“Alone. And I’m frightened.”

“If you need anything, I’m here for you.” Tilly sat up straight and suddenly looked uncomfortable. “I almost forgot. I actually have some important news to share with you.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Umm, Captain Lorca disappeared.”

What? He had to have heard her wrong. “What do you mean Captain Lorca disappeared?”

“Commander Saru is investigating, along with Starfleet Command. He was supposed to be going to a meeting with a bunch of admirals, but he didn’t show up. And now they can’t find him.”

Well, shit.

Chapter Text

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.

“Bastard.”

“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?”

He nodded.

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.

“What’s wrong?”

“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.

Chapter Text

Paul couldn’t stay awake and it was making Hugh sick with worry. Out of all the hours in a day, Paul was only awake for four of them and the timing was disjointed. They’d managed to stabilize his pain, but it made his mind a bit cloudy. At the same time, it was hard to tell if it was the medication or his addled mind that caused such odd conversations about possible alternative realities and being stuck in the network. Hugh stared at the salad in front of him, not bothering to pick up his fork. He needed to eat something, but nothing sounded good. He checked his terminal to see if Tilly had responded to his message yet, but she hadn’t. She had sent a brief message to say she was going to look at Paul’s charts and get back to him as soon as she could. It wasn’t soon enough, but he knew Tilly cared about Paul and she’d do her best to help them.

Hugh glanced at the terminal, seeing it was after three in the morning. He hadn’t slept. Nurse Cassie had been summoned to assist in the main medbay with an emergency surgery. It was just Hugh and Paul.

A soft beep drew Hugh’s attention to his love. His heart fell a little when he saw it was just a blood pressure change. Paul wasn’t conscious yet. Hugh stepped over to the bed and ran his hand up Paul’s arm, giving him the physical touch that he needed, even if Paul wasn’t aware of him. His skin was even paler than normal, but there was a slight flush to his cheeks due to the low grade fever. The medbay scrubs hung loose on his frame. He’d already lost three kilos; it was if his body couldn’t absorb the nutrients they were pumping into his system. His kidney function had been stabilized, but barely. His liver function continued to slowly fade. It was like something was poisoning his body. At the same time, there wasn’t a cause for it.

Another soft beeped caused him to look up. It appeared that Paul might be cycling to consciousness. Hugh took his hand and squeezed it. He waited. Nothing changed. Hugh gently lifted Paul’s hand, being careful of the IV port and kissed his fingertips. Still nothing.

Hugh placed Paul’s hand lightly on his chest, letting him feel his heartbeat. “I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere. Wake up, my love.”

Paul’s eyes fluttered a little, but he didn’t open them. Hugh squeezed his hand. It took a long moment before he felt Paul try to squeeze back. It felt like an eternity before Paul’s eyes opened.

“Hey,” Hugh whispered.

Paul opened his mouth, but no words came out. He cleared his throat and tried again. Nothing. He licked his lip and let out a shaky breath. Hugh grabbed the cup of water from the bedside table and tipped the straw so Paul could take a sip. He raised his head to drink. He only managed a sip before his head fell back against the bed.

“Hey,” Paul murmured.

“How’re you feeling, sweetie?” Hugh ran his hands through Paul’s hair as he sat down next to the bed.

Paul shifted on the biobed and tried to sit up. Hugh put a soft hand on his shoulder. “Tired…” Paul leaned his head back and fought to keep his eyes open. “Any… leads… on why?”

“Not yet. I have a theory. Tilly is examining my research with your medical records, based on the tardigrade and the spore drive scans. Hopefully we’ll have something soon.”

Paul nodded once. “You’re… worried.”

“Of course, I’m worried about you. I love you.” Hugh kissed his forehead.

“You look… terrible.”

Hugh laughed once. “Thanks. You don’t look so hot yourself.”

Paul tried to smile, but it fell. “He – he says he’s… dying. I can’t.”

“Who?” They’d had these conversations before, but Hugh never really understood what Paul was talking about. He tried, but it didn’t make sense.

“Me. I saw… his arm. The network is – it’s killing him. I can’t save him.” Paul gasped as the monitor registered his oxygen levels falling. His body tensed up. “He’s dying.”

“Shh, it’s okay. I’m right here.” Hugh grabbed his hand as he checked the bio-readings. His heartrate increased, along with his body temperature. He tried to keep himself calm. Paul’s life was slipping through his fingers and he couldn’t do anything to stop it yet.

“It – it’s gonna happen to me. Hugh.” Paul greedily sucked in a breath. His eyes were wide and full of fear.

“Calm down. Just stop talking and breathe.”

Paul’s chest heaved as he fought to get a full breath. An alarm went off, but Hugh quickly silenced it. He grabbed his PADD and pressed a few buttons, activating an oxygen field around the biobed. Paul let out a soft sound of content as he started to breathe easier. Hugh felt ill. He couldn’t watch his love die. Paul’s stats stabilized slightly.

His eyes closed. “Love… you.”

Hugh echoed his sentiment. He lifted Paul’s arm slightly when he realized his arm was impeding one of the lines. The sleeve of Paul’s scrubs slid up a little. Hugh paused. Gently, he pushed Paul’s sleeve up higher. His stomach sunk at the sight of a black and red rash circling his elbow and trailing down his forearm. Hugh pulled back the blanket covering him and lifted Paul’s shirt. The angry rash twisted around Paul’s middle, leaving small patches of clear skin. How did they not see this? Hugh stood up and pressed the comm button.

“Dr. Culber to Dr. Zekel, please report to the Medbay immediately.”

“On my way,” the doctor responded.

Hugh moved back to Paul and he examined him more closely. The rash covered about sixty percent of Paul’s body, mostly on his upper body and middle. It was red with black lines in it. The red almost seemed iridescent in the light. It didn’t resemble anything Hugh was familiar with. Paul’s eyes opened a little as Hugh covered him again. He shivered as Hugh replaced the blanket. Hugh noted his temperature was no longer low grade, but hovered at 38.8 degrees. Another alarm went off above him.

“What is this?” Hugh asked aloud.

“The… network. Dying. Tilly.” Paul was losing his battle to stay conscious.

“Just rest. I’ll be here when you wake up. I’ll talk to Tilly and we’ll figure this out.”

Paul nodded as his eyes slipped closed. Hugh fought to swallow around the lump in his throat. He had to stay strong for Paul.

A moment later, Dr. Zekel emerged from the main medbay and walked over to Hugh. “Has there been a development?” the man asked.

Hugh couldn’t speak. He lifted Paul’s arm and exposed the rash. Dr. Zekel took Paul’s arm and started his own examination. Hugh stepped to the side. There was a red light flashing on his station. He rushed over and hit the button. He’d missed a transmission from Tilly, but she left a message saying he could contact her as soon as he needed. She promised to answer, day or night. Hugh couldn’t leave Paul. Not right now. Dr. Finch joined Dr. Zekel as they both observed Paul. He watched Paul just lying there. He couldn’t help him without talking to Tilly. Even Paul told him that before he lost consciousness again. She was the missing piece. Hugh stepped up to Zekel and explained. The doctor agreed, telling him to try and rest, that he’d contact them if Paul’s stats changed. Hugh knew he couldn’t sleep, but he’d have a little bit of time to talk to Tilly.

Hugh stopped by the small café to grab something to eat since he’d abandoned his salad, not that he felt hungry, but he knew his body needed nourishment too. He ate a few bites of the chicken noodle soup in his quarters, waiting for Tilly to answer the transmission.

Her face appeared on the screen. “Doctor Culber! How’s Lieutenant Stamets?”

“He’s…” Hugh shook his head. “I need to know what you thought of the scans I sent you.” There was no time for details about Paul’s declining health. She knew it was bad and it hadn’t improved.

“Well, I didn’t understand some of the medical aspects, which makes sense since I’m not a doctor, but I focused on the physical attributes I could understand. I checked the scans we had from the tardigrade and put them together. Michael helped me some and we both have come to the same conclusion. Lieutenant Stamets’ scans are similar to when Ripper wasn’t exposed to the mycelium spores, but at more of an extreme level. We didn’t have a chance to study him in spore withdrawal, but I suspect it would be similar.” She paused. “How is he?”

“Not good. Not good at all.” Hugh straightened and pulled up his research. “So, is it your conclusion that my hypothesis might help him?”

“I don’t see why not. If he is sharing part of his DNA with the tardigrade, he might need it to survive and without it…” Tilly didn’t bother to finish her sentence. “I sent a sample to you in a shuttle. It should be arriving in twelve hours. I couldn’t get it there any faster since we are way out of transporter range.”

“Thank you.” Hugh prayed it was going to work. “I’ve been studying the physical effects in Paul and it makes sense in some ways. His symptoms are mimicking mushroom poisoning; the gastrointestinal symptoms, abdominal pain, nausea, dizziness, kidney failure, and liver failure. They are symptoms of a class of mushroom poisoning. But since Paul hasn’t been poisoned, it’s like his body is responding like he was, but it’s really a lack of nutrients from the spores themselves.”

Tilly shook her head. “This is all so weird and confusing and cool. I’m confused by it.”

“Me too.” Hugh gave her a soft smile. “Thank you for your help with this, Tilly. Paul and I really appreciate it.”

“Anything for my favorite couple!” Tilly slapped her hand over her mouth. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to say that out loud.” Her cheeks turned as red as her hair. “God, that’s so embarrassing.”

Hugh laughed. It felt good to laugh, even if his heart was wretched at the moment. “It’s okay. I understand. And thank you.”

The sound of her laughter was music to Hugh’s ears. It lessened his stress even more. Help was on the way.

“How’re things on Discovery?”

Tilly’s smile fell. “Umm – it’s just – there’s a lot happening. I don’t want to go into it right now.”

“Does it have to do with Captain Lorca’s disappearance?”

“Uh – yes and no.”

“Tilly.”

She put up her hands and shook her head. “Nope. I can’t tell you right now. I can’t add more stress to your life. You need to focus all of your energy on Paul. Sorry, Lieutenant Stamets.”

“Okay.” He knew not to push her. He didn’t have the energy to anyway. “I better get back to Paul.”

“Forgive me, Doctor – err, Hugh. You don’t look so good. Maybe you should get some rest.” Tilly tucked her hair behind her ear.

“Thank you for your concern. I’ll get some rest when Paul is better.”

She nodded. “Okay. But you have to take care of yourself too.”

“I know. Thanks Tilly.” Hugh rubbed his neck as he checked the time. “I’ll ask Doctor Zekel if it’s okay to include you in the transmission when we introduce the spores to Paul’s system. I thought it might be something you were interested in.”

“I’d be honored.” She grinned at him.

“I’ll let you know if they say it’s okay. Good night, Tilly.”

Hugh closed the connection and let out the breath he’d been holding. Exhaustion gnawed every part of his body. He felt the pressure behind his eyes as the headache formed. He needed to sleep, but he couldn’t. Maybe he could catch an hour on the couch in the medbay office. Hugh couldn’t be away from Paul right now.

“You’re doing it again. You give me a hard time when I skip a meal, but you’re allowed to do it?” Paul’s voice rang in his ears. It sounded like he was beside him. It was a conversation they had after Hugh suffered a concussion after the inertial dampers failed. The CMO insisted he take the rest of the afternoon off. Paul had been in there three times for post-spore jump healing. It was before he created the cybernetic augments for his arms. Hugh wanted to protest, but he needed the time with Paul. He’d been… different lately.

“I’m not hungry. It’s different,” Hugh answered. It took several long seconds for him to realize he’d spoke aloud to his own memory.

“I’m not hungry when you make me eat.”

“You skip meals by accident and you get so focused on your work that you ignore your body’s signals to eat. It’s different.”

“Potato, potat-o. Lay down and let me take care of you, dear doctor.”

“I can’t right now, Nurse Stamets.” Hugh smiled at the memory. He had agreed to lie down. Paul offered himself as a pillow. He’d rested his head against Paul’s soft stomach; his favorite part of his love. It wouldn’t be the same now. Paul had lost quite a bit of weight. Hugh forced himself to refocus. But his thoughts kept drifting to that day. They’d spent the whole afternoon cuddling in bed as Paul read to him and rubbed his back. It was a memory he cherished.

“I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.” Paul’s voice came again.

“Nothing is going to happen to me.” Just answering his own memories/thoughts made Hugh realize how much he needed to rest, but he couldn’t.

“You don’t know that. I don’t know how to live without you.”

“Me either.”

Hugh walked back to the medbay, trying to clear his thoughts. The first thing he saw was Paul’s shirt had been removed, exposing the rash covering his body. Hugh grimaced and looked away. Dr. Zekel walked over to him. Hugh gave him an update on his conversation with Tilly, trying to not look at his love. Dr. Zekel quietly contemplated the analysis from Cadet Tilly and agreed with their hypothesis. He agreed to allow her to observe the spore interaction.  Dr. Zekel finished his report and excused himself to return to his quarters. Hugh went to his station. He set an alarm reminder for the estimated arrival of the shuttle.

“Here. Eat.”

An apple, sliced in a small bowl, appeared in front of Hugh, causing him to frown. He looked up to see where it came from.

Nurse Cassie smiled at him. “You need to eat, Doctor.” She set a glass of orange juice next to the apple.

Hugh shook his head, feeling the room tilt slightly. “I’m not hungry. Thank you.”

“Doctor, your face is pale. You’re starting to look like our patient. You need to eat, drink your juice, and get some sleep. You can sleep on the couch in the office and still be within sight and sound of Lieutenant Stamets if he wakes up.”

Hugh opened his mouth to protest, but stopped. Everything she said was true. He picked up the apple slices and quietly ate them. The nurse smiled and turned on her heel, quickly heading back to her station to work. Hugh finished the apple and drank the juice. He already felt a little better. But his headache lingered. Nurse Cassie excused herself to get something from the main medbay. Hugh knew it was a lie, but he took it.

“Paul,” Hugh whispered, running his hand down his cheek. He leaned over and pressed a tender kiss to Paul’s forehead, lingering as the fever warmed his lips. It wasn’t right. He couldn’t rest knowing Paul was so sick. “I’ll be close if you need me. Just keep sleeping. Tilly is sending you a gift and I think you’ll like it.” He smiled. “I love you.”

He wished that Paul could say it back. Hugh walked over to the office and the door slid open. Nurse Cassie laid out a blanket for him. Hugh flopped down, adjusting his position so he could see Paul through the glass door. His eyes grew heavy and sleep encased him as he imagined Paul’s arms around him, reading to him and touching his cheek.

 

DISCOVERY * DISCOVERY

 

The group of doctors and nurses in the room felt overwhelming to Hugh, so he could imagine how Paul felt. He was conscious, but barely. Doctor Zekel had given him a small stimulant to wake him, but it wasn’t doing much good. His breathing sounded like there were small pieces of glass in his lungs and each breathe caused him pain. Paul squeezed Hugh’s hand.

“Hey,” he hissed.

“Hey.”

Paul reached up and touched his chest above his heart. He nodded. He tried to use the opportunity to scratch at the rash, but Hugh caught his hand.

“That’ll only make it worse.”

Paul rolled his eyes. He didn’t have the strength to speak again. Hugh adjusted the oxygen rate in the field, feeling the change himself. They agreed Hugh would be the one to administer the spores to Lieutenant Stamets. Paul had woken up about five hours after Hugh fell asleep. He dry heaved and caused his alarms to go off. Doctor Finch was on duty. He attempted to treat Paul, but Paul panicked and refused to let him get close. The panic attack woke up Hugh. His heart raced. He thought something happened to Paul and they were losing him. It took twenty minutes to calm Paul back down. After the incident, Hugh insisted he tend to Paul until the spores arrived.

“Disco One has arrived. The package is being brought here as we speak,” Doctor Zekel said. He bounced a little on his feet.

The doctors anxiously waited to study the effects the spores had on Paul’s body. Hugh wanted to tell them to leave, but he couldn’t. Tilly waved from the nearest computer terminal. She clasped her hands together in anticipation. Hugh waved back, but quickly turned his attention back to his patient. He gave Paul a reassuring smile. Paul coughed and put a hand on his side, wincing from the movement.

“You’re doing great.”

“Liar,” Paul managed to say before coughing again.

“I know. I’m sorry.”

Hugh waited until Paul was breathing evenly again. He checked to make sure all of Paul’s lines were connected properly; not that they needed it. He couldn’t stand still. If this didn’t help Paul, they were out of options. The doors to the medbay opened, admitting a familiar crewman from Discovery. He held the specimen container, which glowed blue as the spores floated around inside. Doctor Zekel carefully brought the container to Hugh, passing it through a small hole in the containment field before closing it.

Paul smiled at his spores and nodded. Hugh waited until he got the thumbs up from Doctor Zekel. It was time to see if this was what was missing for Paul.

Hugh twisted the cap and pressed the release button. He wasn’t worried about the spores harming him. The blue spores poured out of the capsule, spreading themselves out. Paul leaned forward a little and smiled as they twisted around his hands. He breathed in. Hugh fought to keep still as he watched Paul breathe in some of the spores. He closed his eyes, appearing relaxed. Hugh glanced up at the bio-readings. His pulse increased. His skin appeared to turn blue in the light and the rash showed stark against his skin. Hugh waited.

“It… feels good,” Paul whispered.

Paul continued to breathe in the spores as they danced upon his exposed skin. He put his hand out, palm upward. Hugh didn’t hesitate to grab it. He knew Paul needed his touch to ground him, to keep him there.

“Thank you, Hugh.”

It was working. Hugh observed as Paul’s levels slowly started to rise and stabilize. They wouldn’t know for sure for several hours and after they weaned him off the medication, but this might work. Paul’s spores might be able to save his life.

Chapter Text

Ten hours passed since Paul’s re-exposure to the spores and he was doing so much better. His kidney and liver function were normal along with his enzyme balance had stabilized. He was breathing easier, but it was painful still and he required a low oxygen field. His blood pressure fluctuated some and he hadn’t eaten anything yet, but overall, Paul was recovering. The rash remained. No topical medication changed the appearance or numbed the itching. Hugh stayed by Paul’s side, tending to him as medications needed lowered and others needed stopped. He didn’t even sit down.

Hugh pinched the bridge of his nose as he turned his eyes down toward his PADD.

“Are – are you alright?” Tilly’s voice asked.

He’d completely forgotten she was on the screen and they were talking about the spore effects on Paul. Hugh forced a smile on his face as he looked at her. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“You don’t look okay.”

“I said I was fine,” Hugh retorted. He pursed his lips together. There was nothing wrong with Tilly asking how he was. He didn’t need to respond like that and immediately felt guilty. “I’m sorry. There’s just a lot going on. I shouldn’t have snapped at you.”

“No. It’s okay. It actually reminded me of something – of someone. I called him out for acting weird and he blew me off, saying that he was okay.” Tilly’s fingers shook as she pushed her hair behind her ear. “You know that Lieutenant Stamets told me about the side effects because I accidentally said it to you. I talked to him and I made him open up. He was worried about you finding out and about you getting in trouble. He put you first. I’m sure that he’d be worried about you if he knew – if he knew you weren’t taking care of yourself. I’m sorry if that’s crossing a line.”

Hugh smiled. “It’s not crossing a line, Tilly. We’re friends. And sometimes friends call out each other when one is making poor choices.”

“I think we’re friends too.” Tilly grinned and put her hand down. “Now, I can see you’re exhausted. You need to take a break.”

“I will. Soon. I just have to get him settled and make sure he’s gonna be okay.”

“Okay. I have more of Stamets’ lovely spores on the way to you and Acting Captain Saru has authorized it. He’s willing to give any support that you need. We all are.”

“Thanks. I’ll talk to you –”

“After you eat and sleep,” she interrupted.

“Okay. After I take care of myself, I’ll call again to update you.”

“Thanks. Sweet dreams, Hugh.” Tilly smiled as she closed the connection.

Hugh set down his PADD and started to take a step toward the biobed. The room spun and Hugh could hear his breath loudly in his ears. He grabbed the edge of the console to steady himself. Hugh placed a hand on the side of his head and tried to stop the pounding. A drop of sweat ran down his forehead; Hugh felt as if the temperature in the room suddenly increased.  There was a distant ringing in his ears as black spots formed in his vision. He tried in vain to blink them away.

“Hugh. Hugh!” Paul’s voice rang in his ears, loud and insistent.

Hugh tried to focus on Paul, but he couldn’t. He stood still or at least he thought he was standing still, but the room spun a little faster. Okay, maybe Tilly was right.

“Are you okay?”  A male nurse that Hugh couldn’t remember the name of, Heath, yeah that was his name, stood in front of him with one arm out as if waiting to catch him.

“I’m fine.”

“Not to be blunt, Dr. Culber, but you look like shit and you’re about to fall over.” Heath guided Hugh to sit down in the closest chair. He pressed the comm button. “Doctor Zekel, report to the Medbay.”

Hugh opened his mouth to protest, but the words stuck in his throat. There was no need to call the doctor. He was fine. Well, he wasn’t terrible. He looked over and saw the pure fear in Paul’s eyes. He was still sitting up with one leg over the side of the biobed, dangling uselessly. His body was hunched over slightly and Hugh could tell he was using the little strength he had to sit up as his upper body quivered. He doubted Paul had the strength to walk to him, but adrenaline was a powerful thing. At the same time, he could fall and get hurt again. Hugh wished he could move to his side, comfort him, and tell him it was alright. Nurse Heath walked over and encouraged Paul to lie back down, but he shook his head.

The doors to the Medbay opened, admitting Dr. Zekel. He immediately walked over to Hugh. The nurse spoke quickly to him. Hugh waited quietly as Dr. Zekel scanned him.

“Doctor Culber, I know you’ve been under a lot of stress lately. Your blood pressure is low, pulse elevated, and you’ve lost weight since you came here. You aren’t eating or sleeping.” He lowered his voice. “I know you are worried about Lieutenant Stamets. But, he’s in recovery. I’m ordering you off duty for twelve hours. I’ll be giving you a vitamin supplement, a sedative, and you will be eating a nutritious meal.”

Hugh nodded. He didn’t have the energy to protest and the other doctor was correct. He needed to rest and take care of himself. How could he take care of Paul when they eventually released him if he was exhausted and not in good health?

Doctor Zekel smiled softly. “I promise I’ll stay here and take care of Lieutenant Stamets. Nothing is going to happen to him. If something were to happen, I would wake you to be here with him.”

“I can’t lose him,” Hugh whispered.

“I know. Let me take care of him for a little while so you can rest.”

Hugh looked at the floor and nodded.

Doctor Zekel touched his shoulder. “Just wait a moment.” He stepped away to fetch a sedative and hypo of vitamins.

Hugh desperately wanted to hide his face in his hands, to not look at the man who loved him and who was definitely staring at him. He forced a smile on his face and looked up. Paul’s eyes locked with his. They were filled with pain and sorrow. Heath instructed Paul to sit back down again, but he put up his hand and shook his head, not letting his gaze wander. All of the stress started to run free and his eyes prickled. Hugh looked away, fighting to keep his emotions in check. Not here. He couldn’t lose it here and in front of Paul when he needed to feel safe and comforted.

Doctor Zekel returned to administer the sedative and vitamins. He showed the label to Hugh, letting him give his approval of the medication. He administered the vitamins first and then the sedative. “You have about ten minutes before it’ll hit you hard. We’ll let you say good-night. You did well, Dr. Culber. You saved him and now you need to rest. We will continue to find a way to stabilize him so you guys can have the normal life you deserve.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much,” Hugh murmured.

“You’re welcome. Get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Hugh waited as the two men exited the medbay. He kept his eyes down.

“Hugh, are you okay?” Paul’s soft voice asked after the doors slid closed.

Hugh slowly walked over to the bed. Paul immediately grabbed his hand, squeezing it with the little strength he’d regained, clutching it like a life-line that he needed to breathe. Hugh leaned forward and pressed his forehead against Paul’s, breathing in his unique scent, which was mixed with sterilizer and medical shampoo. He missed him. He missed falling asleep with Paul, cuddling up next to him and running his fingers through Paul’s hair.

Hugh let out a soft sigh. “I’m okay. I’m exhausted and I haven’t been eating right. But I’m where I’m meant to be, which is by your side.”

The little creases formed around Paul’s mouth. “You haven’t been eating? I thought I was the only one allowed to do that.”

“You’re not allowed to do that.” Hugh smiled.

“And neither are you.”

Touché. “I’m sorry.”

Paul put one hand on Hugh’s cheek, letting his fingertips brush his facial hair. “Please don’t scare me like that. I feel okay at the moment. You need to go eat and rest.”

Hugh nodded, only moving his head a fraction against Paul’s. “Dr. Zekel gave me a sedative. I’ll sleep. But I sleep better with you beside me.”

It was Paul’s turn to smile. “Same. Maybe I’ll get to stay with you soon? Once you make sure I’m stable?”

“God, I hope so.” Hugh turned his head and moved in closer. He planted a kiss on Paul’s lips. Paul grabbed his face, pulling him closer. He let out a soft moan and the heart monitor beeped once, signaling Paul’s pulse increasing. It hurt to pull back, making the kiss short. He had to get back to his quarters before he passed out on the medbay floor. “I love you, honey.”

“I love you too.”

“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Hugh promised. He gave Paul a quick embrace before kissing him once more. Paul gave him a pointed look. Hugh smiled and exited the medbay, hoping that nothing happened to his love while he rested.

 

DISCOVERY * DISCOVERY

 

Hugh woke up slowly, unlike how he fell asleep, hard and fast. The sedative hadn’t left him time other than to quickly brush his teeth, changes clothes, and pass out. He became aware of how stiff his muscles were as he rolled onto his back and stretched his arms. He glanced at the clock. Ten hours of sleep. He left out a soft puff of air. No wonder he felt like he hadn’t moved in ten hours. Hugh tucked his hands behind his head, trying to find the energy to reach for his PADD and check Paul’s stats. Doctor Zekel hadn’t stormed in and woken him up, so there mustn’t’ve been an emergency. He’d promised to notify Hugh of any changes. As he rolled onto his side, Hugh felt his stomach rumble. He immediately wondered if Paul had eaten anything yet. Hugh’s fingers found his PADD on the nightstand and he fumbled it onto the bed. Paul’s stats were steady and there was a note from the night nurse that he’d been offered broth and kept it down. Hugh grinned. Also, another medication had been discontinued while Hugh slept.

There was still another hour and twenty-eight minutes until Hugh could return to the medbay.

He took a long hot shower, letting the warmth of the water ease the remaining tension in his body. Hugh ordered himself a ham and cheese omelet with tomato and basil. He ate in silence, responding to a message from Tilly about the spore transport. He checked the time to see that they had arrived two hours previous. Hugh immediately checked Paul’s reports again. Paul had been exposed to the spores again an hour ago. His bio-readings had increased. It was working. Much like the Tardigrade, Paul needed the spores like he needed oxygen. He could live with that.

Hugh finished eating and tried to do a little reading. Doctor Zekel had sent a detailed report of Paul’s stats overnight, noting that he’d had a nightmare and slept restlessly, but it could be due to his overstimulation from the spores and from his body resting so much previously. Paul displayed some anxiety, but overall, his mood improved.

Finally, the twelve hour mark passed. Hugh forced himself to walk to the medbay. There was nothing wrong with Paul and it was unnecessary to run. The doors to the small medbay section opened and Hugh felt his heart contract. Paul was standing. He held onto the IV stand to steady himself as Doctor Zekel hovered beside him, along with Nurse Heath. He looked up at the sound of the doors closing. A grin, almost from ear to ear, crossed his face at the sight of Hugh. Hugh returned the smile. Paul took a few unsteady steps forward, holding tight to the pole as the nurse kept a hand by Paul’s elbow.

“Morning, Doctor Culber.” Doctor Zekel finished adding a note to the chart. “How’re you today?”

“Good. Thank you.” He barely glanced at the man. Hugh only had eyes for Paul.

The two quietly excused themselves. Hugh moved to Paul’s side, guiding him forward a few steps. Paul moved slowly, but it was okay. He’d been weak and bedridden for days. It felt so comforting to see Paul standing up and looking a little more like himself.

“How are you?” Hugh asked, keeping his voice low.

“A little dizzy, but good. This is the best I’ve felt in days.” Paul grabbed Hugh’s forearms to steady himself. “Are you feeling okay?”

“Yes.” Hugh’s cheeks turned a little pink. “I shouldn’t have neglected my own health.”

“Nope. But you’re forgiven.” Paul smiled.

Hugh helped him back onto the bed and got him settled; making sure his IV line wasn’t tangled and his blankets were covering him in the chilly room. Hopefully he’d be free of that last line soon and he could leave the medbay. Paul sighed, taking a few slow and even breaths. The short walk had exhausted him and stolen some of his breath. Hugh squeezed his hand.

“Can we talk?” Paul asked.

“Of course.” Hugh pulled up a chair. He straddled it, sitting down on it backwards. “What’s up?”

Paul grabbed his hand. “You – you can’t think I’m crazy.”

Hugh could hear the hurt and insecurity in his voice. He squeezed Paul’s hand to reassure him. “I’m listening. Promise.”

“I wasn’t lying about seeing myself in the network. There are – other universes besides our own, and he’s from one of those universes. Apparently in his universe, he became trapped in the mycelial network due to his own stupidity.” Paul pushed up his sleeve, pointing to the bright rash on his arm. It was still spreading, almost to his hands now. “The network is dying. He didn’t want to admit it, but I figured out what he did. He poisoned the network with his experiments. I have to get him out to save the network.” He paused. “Or it will spread and destroy our universe too.” He shifted uncomfortably on the bed. “We’re connected. It – it’ll kill me too.”

“Oh.” Hugh ran his hand over mouth. There was a small part that didn’t know what to think, but he trusted Paul. He’d experienced things that no one else could explain. Paul knew what he was talking about. “Okay. What do we do?”

“Thank you for believing me.”

“Of course. I’m sorry I doubted you.” He kissed Paul’s hand. “So what do we do to save the network?”

Paul shifted again, sitting up a little bit and moving to lean on his left side. Hugh helped him turn, giving him a concerned look. “I’m okay. I’m just sore from laying down so much.”

Hugh gently helped him lay on his stomach. That was something he could help with. “Just try and relax.” Hugh put his hands on Paul’s back, gently pressing into his sore muscles. He tenderly rubbed out the knots in his shoulders and back. Paul melted beneath his touch. “So, what next?”

Paul sighed. “We need to return to Discovery. I think – and I’m not exactly sure. My brain has been… a bit scrambled, but I can connect to the spore drive and communicate to him through the network.” He groaned as Hugh massaged his lower back. “That feels good.”

Hugh remembered the last time he’d given Paul a massage. It was after a particularly difficult day, little rest, and two spore jumps. He’d still been working on developing the cybernetic augments, so Paul dealt with being stabbed daily. Paul insisted on having sex, saying he needed the release. Hugh had definitely been okay with it. But afterwards, he’d given Paul a massage to get him to relax as they talked about their days. It was intimate and tender. Paul practically purred with how much he liked it. This was different. Paul trusted him to be exposed emotionally and to be comfortable with him. He needed Hugh’s touch. It was endearing.

“Do you think it’s possible to return to Discovery?” Paul asked. He turned his head so he could see Hugh.

“We’ll have to see. Doctor Zekel and the team will have to medically release you before we can return to Discovery.” Hugh moved to Paul’s legs, being careful to avoid his ticklish spots. Paul relaxed more.

Paul tried to flip over, but Hugh gently pressed on his shoulder. “We don’t have a lot of time. Me – I mean, he doesn’t have a lot of time.”

Hugh touched his shoulder. “Then we’ll have to figure out how to get you healthy enough to travel. I’m not gonna lose you.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Six – The Truth Speaks Loudly

“Press down on my hands. Good. Okay, now try to push my hands up.”

Hugh tried to pretend he was busy as he watched Doctor Zekel examine Paul. He’d given him all of the physical scans and he’d passed, but barely. The rash and the growing weakness was still a major concern. Paul and Hugh had explained their theory about the mycelial network dying and Paul’s connection to it. The doctor stated he didn’t fully understand, since it wasn’t his area of expertise, but he trusted their judgement about the situation. He wanted to make sure Paul was stable enough for the shuttle ride back to Discovery. Now that they’d discovered Paul needed the spores to stay healthy, it was better to go back to Discovery anyway. Tilly expressed her excitement at their return, but something was wrong. Hugh could tell she was keeping a secret. And it was a big secret. He didn’t have the spare mental energy at the moment.

Paul’s hands shook as he pressed down on Doctor Zekel’s hands. His tight expression didn’t give. Sweat beads formed on his brow from the small exertion. His pale face was still paler than normal, but he didn’t look as gaunt. Paul managed to keep down small plain meals, but not much else. They’d tried something a little richer for lunch, but he threw it up. Hugh blamed himself for letting Paul convince him to share a little of his spicy chicken sandwich. It was hard to resist Paul’s pouty lip and smile after seeing him in pain for so long.

“You can sit down, Lieutenant Stamets. How’s your headache?”

Paul barely made it into the chair as his muscles gave out. “Dull. Achy. But so much better than it was.” Hugh dropped all pretenses of working and came to stand beside Paul, putting a hand on his shoulder. Doctor Zekel stared at his PADD. He finished added his observations to Paul’s chart.

“Lieutenant Stamets,” Doctor Zekel began, leaving a short pause. “I’m releasing you from the medbay, but putting you in the very competent hands of Doctor Culber. He’ll be monitoring you and taking care of you. In my opinion, you aren’t out of the woods yet, but you’ve stabilized immensely since you arrived and I think you can return to your ship.”

Hugh shook Doctor Zekel’s hand firmly. “Thank you, Doctor.”

“You’re welcome. Feel free to send me any information you have, if you need a second opinion. I’d love to help out.” He took Paul’s hand and shook it. “I wish both of you the best of luck. Take care of each other. I kindly don’t want to see either of you as patients in my lab again.”

“Agreed. Thank you.” Paul dropped his hand into his lap. He smiled up at Hugh. “Can we leave now?”

Both doctors laughed. Doctor Zekel excused himself and headed back to his office. Hugh rubbed Paul’s shoulder. He helped him stand back up, taking a good chunk of Paul’s weight to assist him. He smiled at the soft sweater Paul wore and black slacks. He refused to wear the scrubs anymore. The cold bothered him, so the sweater kept him from shivering.

“The shuttle won’t be here for another two hours. We could go back to your quarters?” Paul suggested.

“Sure. You can take another nap and try eating something before we leave.”

Hugh checked to make sure Paul was steady before they left the medbay. They started walking down the corridor with Paul’s arm over Hugh’s shoulders.

“Do I have to take a nap? I was hoping I could take a little time to seduce you.” Paul winked.

Hugh made a face. “Do you even have the extra energy right now?”

Paul paused. “Yeah, no. I guess not.”

“It’ll come back to you.”

A busy crewman rushed past them as they slowly walked to Hugh’s quarters. They didn’t say anything else as they walked. Paul didn’t move quickly, but that was okay. Hugh reveled in the moment, them together with Paul almost whole again. It felt… better and comfortable. He liked not having to remain professional as they walked down the corridor. It wasn’t like Discovery, where they barely even used each other’s first names in public. But they were getting more comfortable. Many of the crew had become family to them.

“Did you talk to Tilly yet?” Hugh asked.

Paul nodded. “A little this morning. I thanked her while you were getting breakfast. She seemed preoccupied with something, but she wouldn’t say what it was. Do you know?” He looked at him, gauging his expression.

“No. She refused to tell me, saying that we had enough stress right now. I’m sure we’ll know soon enough.” Hugh lightly squeezed his arm. “Whatever happens, I’m right here with you.”

“You have to stop saying such romantic and adorable things,” Paul teased.

“Never.”

They reached the small living quarters and stepped inside. Their bags were packed, waiting at the door for when the Discovery shuttle arrived. Paul immediately went to sit down on the couch. He caught his breath, breathing as if he’d run three miles with Ripper behind him. It reminded Hugh that Paul was on the road to recovery, but the road wasn’t short. Paul pushed up his sleeve a little and idly scratched at the rash, being careful not to bump his augment. The rash darkened, worse around his cybernetic augment, his connection to the mycelial network. Hugh plopped down beside him and took Paul’s hands in his to distract him.

“It feels so good to be out of the medbay.” Paul swallowed and spoke again. “I thought I was gonna die in that room.”

“I worried about the same thing, but you’re with me now. You just need your spores. I’m okay with that.” Hugh grinned.

Paul rested his head against Hugh’s chest and pulled his legs up into a ball. He sighed. “What if I can’t stop the network from dying?”

“You can do it.”

“But what if I can’t?”

Hugh kissed the top of Paul’s soft hair. “We’ll figure it out. I’m not gonna lose you.” He leaned back against the couch. “Just rest. I’ll wake you up when we have to leave.”

“’kay,” he mumbled.

Hugh didn’t fall asleep. He listened to Paul’s soft breathing as he napped. He lightly held onto Paul’s hand, feeling his pulse through his wrist to assure himself that Paul was okay. Grabbing his PADD, he pulled up Paul’s last stats out of habit and checked to see that his pain indicators were a little elevated, but the rest of his stats held steady. He dropped the PADD back on the couch and wrapped his arm back around Paul. He could stay there for a long time, together.

It wasn’t long before Hugh’s communicator beeped. The shuttle had arrived.

“Hey, honey. You have to wake up. The shuttle’s here.” Hugh gently shook his shoulder.

“I’m up,” Paul whispered, not opening his eyes.

Hugh grinned. It was just like mornings on Discovery; Paul pretending to be awake but still almost asleep. Hugh knew how to wake him. He leaned down and kissed Paul, making sure to run his hand down Paul’s side. He felt Paul smile against his lips.

“Not fair,” he pouted.

“It is fair. Come on.” Hugh stood up and put out his hand.

Paul shook his head. “I need more help than that.”

It didn’t take Paul asking twice. Hugh carefully guided Paul to standing, supporting his weight. Paul kept his arm around Hugh as they walked to the door. Their things were to be transported to the shuttle. Neither of them spoke as they moved along. Paul kept part of his weight on Hugh, but he stayed upright. Hugh smiled. An eager crewman greeted them outside the shuttle, Disco Two. Paul hesitated a little.

“Are you ready?” Hugh asked.

Paul nodded. “Yeah, just a bit nervous.”

“I’ll be with you the whole time.”

“Thank you.”

They boarded the shuttle. It was time to return to Discovery and see if they could fix the network.

 

Discovery * Discovery

 

“Welcome back,” Tilly squealed. She bounced up and down in the shuttle bay, getting both men to smile at her enthusiasm. “I’m so glad you guys are back! Was your trip okay?”

“It was alright,” Paul answered. He’d spent the entire shuttle ride, focusing on taking deep breaths and not panicking. Hugh almost had to give him something to calm him down. Paul kept Hugh’s arm tight around him. Normally, he’d protest the close contact in public, but he needed Hugh to hold him up. He’d felt weaker as they approached Discovery. The rash burned and itched, but he resisted scratching it. Barely.

Hugh noticed Paul pulling at his sweater and looking down at himself. He was clearly uncomfortable not wearing his uniform on the ship right now. But he didn’t need to be. “It’s good to be back,” Hugh added, giving Paul’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

“How are you feeling?” Tilly directed her question at Paul, smiling at her superior officer.

“Better, but not quite like myself yet.” Paul absent-mindedly rubbed at the rash, but Hugh’s hand stopped him. “Have you input the data into the spore drive in preparation for our experiment? We don’t have a lot of time, unfortunately.”

Hugh frowned. “You need to eat something first and then we can get to work. Please.”

Paul didn’t argue.

Tilly’s cheeks turned the same color as her hair. “I – I actually haven’t had a chance to input the data, but I can do it right away. There’s been something pressing that I’ve been trying to help with. But – but I can do it right away. I’m sorry for the delay.” Tilly looked down at her feet.

“Tilly, what’s going on? You refused to tell us, but now that we’re back on Discovery, do we need to know?” Paul demanded. Hugh put a hand on his chest. “Sorry.”

“No, you’re right. You better follow me. It’s hard to explain and easier to show you.”

Hugh and Paul exchanged a look, but didn’t protest. They slowly followed behind Tilly. After getting too far ahead, she changed her pace to match theirs. The route was very familiar, but Hugh stopped himself from asking about their destination.

Tilly paused outside the door to the Medbay. “I’m sorry, but it’s not pretty.”

The doors to the medbay opened. A loud commotion immediately drew their attention. Hugh and Paul stepped inside. Lieutenant Tyler was strapped down to a biobed with sweat soaking almost all of his body, dripping from his hair and pooling on his skin where it was exposed to the air. Tyler’s cheeks were red with fever. His bare chest exposed long and bloody scratches, slowly leaking blood with each beat of his heart. They were crude and painful looking. Hugh saw the blood on Tyler’s fingertips, hinting what might have happened to his chest. His eyes were small slits, showing his pupils. He was conscious. Tyler’s fists were clenched and he occasionally shouted in a guttural tongue. The shimmer of a force field surrounded the biobed. Tyler tried to move his head, but the strap held his head down. Hugh looked up at the bio-readings, which displayed abnormal readings for a human. Michael Burnham stood a few feet from the bed with one hand covering her mouth, shoulders tensing as she moved and looked away. Doctor Pollard walked in their direction.

“What happened?” Hugh kept his voice low, not sure if he should rush forward to find out more about the situation and see if he could help treat the Lieutenant or if he should keep his distance.

“There’s a Klingon in his mind and his body,” Tilly stated matter-of-factly. “We’re trying, but we can’t free him.” She turned away from the scene as Tyler shouted.

Hugh moved to take a step closer, but Paul held him back.

“Please. Don’t get close to him.” Paul’s voice was tight.

“Okay.”

Paul squeezed his hand until Hugh adjusted his grip on him, making it more comfortable again. “Did he do that to himself?”

“Unfortunately, yes.” It was Doctor Pollard who answered.

“Why haven’t you sedated him?” Hugh asked.

“He is sedated, but it isn’t having the affect we want. If we increase the sedation any more, we risk damaging his heart. The Klingon prisoner, I suspect she knows how to save him, but she refuses. Acting-Captain Saru is speaking with her right now and pleading our case. The two minds are at war for one body. We can’t sustain both of them and if we continue to try, our efforts will kill them both.”

Paul tried to pull Hugh back a step, but almost succeeded in falling. Hugh stabilized them and gave Paul a look. He turned his eyes back to the scene in front of him.

“If there’s anything I can do, feel free to send me what you have and I can take a look at his bio-scans,” Hugh said.

“No,” Paul interrupted. “I don’t want you near him.”

“Paul.” Hugh lowered his voice. This wasn’t appropriate and he had no idea why his partner was responding like this.

“You can give suggestions, but I don’t want him to touch you. Please,” Paul begged. His body began shaking.

Hugh locked eyes with him, seeing the raw fear and horror in his gaze. Something terrified Paul about this situation with Lieutenant Tyler. “Okay. I won’t get close. Let’s head to the Mess Hall and get you something to eat. You’ve been standing for too long.”

Paul didn’t say anything else, but started to pull Hugh toward the door again. Hugh took one last glance at Lieutenant Tyler and found himself staring into the man’s eyes. What he saw in Tyler’s eyes chilled every part of him; it was a look of loathing and contempt that Ash never would’ve had for him, and it alarmed him. He’d definitely be keeping his promise to stay away from the lieutenant until they could find a way to free him from the Klingon within.

 

DISCOVERY * DISCOVERY

 

“What if you fail? What if you are unable to convince that universe’s Lieutenant Stamets to repair what he’s done to the network?” Acting-Captain Saru asked as they all stood in front of the spore reaction chamber. They’d all discussed what needed to be done the day before. Michael, Saru, Tilly, and Paul had agreed upon the plan to let Paul enter the network and confront himself.

“We don’t have any choice,” Paul answered simply. “If I don’t stop him, then the network will be destroyed, along with our universe and all of the other universes.”

“That’s a lot of pressure for one person.” Hugh stepped closer to Paul and put a hand on his shoulder. “Are you sure?”

The others stood in silence, staring at the chamber. Tilly absently twisted a strand of red curls around her finger. She moved as if she remembered something important and went to tinker with the machine she’d prepared with Paul’s help. Michael and Saru exchanged a look, but suddenly found the console behind them to be very interesting.

Paul turned to face Hugh, taking his hand. “Do you remember what you told me about why I injected myself with the tardigrade compound?”

“I said I was doomed to love a reckless man who risked his life for glory.” Hugh blushed at the memory of that conversation.

“You were wrong. I risked my life because you were in danger and if I don’t try to fix this, then I’m putting you in danger again. I can do this.” Paul wrapped his arms around Hugh, pulling him into a tight embrace.

Hugh breathed in Paul’s scent, realizing with a smile that he smelled like his own body wash and not Paul’s. He knew Paul must’ve done it on purpose. He gave him a squeeze and broke the embrace. “Okay. But you better come back.”

“I promise. I love you,” Paul whispered.

“I love you too.”

They shared a brief kiss before Paul stepped into the chamber. The rest of the group assembled to witness it. Hugh pulled up Paul’s bio-stats on the screen and waited. Paul stood still as the arms extended and the small devices inserted themselves into Paul’s augments. Hugh stared at the rash, noting that it had started to bleed a little around the edges of the augments. His stomach rolled slightly. Tilly filled the chamber with spores and the blue light glowed around Paul. Paul closed his eyes, letting out a heavy breath.

“Are you ready?” Tilly inquired.

“I’m ready,” Paul said softly.

Hugh listened as Tilly counted down from three, but his eyes were focused on Paul. His mind fought to flashback to the 133 jumps Paul did, but he stayed in the present. It was different. They were going to save the universe. Paul was going to save the universe by fighting himself and then healing the network. Hugh swallowed. This better work. Paul jolted slightly as Tilly engaged the device and his mind slipped into the network. All he could do was wait and pray that Paul would return to him.

Chapter Text

“Hello Paul. I’ve been waiting for you.”

Paul turned to see himself, standing in his forest on Discovery. But it wasn’t his forest. The bright blue shone around him; Paul knew he was still in the mycelial network. He looked at the mirror version of himself and winced. The other Paul, who he decided to think of as Stamets, was pale and his face was covered in a fine sheen of sweat. He’d rolled up his sleeves like Paul liked to do. The angry red rash wrapped around his arms, extending to the palms of his hands. He could see it snaking up Stamets’ neck. It was enveloping him. He leaned heavily against the railing, making it support his weight. The damage that Stamets had done to the Network was killing him.

“You took your time getting here. I’m just dying here and you have been snuggling with your… whatever that doctor’s name is.”

“Hugh. His name is Hugh.” Paul huffed, annoyed by himself.

“Whatever. Come on.”

Paul watched his counterpart walk out of the forest. He followed him into the main part of his lab.

Stamets grabbed the console with one hand and wrapped his other arm around his middle, letting out a low groan. His head dropped to his chest. After a long moment, he straightened back up and started inputting commands into the computer. “Do you have a plan to get me out of here?”

“Yes, but I don’t know if you’re going to like it.” Paul stepped closer to the console. Stamets stepped to the side and let him work. Paul pulled up an image of the device pulling the Network to power the Emperor’s ship. “With what I have ascertained from our weird dreams of a sort, I believe the problem is that your device is poisoning the network. The network isn’t able to heal itself fast enough.” Paul paused. “You need to destroy it.”

“Destroy it?” Stamets yelled. “You don’t understand the Empire. If I attempt to destroy the Mycelial Reactor, I’ll be killed. No. No, there has to be another way.”

“There isn’t another way. The sickness will continue to spread in the network and it will destroy all of the universes; yours, mine, and all of the life there is. We have to stop it.”

“I will be killed!” Stamets responded, getting in his face.

Paul could see the anger lighting up his eyes. But he felt similar emotions about the situation. “You can’t be that selfish! You would kill all of the life in the universe if it gave you a few more minutes of life?!”

“Well, when you put it that way…” Stamets crossed his arms over his chest. “I still can’t destroy it.”

A sudden explosion rocked the ship, almost knocking Paul down, but he caught himself on the console. Stamets wasn’t as lucky. He landed hard on the deck. Paul tried to move closer to him, but the ship rocked again. Sparks flew from a nearby console. After a moment, it seemed to stop. Paul knelt down beside Stamets. He attempted to offer him assistance, but Stamets backed up away from him. He leaned against the nearest bulkhead, wrapping his arms around his stomach as he moaned.

“We won’t last much longer here,” Stamets murmured.

“We’ll all be dead soon. I might as well leave if you aren’t going to help me. I’d rather spend my last moments with Hugh.” Paul turned away from him.

“Wait!” Stamets called. “Tell me more about this Hugh.”

They didn’t have time for this, but an idea was forming in Paul’s mind. He sat down across from him. He listened as he heard more explosions going off throughout the ship. “What do you want to know?”

Stamets idly scratched at the rash on his arm. “How did you meet?”

“We met in a little café on Alpha Centauri. He was humming the worst Kasseelian opera. I told him to stifle it or sit somewhere else. Instead, he sat next to me and he’s been there ever since.” Paul smiled. “He is always supportive of my work and doesn’t question it. He knows when to be a doctor and when to be my partner. I love him. We’re honest with each other and it works.”

“Alpha Centauri. Is his full name Hugh Culber?” Stamets asked, making a face.

“Yes.”

“We actually met once. I guess we were both destined to meet him. We met in that same café. Very attractive guy. I was rude to him and he was rude back. So we had sex. It was great, but I never called him back.” Stamets’ voice changed tone, almost to one of longing. “I’m married to my work for the Empire. I don’t have time for any relationships.”

Paul frowned slightly, feeling bad for his counterpart. “I was married to my work, but Hugh changed all of that. He showed me so many amazing things and I love him. I love who I am with him. Even after everything I’ve done recently, injecting myself with the tardigrade DNA, lying to him, and hiding my medical problems, we both still love each other.” He laughed once. “Hugh was the only person to believe me when I was saying that I dreamt of myself in the Network.”

Stamets made a low humming sound in his throat. At first, Paul thought he was agreeing with him. Then he realized it was a sound of discomfort and pain. He wasn’t used to hearing that sound from himself, but himself not making that sound. It was disheartening. Stamets closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the bulkhead. “I don’t think I’m gonna make it anyway. I’ve been trapped in the network for too long. The Empire doesn’t believe in treating those who are no longer of worth to them. I don’t stand much of a chance.”

“You can’t believe that,” Paul murmured, looking up as another console flashed and sparks flew from it.

“Oh, yes I can. Lieutenant Paul Stamets of the USS Discovery, happily entangled with one Doctor Hugh Culber. You have a good life. I don’t. I’m a disposable pawn to the Empire.” Stamets sighed. “Honesty, I screwed up. Some powerful people want to kill me. I’d be lucky if I could destroy the reactor.”

“Then why won’t you try?” Paul scratched at the rash on his own arm, feeling it burn and sting.

Stamets didn’t answer for several long minutes. “I wouldn’t be saving the universe for me, and that’s hard. I wanted more out of my life. Something was always missing.”

Paul leaned forward and said very firmly. “I know you – err, us. What are you gonna do about it?”

 

DISCOVERY * DISCOVERY

 

Hugh paced back and forth in front of the spore reaction chamber, anxiously checking Paul’s stats. He glanced at him as his head turned side to side. Sweat ran down his cheeks. He let out a soft gasp and turned his head again. Hugh stopped and looked down at his PADD. Nothing had changed. His sinoatrial node was firing quickly and his temperature was up, along with his elevated pulse. Tilly stood at the console, monitoring his connection to the network and making sure it remained stable. She smiled at Hugh. Paul cried out, causing Hugh’s heart to drop into his stomach. His heartrate climbed higher.

“How long do you think it’s gonna take?” Tilly asked.

“I don’t know.” Hugh sighed and wished he could grab Paul’s hand.

“Oh.”

Hugh crossed his arms over his chest. “He has to convince himself, an egotistical and maniacal version of himself, to destroy his life’s work to save the universe.”

“Shit,” Tilly mumbled.

“Yeah, shit.”

Hugh studied the readouts, watching as Paul’s eyes opened and closed. But there was no recognition in his eyes. It reminded him of when Paul completed the 133 jumps. He’d been aware, but unaware at the same time.

“Pollard to Culber,” Dr. Pollard called.

“Culber here,” Hugh answered.

“I know that you are monitoring Lieutenant Stamets right now, but I wanted to keep you informed about our patient. The Klingon prisoner, L’Rell has complied. She has destroyed the Klingon personality inside of Lieutenant Tyler’s body. I will continue doing extensive tests, but there’s a strong chance he will survive. He’s already calmer and his stats are stabilizing.”

“Thank god,” Tilly murmured, overhearing the conversation.

“That’s great news. Thank you for keeping me informed.” Hugh’s eyes flickered back to Paul’s stats as one of them turned red.

“Would you like me to send you my report after I finish?”

Hugh was distracted, but agreed to look at it later. “Thank you. And great job, you earned yourself a rest.”

Pollard closed the connection. Hugh was grateful she ended it when she did, so she didn’t hear what happened next. Paul shouted, thrashing slightly and pulling at the connectors to the implants in his arms and almost ripping them out. He gasped and squeezed his eyes shut.

“Heartrate is 190!” Tilly shouted, looking at the screen.

“It’s too high. His body can’t maintain this level of stress, not after he’s been so weak and ill.” Hugh went to the spore chamber door. He entered the code that Paul had given him. The spores tickled his skin, feeling cool as he entered the chamber.

“Doctor Culber, do you want me to disconnect the drive?” Tilly shouted.

Hugh shook his head. “No. If we disconnect the drive now, with his mind still in the network, we won’t get Paul back. He’ll be trapped. We have to bring him back first.” Hugh placed his hands on Paul’s cheeks, trying to still his movements. “Paul, you have to wake up. Paul. Open your eyes.”

 

DISCOVERY * DISCOVERY

 

Stamets refused to answer him. Stubborn, pain in the ass bastard. Paul shivered, pulling his arms tighter around himself. The heat from the explosions heated the room, but Paul still felt cold. His headache returned with a vengeance. The longer he was in the network, the worse he felt. The rash burned from the exposure to the network. Paul glanced over at his counterpart. Stamets looked worse than he did. Neither of them had much time if this continued.

“Do you want to stop this or do you want to be wrong?” Paul demanded. He stumbled to his feet, almost losing his balance as the ship jarred sharply to the left.

Stamets didn’t move.

“Damn it Stamets! Get up! We’re not going to die like this.” Paul stumbled over to him and grabbed his arm, pulling him to his feet.

Stamets cried out in pain at the movement. He rolled up his sleeve further, exposing the bloody rash. “I don’t have much time left either way! I’m gonna die.”

“You don’t know that. If we destroy the reactor, the network can heal itself and we might not die of this terrible rash that you caused.”

Stamets opened his mouth to protest.

“Shut up! I know you caused this. The network is attacking us through our connection to it. It is trying to severe the link on its own.” Another explosion rocked the ship, sending intense heat in their direction. Paul grabbed his arm and pulled Stamets closer to the center of Engineering. “We have to end this.”

“You’re talking about the mycelial network like it can communicate with us.” Stamets shook his head. “That isn’t possible. I’ve been here for a long time and it hasn’t communicated with me.”

Paul rolled his eyes, wanting to slap himself in the face. “Well you have been exploiting the network. I worked together with it and traveled it. Face it, the network hates you.”

Stamets shrugged. “I deserve that. If I were willing to consider it, what would your plan be?”

The two struggled to walk over to the console. Paul brought up the designs of the ISS Charon and the Mycelial Reactor Core. He spent the next several minute describing his plan to blow up the reactor without destroying the ship and killing everyone. It had to be done in a way that they wouldn’t rebuild it. Stamets would have to escape so the design died with it. Stamets listened intently, but didn’t say anything. Paul finished talking. He waited, desperately wishing that his stubborn self would end this. He’d even come up with a vague escape plan for his counterpart.

“What would I even do?” his voice was softer. “I don’t know what I’d do if I weren’t manipulating the network for my own selfish gain.”

Paul smiled at him. “Have you ever thought of leaving and having your own private lab on a terraformed planet? Might be nice. You might even have time to look up one Hugh Culber and finally call him back.”

“I don’t know about that.” Stamets made a face. “But it would be nice to get away from all of this. I have an erotic novel I’ve been working on in my spare time. I could finally finish it.”

Okay. That was too much information. Paul wanted to make a comment about his counterpart’s distasteful hobby, but he didn’t get a chance. He felt a sharp pain in his chest. Using his right hand, he grabbed his chest and let out a low hiss. What the hell? He’d never felt pain like this before. It wasn’t right. His voice blurred as the room spun. Paul fought to take an even breath.

“Will you do it?” Paul asked through gritted teeth. There was a strange numbness in his arm that Paul slowly began to recognize. Shit. This wasn’t good at all. “Stamets, please.”

“I’ll do it. But how the hell do we get out of here?”

“Paul, you have to wake up.” It was Hugh’s voice.

Paul looked around, feeling a sense of panic settle in, increasing the pain in his chest. Hugh wasn’t here with him. “Hugh?”

“Paul. Open your eyes.”

An idea quickly formed in Paul’s mind, curtesy of Hugh’s words. He grabbed Stamets’ face, putting his hands on his cheeks. “Close your eyes.”

“Why would I –?”

“Do it!” The sharp pain came again. Paul gasped and felt the little remaining strength he had slowly draining from his body. Nausea came, along with a sense of doubt. This had to work.

Stamets obeyed, closing his eyes.

“Good. Now focus. See the network paths and when I tell you, open your eyes.”

Stamets nodded, moving Paul’s hands up and down.

Paul closed his own eyes, fearing what was happening to his heart. He pictured Hugh, standing outside of the spore reaction chamber, his brown eyes bright, as he ordered Tilly to bring him back. His love. Paul imagined himself wrapping his arms around Hugh and pulling him to his chest. He’d gently kiss his lips and whisper that he loved him. He wanted more than anything to be with Hugh again. He loved him. “Okay, open your eyes.”

There was a bright flash when Paul opened his eyes. Stamets disappeared from in front of him. The next thing Paul knew was only darkness.

 

DISCOVERY * DISCOVERY

 

The bio-alarms sounded like a weapon priming, high pitched and out of control. Hugh watched in horror as Paul’s heartrate rose above 200 beats per minute. His blood oxygen levels were low and he was barely breathing, only gasping for the little air he could draw in. Hugh had vacated the chamber when he realized he couldn’t help Paul from there. He needed his PADD and to be able to monitor him when the time came for Tilly to shut down the spore drive. Hugh administered 3 ccs of Digoxin and waited for Paul’s body to respond. His pulse lowered a little, but quickly began to climb again.

Tachycardia. Low blood pressure. Rising body temperature. Blood pulse oxygen levels falling. In addition to his already weakened state.

“Damn it,” Hugh swore.

“What’s happening to him?” Tilly yelled over the beeping.

Hugh opened his mouth to reply, but didn’t get a chance.

Paul’s body seized and his eyes popped open. He gasped. “Hugh!”

“Disengage the spore drive, Tilly!” Hugh ordered, running into the chamber.

In a quick movement, the spore drive disengaged and the arms pulled back from Paul’s augments. He collapsed against Hugh, barely conscious. Startled by the sudden weight, Hugh lowered Paul to the ground. He heard a gurgling sound in his throat. Hugh turned him at the last second so he didn’t aspirate on his own vomit. Paul threw up, but it wasn’t much. His body went limp.

“Doctor?”

“His heart is failing,” Hugh said, touching Paul’s cheek with a shaking hand. “Computer, two for emergency transport to sickbay!”

Chapter Text

Hugh ran his hand down Paul’s arm as his eyes fluttered open. Paul smiled at him, still looking very sleepy. It was adorable. He glanced down at the arm he was touching, noting that the rash was starting to look a little less red and angry. It was beginning to heal. Paul’s stats were stable. Color returned to his cheeks and his fever had broken. There was no discernable damage from his trip into the mycelial network. After returning from the network, Hugh transported them both to sickbay. Paul’s heart had been failing and he was experiencing a myocardial infraction. Hugh managed to administer the medication to slow Paul’s heart before Doctor Pollard stepped in and started working on Paul. Hugh stepped back, feeling tightness around his chest. He knew. He was panicking and he needed to calm down so he could focus on Paul. Hugh had been very close to losing him this time.

“What happened?” Paul asked, barely above a whisper. He coughed and cleared his throat. “Uhh.”

Hugh helped him take a sip of water. “You passed out when you came back.”

A panicked look crossed his face and he put his hand on his chest, above his heart. “Heart?”

Hugh grabbed his hand to calm him, rubbing warmth into his cold fingers. “Your heart is fine. Just stay calm. I don’t want you to get worked up and cause your heartrate to rise too much. When you came back, your heart was in tachycardia and failing. We stabilized your heart. There’s no long term damage. After some well-earned rest, you’ll be okay.” He brushed his hand across Paul’s cheek.

“Did we do it?” Paul asked after a long pause.

Hugh smiled. “You tell me. I wasn’t there with you.” He lifted Paul’s arm enough that Paul could see the rash starting to change. “You did something.”

“I feel – feel really good,” Paul murmured. He clearly wasn’t able to talk about what occurred in the network with his counterpart; not in this medicated state.

“We have you on some of the good medications right now.” Hugh smiled at him. “Hopefully we can lower them in the next few hours and discharge you tomorrow afternoon. You need to get some more rest.”

“Okay,” he hummed. Paul fought to keep his eyes open, blinking heavily.

“How’s your head, honey?”

“Better. No headache. It hasn’t been gone in so long.” Paul lifted his hand to touch his forehead, but it quickly fell back to the bed, but not before he accidentally slapped his own eye. He didn’t have the strength.

“I hope it stays that way. I’m looking forward to having my partner back, all of him. We both are due for a lot of cuddling and staying in bed. Acting-Captain Saru has given us a whole week off, starting tomorrow. I can get to take care of you and relax. We’ve also been granted leave from the ship to see a Kasseelian opera, called La Boheme. I believe you’ve heard of it.”

Paul grinned. “I can’t wait to see it with you.” His eyes fluttered shut and he quickly opened them again. “Sorry, so tired.”

Hugh leaned over and kissed Paul’s forehead. “Don’t worry about it. Go back to sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Paul pulled Hugh’s arm close and snuggled it, covering it with the blanket. “Okay, night.”

“As sweet as this is, I’m gonna need my arm back. I have to finish up some paperwork before we can have our week off.”

Paul didn’t say anything. Hugh kissed his head again and gently slid his arm out. Paul sighed. He snuggled into the blanket, rubbing it against his cheek as he went to sleep.

“Love you,” Hugh whispered, letting his fingers run down Paul’s leg before walking away to finish his work, making sure to stay within eyesight of his love so he could keep an eye on the snuggly Paul and make sure he didn’t start cuddling with the closest arm in his medicated and adorable state.

 

DISCOVERY * DISCOVERY

 

“The rash is still itchy,” Paul muttered, rolling down his sleeve.

“Well, it will probably be itchy and sore for a few more days until it clears up.” Hugh handed him his sweatpants. He helped Paul stand up and slide the pants on. They were still a little baggy around his waist, evident to how much weight he’d lost. Hugh tied the strings tighter.

Paul’s cheeks turned pink. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

“There’s nothing to apologize for. You were sick and you couldn’t keep food down.” Hugh rubbed his shoulder. “We’ll have plenty of time next week to get you eating again.”

“Does this mean I can’t have pie?” Paul pouted.

“You can have pie. I want to make sure you eat some healthy food, but you have a special treat too.” Hugh returned his attention to his PADD. “How’s your headache? You said it came back earlier.”

“Dull and achy, but not bad.”

“It’s a good thing you are due for some spores today. Hopefully that will help balance out your neurological symptoms and help your system stabilize the rest of the way. You’ll need –” Hugh paused. “What’s wrong?”

Paul covered his face, sitting on the edge of the biobed. “Nothing,” he murmured. “I’m fine.”

Hugh wrapped his arms around Paul, holding him to his chest. Paul quickly grabbed him and pressed his face into Hugh’s shoulder. Hugh listened as his breath quivered in and out. Oh Paul. He held tight to his love, trying to comfort him. He’d been through so much in the past few weeks. It was bound to come out. Paul pushed him back and shook his head.

“I’m fine,” he muttered.

“Paul…”

“Can we talk about it later?” Paul looked up at him. “I wanna go home.”

Hugh grinned. “Let’s go home.” He put his arm him and lowered the privacy screen. Paul stepped into the slip-on-shoes, grimacing at them. Hugh smiled. He knew how much Paul hated this type of shoes, but he couldn’t bend over without getting dizzy. The door to the medbay opened, causing Hugh to glance over. He smiled as she bounced over.

“Hi Tilly.”

“Hi. How are you feeling, Lieutenant?” Tilly asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

Paul put on a brave face. “I’m okay. I’ve been better, but Doctor Culber is gonna –”

His words were cut off as Tilly hugged Paul. He almost lost his balance, but Hugh steadied them, keeping them both upright. He felt Paul relax in her embrace. She sniffled and released him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I was really worried about you.”

“It’s okay,” Paul replied softly.

“I just thought that I was gonna lose you and then I wouldn’t have my favorite teacher to help me navigate the spore drive and to do fucking cool science things and to – to be my friend.” She looked down.

“Don’t apologize.” Paul smiled at her. “Thank you. I would’ve missed you so much, Tilly. I actually wanted to thank you. You helped save me.”

Her cheeks turned a deep red color. “I didn’t do anything special.”

“You helped Hugh discover that I needed the spores in order to survive and to keep me balanced. I would most definitely credit you as helping to save my life.”  Paul put a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll be writing a recommendation to Starfleet.”

Tilly hugged him again. Hugh watched as Paul smiled, closing his eyes as they embraced. Neither of them said a word, but their gratitude for each other was clearly felt. Hugh rubbed Paul’s shoulder as he saw tears from in his eyes. He quickly blinked them away.

Tilly let go of him and took a step backwards. “I should let you rest. Maybe when you’re back on duty, I can go over some ideas with out on how to regulate your spore imbalance on a different level?”

“I’d like that very much.” Paul reached out and took Hugh’s hand. Hugh realized his hand was shaking. He put his arm around him to comfort him.

“Thank you, Tilly. For everything,” Hugh added.

“You’re welcome.” She smiled at them both before leaving the medbay.

Hugh brushed the stray tear that had slipped from Paul’s eye. “Are you alright?”

“I need a snuggle.” Paul stuck out his lower lip.

God, he loved him. Hugh squeezed his hand and they left the medbay. Paul held his hand tightly as they walked down the hallway. Two crewmen greeted them warmly.

Hugh watched as Paul stared at his feet while he walked. He didn’t look up at his crewmates. Each step was slow and almost pained. It was going to be a while before he was fully healed and his Paul again. He’d gone through a painful and intense ordeal, almost dying of lack of spore exposure, radical personality change, excruciating network jumps, his mind almost fading into the mycelial network as those around him thought he was going crazy, and then his heart almost stopping. He hoped Paul was done scaring him like that for a while. He squeezed his hand.

Paul stopped suddenly. “Do you know why I didn’t get trapped in the network like he did?”

Hugh smiled, putting his arms around Paul’s waist and pulling him closer. “Why?” There was no one in the corridor, not that he figured Paul cared at the moment.

“You.” Paul grinned. “He didn’t have anyone. In his universe, we met in that café, but we just hooked up. He didn’t know you as I know you. But his own stubbornness would’ve robbed him of any love anyway. But me, I had you, grounding me and holding me in this universe. Your love anchored me or I’d be lost. Without you I would’ve been trapped too.” He gently touched Hugh’s cheek. “I convinced him to destroy the mycelial reactor, not because he wanted to be a good person, but I told him to give life a chance. And he did it. I don’t know if he survived the explosion, but I’m here because of you. There was a moment where I didn’t know how to get back. I heard you.”

Hugh frowned, putting his hand on top of Paul’s. “What do you mean?”

“You said my name and told me to wake up. Then you told me to open my eyes.” Paul brushed the back of his fingers against Hugh’s facial hair. “I remembered everything that I loved about you. And I opened my eyes.”

“So, you’re saying our gay love saved the universe?” Hugh teased.

“Yes. It actually saved all of the universes. I’ve always said that gay sex was gonna save the world. I guess I was right. But it saved the universe instead.”

Hugh laughed. He touched the side of Paul’s face with his other hand. “I’d ask you not to do anything that stupid again, but I know you won’t listen.”

“True. Because I know I’ll always have you to love and to keep me here. I love you, Hugh.”

“I love you too, honey.” Hugh kissed him ever so gently, giving him as much love as he could. “Let’s take our gay love home and rest. I think we both earned some snuggles.”

Paul smiled back. “I don’t ever want to be apart from you again.”

“No matter what happens to us, we’ll always love each other.”

Hugh and Paul walked to their quarters together. They lay side by side at first, but Paul quickly cuddled up against his love, listening to his heartbeat as he drifted to sleep. They were going to be okay.