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The thing about war, Paul is discovering now that every day is no longer a race to get the spore drive operational, is that the intense moments or hours of battle are often interspersed with prolonged stretches of calm, waiting for where the enemy will strike next, preparing for whatever mission their superiors might have in store for them. Today, that means doing paper work in the peace and quiet of his own quarters, with three PADDs open to different drive performance charts scattered on the bed around him, a fourth one with the report he’s writing to Starfleet Command in his lap, and his partner lying next to him.

Hugh is stretched out on his stomach, propped up on his elbows, reading what appears to be a paper on the latest advances in the treatment of phaser burns. Like Paul, he’s half in, half out of uniform, his boots kicked off, his white jacket thrown with Paul’s blue one over the back of the desk chair. Where Paul is sitting with his back against the wall, his legs stretched out in front of him, Hugh’s head, bent over his PADD, is level with his thigh.

They’ve spent about an hour like that in companionable silence, each caught up in their own work, the only sound the ever-present hum of the warp engines reverberating through the ship, when Paul reaches for the PADD with Tilly’s dilithium depletion rate calculations, his eyes still on the text he’s typing with his other hand, and accidentally brushes Hugh’s arm. Hugh gives a small grunt and catches Paul’s hand in his, turns it palm up on the mattress. Paul allows the interruption, relaxing his muscles beneath the touch of Hugh’s fingers stroking the inside of his wrist. When he glances over, Hugh’s focus seems to be on his reading—he’s highlighted a large chunk of text in neon pink and is adding comments in the margin. He’s touching Paul absently, tactile stimulation more or less disengaged from his conscious thoughts. It’s endearing, and the sensations are pleasant; Paul uses his free hand to get the PADD he needs and keeps on working.

He’s dimly aware as he adds Tilly’s numbers to his report that Hugh’s caresses are straying up his arm, but he doesn’t actually think about it until Hugh’s fingers brush the edge of his new cybernetic augment. The sensation is almost startling, it stands out so clearly from the touches so far. He’s unprepared for it, the bright flare of sensation through his nerves, and his reaction is unguarded, loud. He shudders, fingers clutching tight around the PADD in his hand, and lets out an audible gasp.

Hugh’s head snaps up, his hand stilling into a loose grip on Paul’s arm, well below the augment. He looks curiously at Paul.

“Paul?” he says, not concerned yet, but asking if he should be.

Paul lays his PADD down in his lap. His heart is beating faster than it was a moment ago. His skin has broken out in goosebumps, every hair on his body standing on end.

“Do that again,” he says.

Hugh’s brow furrows in confusion, as if he has to backtrack to recall what he was doing.

“What, this?”

He shifts up a little on the bed to get closer, then runs his fingertips slowly along the inner edge of the augment, the line where skin meets polymeric biomaterial. The first touch was incidental; this is careful, deliberate, prolonged.

Paul’s head thuds back against the wall, his upturned hand clutching at Hugh’s forearm, his other hand scrabbling at the sheets. He bites his lip to hold back a moan.

The touch ends. Paul swallows. Tries to remember how to form thoughts.

“Okay,” Hugh says, his voice carefully level. “Was that the reaction I think it was?”

He’s watching Paul closely, head tilted to one side. Paul draws in a shaky breath.

“You should be able to recognize it by now,” he quips, “you’ve had plenty of practice.”

Hugh smiles, a quick flash of white teeth. His eyes are dark with recognition.

“Good?”

Paul is aware of the fabric of his t-shirt shifting against the tight points of his nipples with every movement. His mouth is too dry. Between his legs, his cock has grown thick with blood, a solid weight against his thigh.

“God, yes,” he admits. It is. It feels so good. But the intensity of it is disorienting. Too intimate. His body is different now, he thought he had wrapped his mind around that, accepted it. Mastered it, even, what his new self can do when he’s hooked up to the spore drive. But this is a kind of change he hasn’t considered. An inability to anticipate his own reactions that seems dangerous, out of control. “It hasn’t felt like this before.”

He’d been sore at first, the skin bruised around the surgical sites, tender to his own curious prodding when the analgesics wore off. After that, as the bruises faded, all he’d felt was a kind of tingling numbness, explained by Hugh in his doctor-patient tone as the severed nerves regrowing, finding new pathways.

What he’s experiencing now is the antithesis of numbness.

“So your body has finished healing around the implants, you’ve got full sensation back.” Hugh strokes the lower tip of the augment with the pad of his thumb experimentally. Paul trembles again, a shiver from head to toe. “And then some, it seems.” Hugh’s tone is playful, but then he must pick up on how incongruously unsettled Paul is, because his expression turns more serious. “Look,” he says. “The most sensitive points on any organism tend to be the external orifices, the places where the outside of the body opens up to the inside—for a Terran mammal that includes mouth, vagina, nipples, urinary meatus, anus—and the immediately surrounding tissue. It’s how our bodies work. If we create new points of entry into your body, it’s not surprising if we also create new erogenous zones.”

Science, Hugh is trying to tell him, it’s only science—an observable, replicable phenomenon that can be explained within their framework of empirical knowledge. Maybe he can deal with that. There’s reassurance, always, in the complex simplicity of biology.

“That actually made a weird amount of sense,” he says.

“Thank you,” Hugh says, bowing his head. “I’m happy to contribute my modest understanding of carbon based physiology.”

Paul smiles.

“I knew all those letters after your name weren’t just for show.”

Hugh rolls his eyes.

“Oh, shut up,” he says, and bends his neck to press his lips to Paul’s arm.

He doesn’t, though, not quite. Pauses instead before his mouth touches Paul, looking up at him through long eyelashes. His breath is warm on Paul’s sensitive skin.

Paul takes a deep breath. He reaches over, lays his free hand lightly on the back of Hugh’s head, stroking the dusting of gray hairs at his temple. He’s trembling with anticipation, vibrating with the promise of Hugh’s touch—he’s almost surprised he can’t hear it, like he hears the frequency of the ship’s engines in the tremors of its hull.

“Make me,” he says softly, under his breath. Meaning it’s all right, he won’t freak out, he wants Hugh to help him explore these new sensations more than he is disturbed by them.

Hugh makes an approving noise and closes the distance.

Slowly, lightly, he runs the tip of his tongue around the augment. The feeling is electrical, a spike of pleasure hot and overpowering through Paul’s blood. He twists with it, gasping, fingers scratching at Hugh’s scalp, sweat breaking out along his spine. Hugh grips his arm tighter, holds it in place, kissing it open-mouthed, licking patterns into the skin, then pulling back to trail his lips along the biopolymer so lightly the tease of it is almost unbearable; does it all again.

When he looks up, Paul is panting, breathless with spiraling desire. Hugh’s eyes travel over him, take in his flushed face, his heaving chest, dwell on the crotch of his pants stretched tight over the bulge of his erection. He licks his lips.

“Oh, baby, look at you,” he says, gently and so pleased. “It makes you so hard.” He pushes up on all fours and Paul’s gaze catches on the swell of his bicep beneath the sleeve of his white t-shirt as he lifts his own weight, the solid, beautiful strength of him. He feels weak with lust, helpless like an inexperienced boy blindsided by how intense a human touch can be. Hugh crawls over him, straddling his legs and tossing the PADD in his lap aside, not bothering to look where it lands, tells him, “Lie back.”

Paul does, lets his hands fall to his sides, settling deeper into the pillow behind his back, lets Hugh take charge of the moment, of him.

Hugh unzips Paul’s fly, eases his cock and balls carefully out of his pants. Paul whimpers at the first touch, and Hugh strokes his shaft with a firm, gentling pull from root to tip. It makes Paul leak, he’s so far gone already, drops of clear fluid forming at his slit. Hugh catches them with his thumb, spreads the moisture in slow, concentric circles over the head of Paul’s cock.

“You’re so worked up,” he says soothingly, “I know. But you’re going to like this.”

He bends down, and with his right hand he guides Paul’s cock into his mouth, taking the head between his soft lips, sucking it inside. At the same time, his left hand reaches out and finds Paul’s arm on the mattress. Finds the augment.

Paul arches off the bed, bucks up helplessly against Hugh’s weight on his legs holding him down. Hugh grins around his cock, makes an unmistakably delighted sound, like muffled laughter. He takes Paul deeper and moves his hand away from his hard-on, fumbles for his other arm. Paul takes his hand, squeezes his fingers tightly in his, then lets his arm go limp, lets Hugh drag his fingers up it until he’s touching the second implant, too.

It’s a perfect circuit of stimulation, Paul’s nerve-endings live with the current of pleasure, overloaded. Hugh holds his arms down, keeps him still, strokes the soft pads of his thumbs over his skin, along the curved outlines of the augments. Paul is caught there, in the thrill and heat and desperation of it, rocking his hips into Hugh’s eager mouth, moaning with every practiced swirl of his tongue. When Hugh sinks down on him all the way to the root and scrapes his fingernails across the boundary between polymer and flesh, the sound he makes is a sob.

He feels raw with it, exposed, his nerves flaring bright under Hugh’s touches to the tangible sites of his transformation, where old flesh and new abilities interconnect, the orifices where his human skin opens onto the endless possibilities of the being he’s become. Liminality manifest as pleasure, as ecstasy, and he isn’t in the borderland alone. Hugh is balanced on the edge with him, holding him down, keeping him here, now, locked into the one connection that doesn’t change. Known, familiar love seared into the newest cells of his body, the blissful pleasure of Hugh’s touch claiming that newness, marking it his like every other part of Paul, every reaction his body aches to give up.

It doesn’t last long, it can’t. His balls draw up tighter with every caress to his augments, every press of tongue to his cock, until he spills into Hugh’s mouth, until Hugh grinds down against his outstretched legs in response, hot and hard, and swallows all of it, moaning, eager to be filled. Afterwards, he holds Paul still, holds him in his mouth, not sucking now on over-sensitized skin but simply not letting go, keeping him in that soft, wet heat. He strokes Paul’s arms, keeps stroking, as Paul quivers and jerks and twists beneath him, inside him, and comes and comes and comes.

His climax feels for a while unending, as though Hugh could touch his implants, simply that, caress the thin skin around them, and Paul would spill himself onto his tongue forever as if his body has unlearnt how to run dry. For a moment, that seems within reason, in this new reality where time is optional, something for his existence to disregard. Then the moment passes and Hugh does release him, his arms, then, very gently, his softening cock. He feels wrung out from pleasure, emptied out and resaturated with it, limp and blissful.

Hugh sits up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand as he rearranges himself astride Paul’s lap. His medical whites look disheveled, his t-shirt come untucked, his pants wrinkled and too tight around the thick length of his hard-on. His lips are red and swollen. He is almost unbearably beautiful.

“Now that is a good smile,” he says, raising his hand to Paul’s face, cupping his cheek. Paul leans into it, still smiling, nuzzling Hugh’s palm. “Thank you for letting me share that.”

“All yours,” Paul says, and he means it. What he has been, what he is, whatever he may become. “Thank you for taking care of me.”

Hugh strokes the curve of his cheekbone.

“Always, baby.” He pauses, wets his lips. “You up to reciprocating?”

They’ve been together long enough that Paul knows it’s a genuine question, with multiple, equally acceptable, answers. Hugh would wait if he asked it, no harm done. Or Hugh would jerk himself off for Paul to watch, which is its own kind of delight. But no, today Paul may be worn out, drained by the unexpectedness of the experience, but also, he wants.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he says. He turns his head a little to find Hugh’s thumb with his lips, holding Hugh’s gaze through lowered lashes as he runs his tongue deliberately around the tip of it. “I do think I still have one or two orifices that come standard on this Terran model that you might just enjoy.”

Hugh laughs. He lays his hand on the wall above Paul’s head and leans forward, leans over him, tilting Paul’s face up towards him.

“Paul,” he says, the fondness in his eyes as overwhelming as the lust, “there has never been anything standard about you.”

Paul lifts his hands to drag him down into a kiss, gripping his face, the back of his neck. When he sees his own raised forearms, he becomes aware that the seals on his augments have opened, without his conscious thought, to expose the cybernetic access points beneath, the connection tubes unfolded. His body yielding, parting—habitually, eagerly—beneath Hugh’s touch, new organs as unquestioningly as old.

The implants are a part of his nervous system now—all it would take to close them is a decision.

Hugh’s lips meet his and Paul pulls him closer, lets his tongue slip inside to touch his own, sharing that liminal space. Hugh moans into his mouth.

He chooses to remain open.