"Emergency transport from engineering. Beam Lieutenant Stamets directly to Sick Bay."
Hugh Culber's head snapped up at the sound of Paul's name, in time to see a wash of light begin to materialize over the bed at the far end of the bay. The nurse beside him began moving, tricorder in hand, but Hugh stepped in front of him, blood slowly chilling in his veins.
The tardigrade. It had to be the tardigrade. Whatever Paul had done to get it to make the jump, it had snapped. Unwittingly, he pictured Landry's torn body, limp and soaked in blood, and his heart leapt into his throat. He knew the Tardigrade was sentient, peaceful, was alive-but it was cornered, and could not stand more of this torture (Hugh refused to think of black alert as anything else). It had to have been forced awake, pushed to its breaking point, and Paul had to have-
The beam pulsed a moment longer and solidified into a body, stretched on to the bed. Hugh raised his tricorder, bracing himself for blood and shredded flesh - -but was shocked to find Paul in one piece, blood oozing from wounds on his sides, laughing so hard that tears were pooling in his eyes.
At that moment, Hugh was never more thankful for the rigorous training of Starfleet's medical division. Had he been schooled anywhere else, the laughter erupting from the Discovery's coldest (and, arguably grumpiest) scientist might have been enough to send him into shock.
Instead, he waved the tricorder over the other man's sides and chest, heart racing as he watched the vitals flashed across the device in his hand.
-three fractured ribs, two broken—two wounds on his sides 47 millimeters deep, minimal blood loss—
Hugh released the breath he hadn't realized he was holding, and willed his heart beat to steady. Fractured and broken ribs, while painful, were not the end of the world. These were things he could fix. Paul's heart was still pumping, brain activity normal (despite the wildly uncharacteristic laughter, but he could chalk that up to shock), even the wounds on his side weren't-
Hugh froze, and moved the tricorder over Paul's side again. The wounds were thin, but deep; puncture wounds. Deep enough to sink into flesh, but shallow enough from disrupting any major organs.
The same puncture wounds he had observed, angry and inflamed, on the tardigrade.
He drew the tricorder back sharply. He did this to himself, he realized, cold fear sinking into his chest. He'd injected himself with the syringe, let himself be skewered through the ribs—
Hugh's eyes snapped up from the tricorder, breath catching as he focused on Paul's face. Giggles were still bubbling from his lips, weaker and hitching with every breath. His dark eyes were directed at the ceiling, streaming with tears.
The wounds had missed all of the vital organs, but not by much.
The deepest had stopped perilously close to his heart.
Hugh dropped the tricorder on the medical tray attached to the bed. "What have you done?" he whispered. Clinical detachment forgotten, he reached out a hand to stroke his partner's hair, his forehead cold and clammy beneath his palm. "Paul. What have you done?"
But he knew, of course. The great love of his life was a brilliant, passionate, driven man—to the point of recklessness. He had pushed himself far in the past, working himself to the bone and relying on Culber to make sure he slept, make sure he ate.
Paul's head turned slightly towards him, eyes unfocused and gazing somewhere over Culber's left shoulder. "I did it," he breathed heavily between giggles. He didn't seem to have registered the doctor's presence. "Connected, everything—it was—I did it-"
This time, he had almost gone too far.
Paul's giggles stopped suddenly, gasping in pain as a deep breath taxed his injured ribs. The sharp pain seemed to ground him; yes widening with clarity, he tried to raise himself up on his elbows. Hugh moved his hand from his forehead to his collarbone, and pushed him gently back down.
"You really don't want to do that right now," he murmured.
Paul started, finally seeming to realize Hugh was standing over him. His dark eyes found Hugh's, piercing them. "Hugh—" he whispered, a smile brushing over his lips. "I-"
"You broke two ribs," Hugh interrupted bluntly. "Fractured another three." The fear that had been coiled in his chest was slowly dissipating, but he could feel anger seeping into its place. The man had nearly killed himself, for mushrooms. For science. He had nearly lost him— -and he was giggling. Smiling. Like it was a joke.
"It missed your heart by millimeters, did you know that?" He continued sharply. Paul's smile faded at the sudden edge to Hugh's tone, confusion clouding his gaze. The doctor raised a hand in front of Paul's nose and held his thumb and forefinger apart. Paul's eyes followed.
"That far, and you would have a hole in your heart. Which, as much as you pretend NOT to have one like the rest of us, would have still had the same catastrophic results as it would on us mere mortals, so you would do well to try to care a little bit about it."
Paul's eyes narrowed at that.
"I do care," he snapped haughtily. "I—" he cut himself off with a gasp, the sudden intake of breath needed to speak straining his ribs and making him wince. Hugh dropped his hand and retrieved the bone knitter from the tray, clenching it in his fist as he began passing it over the expanse of Paul's chest as mending the bones beneath his skin.
Slowly, Paul's breaths became deeper and easier, until the only sound between them was the rhythmic whirring of the device in Hugh's hand. He kept his eyes trained on Paul's chest, imagining the bones stitching themselves back together, his lungs expanding beneath them, and tried to calm himself. He finished the ribs, and moved on to the wounds on Paul's sides. He felt Paul's eyes on him, but didn't pause until he felt Paul's fingers curling around the wrist of his free hand. Only now did he realize it had been shaking.
"Hugh," he murmured, so softly that he had to strain to hear it. "I'm okay." The doctor closed his eyes, the hot balloon of anger in his chest beginning to deflate at the words. As angry as he was, the soft tone in his partner's voice that he was fairly certain only he had ever heard was still enough to overpower him.
He felt the pads of Paul's fingers massaging a circle on the inside of his wrist, and twisted it slightly so he could grip Paul's fingers in his own. The scientist squeezed his fingers tightly, and when Hugh opened his eyes again he found Paul's staring directly into them.
Paul was not one for public displays of affection. Hardly anyone on the ship knew they were together, and it wasn't for privacy's sake or secrecy—he just never expressed much outside of exasperation or copious amounts of sarcasm when it came to dealing with his colleagues. But the look he was giving the doctor now could not possibly be misconstrued by anyone in the med bay. It was thick with emotion, glistening softly with unshed tears that Hugh was fairly certain had nothing to do with laughter anymore.
"Hugh, it's okay," his partner whispered. The doctor swallowed past the lump suddenly in his throat, and gave Paul's fingers a final squeeze before carefully extracting his hand.
"I've taken care of the fractures, and...the rest. But given that no human being has ever injected themselves with Tardigrade DNA, I think it is safe to say that we can't tell what additional damage might have been done. Until we do, it would be safest to keep you here for the night, for observation."
Paul's eyebrows raised in alarm, and Hugh patted his shoulder. "You know that tends to happen, when one decides to make themselves a science experiment."
Paul sniffled lightly, averting his eyes. "It's not an experiment, if you know its going to work." He gingerly pushed himself up onto his elbows and the doctor put a gentle hand on his back, slowly guiding him into a sitting position. He glanced back at Hugh, the soft look back in his eyes. "Really, I'm alright-"
"That's debatable, my dear scientist. But, it is the rule."
Paul sighed, starting to protest. Hugh didn't let him.
"Lucky for you, though," he continued, "We can make an exception, seeing as you have a decorated medical officer willing to dedicate his time to watch over you."
Paul smirked fondly, eyes shining.
"I suppose that would be agreeable, dear doctor."
Hugh felt the corner of his mouth rise slightly. He didn't want to let this drop, didn't want to make Paul think by any means that terrifying him like this was even remotely okay, but for a moment he just allowed himself to revel in the utter joy of knowing that he was alive.
Granted, still without a doubt the most arrogant, recklessly driven man that Hugh had ever known. But, alive. And for now, that was enough.