He hadn't been to these quarters in two months; there hadn't been any need, since Paul was spending every night at his place anyway. But the away team had returned hours ago, and there had been no sign of the astromycologist in engineering, or his lab, or even in the cultivation bay—and Hugh knew Paul had very few havens on this ship.
He hit the alert button on the door panel. It chirped cheerily, but the doors didn't open. Just as they hadn't the first, second, and third times he had tried over the past hour.
He hadn't wanted to cross this line; he believed in trust and privacy-the lack of such virtues had picked apart each of his previous relationships-but he'd been in this one long enough to know that if he waited for his partner to come to him, he would end up dying of old age first.
Sighing, he hit the call button on the door.
"Computer, medical override for Lieutenant Stamets's quarters."
The doors chirped affirmatively, and slid open. The room was dark, the only light coming from the stars slipping by outside of the hull window. The scientist lay on his back on the bed, in full uniform. He scowled at the light flooding the room, squinting sharply at the ceiling.
"Don't you knock?" he muttered, voice brittle.
Culber ignored him, and stepped into the room. The doors slid shut behind him, plunging the room back into darkness.
"I know you need to talk about this."
Paul snorted. "I really don't."
Hugh let his eyes adjust to the darkness and carefully stepped his way to the bed. Giving Paul as much space as he could manage, he sat gingerly on its edge.
"You've been through something traumatic. Your friend is dead." For any other person, he would have winced at his own choice of words; but being blunt was the only way to work with the man in front of him. "You nearly died." Hugh swallowed around the lump in his throat at that thought. "You need to talk about it."
"You're a doctor, not a psychologist," the man in the bed snapped. "I'm fine, leave me alone."
Hugh heard the ragged edge in his tone, and raised his voice.
"Computer, raise lights."
The lights slowly rose in the room, enough to illuminate the red-rimmed eyes of the scientist on the bed and shine brightly off the tears running down his face. Paul's face flushed scarlet and he quickly flipped onto his side, turning his back to the doctor and snapping at the computer to lower the lights. By the light of the stars in the window, Hugh saw him pull his hands to his face, harshly scrubbing away all evidence of the tears from his cheeks.
Hugh felt his heart twist in his chest. Despite the persona Paul tried to project to the world, knew him to be a deeply emotional man, one that buried his feelings under layers of sarcasm and bitterness. He kept the mask up with nearly everyone; the only time Hugh had ever seen it fall was in the privacy of his quarters, or when he was adorably reveling in the beauty of his mushrooms in the containment bay.
It killed him that Paul couldn't let him in when he needed him most.
"You don't have to do this, Paul," he said softly. "Not with me."
He reached out a hand, letting it rest on the other man's side. He felt Paul twitch underneath his palm, but he didn't pull away. "You don't have to deal with this alone. Let me help you. Talk to me."
The silence from the other man was painful; the wall between them seemed to be firmly in place.
Hugh sighed, his heart aching. This is what he'd been afraid of; it was one thing to share in private asides, lighthearted moments over coffee in his quarters. It was entirely another to allow yourself to be entirely vulnerable, and it was a wall he had yet to break through with the man in front of him. But he couldn't push him. If he knew anything, it was that Paul dug in when challenged-he'd seen enough evidence of that whenever he'd found the man in the same room with Lorca-and he didn't want to do anything to make the man retreat even further. He let his hand trail off Paul's side.
"You know where to find me," he said softly, and moved to stand.
Paul sat up suddenly, startling him. He settled his back against the bulkhead he'd been facing, pulling his knees to his chest and letting his head fall back against the wall with a gentle thump. Hugh carefully resumed his position on the end of the bed, and waited.
The room was silent for a while. After a few moments, Paul spoke.
"If I had been there," he said slowly. "I could have stopped him."
Him; Straal. Hugh saw where this going. He pulled himself to the bulkhead, sitting shoulder to shoulder with the other man.
"You aren't to blame for this," he said quickly. "How would you have known—"
" I could have," Paul cut him off. He stared stonily ahead, hands clenched around his knees. "He was pushing his limits, and I knew it. I could have done more to stop him, but I didn't. "
His voice was grower thicker, but he pushed forward. "They were torn apart. They didn't even look human, Hugh. There were pieces of them—the ship smelled like blood--"
He jerked his head up, boring his eyes into the doctor's. Even in the dim light, they were glassy.
"And what about Discovery? There are 135 people on this ship. One wrong jump, one miscalculation—and the same thing can happen here. We could all be dead." His voice broke, and he dropped his forehead on to his knees. "You would be dead."
Hugh's heart twisted. He'd known the pressure his partner was under—there wasn't a person on the ship that didn't understand the importance of his work and what was on the line for it—but he hadn't known that he had been carrying the weight this heavily on his shoulders.
How could I not have noticed?
His partner was hunched over next to him, curling into himself, shoulders shaking with what Hugh knew had to be repressed sobs. Without thinking, he wrapped his arm around the other man's shoulders and pulled him to his chest. Paul stiffened in his arms, but didn't pull away.
"It's okay," Hugh whispered softly, wrapping his free arm around Paul's back. Paul sniffled in his arms, letting his head fall against the doctor's chest. His shoulders shook uncontrollably as Hugh pulled him closer, rubbing circles between the man's shoulder blades.
"Let go, Paul. If you don't, its going to tear you apart."
The man in his arms broke at that, letting out a sob. He wrapped his arms around Hugh's waist, pulling himself closer and burying his face into the front of the doctor's shirt. Hugh moved a hand to stroke slowly through his hair, murmuring gently into his ear to soothe him.
After a time, he felt the scientist's breathing begin to even, his chest rising and falling gently without the jerk of sobs wracking his body. He maneuvered the man carefully, until his head was resting on his lap.
They sat in silence for a while, Hugh running his fingers through the blond man's hair. He felt Paul's shoulders begin to tense, before he muttered a soft but sheepish "sorry". A slow blush was working its way up the back of his neck, tingeing his ears pink.
Hugh snorted. "For what? Being human?"
The scientist let out a breathy laugh. "I was thinking more like, "sorry for weeping like a baby in your arms," but yeah that works too."
Hugh moved his hand from Paul's head to his shoulder, carefully flipping him so he could look him directly in his eyes. They were relatively dry, now, but wetness still glistened on his cheekbones.
"You never have to apologize for that." He leaned over, pressing his lips gently to the other man's forehead. "But do promise me something."
"Anything," Paul said at once.
Hugh let his thumb trail over the tears on the other man's face.
"You have to let me in. Don't shut yourself away. Its not healthy for you, mentally or emotionally."
Paul rolled his eyes, chuckling softly. "There you go doctoring again."
Hugh's hand stilled on the other man's face. "Don't do that."
Paul's eyes found his again, confused. "Do what?"
"Deflect. Treat this like its not important. Write this off like it doesn't matter. This," he gestured between the two of them, "is a partnership. You don't need to carry these things on your own anymore—that's not how this works."
Paul's mouth opened, and closed. Hugh could almost see the gears turning in his head.
"I didn't think you'd want to deal with this part," the scientist said finally. He glanced up shyly. "I've never had-I mean, I've never been with anyone who—"
Hugh put a finger to other man's lips, silencing them, before meeting them softly with his own.
"Its not dealing with anything," he said once they'd broken apart. "Its being there for you. Its what you do for someone you love."
Paul's eyes widened. "You—you love me." A blush rose in his cheeks. "You-I—you never said--" He was flustered, vulnerability naked on his face. Hugh laughed at that, and took the man's face in both of his hands.
"You are a remarkably brilliant man, my dear scientist. Did you really not see this coming?"
Paul blinked, but recovered quickly, letting a grin pull at the corner of his mouth.
"I guess you're just smarter than I am, my dear doctor." He moved his hand to cup one of Hugh's, squeezing gently.
Hugh shrugged. "Well, I'm not going to argue with that."
After some time, Hugh pried off his own shoes and pulled himself fully on to the bed, letting Paul curl up beside him. He slung an arm around the scientist's ribs, pulling him against his chest as his brain began to go fuzzy with sleep.
"You know I love you too, don't you?" A voice murmured softly in the dark.
Hugh smiled against the other man's shoulder.