That impudent cadet Sylvia Tilly. Paul Stamets could only shake his head and wonder why he had agreed to have lunch with her.
“How did you and Dr Culber first meet?” had been Tilly’s innocuous question, asked with a smile, in between sips of her soup. Did Tilly think
that she was going to be fast friends with him, as she apparently was now with Burnham? Had she not experienced enough interactions with her superior officer? Would she be calling him by his first name next?
Stamets answered her question with a look. An unmistakable look which let her know she’d crossed a line.
“I’m sorry Sir. It was inappropriate to ask a personal question.” Tilly looked down at her plate.
Paul took a surreptitious glance around the room. The mess hall was fairly empty at this time, and most other occupants seemed engaged in their own conversations. So perhaps no one had seen the softening of Paul’s expression, the flash of realization that Tilly reminded him a bit of his younger sister, a sister who he sorely missed.
“In the academy. Twenty-two years ago,” Stamets added, leaning forward in his seat. “He was dating someone else though so we weren’t a couple back then.”
The personal revelation was worth it to see the look of delight on Tilly’s face. It was worth it even more for Stamets to be reminded of his victory all those years ago, how he always found a way and got what he wanted.
Eighteen years ago....
Ensign Paul Stamets stomped down the corridor, reached his room, tossed his tricorder on his bed and looked around to see that neither of his annoying roommates was there. It has been another dreadful day in the lab. He tried to drown out his boss’s voice, tried to block out the unbearable indignity of reporting under someone who was nowhere near as knowledgeable or innovative as Paul himself.
He sat down and rubbed his temples. The day could not come soon enough when Paul himself would be calling the shots.
A beep indicated that Paul had a message, from someone not on the ship. It was Tatsuko. The biggest gossip in the galaxy. Paul had few friends apart from Straal, but he’d been drawn to Tatsuko since he first met her at the academy and they had bonded over late night lab sessions. He marveled at Tatsuko’s ability to connect with everyone and learn their business, though he could never understand her desire to do so. Outside of Straal and his immediate family, Stamets wasn’t overly interested in the goings on of other people, but he was always impressed at Tatsuko’s fact-finding skills and he knew her to be of use.
Paul pressed the button on his device, and Tatsuko’s message was succinct.
“That hot doctor you liked at the academy has broken up with his boyfriend.”
There was not a flicker of doubt as to who Tatsuko was referring to. Paul had been on plenty of first dates and a few second dates. He’d had his share of bedroom partners, no lack there. But yes, he remembered Dr Hugh Culber very well. As he stared down at the screen, Paul leaned back on his bunk and kicked off his boots. He remembered Hugh’s kind, caring eyes. His broad shoulders, the physique that looked more like it belonged in Security instead of Medical. Most of all, he remembered Hugh’s manner. Patience, geniality, the ability to allow others to be who they were without constantly wanting to change everyone and everything.
Because despite what others might have thought, Stamets knew his own flaws. He was brilliant, yes, but he knew he was a pain, he knew he was a challenge. He knew he was likely to be alone for the rest of his life with only his research as company.
But throughout the entire time Paul had known Hugh at the academy, Hugh had been in a relationship. Paul had interacted with both men over the years - Hugh’s boyfriend had run in some of Tatsuko’s circles. Paul would watch them, would feel the sick bile of jealousy rise in his throat and force himself to choke it down. Despite Paul’s hopes, Hugh’s boyfriend never transferred or met someone else or just disappeared.
Really, the boyfriend was an arrogant know-it-all; what did Hugh see in him?
Paul closed his eyes. It had been a couple years now but he’d never forgotten Hugh. He could visualize him perfectly, remember his sweet voice. He could think about kissing those lips which had been so off-limits.
Paul sat back up. Sitting around and wishing for things to happen was not one of his flaws. He messaged Tatsuko back.
“Is Hugh still on the Yamato?”
Tatsuko was as prompt as she was well-connected.
“Yes. They have some openings in Engineering too. You still hate your assignment?”
“With a passion.”
“I know someone who could put in a good word with the Yamato’s Chief Engineer. You will owe me for the rest of your existence though.”
“Do it!” Paul practically banged his fingers onto the keypad. “I am not letting Hugh Culber get away from me this time!”
Tilly was still smiling back at him. Stamets had to clamp down on the smile that threatened to form, though now he was unsure whether the smile was a result of remembering his triumph or a result of something in Tilly.
“Maybe someday I’ll tell you the whole story,” Paul said.
“I am so here for that if you do!”
More to come soon; please leave a comment!