Waking up in the middle of the night because of nightmares was nothing new for Ash. But waking up with not one, but two people next to him in bed was.
When he had first joined the crew aboard the Discovery, he had been put under the care of the ship’s CMO, Doctor Hugh Culber. The endless patience and gentle encouragement while Ash was recovering, was what had made Ash fall for him.
During his stay in sickbay, he had also been introduced to the Discovery’s chief engineer, Paul Stamets. At first, he hadn’t been sure what to think of the other man. Paul was an arrogant know-it-all, exactly the kind of person Ash hated.
And yet, Ash had seen a different side to Paul. In the small hours of the night, whenever Doctor Culber was working gamma shift, Paul would come down to visit him. When he thought they were alone, Paul would let his mask slip away, revealing the person underneath.
If Ash hadn’t known better, he would have said that the two versions of Paul were two completely different people.
He could feel tears start to form as he slipped out bed, quietly so as to not disturb the other two men. The last thing he wanted, was for them to see him like this. So weak. So pathetic.
Ash picked up the PADD he left on the table in the living space of their quarters, and when he found what he was looking for, he sat down on the couch with a heavy sigh.
He had no idea how long he’s been sitting there, when he hears the sound of footsteps.
“Ash…” Paul’s voice was soft, as if he was unsure how to comfort his partner. Their relationship was still so new, Ash wouldn’t be surprised if that was actually the case.
“Bad dreams?” Hugh asked. Ash simply nodded in response.
“Want to talk about it?” There was a moment’s silence before Ash replied.
“Tarsus” That word alone is enough to make both Hugh and Paul’s blood run cold. Everyone knew about Tarsus. It had been all over the news for months following the event. It was clear to Hugh that Ash would need comfort tonight, so he sat down on the couch next to him.
Paul followed and sat down on the other side of Ash, taking his hand in his.
"My parents had some farmland there. Nothing big or fancy, but enough to get by" Even through the tears, Ash couldn't help smiling. But soon, the smile turned into a frown.
"It wasn’t so bad at first. But then the food supply started dwindling, until there was almost nothing left. And then…” Ash swallowed audibly. “And then Kodos announced that half of the colonists would be executed to save the rest”
He closed his eyes. “He told us that we didn’t deserve to live. That we were a burden on the rest of the colonists” Ash sighed and opened his eyes again. “They went door to door, shooting people. Most people tried to fight back, but Kodos had been hoarding what little food was left for his men, so the colonists didn’t stand a chance.”
“The last thing I remember, is my dad, telling me to run. So I did” Ash said. “The week following the massacre was hell. Kodos’ men were still looking for any survivors from the initial attack, but then, finally, after nine days, Starfleet arrived”
“It was actually admiral Cornwell who found me” Ash continued, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “Though back then, she was just captain Cornwell of the USS Ganymede”
The smile was gone again almost as soon as it had appeared. “She stayed with me during my stay at Starfleet medical and eventually managed to convince me to enlist”
There was a long pause where none of the three men spoke.
"You don't look surprised" Ash said, looking at Hugh.
"Well, as the ship's CMO, I do have access to your medical history. I always figured that if you ever did want to talk about what happened, you'd do so" Hugh shrugged.
For a moment, Ash was speechless.
"Thank you. That... that means a lot to me" He knew he was crying again, but he couldn't help it. That both Hugh and Paul loved him enough to stay by his side, even after finding out about Tarsus was almost too much for Ash to handle.
“Who’s the woman in the picture?” Paul asked.
“That’s my younger sister, Emily” Ash replied. “We got separated during the revolt. I haven’t seen her since then She’s most likely dead”
“You don’t know that” Paul’s voice was soft as he spoke.
“You weren’t there. You didn’t see what they did to people” The sadness in Ash’s voice was unmistakeable. “There’s no way she could have survived”
“I’m sorry” Paul said. Ash sighed.
“Not your fault” Ash replied as he turned towards Hugh. Without a word, Hugh pulled him up against his chest, so his head was resting on his shoulder.
“It’s alright sweetheart, just let it out” Ash did, He couldn’t remember the last time he had cried like this, but sitting there with Hugh and Paul, he did. The sobs shook his body and he was eternally grateful for the feeling of Hugh and Paul’s arms around him.
“Sorry, it’s just… Every time I think I’m finally getting better, something happens” Ash whispered, reaching up to wipe his eyes.
“The klingons?” Paul asked. Ash only nodded.
Without a word, Hugh pulled him in for another quick hug. There didn’t seem to be anything left to say, so the three of them just sat on the couch for a while.
“Ready to get back to bed?” Hugh asked.
“Yeah, I think I’m gonna be okay for now” Ash found himself being pulled towards their shared bedroom again.
As they settle into bed, Ash in the middle, Hugh behind him with an arm draped over his waist and Paul in front of him, Ash thinks to himself that maybe he’ll never fully recover, but that’s okay.
As long as he has Paul and Hugh, he’ll be okay.