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And Then Again

Chapter Text

Hugh looked up from the calibration he was running when he heard the door open and was supremely unsurprised to see Paul walk in.

“Good afternoon Lieutenant Stamets,” he greeted him, putting the tricorder down.

“It’s fifteen-hundred hours.”

“Yes, it is,” Hugh agreed, keeping his tone light.

“So, your shift has ended.”

“Alpha shift doesn’t end for another four hours.”

“Yes, but you’re done.”

“Paul, my fellow doctors and my commanding officer have cleared my returning to normal duty patterns and as much as I enjoy giving you exactly what you want, I’m staying till the end of my duty shift.”

“I just… it’s only been a few weeks and…” Stepping towards him, Hugh pulled his partner into a close hug and held him there. To give Paul his credit, it had been 5 hours this time and that was the longest stretch that he’d managed so far.

“I’m fine Paul and I’m not going anywhere,” he whispered, holding tight until some of the tension bled out.

It was absolutely understandable, after everything that they’d all been through in the last month (never mind the rest of the war before) that most of the crew were showing signs of post-traumatic stress. Compared to some, Hugh felt he’d gotten off rather lightly. His death had been quick and while he had been off-stage as Paul had taken to calling it, he had been strangely calm even in the face of the encroaching contamination. Then, when Discovery had been swept up in the shock wave of spore energy Hugh had suddenly realised that all he had to do was step through the divide to really touch Paul. When he’d woken up on the floor of the spore reaction cube, the only really traumatic element had been the fact that he was entirely naked.

He wasn’t naive about the impact that this had had on him though, and his superior officer was a Vulcan who was treating the whole matter with the utmost suspicion, which was peculiarly comforting. For the time being however, he was coping well and was happy to have been allowed back to work.

“How about I take a break and we go get coffee?” he suggested after a minute, squeezing Paul’s shoulder as they separated.

“Coffee would be good,” the other man admitted. This separation anxiety was much less frantic than the spore driven compulsion he’d displayed after the incident with Mudd, but it was certainly a trend nonetheless. It also, like so many other things, brought his thoughts back to Gabriel Lorca. Their betrayal was so complete that Hugh struggled to even get his mind around it and if he was aware of any area where he was perhaps not dealing healthily with the consequences of recent events, it was in the way he shied from thinking about their former lover.

“I’m coming back though,” Hugh said with a smile, knowing that clear contracting was always a good idea with Paul, “and I’m working till the end of my shift.” Paul looked at him for several moments before smiling.

“I suppose I can live with that,” he said, “but I’m having cake too.”

“Only if you share,” Hugh said, “I’ll just let them know I’m heading out and I’ll be right back.” Buzzing him gently on the cheek and taking a moment to cup his jaw, Hugh left to let the others working in the labs know he’d be in the Mess if they needed him.

When he returned to the main ward, he walked in on what looked and felt like a standoff. Paul was stood at attention staring cold faced at the diminished figure of Gabriel Lorca standing just inside the doors. Hugh was drawn into their tense silence as he tried to come to terms with what it was he was seeing; he’d known that this other, original, Gabriel Lorca was on board but hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him until now. He’d been rescued while Hugh had been off-stage and by the time he’d returned, Gabriel had been released to quarters from which he didn’t seem inclined to leave. He’d only once made the mistake of asking Paul about the circumstances around the death of ‘their’ Gabriel and the rescue of the other.

It was Paul who moved first;

“I’ll see you in the Mess for dinner,” he said tightly before walking briskly past the other man and out into the corridor.

“Apologies,” Gabriel said with a frown, “if I’d known he was here… I’ve read the ships logs, I know that I am not Lieutenant Stamets’ favourite person.”

“It wasn’t you,” Hugh said, finally shaking his shock, “and he does know that but he cares deeply about his work.”

“Nevertheless, I’m sorry if I interrupted but I… I’m really not feeling very well.” And just like that Hugh’s medical training kicked in. This Gabriel was thin as a rail and now that he was paying attention, a decidedly unhealthy shade of grey.

“How can I help you, Captain?” he asked, gesturing towards the nearest diagnostic bed.

“I think I might have lost my space legs,” he said, perching on the edge of the bed and breathing carefully.

“Nausea? Dizziness?” Hugh asked, initiating a basic work-up.

“Yes.”

“I’m just going to pull your records up. You’ve been on board for about 20 days now and we haven't encountered any anomalies or had any notifications about the inertial dampeners, so there’s likely something else behind it. How long since your symptoms started?”

“A few days,” he said after an awkward pause which was followed by a twitch that Hugh hoped he would have recognised whether or not he knew the man, a version of the man, intimately. He’d grabbed a bowl and thrust it under his patient’s chin moments before he started vomiting.

“Easy there,” he said, resting a hand on the other man’s back as he continued to retch, “easy.” There were results appearing on the screens beside the bed now and glancing up, “Ok, well at least I know what the matter is.”

Hugh’s first reaction was surprise given that this particular strain of Andorian Flu had been vaccinated against months ago when it had first appeared within the crew of Discovery. Gabriel’s medical records that had also been pulled up however and it made it abundantly clear what had happened. He could see the challenge, but it looked like no-one had thought to split the records of the actual and alternate Gabriel Lorcas. When this Gabriel had been given a full workup after his rescue, someone had looked at his records and seen that he was up to date on all relevant inoculations without the application of any logic. “Ok, it’s ok,” he said absently as the fit passed, handing the older man a glass of water so he could rinse his mouth.

“Sorry,” Gabriel said again, hunched over the bowl and looking thoroughly miserable.

“There’s no need to apologise, particularly given it looks like you’ve picked up a virus that we should have been immunised you against. Admittedly, you should have come to see us as soon as this started but this should help,” he said, depressing the hypospray against his neck, “The virus has gotten a good hold now though and it’s going to take some time for it to run its course.”

“Thank you, I’ll just…” he stood carefully, obviously intent on discharging himself.

“Hey not so fast,” he said, urging him to sit back down with a hand against his shoulder.

“I understood that everyone else had been immunised? I’m not a danger am I?”

“No, we probably don’t need to keep you here but I do want to monitor you for a while.” If for no other reason than Hugh was about as convinced that this Gabriel Lorca could and would look after himself properly as the one he had known. Thought he had known. The medical records he was looking at showed exactly the state that this Gabriel Lorca had been in when they’d rescued him, and the instructions he’d been given when he’d been discharged but even before this, it was quite plain he hadn’t been following them.

“Really, that’s unnecessary,” he protested, trying to stand back up despite looking like he wanted to do nothing more than lie down.

“Just get back in the bed, Gabe.”

It had been so instinctive that there was a moment before Hugh realised what he’d said, and froze.

“Well,” Gabriel said after a moment clearing his throat gently, “I could be wrong, but I suspect that this has something to do with my counterpart.” Hugh opened his mouth but found that he struggled formulate anything to say. “Please don’t. I’m well aware that he… that my continuing presence here is awkward. Admiral Cornwell assures me that I will be transferred as soon as they can figure out quite what it is they want to do with me.”

“It’s not your fault,” Hugh said quietly.

“Well, if I’d not allowed myself to be captured by him in the first case then none of this would have happened, but… thank you for… well.” He gestured losely at the bed and displays before walking across the room towards the door.

“Try and rest,” Hugh called after him, “and I’ll…” the door closed, leaving him alone, “I’ll come by later.”

Chapter Text

Paul was sitting against the bulkhead of their living room his head leaning back against the divide between them and Saru as though it would help him get closer to where he wanted to be. He’d woken up in the night cold sweat pouring off him so often over the last few weeks; Hugh’s cold body lying in his arms, the feel of the corruption in the mycelial network returning and over running everything and Gabriel. Over and over he dreamt of Gabriel and his betrayal. Tonight though, tonight had been different. He shuddered, pulling the sleeves of his pyjamas down over his hands and turned to huddle closer to a wall that was not even the only one between them.

There had been so much going on while they were in that alternate universe, and he had either been unaware or so overwhelmed that he’d barely had a moment to process everything, but the discovery of Gabriel’s betrayal had sung through the confusion like a clear tone. Hugh was gone and it was Gabriel’s fault, his entire life’s work had been hijacked and it was Gabriel’s fault, they were all in danger and it was Gabriel’s fault, the entire Federation was about to fall and it was Gabriel’s fault. Gabriel whom he had held and who had held him. Gabriel who had cried rivers of tears while he lay between him and Hugh. For whom Paul’s heart had broken. And then he was gone.

There had been no chance of a confrontation for Paul, no chance to understand what Gabriel had been doing and no chance to beat him to an absolute pulp. Gabe, whoever he’d been, was gone and everyone, every single member of the crew felt like they had been personally betrayed when they didn’t have a clue. They had absolutely no idea what levels of deception that man had reached.

“Paul?” Hugh’s voice in the dark was quiet, gentle and suddenly Paul was crying. There were fat warm tears running down his cheeks and his breath was shuddering and it was all because of the stupid dream.

Tonight, what he had seen was not betrayal, not the revenge he so wanted. It hadn’t been Hugh’s lifeless body lying in his arms or waking to find that Gabriel had already slit Hugh’s throat in the night. Tonight he had dreamt of Gabriel alone; so very alone and afraid. In the cold, in the dark and knowing that there was noone coming to get him. Paul hadn’t been party to the rescue and had actively avoided reading the reports, he didn’t really know the details of how this other, original, Gabriel had been found, what he had suffered but he could imagine.

Hugh sat down beside him and wrapped an arm around his shoulder;

“You’re frozen,” he murmured pulling him close and, seemingly like magic, draping a heavy blanket over them. Paul turned into his shoulder and let himself be held, taking the comfort that seemed son intrinsic to Hugh’s personality. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked after Paul’s tears seemed to dry up.

“I hadn’t….” Paul began, “up until today, I… I hadn’t seen him. The other Lorca.” Hugh didn’t say anything in response just let the silence expand. “There was no reason… I... there was no official reason for me to see him and he… he seemed happy to stay out of sight.”

“He does seem pretty keen to stay away from everyone,” Hugh agreed and suddenly this went from being something Paul was remarkably relieved by to fuel for the flickering embers of concern.

“Was he…” Paul stopped, he knew he shouldn’t ask. “Are you…” he fumbled again.

“Kate checked in with him tonight,” Hugh said ambiguously.

“Well that’s going to have gone well,” Paul said with a snort, trying to imagine how the young medic would have managed.

“I know but… I didn’t think it was necessarily a good idea for me to play a house call.” Paul didn’t say anything to this.

“He looked appalling,” he said after a minute, “all I could think about was feeding him that soup of your Mum’s and then…” And then his thoughts had rabbit holed down towards the other Gabriel and how much he’d enjoyed it.

“He’s certainly in need of feeding up.”

“I know he’s not our Gabriel, I’m not really angry at him.”

“I know that, and I think he does too on some level.”

“But he’s not… I… I want him to be our Gabe before we found out… Gabriel without the betrayal. But he’s not.”

“No,” Hugh agreed, “No, he’s not.” Pulling Paul closer, Hugh tucked his head under his chin. “But he is another Gabriel who I have a horrible feeling is just as much in need of love.”

They slipped into silence and Paul drifted into something close to sleep but neither of them made it back to bed that night.

Chapter Text

Gabriel lay on the floor pressing his back to the couch, bracing one hand to the deck while the other gripped the leg of the low table in front of him, all in a desperate attempt to convince himself that the room was not spinning around him. The familiar bitter taste and the pooling saliva in his mouth were fairly good indicators that it wasn’t working well but he hoped if he could just stay still he might get away with it. He would not, he could not, throw-up all over the floor, it had been mortifying enough in sickbay where only the quick thinking of the doctor had diverted disaster. He hadn’t thought he could feel much worse than he had then, having tried to convince himself for days that there was no need to get help, but he’d been wong.

When whatever Culber had given him had worked, it hadn’t even dawned on him to ask how long it might relieve his symptoms. Gabriel found the very act of interacting with this crew who felt like they knew him and hated him and had every right to, incredibly draining. He had wanted nothing more than to escape even before Culber’s slip up. The intimacy of the contraction had been jarring, the idea that he had, the other him, had taken advantage of a member of his crew, a married member of his crew, was terrifying. Maybe he was reading too much into it, maybe they had simply been friends, but Gabriel could list on the fingers of one hand who had ever gotten away with calling him Gabe and he’d slept with all of them. Katrina was on that list and while she had refused point blank to discuss it, he was pretty sure that the other him had slept with her too.

The floor rolled beneath him again, and Gabriel swallowed convulsively gripping the table leg. All of that had been yesterday he thought, or maybe it was the day before… he’d had a visit from a young medic at one point. She’d been so obviously awkward that it had been painful for both of them. He’d answered her questions succinctly, accepted the secondary medication she’d offered him and been entirely relieved when she’d left again. He’d retreated to the sofa where he’d set up camp, unable to find any comfort in the bed since he’d last seen Katrina, and exhausted, had fallen into a restless sleep.

Gabriel wasn’t sure how long he’d slept but he’d woken with a jolt and sitting up abruptly, had quickly realised that the medication was no longer working. The room had tilted beneath him and as he tried to focus on something, anything he had realised that a hasty retreat to the bathroom was going to be advisable. He’d tried to stand carefully, bracing himself with a hand on the back of the seat but something had gone wrong and the next thing he knew he was lying on the floor. He had tried pushing himself up but just couldn’t seem to find the strength, so here he was hoping desperately that things would resolve themselves.

Waves of heat built and rolled through him, leaving him damp and shivering. The idea of stopping himself from being sick seemed less important as his mind drifted further. Gabriel hated these quarters. Hated the familiarity of his own belongings that someone else had been using and the things he didn't recognise were worse. He’d gathered them together and they sat in a storage container against the wall, constantly in the corner of his vision. He'd thought about asking to move but a quick glance at the current room allocations made him realise that it would require someone to swap with him as they had both Katrina and the Ambassador on board, and that seemed petty and unnecessary. Some if the things he’d found though made his blood run cold, not least of which was the unauthorised phaser. That had paled into nothing however when he’d spotted a laboratory marked for the Captain’s use in the ship’s directory.

Gabriel wasn't sure what he'd expected when he’d made his late night trip to investigate. He’d chosen the small hours of ship's night to try and decrease the likelihood of encountering anyone but even in the quiet of the corridors he'd felt anxious and unnerved. He knew from personal experience what the Terrans were capable of and he knew the dark recesses of his own heart. The potential atrocity of what the other him had been up to in that space had stalled him on the threshold. The idea of an agoniser or an experimentation lab or something worse caused the breath to catch in his chest but the idea that somehow he’d managed to trap or capture someone had pushed him into action. The weapons had been a blessed relief for the most part and only when he’d found himself genuinely intrigued and reading the research outcome on a Romulan disruptor, had the panicked feeling returned.

At some point, though Gabriel couldn’t be sure when, he must have drifted into unconsciousness again because the next thing he knew his door chime was sounding.

Chapter Text

As part of the shift handover in medical, there was always a ward round and patient handover. Hugh tried to pay attention to what it was that Mark was saying but scrolling back through the records of the previous night he was increasingly aware of not finding the updates on one particular patient that he was expecting. Eventually Hugh came across the record of the visit he’d scheduled Kate to make before he’d finished the previous evening; the tricorder scan indicated a further elevation in temperature, she had noted that the patient was subdued and that she’d administered an additional dose of the prescribed medication for symptomatic relief. Pulling up the patient record in question he further confirmed that this had been the most recent entry.

“Mark?” he asked, as soon as the other doctor paused. “Was a follow up visit made to Captain Lorca?

“Kate should have updated the records aren’t they there?”

“There’s her 21:00 check up but there’s nothing after that,” Hugh pointed out trying to keep calm. One of Mark’s responsibilities was to supervise the medics on duty shift with him. “I’d have thought that given the readings she made and the fact that he’d needed further symptomatic treatment after only five hours that you’d have have recommended remote monitoring or another visit.”

“I’d have thought Kate would have thought so too,” he admitted taking the PADD Hugh offered him, “sorry, she’s usually over cautious so I trusted her judgement.”

“Andorian Flu can be much more serious for a human. I’ll check on him now though, and I’ll catch up with Kate at handover.”

“Thanks, sorry I should have checked,” Mark said handing back the tablet, “but I’m sure he would have been in touch if there was a problem.”

“Well let’s hope so.”

 

Hugh stood outside the Captain’s cabin, his concern growing as his chime went unanswered. He was just about to override the lock when he caught the sounds of life inside and finally there was the hiss of the door opening.

“Apologies Doctor,” the other man said, standing back to allow him in. Even in the dim lighting of the cabin, Hugh could see that the other man looked worse for wear.

“I just wanted to check how you were doing, Captain.”

“I’m… better than I was,” he eventually settled on, though Gabriel didn’t seem entirely confident in this statement and had an all too familiar look of having just been woken up.

“Well better is a start,” said Hugh, “why don’t I take some readings?” There was a distracted nod of assent as Gabriel lowered himself onto a seat next to the dining table. His hair was plastered to his scalp and the t-shirt and loose cotton trousers he was wearing looked as much like they’d gone through the wringer as the man himself. “I think your fever has broken,” he said lightly as the scanner started working.

“Hmmm.”

“How is the dizziness?”

“Gone I think. I still feel unsteady though.”

“Well you’re dehydrated and in need of rest which is probably to blame for that. Have you managed to eat anything?” The look on his face was all the answer he needed but the results on the scanner were backing it up. “I am cautiously going to proclaim that you’re over the worst of it.” There wasn’t much in the way of response, “I’ll happily provide an analgesic and something to balance your electrolytes but,” he paused, “I think what would probably make you feel better would be a shower, a change of pyjamas and some fresh sheets.”

“I… you shouldn’t have to… I mean, you don’t have to,” he protested stumbling over the word, “You shouldn’t be here.”

“I am a doctor Captain, patient care is certainly well within my remit and you’re as deserving as anyone else.”

“I don’t doubt your dedication to your calling Doctor, or that you’re good at it but.., I wouldn’t want there to be any further damage done to your relationship with your husband.”

“What has this got to do with Paul?” Hugh asked, genuinely perplexed.

“I mean… if he were to find out you’d been here… I can’t be sure what the other me did, but the last thing I want is to come between you.”

“I… uh… there’s obviously been some confusion,” Hugh said, trying to establish the best way to say this, “There was, there is, no problem between Paul and I. It wasn’t the other Gabriel and me Captain, it was all three of us. Together.” Again, so much about his reaction to this obvious shock was familiar that Hugh wondered at how much the two Lorca’s had in common. How much of the other one’s interaction with them had been genuine or had it just been well faked.

“Oh.” Was all this captain said and then several moments later, “ the three of you?”

“Yes, and if it matters, he didn’t instigate it,” Hugh said hoping that he might be able abate some of the distress that the other man was obviously feeling, “he lied and manipulated and it’s going to be some time before we’re ok. But he didn’t make the first move and we will be ok.”

“I suppose…” he said faintly.

“Right come on,” Hugh said slipping back into professional mode, “let’s get you sorted and back into bed.”

“If we’re… given we’re being honest,” Gabriel said. “I uh… I haven’t been using the bed. I just can’t bring myself to… I just… the couch is fine.” Hugh looked at him and his heart broke again. “I don’t want to make it any worse but… I’m fairly sure you weren’t the only one, the only ones.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I… reading between the lines. The fact that I know Katrina well enough to know when she’s hiding things from me, lying.”

“Well, whatever happened, it wasn’t your fault.” There was a dry chuckle at this.

“If only it was that simple, Doctor,” he said frowning and placing a hand on his stomach.

“Today it is,” Hugh said seeing how close to the end of the reserves the other man now was. “You’re going to shower and I’m going to sort out your bed. You need some proper rest Captain, either here or in sickbay. The choice is yours but you don’t have to make it quite yet.” The idea seemed to terrify Gabriel, neither choice seeming acceptable.

Hugh ushered him into the bathroom and left him to it, though he insisted that the door stayed open. While Gabriel was occupied Hugh took a deep breath and looked around. Most of the quarters were immaculate, unnaturally so, except the area around the sofa where he’d obviously set up camp. Sticking his head into the bedroom he could see that it was equally clinical and on instinct he knew what it was he had to do.

By the time that there was the ominous sound of someone stumbling out of the shower stall and onto the seat of the toilet, Hugh had, he hoped made enough changes.

“Can I help?” he asked, being sure to maintain at least the illusion of privacy.

“Just… give me a minute?”

“Of course,” he said, knowing that he wouldn’t give him any longer. While he was waiting, trying to manage his own anxiety he went back to the sofa and the coffee table and tidied up what he hadn’t already moved. After a minute, Gabriel appeared freshly washed, wearing the pyjamma’s that Hugh had laid out but leaning against the door jam as though it were the only thing holding him up. On instinct, Hugh placed a hand on his forehead as he placed a supporting hand under his elbow. “Easy,” he encouraged.

“Sorry, not dizzy just wobbly.”

“That’s ok,” Hugh said, leading the very unsteady man directly towards the bedroom.

“What…?” Gabriel asked.

“Just some very basic cosmetic changes,” Hugh admitted, but altering the strength of the gravity plating had allowed him to rearrange the furniture himself and if he’d cheated by replicating his and Paul’s favourite comforter and lighting a candle the other Gabriel had found relaxing then he wouldn’t admit it for the world. “Do you think you can rest here, or do you want to come back with me to sickbay with me?”

“Here,” Gabriel said quietly, “here is fine.”

“Ok, well you get comfortable. I’m going to give you some more medication and I’d like you to drink something before you go to sleep.”

“Mmmm.” Hugh knew then that it was a lost cause, and wondered not for the first time, how bad the night had been. If he’d ever thought that this Gabriel would have sought out help before absolutely necessary, he’d lost that illusion.

“That’s it,” he said, depressing the hypospray and watching as his patient fell to sleep obviously entirely exhausted. “That’s it.” He’d wait until Gabriel was properly asleep and then fasten on a monitor. And then he’d come back in a few hours, see if he could get him to eat something. Once he was feeling better they could deal with everything else, with the fact that he obviously wasn’t caring for himself properly and that he was obviously uncomfortable here in these quarters but equally didn’t want to leave. They’d deal with that later.

Chapter Text

Paul looked up as the lift door opened and his heart plummeted.

“Captain,” he said in formal greeting despite the fact that the other man was out of uniform.

“Lieutenant Stamets,” came the quiet reply in acknowledgment. He entered the lift, keeping his gaze averted as he stood as far away from Paul as he could with his back pressed up against the wall. He looked like he would rather be anywhere else in the universe and Paul couldn’t blame him. Hugh had said that Gabriel was doing better, that he’d finally shaken the worst of the virus but he still didn’t look well. Maybe it was just the fact that it was the middle of Alpha-shift, the ship was bustling with activity that was making him so anxious though. From what Paul could tell the only time he left his quarters was to go to sickbay for the checkups that Hugh had been scheduling so it was only to be expected that Gabriel would have been uncomfortable even before he’d stumbled into him.

”All hands red alert. I repeat red alert, all hands brace for impact” Captain Saru’s disembodied voice came over the comm. Both of them stood to attention, meeting each other’s eyes in the moment before there was a massive explosion that rocked the entire ship and the lift started to plummet.

Their descent was stopped before they hit the bottom of the shaft but not nearly as quickly as it should have been which suggested to Paul that there had been some form of catastrophic failure. This thought occurred as both he and Gabriel, who had been forced into the air by the speed of the fall, suddenly hurtled back towards the floor. The next thing that Paul was aware of was pain.

“Try not to move,” Gabriel said, as Paul blinked back into consciousness. “I’ve done my best to strap up your ankle but I’m pretty sure it’s broken.” Paul was propped up against the wall, his leg stretched out in front of him. The lights were dim, flickering and the floor was tilted at a peculiar angle. Sitting pressed up the far wall, knees drawn up to his chest and feet planted to stop him from sliding downwards, Gabriel was watching hims closely.

“Are you ok?” Paul asked, spotting the slow trickle of blood from his forehead.

“A bit sore but nothing fatal,” he replied. He’d obviously used his top to bind Paul’s ankle because he was dressed only in trousers and a a sleeveless undershirt, bare arms wrapped around his legs like a child. “You weren’t out long I don’t think, so hopefully your head injury isn’t too severe.” Paul was about to ask whether Gabriel had lost consciousness when a low level electric shock ran around the capsule. It wasn’t enough to do more than give him a jolt, but if a live circuit had been damaged badly enough to be shorting through the lift… There was a whimper from the other man, bitten down and suppressed but unmistakable nonetheless.

“Captain?” he asked, “Captain, are you hurt?”

“No,” came the reply from the hidden face. Gabriel’s breathing was loud in the confined space. “I’m ok.”

“Are you sure, if you’re hurt then maybe I could return the favour?” he offered.

“I’m fine,” the other man repeated with more conviction, seeming to pull himself together and push himself upright. “I’m… I’m going to try the comms again. I couldn’t get through before but….”

“Well, be careful,” Paul said, as another jolt ran through the floor. Gabriel froze where he had been edging around the wall towards the open communication circuit, his fists tightened, and every muscle taught. “Captain?” Paul asked, and when he didn’t get a response, “Gabriel?”

“I’m ok,”

“It’s just a short circuit Gabriel,” he said, pushing himself further upright.

“I…. I know. It’s just… it’s reminiscent of another small space, a booth, I spent too long in recently,” he managed after a moment or two. He seemed to be warring with himself but started moving again.

“Is there anything I can do?” Paul asked.

“Keep talking please,” the other man said, now intently focussed on the open panel.

“Ok, I can do that. Are you familiar with Discovery’s specs?” he asked aware that this Captain had never been in command of this ship.

“I’ve been genning up,” Gabriel said, “if I can just…” There was another shock, and Paul winced as he shook and jolted his throbbing ankle.

“It’s ok Gabriel,” Paul said as soon as he had the breath, there was wisps of electrical smoke coming from the seams around the door. Not enough to make him concerned about fire but enough to leave him in hope that it the damaged circuit would in fact short out completely. “It’s ok, you’re on Discovery Gabriel. I’m here with you and we’re going to be fine.” It took longer this time for the other man’s hands to uncurl and for him to begin working again and his short unsteady breaths echoed in the flickering light.

“I just need to,” he said, before the sound of static filled the air for a moment. “Turbo lift three to the bridge.”

“.... attack… trme damage... “ and then with the next shock, there was another burst of static and the connection was lost.

“They know we’re here Gabriel they know and as soon as they can they’ll get us out,” Paul said, seeing the tremors running through the hunched form. He watched as the other man slid down the wall, hunched away from him, his form trembling. Paul tried to move, managed to shift awkwardly a little further around the edge of the lift towards him but didn’t get far before there was another jolt. He closed his eyes, breathing through the pain radiating up his leg, until his thoughts cleared enough for him to hear the gentle sobbing in the corner.

“Discovery… here... Stamets,” came the tight, broken whisper. “Discovery… safe… Katrina… safe… It’s over… They’re safe… Discovery… safe.”

“That’s it Gabe, you’re safe. It’s over, you’re on Discovery and I’m here. Can you come here?” Paul asked, “Come to me.”

“I’m ok, I’m ok… it’s fine.” It wasn’t fine though, and Paul could see that as clear as day. Gabriel was trying his best but the man was moments away from a full blown panic attack if he wasn’t there already.

“Gabe, please,” he asked again, “I need you to come over here.” Somehow this was the plea that broke through. He shuddered and then his shoulders seemed to straighten, and he started edging his way around the lift. “That’s it,” Paul said, reaching out and grasping his hand as soon as he was able, “that’s it.”

“Sorry,” Gabriel murmured between pants as he fell back against the wall next to Paul. “I’m ok.”

“We will be,” Paul said, squeezing the hand he was still holding, “but it’s ok if you’re frightened.”

“I’m fine.” As of on cue, there was another jolt through the floor, and Gabriel seemed to curl in on himself. Paul forced himself to move, to close the small gap left between them by shuffling closer;

“Here, come here love,” he said wrapping an arm around the other man’s shoulder, “I’ve got you, it’s ok.”

“Sorry Discovery Stamets Culber Katrina safe sorry….” It was a repeating stream but as Paul pulled him close on instinct, Gabriel turned into the comfort, grasped at his uniform jacket and burying his head in his shoulder as he shook.

“That’s right, it’s ok, I’m here,” Paul said as another shock ran through the plating.

He wasn’t sure how long they were there, how long they were huddled there, as the room around them jolted and shocked them and the Gabriel in his arms broke apart.

“... bo lift three?” Came the familiar voice over the damaged comm. “Can …. hear me? Repeat, can you hear me?”

“Gabriel?” Paul asked shifting the form curled against his chest. “Did you hear that? Can you hear that? They’re calling us, we need to reply. Gabriel?”

“Need to reply,” he said, and with a focus that Paul could only admire, the other man managed to pull himself out of whatever personal hell he was trapped in.

“That’s it Gabe, “ he said as he pushed himself up the wall and started to inch his way back round to the comm panel.

“Talk to me? Tell me something? Anything,” he asked, desperation clear in his tone.

“I met Hugh in a cafe on Alpha Centauri,” Paul began, falling back on a story that would always comfort him. He kept on talking as there was yet another jolt just as he was reaching for the controls and Gabriel froze. “He makes me better,” Paul said. “He makes me so much more than I was and when I thought he was gone…” He hadn’t meant to get that far. Had meant for it to be a happy story.

“This is turbo lift three,” Gabriel managed eventually, “we’re ok.”

Chapter Text

Gabriel was focussing on the feeling of the blanket between his fingers trying desperately to ignore the sound of the bustling sickbay. He’d asked them to let him go back to his quarters or at least he’d tried to but the words seemed to have caught in his throat. Even after they’d been hauled free of the lift shaft Gabriel had struggled to keep a hold on reality; he jumped as the lights flickered and at every unexpected noise.

“Captain? Gabriel?” he looked up at the doctor, his entire body trembling with a shock he knew hadn’t been administered. “Gabriel, you’re on Discovery. You’re safe.”

“I know… I just…” he shook again, a flash of red painting the inside of his lids. “It’s fine. When can I go?”

“I know you’d rather be back in your quarters, but I just want to keep an eye on you for a while longer.”

“You need the bed,” he tried, it was after all true.

“And so do you, I going to give you something to help you relax ok?”

“Not sleep,” he said, pulling his knees up sitting further upright, “I don't...I can't…” His finger found the edge of the cover again.

“No, just relax,” he said calmly his hand resting on top of Gabriel’s fidgeting fingers, “Do you trust me?”

“I…” Gabriel looked down at the doctor’s hand. Culber, who had been nothing but polite and caring towards him despite having every reason not to have been. “I… yes.”

“Well then,” he said gently pressing the spray to his neck, “I need to go and see to some other people. But I’ll be just across there,” he said gesturing to the far side of the busy medical bay. “Paul’s ankle is almost set so he’ll come and keep you company in a minute.”

“He doesn’t have to.”

“Well I almost had to tie him down to keep him away in the first place so, I’m pretty sure he won’t mind.”

“Sorry,” Gabriel whispered pulling his hand out from underneath the other man’s, a wave of shame bubbling up in him.

“No, nothing to be sorry for, he’s just concerned. He cares about you.” Gabriel couldn’t see why that would be the case. Couldn’t understand why he’d been so patient with him after everything he’d been through. “Easy,” Culber said a hand on his back, “breathe that’s it nice and slowly, deeply as you can.”

“ ‘m fine.... I’ll be ok… you need to get on,” he said in as composed a tone as he could muster.

“I do I’m afraid but like I said, you’ll be able to see me just over there. And see Paul looking over too. Take this,” he said, handing him a mug of something warm and fragrant. “Try and drink some of it if you can.” Gabriel nodded in return, wrapping his hands around it, not trusting himself to speak.

By the time Paul hobbled over and pulled up a chair, whatever it was that the doctor had administered had hit and hard. It wasn’t that Gabriel wasn’t still aware of all the things that were wrong but somehow they all seemed further away, less important.

“Careful,” the other man said with a smile, righting the mug that was tilting so far that the tea was spilling over the edge.

“Hello,” Gabriel said, tilting his head to look at the other man properly for what felt like the first time.

“Hello,” Paul said, a note of gentle amusement on his face.

“Did they give you something to help you relax too?” he asked, frowning.

“No, but I did get some good painkillers.”

“Painkillers are good! I’m not sure that I like relaxing though,” Gabriel said, looking down as this time Paul just removed the cup from his hands entirely. “I don’t think I do it very often.”

“No, I don’t think you do. It’s been a rough day though hasn’t it?”

“Hmmm, I didn’t like the lift Paul. We don’t have to go back there do we? It… I didn’t like it.”

“No, we absolutely don’t have to get into lift. It’s ok,”

“Good,” Gabriel said although it didn’t feel all that important now that he was drifting away from that unpleasant thought. “There’s lots of people here. Is the ship very badly damaged?”

“I think she’s taken a bit of a beating, we’re en route to spacedock.”

“Some of these people don’t have beds. I should let them have this one…” he said pushing the blankets away.

“I think, you should stay where you are Gabriel, it’s usually best to do what Hugh’s told you I find.” Gabriel paused and turned back to look at Paul.

“I like him,” he said quietly, “and I like you too. You have very pretty eyes, I feel like I can look right through them and see you.”

“Well that’s very nice of you to say, and we like you too so isn’t that a good thing.”

“Not many people like me. At least, not here. I don’t think they want me here. Not really. Not any of them.”

“That’s not true,” Paul said, but Gabriel’s attention had been caught by Kat over by the door. She’d always looked so nice in her uniform but she looked tired now and hard. She didn’t like him. Kat definitely didn’t like him now.

“There’s an access panel to the right of this bed,” he said, watching Hugh and Kat talk and not really sure why he was saying it out loud. “It leads into conduit F7. Crossing with vertical access tube beta then down to deck 8.”

“What’s down there?” Paul asked.

“Captain’s private laboratory. I can still get in there, there’s lots of interesting terrible things there.”

“Is that right?”

“Hmmm… I should go,” Gabriel said, still unable to look away. “I should let them have the bed, and go there.”

“Do you feel safe there?” Gabriel laughed.

“Not safe. But there are things there. I could make it all stop. All go away. I think Hugh’s cross.”

“Yes, yes I think he is.”

“He’s lovely when he’s cross. I’m glad he’s not cross at me.”

“So am I,” Paul said.

“Sleepy,” Gabriel said, his eyes suddenly heavy, “don’t want to sleep. Want to look at pretty eyes and listen to Hugh be cross.”

“I’m not sure you have much choice…” came the voice from very very far away. It was like someone had glued his eyes shut and his limbs felt heavy and strange. He wasn’t scared though, Paul was still talking to him, urging him to scoot down the bed so he could lay down properly. Curling up on his side, the covers were pulled up over his shoulder and when his hand brushed against someone else’s, Gabriel clasped it for dear life. As the last of his conscious thought drifted away, he felt someone’s fingers in his hair and with a sigh he let himself smile.

Chapter Text

Hugh hadn’t been entirely surprised when Admiral Cornwell had arrived but had been glad that she’d seemed happy to wait while he’d finished his current task.

“Status?” she asked, when he joined her.

“Busy still, but we haven’t had any new injuries in the last hour or so. How are things elsewhere?”

“We’re limping but we are moving. The damage is extensive though, they’re not going to be able to do more than the essential repairs before we need to get back out there. Captain Saru is currently looking at what damaged areas we can do without going forward,

“When do we arrive at the starbase?” Hugh asked, eyes darting around the crowded medbay to make sure that everything was being maintained at controlled chaos.

“Tomorrow,” the Admiral replied, “unless anything drastic happens in the interim. Do you have an idea of how many crew you’ll need to transfer off ship for treatment or recovery?”

“We’ve had two injuries that we’ve managed to stabilise but just can’t treat properly,” he said, scrolling through the patient status PADD, “Dr T’Pel is still in surgery but I think that Kamau should be ok in a week or so. Then of course there’s Captain Lorca.”

“Captain Lorca will not be leaving Discovery,” came the firm, flat response, too fast to be entirely professional.

“I’m sorry?” Hugh asked, looking up. This had always been the plan as far as he understood it. They wouldn’t make a special trip but when they next made spacedock, then Gabriel would be transferred off ship so that he could be returned to earth for the treatment and recovery he really needed. “Surely you know that we don’t have the resources on board to address his needs. It’s clear that he’s really not coping well and that is highly unlikely to change so long as he’s in a situation that makes him so profoundly uncomfortable?” He very purposefully didn’t look at Paul and Gabriel behind him but watched as Cornwell glanced over his shoulder at them.

“The existence of this version of Gabriel Lorca isn’t known outside of senior command and this ship,” she said eventually. “Can’t be known if we have any hope of keeping the existence of the other universe a secret and that is essential. His death has already been reported and recorded and while the circumstances were entirely fictional there was no room left for doubt that he was dead.”

“Why…?” Hugh asked, wondering why, even if they were determined to maintain the secrecy, they would have said he had died when they had entered that strange place with one Gabriel Lorca and returned with one Gabriel Lorca. He knew he wouldn’t get a straight answer though, increasingly sure that the machinations going on here were far above his rank. “Well can’t you give him a pseudonym then, a cover story? He needs qualified, professional help,” he watched her for a moment before continuing. “Surely you of all people should understand how important this is?”

“Is that a dig at my professional history or my friendship with Captain Lorca?”

“It’s not a dig at anything Admiral. It’s a plea.”

“There is more at stake here than Gabriel Lorca, Doctor.”

“And my job is it to do what’s required for the wellbeing of my patient. You cannot possibly think that I can sit back and watch while you abandon him? What’s going to happen when the war is over? When Discovery’s crew start to moves on?”

 

“The entirety of this crew has committed to the utmost level of secrecy already,” Cornwell pointed out. “In the scheme of secrets, this is comparatively minor.”

“And what of Captain Lorca?”

“Gabriel Lorca is tougher than you know.”

“Is that right?” Hugh asked, his free hand balling into a fist.

“He’ll be fine and once all of this is over we’ll make sure that he’s given a clean start but we just don’t have the resources to make that happen just now. His face is too well known to get him onto a starbase and then a transport back to earth without someone recognising him and we just can’t risk that.” Hugh just looked at her, his absolute disagreement completely clear on his face.

“I want you to be absolutely clear,” he began quietly, “that I am actively concerned about this patient’s mental health and the lack of treatment that I am being allowed to offer him and that I will make sure to record this conversation in his record.”

“Which will never leave this ship, Doctor. I understand your concern Hugh,” she added quietly, “but I… there’s nothing to be done.”

“Well,” Hugh said, biting his tongue, “there’s very little left for me to say then.” And with that he turned on his heel and purposefully went back to focussing on his patients.

Despite the fact that Cornwell had been on board since before his return from off stage, Hugh hadn’t had a lot to do with her but she had been a patient in this sickbay before ‘everything’ had happened. He had liked her, which somehow made it harder for him to understand how easily she seemed to have managed to walk away from every last scrap of her medical training, never mind her specialty or even basic human decency. He had rarely been so angry with anyone. So angry that he couldn’t bring himself to even look at Paul, never mind Gabriel.

A minor crisis involving one of the patients who had been relegated to a temporary cot on the floor helped him refocus, and when it was over he turned to find Paul quite automatically. There was no smile of acknowledgement though.

“Paul?” he asked crossing the floor in easy strides. Surely if something had gone wrong with either of them the monitors would have gone off, Paul would have called someone.

“Hey,” was the only quiet response from the pale face. Gabriel was fast asleep, buried beneath the covers a look of quiet contentment on his face as Paul gently stroked the hair over his ear.

“That dose shouldn’t have knocked him out but he was exhausted,” Hugh said, glancing at that monitors above the bed, “he’s ok though.”

“No” Paul said quietly, “no I really don’t think he is.”

“Paul?” Hugh asked, activating the privacy curtain and crouching down in front of the seat so that he could actually see into his partner’s face.

“I don’t know. Whatever you gave him had made him pretty loopy. He was talking about things in a way… it was… it was like someone had taken the filters away.” This wasn’t an unusual reaction, particularly given the state Gabriel had been in prior to medication, but while he didn’t know what had been said that was so clearly upsetting Paul he had a horrible suspicion. “It was like a stream of conscience that I was listening in to,” the other man continued, “and it was heartbreaking.

“He said beautiful things about us as though they were nothing, and then he’d just… he… he genuinely believes that everyone hates him here, can’t understand why any of us would care about him at all,” Paul’s voice cracked.

“We know that he’s struggling and today will only have made that worse, brought everything back to the surface.” Paul looked away from Hugh, back to the relaxed face on the pillow.

“He was talking about a way out, an escape. About the things that the other Lorca kept in his lab. I mean… maybe I misunderstood but…”

“But you think he was talking about harming himself?” Hugh asked, an unnatural calm settling on him. He’d been suspicious and while suicidal ideation was something that he had been watching for, Gabriel had been so shut down that it had been hard to judge just what was going on inside his head.

“I don’t know what he meant by it but he was talking about sneaking out of here using an access hatch. Freeing up the bed and retreating to that bloody awful museum. I... I thought maybe… asked if it was because he’d feel safe there and he just laughed. He’d said there were ‘Interesting, terrible things there’ and that he could ‘make it all stop’ that he could make it ‘all go away’.”

“Ok,” Hugh said, rubbing Paul’s knee for a moment before standing back up, “I think you’re right to be concerned, more concerned than you were already, and we’ll have to address it. It is worth remembering though that he was under the influence and without that he may well have dismissed the idea as soon as it occurred.”

“His thoughts did seem to be hopping around, he went straight on to say that he thought you looked angry. That you look lovely when you’re angry.” Hugh frowned in surprise, “he said he liked my eyes too.”

 

“Paul, he may not even have consciously acknowledged those thoughts before.”

“I know, and the last thing in the world he needs now is any further… complication, but Hugh…” There was such yearning in Paul’s tone that Hugh felt tears welling in his eyes.

“I know love,” he said, leaning down to kiss the crown of his head. “I need to talk to T’pel, we’ll need to make some arrangements and I’m not sure how we’re going to manage it particularly in the short term. I… he’s…” Hugh choked, just trying to say it out loud seemed almost impossible, “they’re not transferring him off when we reach the base. Officially they’ve killed him off and they won’t risk him being spotted.” The look of outrage on Paul’s face warmed Hugh.

“That was what Cornwell said?”

“Yeah, I don’t really understand what they think they’ll achieve through this, but… there’s no one else going to fight his corner Paul, not even Gabriel.”

“Well then,” Paul said with conviction.

“Are you alright here?” Hugh asked, “You really ought to be getting some rest yourself.”

“And you’ve been on duty for twenty-three hours now,” he pointed out. “There’s nowhere else I want to be Hugh, and I don’t want him to wake up alone.”

“Ok,” he said, pausing before he turned away. “You do know how much I love you, don’t you?”

“Almost as much as I love you,” Paul said, a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

Chapter Text

Paul stared at the ceiling of their bedroom strongly suspecting that he wasn’t the only one whose afternoon nap wasn’t going to schedule.

“Are you asleep?” he eventually asked.

“About as deeply as you are,” came the dull reply. Paul didn’t know what else to say so they fell back into a heavy silence. So much had happened in the last few days that none of them had really had the chance to catch up on their sleep but now that they had reached spacedock, they were trying to take the opportunity now. It wasn’t really working though.

“Do you think we’re doing the right thing” Paul said after a while.

“About Gabriel?” Hugh asked.

“Hmm”

“I think that we’re doing the best for him that we can given the situation. T’Pel wouldn’t have agreed if she didn’t think it was a good idea.”

“T’Pel doesn’t know about…”

“She knows more than you’d think, or at least suspects. She’s far more attuned to human behaviour than most people give her credit for.” Hugh rolled over onto his side and rested his head on Paul’s shoulder. The CMO had taken over Gabriel’s primary care after she and Hugh had discussed the situation at length and while it was reassuring that they had another ally, he was suspicious of the level of understanding she had of the situation.

“It’s hard to imagine discussing anything emotional with a Vulcan,” Paul said partly to himself, “how could she possibly understand?” He could barely understand the things that went on inside his own head and the slight insight he’d had into Gabriel’s sent him reeling.

“T’Pel may not be a psychiatric specialist but she is a good doctor and she’ll not take anything he says at face value,” Hugh was drawing idle patterns on his chest and Paul reached up to wind their fingers together, his thumb over the soft skin at the edge of Hugh’s palm. “Choosing to suppress emotion is very different from not having them altogether and she’s been working with human’s since before either of us were born. She has more insight into the human condition than almost anyone I know.”

When Gabriel had woken up after that fateful dose of sedative the previous day, it had been like someone had flicked a switch. He’d been quiet but composed and entirely rational and Paul had doubted himself and the conclusions he’d drawn almost immediately. Hugh however, had been quite adamant that they were right to continue with the patient management and treatment plan that he and T’Pel had agreed upon. The way that Gabriel had responded to what it was that they said, was enough to tip the scale for Paul, his quiet passivity enough to set the hair on the back of his neck on end again.

T’Pol had spent several hours in quiet conversation with him over the following day as Discovery had limped it’s way through space, doing its utmost not to appear a target. Hugh had taken a step back from his medical needs and it had been made quite clear that anything Gabriel spoke about to T’Pol would be considered confidential unless there was a concern that he was a danger to himself or others. In the meantime they had done what they could to try and draw him out of himself. The sterile environment of the medbay was certainly not designed for long term patients however and the ongoing hustle and bustle seemed to leave him permanently on edge however, even with the ongoing low level of sedative that had been prescribed.

When it had become clear that one of the more heavily damaged areas of the ship was crew quarters on deck six and that they were not going to be repaired during this stop, it had seemed almost fortunate. A massive re-housing project was currently underway and as senior crew quarters, including their own, were more generous than most, it became a natural suggestion that their living room became a second bedroom. This in turn, gave them a way to allow Gabriel out of the confines of sickbay but not to have to return to the cell of the quarters he had seemed so uncomfortable in. T’Pel’s approval had been granted and so that evening they would be gaining a room-mate.

While Paul wasn’t at all sure how this was going to work and had more concerns than he’d voiced, the reticence he’d felt at leaving Gabriel alone, even in sickbay, made him long for his arrival. The gentle repeated motions of Hugh’s fingers against his chest and the reassuring weight of his head on his chest, lulled him into sleep and he only woke when the door chime went.

“I’ll get it,” Hugh said yawning and padding off in the direction of the door. Rolling off the bed, Paul followed after him running a hand over his hair to try and to smooth it back out.

“Sorry,” the awkward man in the corridor said, as the doors parted, “I’ve disturbed you…”

“Rubbish,” Hugh said, “we only meant to have an hour and that was at 16:00. Besides, your code should be working on the door by now.”

“I… didn’t like to barge in,” Gabriel protested.

“These are your quarters too now,” Paul said trying to stifle a yawn, “sorry.”

“I just wanted to make sure it was alright for me to move my things in.”

“Of course,” Hugh said warmly, “they put the bed in earlier and there’s some storage over here,” he continued, gesturing to the modifications. “And that’s the bathroom just in the corner.” Gabriel nodded, his gaze drifting around the room like he’d never seen it before, which Paul belatedly remembered he hadn’t.

“Can we give you a hand?” Paul asked.

“That’s not necessary but…” he could see the waring instincts playing out on his face, “it would be helpful, I think they want to get started on the conversion. I think they’re squeezing six crewmen in there.”

“Well then,” Hugh said brightly, “we’ll pull on some shoes and be right with you.”

Inside the Captain’s quarters, it was clear that everything had already been packed away, crates stacked up and shelves bare.

“Those are going into storage,” he said gesturing to a couple of boxes off to one side, “this one is… things I don’t recognise, you might want to check it, I’m not sure… there might be some things that belong to you.”

“Thank you,” Hugh said, though he didn’t make any move to open the crate.

“I packed up this afternoon,” Gabriel continued, “but ah, someone had obviously been through everything already. Doctor T’Pel explained and I’m not angry I just…” he tailed away.

“We’re just concerned,” Paul said, glancing at Hugh for support.

“I really don’t understand why everyone keeps saying that,” Gabriel said with a sigh, “I’m fine. Maybe not ‘command a starship fine’,” he continued frankly, “probably not even ‘fit for duty fine’ but I’ll be ok,” he continued. “And I understand that these are precautions that need to be taken, that my access to sensitive areas of the ship and replicator privileges should probably have been restricted from the start. I just don’t want you to worry that you need to watch me, that I’d do anything when I’m in your quarters. I would never… could never… that wouldn’t be fair to you.” Paul didn’t miss the turn of phrase.

“I won’t deny that T’Pel agreed that you would do well with some company, but,” Hugh paused seriously, “let’s not forget that you’re saving us from having to share with Tilly and Burnham as well.”

“Well there’s a thought I might never be able to forget,” said Paul, shaking his head at the idea.

“These are what I thought I’d bring with me,” Gabriel continued, clearly shying away from the compliment.

“You’re bringing the comforter?” Hugh asked, picking up several items.

“Someone took the time to pick it out and replicate it for me, that means something.”

“Ah…” said Hugh, “I might need to admit that I cheated a bit there…” At Gabriel’s frown Paul stepped into the breach.

“We have the same one,” he said with a smile, “it’s my favourite. There is nothing worse than poorly designed bedding...”

As they worked, moving boxes and belongings through the corridor, the conversation amongst all three of them moved from bedding to design pedantry and on to the inadequacies of Starfleet specs. By the time that they had unpacked the majority of the belongings that Gabriel had chosen to bring, far fewer than Paul might have expected, his stomach was rumbling audibly.

“Well, I don’t know about anyone else but I need fed,” he declared, collapsing onto the couch that had been pushed into a corner.

“Paul has two modes,” Hugh said conspiratorially to the other man, “‘too busy to eat’, and ‘feed me now’.”

“That’s not true!” he protested, “No, wait, that’s entirely true. Feed me now.”

“Looks like we’re going to the mess, care to join us?” Hugh made the offer casually but there was no doubt that it was carefully considered.

“I…” Gabriel paused, some of the ease from their previous conversation disappearing. “I... “

“You absolutely don’t have to, but you’d be more than welcome.”

“And you need to eat,” Paul said, “you’re all skin and bones still.” There was a moment where he froze, entirely unsure as to how his comment had landed.

“I think Doctor T’Pel would agree,” Gabriel said with a wry, if tentative smile, “we were talking about what steps I might take if I’m going to be here for longer than originally expected. Maybe tonight would be as good a time as any to try the mess hall.”

“Excellent,” Paul said, accepting Hugh’s hand to stand back up. “Can I have extra green in my juice to celebrate?”

“I swear,” Hugh said, turning again to Gabriel, “of all the bad habits he’s picked up on this ship the extra green green juice is the worst.”

“Can green juice be more green?” Gabriel asked, seemingly genuinely perplexed.

“I will introduce you.”

“I’m not sure that my digestive tract is ready for that, I might stick with lemonade.”

“I don’t know how anyone can drink that stuff at the best of times,” Hugh said as they made their way down the corridor.

“If I’m going to drink empty calories, I’d much rather have a bourbon,” Gabriel admitted.

“I’d rather have a slice of pecan pie,” Hugh said with a smile.

“I can’t tell you the last time I had good pie,” Gabriel said a they approached the lift. Because Paul was watching for it, he saw the momentary hesitation before he crossed the threshold, the way his fist clenched, “if we make it there in one piece,” he said with forced levity once the doors closed, “and if I can stand to stay, I might have dessert to celebrate.”

“You are not having juice and dessert Paul,” Hugh said without missing a beat and predicting entirely correctly where his mind had gone.

“Says who?”

“Says me. You’ll never sleep and I’ll have to put up with you tossing and turning.”

“Back me up Gabriel,” Paul asked, pulling out his best puppy face. He was met by an arched eyebrow and a dry chuckly.

“Absolutely not.”

As they approached the doors to the mess, the general hubbub could be heard and this time Gabriel’s hesitance was much more noticeable.

“How about,” Hugh said quietly when they had stalled completely, several feet from the door, “we get take-away?” Paul watched as Gabriel obviously fought with himself, the tension in every muscle screaming that he wanted to bolt, his breathing short and shallow. “We’ll go in, order our food, and then take it back to ours,” he continued quietly.

“Or I could,” Paul began, about to offer to go in and get everything himself.

“No, I… let’s get take-away,” Gabriel said. “I can… I can manage that. And I want pie. Blueberry pie, with cinnamon cream.”

“Sold,” said Hugh with a smile, “just promise you’ll order something with vegetables for your main?” As the two of them walked into the mess, heads close and in deep discussion Paul hung back a step and watched the room. Several heads rose at the sight of the elusive figure of this man who had not been their Captain. Some conversations stopped as a flurry of elbows and heads were jerked in their direction but Paul was sure that the look on his face made it very clear that there was no need for any more attention than that. Dinner that night was the best any of them had had in a long time.

Chapter Text

Gabriel lay awake and watched the stars above his head. It was an odd advantage of his new, temporary billet that when lying in his bed, the port was directly above his head. It gave him something to look at while he didn’t sleep. Doctor T’Pel had offered him a sedative, was keen for him to get more sleep but he didn’t like the idea of any more medication in his system than there already was. She had assured him that this managing dose he was currently on was low, and that she had no interest in raising it unless something drastic changed. He hated the idea, but he wasn’t naive enough to ignore the fact that the drugs must surely be at least part of the reason why things were… different, if not exactly better.

He had woken with a start, unable to remember what it was he had been dreaming about. Once he’d taken a moment to realise where it was he was though, he’d found it much easier to accept that it had not been real. Thus, he was lying quietly, not sleeping. At first he’d assumed that he was imagining the sounds when he heard them, but when someone came out of the bedroom he realised he had been wrong.

“Hugh?” he said quietly, pushing himself up on an elbow. The room wasn’t properly dark, he didn’t like it properly dark, so he could see the other man stall and turn towards him.

“Hey,” he said equally quietly, which was odd given that there was no-one else there, “you ok?”

“Fine. You?” Gabriel asked.

“Yes I just… nightmare,” Hugh said with an open shrug. He took a couple of steps towards the bed. “What has you awake at oh-three-hundred?”

“Probably the same,” Gabriel admitted, the half-light seeming to make it easier to voice.

“May I?” Hugh asked, gesturing to the foot of the mattress.

“Of course,” Gabriel replied, pushing himself to sit upright against the headboard.

“I have a rule,” Hugh said after a moment, eyes firmly fixed on he bedspread. “When Paul’s on nights, if I wake up and I’m… Well I don’t comm him, or go see him until I’ve washed my face and drunk a mug of tea.” While Gabriel could see why this was relevant, he was less certain as to why Hugh was sharing this with him. “By the time that I’ve done that,” he continued with a self-effacing smile, “I’ve calmed down and know that he’s fine. It’s a coping mechanism but it works for me.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Gabriel asked instinctively.

“Not really. What about you?”

“I… don’t really remember, or at least not enough to make much sense of.”

“Well then, tea? I’m going to have chai but I know you…. Sorry. No, I don’t. Would you like some?”

“No,” Gabriel said with a smile, he was determinedly not thinking about it too much. “It tastes like a rat’s ass.”

“Peppermint?” Hugh asked with a chuckle.

“I’ll get it,” Gabriel said, pushing back the covers, “while you wash your face.”

In the time it took for Hugh to re-emerge from the bathroom, Gabriel had replicated their drinks and was sitting at the head of his bed again.

“Here,” he said, handing over the mug to the other man, before folding one of his legs beneath him and tucking his foot beneath him. Hugh sat down further up the mattress than he had last time, but while Gabriel noticed, he certainly didn’t mind.

“How was this afternoon?” Hugh asked, after they’d taken a moment to inhale the steam, relishing the warmth of their mugs.

“Good. It’s going to be a while before I can go back to my old routines but I’m working on stamina, muscle building and flexibility.”

When he had realised that things had changed for what were clearly high level operational reasons, and that he was not going to be leaving Discovery in the immediate future, Gabriel had been keenly aware of a desire to do something useful. That meant not only functioning around the crew but finding something he could do. Gabriel himself knew that whatever role it was he found, it wasn't going to be in command so it was then a question of where his other skills lay. So, tactical it was.

T’Pel was adamant that, whatever came next, the first step was to get back to something akin to fighting fit, so in a way to address both his physical fitness and to force him into interacting with the crew, he had been spending a lot of time in the gymnasium in the last few weeks.

“Has Burnham spoken to you?” Hugh asked lightly, “She was talking the other day about the fact that Sus Mahna doesn’t rely so much on strength so much as speed.”

“I don’t know that my reflexes are up to that,” Gabriel said with a smile, “but it’s an idea to bear in mind. Tilly was on the bike next to me for awhile,” he added before taking a sip of tea.

“If you can cope with Tilly, you can cope with anyone,” Hugh said.

“She’s… her heart is in the right place,” he finally decided on.

“That it is,” Hugh agreed. He shivered, and Gabriel spoke, perhaps too fast;

“Get under the covers,” he suggested. “You’re cold,” he added, shifting across to the far side of the mattress, purposefully sliding his legs under the covers and flipping over the other side of the comforter. It was a generously sized bed, clearly meant for more than one person, but what was really the key thing was that Gabriel didn’t want Hugh to leave. Again, he chose not to examine this desire too closely.

There was an awkward moment, but just as Gabriel was beginning to fear that he’d entirely embarrassed himself, Hugh moved. Putting down his mug, he wordlessly took Gabriel’s and put it down too before he then slid between the covers. They kept talking of everything and nothing, sliding further down the pillows as they did so. The gaps between their responses lengthened though, the questions and answers becoming both less precise and more open than before until, inevitably, they fell asleep with only their fingers touching.

Chapter Text

Paul raised a hand in the silent greeting of two officers coming off gamma shift as he crossed paths with an ensign who had been moved into the Captain’s quarters. Yawning, he took a moment at their door to unzip his jacket and pull off his boots. Before Gabriel had moved in, he’d always made sure to do these things in the living room to try and minimise the likelihood of his waking Hugh. It was a stolen pleasure to get into bed and sneak few hours together before the other had to get up for the day, so not waking him was paramount. Now it seemed only descent to remove them before be walked through what was effectively Gabriel’s bedroom.

Keying in his code, he winced at what felt like the unreasonably loud sound the doors made as they opened. When he’d gotten home at the end of yesterday’s shift Gabriel had been awake, sitting up in bed and reading. While this, the not sleeping, didn’t seem to particularly unusual Paul was hoping that tonight might have been different. Gabriel had said earlier, when the two of them had been eating dinner in the mess, that the exercise was helping. That being physically exhausted made it easier to find some rest. Stepping far enough inside that the doors could close behind him, Paul paused to considering the bed by the viewport. There was certainly someone under the covers, in fact it looked almost like there were two distinct forms beneath the blankets.

He stopped at the couch first, dropping his boots and shrugging out of his jacket and laying it over the arm before creeping forward. Paul was purposefully not allowing his imagination to run away with itself. He had less than no evidence and if Paul was anything he was a scientist. Hugh had been so adamant that there had to be boundaries, that they couldn’t forget that this wasn’t their Gabe. That this Gabriel was vulnerable and that the last thing they wanted to do was to use him. But here he was, asleep in Gabriel’s bed. As Paul got closer, he could see that there was a good foot between them, everywhere except where their hands were resting next to each other on top of the sheets. Standing quietly Paul watched them breathing for several minutes, trying to understand why seeing them like this meant so much to him. There was nothing romantic or sexual in the scene before him, they were simply sleeping in vague proximity but something about it was making Paul’s heart swell.

How long he stood there, he wasn’t sure. How long he waited and watched as one or other of them shifted and then resettled. Whatever else, they both looked more relaxed and content than he’d seen them in a long time and it was an image he desperately wanted to remember. Briefly he considered lifting the edge of the cover and sliding in behind Gabriel but there wasn’t really room and however much he wanted it he could see a myriad of ways in which it could go wrong. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to leave, to go through to the cold bed in the other room and lie down alone. Eventually, he pulled an easy chair from the corner it had been relegated to and pulling a throw from over the back of the sofa, settled into his own vigal.

The quiet sound of easy breathing lulled Paul to sleep and his dreams were full of warmth and comfort for the first time in too long. So when he woke with a start, he was almost instantly sure it was something external that had his heart hammering.

“Paul?” Hugh asked, sitting upright the covers pooled at his waist.

“What…?” he asked, pushing the throw aside and sitting upright, glancing around the room and suddenly something, someone, was missing. “Where?” he asked, turning to the open bathroom door and then the dark entrance to their bedroom.

“You didn’t…? He didn’t say anything?”

“He was asleep when I came in. You both were,” Paul said, standing up.

“Check the bedroom?”

“Sure,” Paul agreed although both of them knew that there was no chance Gabriel had invaded their space and certainly not in the pitch dark. “No sign,” he said coming back out. “How did he even…?” Paul asked looking from where he’d been unintentionally blocking the other man’s egress from the bed to the door.

“I don’t know. Whatever happened though he must have tried pretty hard to get out without waking either of us,” Hugh said, crossing to the com panel.

“Have we just…?” Paul asked, not sure how to phrase the rest of the sentence.

“I don’t know,” Hugh said with a frown. “He can’t have gone that far… He doesn’t have access to anywhere, anything…” Paul rubbed a hand up and down his partner’s pyjama clad sleeve before running it along Hugh’s shoulders. “Culber to T’Pel,” he said activating the comm.

“T’Pel here,” came the prompt professional response.

“Uhh, would you…” Hugh looked at him, the uncertainty terrifying for a moment. “Captain Lorca’s left and we’re not quite sure what state he’s in.”

“Understood, I’ll establish his location and monitor his vitals.”

“Thank you,” Hugh said. “I know that there’s confidentiality to consider but would you let us know if he’s ok. Safe.”

“I can tell you now that there is no need for undue concern.” Hugh seemed to deflate at this and turning, rested his head on Paul’s shoulder. Paul wrapped his arms around the doctor, pulling him close as T’Pel continued. “I would go so far as to suggest that you and Lieutenant Stamets should go and have breakfast.”

“Breakfast?” Paul asked, uncertain.

“Yes. In the mess.”

“I, uh, thanks,” Paul said before they ended the call.

“Well then,” Hugh declared pulling back and offering him a tentative smile.

“Well then what?” he asked

“Breakfast,” he said moving away and starting to pull off his pyjama top, “we should get there before Gabriel leaves.”

“He’s in the mess?”

“That’s what T’Pel said isn’t it?”

“Not in so many words, no.”

“Well it’s what she meant.”

“Really?” Paul asked.

“Yes. You really haven’t had enough sleep have you? Do you want to…” he gestured at their bed as though Paul could go back to sleep.

“No, I suddenly really really want waffles.”

It was still early but the Mess was busy. Gabriel had been forcing himself to eat there and while he often avoided peak times, the stares and the hushed conversations seemed to have faded. Paul grasped Hugh’s hand as they walked in, both scanning the room to see if they could spot him. Hugh squeezed his fingers and he turned to follow his gaze. Sitting in the corner was Gabriel in quiet conversation with the Captain. Saru had his head tilted to the right, clearly listening to whatever it was that the other man was saying. Having seated himself with his back to the corner, the other Gabe’s preference too, he seemed to spot them quickly and offered a gentle smile in greeting.

“We should, uh, get some food,” Paul suggested when he looked away.

“Yeah,” Hugh agreed. “Waffles?”

“Waffles.”

Chapter Text

The relief at seeing Gabriel safe and apparently well in the mess was such that Hugh struggled to peel his eyes away from him. While he hadn’t ever really been concerned for Gabriel’s physical well being, there had been a horrible, writhing, knot of anxiety in his chest since he had woken to find him gone. T’Pel had started to ease his worry but now seeing him so relaxed and as though he were enjoying the conversation he was having Saru was more reassuring still. Gabriel was even eating, and he was in his usual choice of exercise gear, the standard issue Discovery t-shirt and sweats, so Hugh supposed that might be his plan for the morning.

“If you don’t stop staring,” Paul said casually, leaning over to spear a strawberry from his plate. “You’re going to start rumours.”

“Sorry,” he said, reaching out with a smile to take Paul’s hand.

“Forgiven,” he replied. “Are you going to finish your pancakes?”

“Yes. If only to protect you from yourself!” Hugh said, pulling his plate out of the way of the fork Paul was sneaking back over in his direction.

“Morning,” Gabriel greeted them, coming up beside their table while they were distracted.

“Good morning,” Paul said, as Hugh tried not to choke on his coffee.

“I’m sorry if I woke you,” Gabriel continued seriously, “I didn’t want to disrupt you but I didn’t want to be late to meet the Captain.”

“You didn’t wake us,” Hugh said recovering, “I was the one who woke up Paul.” He wasn’t naive enough to take this explanation of his behaviour at face value but as long as Gabriel wasn’t unduly distressed, and he certainly didn’t seem to be, then he was disinclined to press the matter, here and now at least.

“Ah, well, hopefully you’ll get some more sleep before tonight,” Gabriel said with a smile as Paul yawned widely enough to crack his jaw.

“Dinner before I go on shift?” Paul asked, when it had passed.

“Same time as yesterday,” Gabriel agreed. “I’d better get on, I want to do 5 clicks before I see the Doctor. I’ll see you later Hugh?”

“Till later,” he replied, nodding in agreement.

“He looks better,” Paul said quietly. “I mean, like he’s had some sleep.”

“Hmm his muscle tone’s improving too,” Hugh said absently watching as he walked across the room.

“Is that your way of saying that he doesn’t look like his sweats are going to fall down any more?”

“Maybe,” Hugh agreed only slightly sheepishly and Paul laughed before another yawn took him by surprise. “Come on then,” the doctor said standing up. “Let’s get you back to bed.”

There wasn’t any further discussion or even any explicit mention of the events of that night during the following days and weeks. They simply fell back into their increasingly comfortable patterns of behaviour. Gabriel seemed to be improving, his health was clearly better and that change seemed to come with an improvement in his mental wellbeing. While there were still days that seemed harder than others, nights when Hugh was certain sleep didn’t come, it was a pleasure to see this man coming back to himself.

“Gabriel?” Paul asked, trying to draw the other man back to them from where ever he’d drifted not for the first time tonight.

“Sorry,” he said, his gaze focusing back on them.

“Ok?” Hugh asked with a gentle nod to the pasta that Gabriel had been playing with.

“I….” he started, only to jerk his head up to look at where a group of crewmen were laughing loudly several tables away. The tension was vibrating from him now, and while at one point this had been standard when they were in the mess, it had been weeks since it had been so bad. “Can we…?” Gabriel said, eventually.

“Sure,” Paul said, standing smartly and starting to gather their things to take to the recycling unit. “You head, I’ll deal with this.”

“After you,” Hugh said lightly, gesturing for Gabriel to go first.

He followed the other man as he wound his way through the busy tables, shoulders tense and pace faster than was really required.

“Sorry,” Gabriel said, slowing once the doors closed behind them and the worst of the noise was cut off.

“No apology necessary. Has something particular happened today?”

“I…” he began hesitantly as they walked down the quiet corridor.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked,” Hugh said, genuinely upset that he seemed to be adding to his distress.

“No,” came the quick response. “No, it’s not that. I… I don’t know. I can’t think of… I’m not sure why….”

“Well, sometimes that’s just the way it is,” Hugh said.

“I… some days are harder,” Gabriel admitted, pausing at the entrance to the turbolift. These hadn’t been a problem for some time either but it seemed to take a monumental effort to cross the threshold. “I tried meditating, that sometimes helps but I couldn’t focus, my thoughts just kept interrupting.”

“Would you like company?” Hugh asked, as they left the lift again. “If you’d like to be alone that’s absolutely ok, but maybe…”

“No, I mean. I… If you wouldn’t mind…”

“Of course not,” Hugh said, releasing the door. The difference in Gabriel as soon as they were tucked away from the rest of the world is clear. “I’m going to get out of my uniform, why don’t you take a look at the database for a film or whatever takes your fancy?” he suggested.

While Hugh was changing, he heard Paul come in and a flurry of quiet conversation from the other room followed. Throwing his uniform into the refresher, he left the bedroom to find the pair of them sitting on the sofa, as thick as thieves. He stayed back, leaning against the door jamb and watching as they discussed what Gabriel thought he might enjoy. Eventually a decision was made and Gabriel went to stand from the couch and head over to the easy chair he usually took when they spent time together like this.

“You don’t have to move,” Paul said, a gentle hand on his arm stopping him from going far.
“But…” Gabriel protested looking up at where Hugh is still standing.

“Plenty of space for all of us on here, isn’t there Hugh?”

“There is,” he agreed watching for any sign that Gabriel was being made uncomfortable. Instead though, he seemed more than content to capitulate.

“Come on then,” Paul said, pulling out the throw from the back of sofa. Hugh crossed the room and sat down on Gabriel’s other side taking the edge of the blanket and settling back into the cushions.

It took a little while for them all to relax, but thirty minutes into the film Paul’s arm was draped along the back of the couch, Gabriel’s legs were crossed and resting on a stool in front of them and Hugh had turned his back into the corner. In lieu of having to disturb them all by going to find socks, Hugh had also been allowed to tuck his feet under Gabriel’s thighs. He’d taken to occasionally wiggling his toes just to see the look that flitted over the other man’s profile, he thought it fell somewhere between fond and confused.
By the time that the film was nearing its climax, Gabriel’s posture and breathing meant Hugh was almost certain he was fast asleep. He was leaning up against Paul’s side now and the scientist had let his arm drift down around Gabriel’s shoulders, his fingers drawing gentle repetitive patterns on the soft fabric of the other man’s sleeve. Hugh watched them both, all interest in the film lost in preference for the scene before him. When the credits rolled, Paul looked over and met his gaze but neither of them said a word. There wasn’t any need.

Chapter Text

Gabriel curled in on himself, tucking his knees beneath his chin and wrapping his arms around his legs to hold them close. Rocking gently, he tried desperately to tamp down the raging emotions storming inside him. There were too many thoughts inside his head, too much energy running just beneath his skin. Whenever he closed his eyes, images of the Buran exploding and his own face with someone else staring out from behind the eyes tormented him. The sound of his own, harsh, laughter echoed in the silence.

The day had been fraught, Discovery had been involved in several skirmishes and while they’d made it through in one piece it hadn’t come without a cost. Gabriel had mostly been staying out of everyone’s way but feel of fire hitting the ship was one he’d have recognised anywhere. His tension had built as the hours had passed, but none of the techniques he’d learnt had seemed to helpl and none of his instincts on where to go or who to go to had been practical when there was so much else going on.

When things had quietened down, Gabriel had tried for normality in the hope that the routine would prove reassuring. He had barely made it into the corridor outside of their quarters however, before he’d had to retreat, unable to bare the hustle and bustle. He’d stretched, completing the exercises he could within the confines of the limited space, repeating them over and over and over until his muscles shook with exhaustion. Showering, he’d crawled into bed hoping that the physical exhaustion would let him rest but it hadn’t worked. His mind was only spinning faster.

It had been instinct that stopped him from letting Hugh and Paul know he was awake when the door had opened and the pair of them had crept in. He didn’t know how long he’d been lying there trying to sleep, but he knew it was late and he knew they needed time to themselves. So he’d let them go, let them brush their teeth, listened to them change and the muffled sound of their quiet conversation as he’d controlled his breathing, feigning sleep. When they’d settled in for the night, his concentration drifted, the sound of explosions and laughter returning to fill the silence.

Eventually, maybe hours later, he’d drifted to the sofa. He’d found such an extreme, unexpected comfort there the previous week that he supposed he’d hoped that the memory and the throw would be enough. He’d woken warm and calm that morning, bookended by the reassuring presence of people who were now only meters away. Some small part of him knew they would gladly provide that comfort again but the fears, the panic and the insecurity were all too much. The noise in his head was too loud for that rational voice to be heard. Gabriel couldn’t, wouldn’t disturb them he just needed to get better control and ride it out.

The knowledge that they were so close but still out of reach made the distance seem even further somehow. Throwing off the blanket he stood abruptly, meaning to walk away. To retreat and break the spell but instead, he found himself drifting closer to the partition. He stood, his forehead resting against the wall, palms flush against the surface. The fingertips of his right hand brushed the seam of the closed door and he was incredibly aware of how easy it would be to trigger the release. It was tantalisingly close to enough, being just as near as he could get without intruding. He could stay here, this would be enough. It would be, it had to be.

Gabriel’s legs buckled beneath him and he slid down the wall to kneel on the deck. He curled in on himself, tucking his knees beneath his chin and wrapping his arms around his legs to hold them close. Rocking gently, he tried desperately to tamp down the raging emotions storming inside him. There were too many thoughts inside his head, too much energy running just beneath his skin. The Buran was exploding and that horrible hollow laugh rang in his ears but it was ok, this would be ok. It was enough, it had to be enough.

He was so caught up in his own internal dystopia that the sound of the door opening, the approach of footsteps didn’t register at all.

“Gabe?” Paul’s voice was quiet, tentative. “Love? Can you hear me?” Gabriel flicked his eyes right from where he’d been staring at nothing and found Paul was sitting on the floor only an arms reach away. “Are you ok?” He couldn’t make himself look at the other man properly, couldn’t meet his eyes. There was something lodged in Gabriel’s throat. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t even bring himself reach out to the other man no matter how much he wanted to. “I’m going to come closer,” Paul said, kneeling up and moving forward. Gabriel watched as he reached out, clearly waiting, watching, for some sign before he made contact. With a monumental effort, Gabriel managed to jerk his head in aquencince.

“Oh, love you’re frozen,” Paul said. Gabriel looked from the hand resting on a forearm that didn’t feel like his own up to the obviously, openly concerned face. Suddenly, a wave of something unnamable and overwhelming rushed over his defences and Gabriel was lost.

Chapter Text

Paul snuck out of bed stealthily, endeavouring not to wake Hugh. Having woken, he’d lain there for several minutes trying to decide how badly he needed to pee before capitulating to the fact that he was going to have to get up. He navigated their bedroom in the dark and mostly on instinct, refusing to properly open his eyes in deference to the fact that it must still be the middle of the night. Opening the door he turned right and, intending to trace the wall to the head, he almost tripped over the curled figure curled against the wall. Some instinct stopped him though just as he turned into the other room.

“Gabriel?” he asked automatically, blinking and waiting for his eyes to adjust to even the low light. As they did, and with still no response forthcoming, Paul crouched down, his anxiety rising rapidly. “Gabriel, love? What’s wrong?” And there clearly was something wrong.

In addition to the fact that Gabriel was huddled on the floor outside their room, he looked positively wretched. When his second entreity still didn’t engender a response, Paul crouched down. He stayed back, knowing that despite how much he wanted to close the gap between them, it could end badly if Gabriel really hadn’t realised he was there.

“Gabe?” he tried almost plaintively, hoping that he’d make it through somehow. Gabriel’s eyes were staring off into the distance, his gaze unfocused as he rocked gently back and forth. “Love? Can you hear me?” Gabriel froze, the already tense muscles seeming to tighten further as his eyes flicked towards Paul. “Are you ok?” he asked, knowing it was a ridiculous question. He could see the other man’s throat working, his lips moving as though he were trying desperately to say or not say something. Gabriel’s arm twitched and Paul thought for a moment that he was going to reach out towards him but he couldn’t seem to do that any more than he’d managed to formulate a verbal response.

“I’m going to come closer,” Paul said, watching closely for a response and when Gabriel gave an uncoordinated jerk of his head vaguely approximating a nod, he started to shuffle awkwardly forward. He reached out a hand purposefully slowly, making sure that each of his movements were still telegraphed clearly and watching for Gabriel’s response to his approach.

“Oh, love you’re frozen,” he said when he’d finally placed his hand on his arm and he was. Frozen, trembling and sitting in his pyjamas on the floor outside of their bedroom.

Paul could only imagine what it was that was going on inside the other man’s head. What it was that had left him so upset or scared but unable to bring himself to turn to them for comfort, but he had suspicions and they were awful. Gabriel’s face when he finally did look up and the tears, the flood of barely restrained sobs as he almost threw himself into Paul’s arms however, was infinitely more heart rending.

“Oh love, it’s ok,” he whispered wrapping his arms around him and rubbing his shuddering gasping back. “It’s ok. I’m here.”

The sound of the door opening sometime later made Paul look up and the sight of a sleep disheveled Hugh appearing brought a warmth of reassurance to him. For as long as he’d known him, his partner had never slept through a crisis of any sort. He claimed that years of junior doctoring had left him with a sixth sense for such things, but whatever the reason Paul was happy to see him. Within a moment, Hugh seemed to be abreast of the situation. He crossed quickly to the corner where he stored his med kit, unlocking the biometric sensor and returning with a tricorder and a hypospray. In the meantime, Paul simply held the man crying quietly in his arms.

“Gabriel?” Hugh asked, joining them. He was crouching next to them, and reached out to stroke Gabriel’s hair. Realising that Hugh was there, Paul felt the other man still and the grip Gabriel had on him loosened. An arm snaked out, reaching towards Hugh. “I’m here,” Hugh said quietly. As though a switch had been flipped, Gabriel seemed to want nothing more than to be closer to Hugh and as he moved away Paul was reminded of why it was that he had gotten out of bed in the first place.

“I’m just...” he said quietly to Hugh, gesturing with his head towards the bathroom. Hugh nodded in return, gathering up Gabe in his arms.

“Slowly, in and out,” Hugh was saying quietly as he slipped away. “That’s it. You’re safe, we’re all safe. It’s ok.”

When Paul returned from quite possibly the quickest piss in history, Hugh was still talking. His tone was calm but serious, his head bent low, close to Gabriel’s.

“See, Paul’s come back, we haven’t scared him away,” he was saying as he knelt back down next to them. “Now,” Hugh continued, “Gabe, can you look at me, that’s it love. I know it’s difficult but we need to make a decision and I need to know that you understand.

“It’s entirely up to you, we can help you back in to bed, you can come in with us for the rest of the night, or if you’d prefer, or you can’t make a decision, then we can contact Doctor T’Pel and you can go to sick bay.” Paul was so glad to hear Hugh rationally lay out the options and even if he knew what it was he hoped for. “Wherever you’ll be most comfortable,” Hugh continued gently.

“We won’t take offence,” Paul added, reaching out to put a hand on Gabriel’s arm. “We just want...” he paused uncertain how to phrase it. “Whatever’s best for you.” There was a long, silence before Gabe spoke haltingly;

“No,” he plaintively, “Just… just here. With you.”

“Of course we’ll stay with you, if that’s what you want,” Hugh replied. “But we don’t need to stay here on the floor. How about we get you into your bed so you can warm up?” This suggestion was met with a shaky but vehement protest.

“No. Please.... I… no.”

“Through to our room then?” Paul suggested, “if Hugh hasn’t left the covers pulled back, it should still be warm.” There was an immediate if tentative nod at this.

“Ok then, how about Paul helps you up while I have a quick chat with T’Pel?” Hugh suggested, “just a chat,” he continued. “But I’m not your doctor here and now so we do need to check in.”

“Come on you, we can get the prime spots if we’re in first…” Paul continued to chat away as he stood and help the other man up. He half expected him to shrink away, once he was upright to shy away or to halt at the threshold but instead, Gabriel clung to Paul’s arm as though he were terrified he was going to disappear.

By the time Hugh joined them, they had gotten as far as sitting on the edge of the mattress and Paul had wrapped the comforter around Gabriel’s trembling shoulders. His breathing was still unnaturally tight and shallow and while he was no longer sobbing, the tears Paul had carefully wiped from his cheeks continued to fall. Seeing him approach, Gabe reached out to him again with the hand that wasn’t grasping Paul’s like a vice.

“Hey there,” Hugh said, taking his hand and leaning in to press a chaste kiss to his forehead. “Now, T’Pel and I have agreed that we think that you should have something just to help you calm down and get some rest.”

“I… I can’t…” Gabriel said, closing his eyes, shuddering. “I can’t watch it… can’t…” he was becoming more distressed again and Paul wrapped his free arm around his shoulder as Hugh knelt in front of them.

“Gabriel, this will help. I promise. And Paul and I will be here, we’ll wake you up if we think that you’re having a nightmare.”

“You need to rest love,” Paul said, turning to kiss the side of his head. “Let us look after you. That’s it,” he encouraged, feeling something in the other man give. Hugh reached up and placed the hypospray at his neck. Despite becoming significantly more pliant as the medication took affect, Gabriel clung like an octopus to them both even in drug induced slumber. Neither Paul nor Hugh found any more sleep that night though as they lay either side of him.

Chapter Text

Hugh believed that there were some experiences that simply changed you. Things shared that meant no-one involved was ever really the same again. The morning after he and Paul had brought Gabriel into their bed, held him while he’d slept in an attempt to help him reach some peace, he was sure they all knew that things were different. Paul fetched breakfast while Hugh gently coaxed the groggy Gabe up and onto the sofa.

“Gabriel?” he asked quietly, drawing his attention away from where he was staring into the middle distance. “There you are,” Hugh tried, offering him a smile. “Once Paul gets back we’re going to have some breakfast and then, we’re going to get you down to sickbay.” This was the first thing he’d said all day that had elicited a response from him.

“No, please. I… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have… but… I’ll leave, I’ll move out but please don’t… Not there,” he said, turning to look at him, clearly distraught.

“Hey now,” Hugh said, reaching out to pull him into a gentle hug. “You’re not moving anywhere, love. The last thing Paul or I want is for you to be anywhere where we aren’t there to help when you need it.”

“Sorry,” he mumbled into Hugh’s shoulder, still awkwardly tense.

“No apologies,” Hugh said, reaching up to stroke the short hair at the nape of his neck. “I should have explained properly. Dr T’Pel wants to see you; she asked me to make sure you came to see her first thing, so she can talk to you about what happened last night. She just wants to make sure you’re ok, to help make sure that you understand that there is always somewhere for you to turn. Somewhere for you to go.”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have… I didn’t mean to disturb you…” he said, trying to pull away.

“Shhhh, none of that. The last thing that any of us want is for you to suffer. Especially alone.”

“But…”

“But nothing. It doesn’t matter what else is going on, if you can’t come to us then you can go to T’Pel. Even if the ship’s busy, we’ll always make time.” Hugh just continued to hold him, rubbing his back gently until eventually he seemed to relax.

Paul arrived back with coffee, pastries and fresh fruit and once he’d set the tray down set about putting a plate together.

“Here, I got you some nectarine,” he said, sitting down on the other end of the couch and encouraging Gabriel to sit up. “We can’t have you fading away.”

“I’m not sure I can…”

“Just try,” Paul said gently, reaching across to run a hand through his hair. “I don’t want to think how long ago it was that you ate.” With only a little hesitancy Gabriel reached out for the fruit. He managed a couple of slivers and half a slice of cinnamon toast as Hugh and Paul talked quietly and ate.

When it was time for them all to leave, it became clear that there was going to be a problem.

“Gabriel,” Hugh said gently. “It’s ok.”

“I… I just…”

“We’re just going to see T’Pel. She’ll want to see you on her own, but when you’re done you can come out and sit in my office or…”

“Or you could come down and visit with me,” Paul chimed in.

“Or you can come back here. But we need to go see T’Pel first.” He was sure that she would have happily made a house call but when Hugh had spoken to her last night, they’d agreed that it would be good to try and keep things as normal as they could. Gabriel had been meeting with the CMO in her office off sickbay and so, that was where they were going. If they could get over the threshold.

“We’re right here beside you Gabe,” Paul said. “There’s no shame in needing support, none at all, but you can’t let this win. Can’t let him win. We’re in this together, ok. No matter how long this takes. Right Hugh?”

“Absolutely,” he agreed, turning and holding Gabriel’s upper arms. “Some days are going to be harder than others but we’re here, always.” The other man bit his lip, before flicking his eyes up to make contact with Hugh’s.

“Sorry, I just… Thank you. I know, it’ll be fine.” Gabriel straightened his shoulders, a determined look on his face. “Let’s do this, shall we?”

Hugh watched from a few steps behind as Gabriel stood on the threshold. Paul came up to stand next to him in front of the door.

“Together,” he said quietly reaching out and squeezing Gabriel’s hand.

“Together,” Gabriel agreed. Hugh watched as Paul released his grip, only for Gabriel to hold on. Paul responded by intertwining their fingers, any possible misalignment of intention over in a matter of moments.

They had been so discreet last time, with the other Gabriel. It had never really been spoken about but the desire for privacy had been clear in the other Captain’s every action. It wasn’t that they hadn’t been seen together regularly or that the fact that they were sharing quarters wasn’t already public knowledge, but this felt very different. Hugh walked just behind them, listening as Paul talked quietly about what his day looked like. He watched as they passed other members of the crew mostly too absorbed in their own business to pay much attention.

 

As predicted T’Pel, having carefully watched the three of them as they entered, whisked Gabriel away to speak alone leaving Paul and Hugh feeling strangely ostracised.

“Right,” Paul said eventually. “I should…” he gestured vaguely to the door.

“Yeah,” Hugh said, unable to look away from the door behind which they’d disappeared.

“This is…” Paul continued, petering out.

“It is,” Hugh agreed. “We need…”

“Slowly yeah? Let him set the pace.”

“We need to keep it platonic for now, no matter what. He’s really not in a place to be making significant decisions.”

“I think it might be too late for that,” Paul said as Hugh turned to look at him. They watched each other in silence for several moments.

“I love you,” Hugh said, the feeling bubbling up in him. Paul reached out and with a hand wrapped around the back of his head, pulled him in to an intense kiss.

“More than anything,” Paul breathed once he drew back, resting his forehead against Hugh’s. “I should get to work.”

“Hmmm.”

“I’d rather go to bed. I’m like a half calibrated hypo-spanner this morning.”

“Early night all round tonight,” Hugh agreed.

“Yeah. Let me know how it goes?” he asked, eyes flicking towards the door again.

“Of course.”

Chapter Text

Gabriel wasn’t sure that if anyone had told him before all this had happened, that he would be more than content with the life he had now, he would have believed them. It certainly wasn’t what he’d been striving for in his career, wasn’t what he thought he wanted for his personal life either, but if nothing else, he had learned that sometimes you simply had to make the best of things.

“Gathering wool?” Hugh asked, stepping out onto the shaded veranda and handing him a cold glass already slick with condensation.

“Something like that,” Gabriel replied, closing his eyes and turning his face into the warmth of the setting Vulcan suns. “Just pondering how I came to be so lucky.”

“Lucky?” he said lightly, coming to stand in front of him and leaning back against his chest. Gabriel tilted his head just so, sighing as the other man’s form slotted in perfectly against him.

“Hmmm I’m sure there are lots who would give everything for just a fraction of what we have here.” Their life was hardly ordinary, humans were still treated with a degree of scepticism here but equally, their unorthodox relationship didn’t seem to bother anyone at all. The pair of them stood there, watching nothing in particular until the sound of the front door opening stirred them into motion.

“Come on you,” Hugh said, stretching like a sun warmed cat.

“Anyone home?” Paul’s voice sounded from inside.

“You would think that we ought to be sitting distraught waiting for him to deign to join us,” Hugh said loudly enough to be heard.

“Any longer and I’m sure we would have been,” Gabe said in mock seriousness.

“I should hope so,” Paul said, kissing one then the other of them on the cheek.

“Good day?” Hugh asked as they all migrated towards the kitchen.

“We’re making progress…” Gabriel zoned out as Paul continued to talk, taking much more from the enthusiasm in his tone than he would have from the language of science that came much more naturally to the other two.

“What about your day, Gabe?” Paul asked, without looking up from programming the food synthesiser.

“Hmm?” he replied, zoning back in and catching up with what he’d just heard. “My day was mostly spent resisting the urge to strangle my publisher.” On instinct he held out his glass for a refill when Hugh lifted the jug.

“So just like any other day then?” Paul said, turning to look at them, his eyes twinkling.

“You would think they were the one who was the experienced tactician, given their continual desire to write the bloody thing themselves,” he grumbled half heartedly.

“Well for Boe’s safety let’s be glad that you can’t take the next transport back to earth and show them exactly how wrong they are,” Hugh said, returning the jug to the chiller.

“I was sorely tempted,” he said, but they all knew it was an empty threat. Gabriel relished their anonymity here, that he could go about his life; train with the Suus Menha masters, write tactical textbooks under pseudonyms but most of all to live and love with the two remarkable men who had sacrificed so much to be with him. The familiar pull of a dark tide swept up from his own depths; anxiety tugging at the edges of his mind, the uncertainty as to why they could possibly have made the choices they had, to have sacrificed so much surging over his defences.

“Hey,” Paul said gently, suddenly standing next to him, carefully removing the trembling glass from his hand.

“Sorry,” Gabriel said, doing his best to shake the sudden malaise.

“You’ve been inside your own head for the last week,” Hugh chided gently, coming to lean against the counter next to him. “Ten years since the Buran went down. It’s no wonder.”

“It feels like another life…” he admitted quietly. “They were a good crew. Good people. They deserved better.”

“Nobody ‘deserved’ any of what that man did,” Paul said, his voice quiet but firm. “None of them, no one on Discovery and not us. None of us.” Gabriel felt the tension drain from him as arms reached around him, anchoring him, shielding him and holding him fast. He returned their embrace, his hands fisting in fabric in a habit he’d broken years ago.

They all had scars from what had happened; some of what Paul and Hugh had lived, and died, through was far beyond Gabriel’s understanding. They all had good days and bad days and while for the most part, the bad were better by far than they had been they had learned to weather them together. They coped and flourished far more than many.

The sound of the replicator finishing its cycle broke through the hush between them and Gabe lifted his head from Paul’s shoulder. Behind him, he felt Hugh step away and turn to look in the direction of the appliance.

“Paul,” he said in a very familiar way.

“What, Dear Doctor?” the other man asked feigning innocence.

“Is that…” Gabe asked as the familiar scent hit him. “Is that peach cobbler?”

“And there’s a bottle of bourbon fresh off the latest transport from earth in my work satchel.”

“Not the most balanced meal,” Hugh pointed out. “But it does sound perfect. Gabe?”

“I’ll get the plates,” he said.