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Landry looked around and did a quick headcount before shouting, “Everyone still in one piece? All back aboard? Good.” She squinted at Paul Stamets. “Lieutenant, you should go to sickbay. You too, Cadet,” she added with a brief nod towards Tilly. “Go with him. Get that hand checked out.”

Tilly nodded. “Understood.”

And without another word, Landry rushed off, probably to report to the captain. The soldiers that had made up the rest of the landing party dispersed.

“Um… let’s go, sir,” Tilly said hesitantly, glancing at Stamets and trying to figure out if he needed any help from her. But he was holding his head high and trying to keep his posture straight so she doubted he’d accept it even if she offered it. She was still a little intimidated by him, too. Or maybe a lot.

Sickbay was nearly empty when they entered. One nurse was taking care of a patient off to the left, and Doctor Culber was hanging around in the back of the room, presumably going through some data on his PADD. Glancing over, Tilly noticed a small twitch flicker across Stamets’ face for a second before it returned to his usual, stony expression. What exactly it had been she couldn’t decipher.

Stamets walked over with confidence, Tilly following behind him, and soon Doctor Culber noticed them and turned around. Surprise showed on his face for a moment as he recognized his patients-to-be, followed by a professional smile that looked hardened around the edges and didn’t feel entirely genuine.

“Good afternoon, Lieutenant. You sure seem to like it a lot around here, with how often we have to patch you up lately.”

Stamets glared at him.

“Hello, Cadet Tilly,” Culber continued as he turned towards her cheerfully, ignoring Stamets. “What can I do for you?”

“Uh—umm…” Tilly began intelligently. “We just returned with the landing party and Commander Landry sent us here because we were injured.”

“You were part of the landing party?” Culber frowned. “Why?”

“Ask the captain,” Stamets responded curtly. Sometimes his rude bluntness still stunned Tilly. She’d thought she had gotten used to it by now; maybe it was the shock that he acted the same way towards the kind doctor. Culber didn’t seem to take offense, however.

“Did he also assign Cadet Tilly?”

“No, that was Landry’s idea.”

Doctor Culber pursed his lips.

“What happened, Cadet?”

“Oh, I’m not that bad,” she said quickly, waving her uninjured hand dismissively. “Just twisted my wrist, I think. B-but Lieutenant Stamets was injured …”

His head snapped around towards Stamets again. He cast a quick glare at her for talking before he faced Culber again.

“It’s not that bad,” he snapped.

“I’m the medical professional here, so that decision is up to me.” Culber shoved him to sit down on the nearest bio bed, then nodded at Tilly to sit as well. She pulled over a chair from the corner and sat down on it. In the meantime, the other patient left and the nurse disappeared into a back room. “Tell me what happened.”

“The local wildlife wanted to eat us.”

Doctor Culber picked up his medical tricorder and started scanning Lieutenant Stamets’ face and arms where the bruises and fresh stains of blood were visible, as well as his torso, presumably checking for other, invisible injuries.

“A little more precise, please.”

Stamets sighed in annoyance.

“We were sent down to the surface of the planet to check if it might be strategically advantageous to help win the war. It wasn’t as uninhabited as we thought. A large creature attacked us and it got me.”

Doctor Culber’s brows furrowed. Tilly was pretty sure that this was the first time she had seen him so angry.

“Let me guess: Instead of standing back like you’re supposed to do as a quasi-civilian you got yourself in the line of attack again. How many times am I going to have to patch you up until you understand this, Lieutenant?”

“Do we really have to do this again?” Stamets groaned while rolling his eyes, though to Tilly’s surprise he sounded more annoyed than offended. Culber changed the settings on his tricorder and not-so-gently yanked Stamets’ head around so he could reach the cuts and bruises on his cheek and neck to begin his treatment. “Ouch!”

“Don’t be such a baby,” Culber snapped back. “Maybe if you think first next time it won’t hurt so much.” After the injuries had disappeared and only left behind a bit of smudged blood on his patient’s skin, he said, “Now take your jacket off so I can check the cuts on your arm.”

Grumpily, Stamets did as he was told. Tilly was amazed and, admittedly, a little terrified by how confidently the doctor was handling him. This glimpse of an angry Doctor Culber certainly convinced her that she’d never want to get on his bad side. On the other hand it made her wonder why he disliked her boss so much—and so openly. From what she’d gathered so far, Lieutenant Stamets was far from popular at least outside of his research team (and even there, he wasn’t exactly everyone’s favorite, either), but most of the time people were politely distant and silently offended. In this case, however, she thought it wasn’t entirely fair.

“Actually, Doctor, he—he protected me,” she said quietly.

They both turned around to look at her.

“Stay out of this, Cadet,” Stamets said coldly.

“You shut up now, this is my office,” Culber chided him before turning back to her. “What do you mean, Cadet Tilly?”

“W-well, um, I—I mean, Commander Landry and her team were investigating the entrance to a cave and they must have startled the creature. It soared down on us and it sped right towards me. My—my phaser malfunctioned, but Lieutenant Stamets grabbed me and pushed me out of the way, and that’s how I twisted my wrist, but the animal’s claws scuffed him … He saved my life,” she concluded.

Culber stared at her, then at Stamets, whose eyes were fixed on a spot on the floor.

“Really?” Culber asked him.

“Yes.”

Culber watched him for a moment, his face unreadable.

“I apologize for going off at you like that. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because it’s none of your business.”

“Yes, it is. You’re both my patients. I care about your well-being.”

Tilly blushed.

“You saved Cadet Tilly’s life. That was very heroic of you.”

“I don’t need you to tell me that,” Stamets muttered, looking away, but his cheeks turned slightly pink and Tilly could tell that he was trying hard not to smile.

Culber turned to her again.

“Cadet, you said you injured your wrist?”

“Yes, when we fell.”

“Let me take a look.”

She held out her hand. He picked up his tricoder again, scanned it for a few seconds before he adjusted the settings on the device and, combined with a few careful twists and bends of her wrist, started the healing procedure. The pain quickly disappeared and when he was done her joints felt as good as new.

“There; it should be better now.”

“Yes! Thank you, Doctor!”

He smiled brightly at her.

“Then you’re free to go. I can deal with the Lieutenant by myself.”

Tilly sought Stamets’ eyes for confirmation. He was still looking a little miffed, but turned to her and said, “It’s fine. You’re dismissed, Cadet.”

“O-okay then,” Tilly responded, standing up and pushing her chair back clumsily. “G-goodbye, sir. Goodbye, Doctor Culber.”

When she reached the door, she turned back around to ask Lieutenant Stamets whether she was supposed to go back to engineering for the rest of her scheduled shift or if she was free to return to her quarters. What she saw, though, was Culber sitting across from her boss, leaning in close, one hand on Stamets’ arm, the other cradling his cheek, and talking to him in a low voice.

Oh. That explains a few things.

She decided to just go back to engineering and see if she was still needed there, and quietly left the room.