Not even an hour into the fight sickbay is already overflowing with patients. Their cries and moans bleed into the sounds of battle that can be heard even in this section, but as it is Hugh doesn't allow himself to take notice of them. His entire focus lies on diagnosing and treating as quickly as possible whatever comes his way, for new patients are being brought in every minute. Soon enough the steady influx will exceed sickbay's capacities - already they are pushing the limits - and so he functions. As do all of them.
Every patient who is stable enough is given to the nurses and assistants to further see to, enabling Hugh and his team to take care of the critical cases who need their immediate attention.
He is just about to finish his instructions on how to proceed with Lieutenant Harrison now that his scull fracture has been taken care of and the intracranial bleeding stopped when he hears Tracy shout for him over the noise. Soon after everything began she naturally took over the role of commanding officer and he snaps to attention while yet another direct hit sends tremors through the entire ship.
Whoever just came in must be in truly bad shape if they are immediately allocated to one of the biobeds, and for a split second Hugh feels his heart sink at the thought that this likely means yet another crew-member is in a critical state. Handing over the PADD that displays Harrison's readings he mentally prepares for the worst, giving nurse Miller an encouraging pat on the back before he turns to take over this new case.
He has barely even moved his feet, however, when he stops dead in his tracks again.
He can see Tilly. But it isn't her who has him freeze.
Next to Tilly there is pale skin. Blond hair. He sees silver lines that are stained with red. Metal that is embedded deep within a chest which had once been as familiar to him as his own.
Sharply, he sucks in air but still he feels like he his choking.
His heart skips a beat, then resumes its steady rhythm with a vengeance. It hurts. And for just a moment he forgets. Who he is right now, what he is supposed to do.
Not like this.
The doctor in him falls silent as he recognises the anguish on a face that he has seen smile and scowl and glow with excitement.
His training fails him as he watches those blue eyes that pulled him in right from that very first day on Alpha Centaury – watches them open and close in a daze, without focus or intent.
For a second that appears to last millennia he is only Hugh. And there is Paul.
Paul who once again put his life on the line. Paul who lies there, dying.
Everything stops. There is no sound for him to hear. Nothing to feel. Only emptiness and a world that is falling to pieces.
Tilly leaves, a haunted look in her eyes, and with a jolt Hugh regains his senses. The voices and alarms that had just seemed so distant reach him with a new clarity, pulling him back into the reality of this moment and reminding him that he's got a job to do.
A job that has just become so much more important.
With just a few strides he is at Paul's side. His injury looks even worse from up close and briefly Hugh wonders how he can still be conscious like this. But then Paul had always been stubborn in every possible way and maybe it shouldn't surprise him as much.
Taking notice of how he is blinking against the ceiling light as if it was blinding to him, Hugh reaches out tentatively. He means to merely lay a soothing hand on his arm, alert him to his presence and to that he will receive help now, but unbeknownst to him his heart is warring with his mind - and it is winning.
His fingers touch too white skin before he even realises their new destination, their tips brushing through soft hair to gently draw Paul's attention. It's a caress and Hugh doesn't stop the motion.
While his thumb strokes along his jawline, the touch feather-light, Paul's gaze does zero in on him.
There is so much confusion in the blue, so much doubt and it almost covers up the immense pain that dilates his pupils and has his face lose even more of its already ashen colour. His voice is brittle and weak. Hugh has never heard it like this before and it frightens him.
This is not how it was supposed to be. Not how he hoped Paul would learn of his decision to stay. But then again, since when did the universe care about what he wanted?
“I know you're in a lot of pain,” he states the obvious, just to say anything at all.
His hands are trembling as the quick scan shows results he had already expected. Paul's system is going into shock. Hugh needs to act fast, has to put him under because his body won't be able to take this much longer. Also, there is no way he can extract the shrapnel with him awake. And so he tells him what he is about to do.
Paul's reaction however is almost worse than his condition. He whimpers and shakes his head with what little energy he has left - seemingly just as afraid of going into yet another coma as Hugh is of inducing it. In a distant corner of his mind it makes him wonder just what kind of trauma this past experience left Paul with and he feels a pang of sadness over not knowing. They never had the chance to talk about it. Now, they may never have.
“You'll be fine!” The words are in his head and on his tongue at once, although he cannot quite figure out who they are meant to reassure: Paul, or rather himself. Maybe, in the end, he tries to convince them both of something he cannot possibly promise but that he needs to believe in anyway.
“Just listen to my voice. You can hear me.” This one is solely for Paul after all. To soothe him, offer him an anchor.
The hypo has already released the sedatives into his bloodstream. There is no going back now and oddly that makes it easier for Hugh to continue. His mind is accessing subroutines that have been ingrained in it during years of medical work, as if starting the procedure triggered them to take control. His movements are precise and purposeful even if inside he is shaking.
Seal bloodvessels first to stop the bleeding, then sterilise the wound to prevent infection. The shrapnel has already punctured the pericardium, repairing this before the cardiac tamponade takes full effect will have to be his first priority after that.
And all the while he keeps on talking.
Because whereas a part of him manages to function and be what his patient needs, the rest of Hugh is scared. Scared to lose Paul. Scared to enter this new future alone.
Scared to have gone through that hell of dying and being brought back into this world, of having made the choice to leave everything behind – for nothing.
And he is terrified that Paul might die thinking Hugh doesn't love him any more. Because he does, even if it took him way too long to understand his own feelings and remember.
He tells him all that. Because he needs him to know. And because it calms Hugh himself down.
As he works on the damaged tissue, as Paul's gaze never leaves his face while his failing system desperately tries to hold on to life and to consciousness itself, Hugh bears his heart to him. Praying that Paul can still process it all even when it's obvious the drugs are taking effect.
Everything is coming out in a rush now, and at the same time what he says is well chosen – layered to carry more than just one meaning because this isn't merely about him being here physically. Hugh returned to Paul, for Paul, for a life together and he wants nothing more than have a chance at that.
He has just completed sterilising the area when he notices that Paul can barely keep his eyes open any longer, even though he really tries. In some ways it's a relief that he will be out soon, because at least he won't be suffering any more. Also it means time is running short though, and so Hugh puts his instruments aside just for a little while.
He figures he deserves this one moment.
His hands find Paul's neck and his cheek, the tips of his fingers carding through short hair again. Paul has always loved when Hugh did that.
“You go to sleep now, okay,” he coaxes him into letting go, because it doesn't do his body any good if he keeps on fighting what is meant to help him. “You let me take care of you.”
His fingers flex, gently scraping pale skin as Hugh leans in to catch Paul's gaze.
Of all the things he has to say, this is the most important one.
“I'm your family,” he wills him to listen, to keep that in mind when his vision blurs and the world around him fades to nothingness. “Wherever we go from here, we go together.”
His own voice quivers. Once more, he feels himself tremble but this time it is with determination. He will not let Paul go. Never again. Not if he can help it.
And Paul understands.
A smile, tired but happy forms on lips that suddenly Hugh wishes he could feel on his own again. Lips that are nearly devoid of colour and which yet are still beautiful to him. He does lean in, but he kisses Paul's forehead instead. It's a reassuring gesture between family, a token of love and of protection.
There is so much they need to work through still - so much yet unspoken between them, but as Paul gives in, as he trusts Hugh with all that he is, Hugh finds something to focus on.
Paul believes in him. He believes in that he can save him, and Hugh will not let him down.
While the ship continues rocking he slowly pulls the metal from a broken chest. While yet more missiles threaten to finally break through the shields he repairs the torn tissue and grabs hypo after hypo when despite it all Paul is nearly crashing.
He refuses to have Miller take over when all is done and what is left to mend are but broken ribs and muscles and skins.
It is him who cleans the worst of the blood off the ghostly white skin when at last the stream of incoming patients has dwindled and everyone is stable. Him who continues to check on Paul's vitals and make sure he is doing alright, even when Tracy forces him to take a break and get some sleep after hours of running on nothing but adrenaline and sheer willpower.
And after they have arrived in that new time, after they have learned of what it cost them and that they are not where they thought they would be, it is also him who makes sure to return to Paul's bedside every chance he gets. Just to sit with him and be there when he wakes up.
Because this time he will keep his promise.