Hugh awoke to the sound of dry coughs and muffled sneezing. They came from the bathroom, and they definitely belonged to Paul.
It took his brain a moment to register the noise and give it meaning, for it was still comfortably half asleep and had every right to be so, too, as this was his day off. The second however that it put the pieces together, Hugh and his brain were very wide awake indeed.
There was only one thing it all amounted to, really, and Hugh sighed deeply as he rolled over. All his efforts to keep Paul from contracting the virus that was running rampant on the ship had obviously been in vane.
One more cough, followed by a quite explicit curse.
He knew exactly how this was going to play out.
Stage one: Denial
“You feeling alright,” Hugh asked cautiously as Paul emerged from the bathroom, his hair slightly mussed even though he was apparently already done styling it.
Paul never allowed his hair to be anything but perfect. Unless he was sick.
“Sure,” came the swift but grunted reply. “Why wouldn't I be? Also, why are you,” - another, this time barely suppressed, sneeze - “awake?”
Exiting into the main room Paul blinked and despite the dimmed lights Hugh could see the flush on his cheeks.
Hugh shifted uncomfortably on his spot, tilted his head, licked his lips and said, “I heard sounds.”
This earned him a raised eyebrow, and a huff. “I'll try and be silent next time.”
Paul was already irritated. Great. This really didn't bode well. He was a terrible patient, everyone knew that. Anything that could potentially keep him from tending to his fungi and the drive turned his mood sour.
Right now, his mood was already rotten.
Paul sniffed, his nose clearly blocked. Maybe Hugh could break it to him gently.
“You sure you're okay? I could give you a quick scan and- “ He didn't get any further than that because now the other eyebrow followed - daring him to finish what he was about to say. He really was on the losing end.
“I have not caught this stupid virus,” Paul groused, snatching his jacket from where it rested on the chair and pulling it on a little more forcefully than necessary. “You go back to sleep. I'll bring dinner when I get back.”
There was a hidden layer of fondness to this and Hugh immediately surrendered to it, smiling warmly as Paul glanced back towards him over his shoulder to wish him sweet dreams.
He replied in kind and once he was surrounded by silence again Hugh sank back beneath the covers. Maybe things wouldn't be too bad - just this one time.
Stage two: Anger
Shorty after Paul had left for his shift, Hugh – little to his own surprise - had quickly dozed off again, so when the door to their quarters hissed open some time later he startled.
“I cannot believe she did this!” Paul was angrily talking with his hands as much as with his mouth as he stormed in, staring at a package that he dangled in front of his face as if it was personally offending him. “She had no right to, absolutely no right!”
“Who had,” Hugh asked mildly, sleep still thick on his tongue. He turned a little to have a look at their chronometer. Two hours had passed – he would have thought they'd send him back sooner.
“Reno! She kicked me out of Engineering. Said she'd have me banned from the kids if I didn't get myself checked out first. And Tilly didn't say a word to this!” Paul's affront was palpable, and amplified by the headache that Hugh knew he had just by looking at how his brows were drawn together and how his face was paler than usual.
He swore he could hear a muttered “traitor” too but his attention was quickly drawn to the little box that suddenly landed right next to him with a soft thud. If he expected any kind of explanation from his partner, however, Hugh was sorely mistaken because all he got was a hoarse grunt of frustration.
Eventually accepting his fate, Hugh pushed his blanket away and shuffled to open the container - only to find an assortment of vials for his hypo, and, curiously, a hand-written note. He frowned.
He's your problem now.
Hugh looked up from the small piece of paper, saw Paul's look of doom and fury, then back to the note.
“You got kicked out of sickbay, too.”
Paul didn't even answer.
Stage three: Bargaining
“You'll not inject me with this again. It makes me all drowsy and sleepy.”
“Paul, that's what it's meant to do.”
“But I can't concentrate like this.”
Hugh barely managed to stifle a groan. They'd been through this a couple of hours ago already and by now he was seriously considering to go into full-on doctor-mode.
“Paul Stamets,” he said warningly, because sometimes his love wouldn't respond to anything else, “if you want to get better you have to let me treat you.”
Paul cringed, rightfully so, because he knew that tone.
“Alright, fine,” he conceded with a great suffering sigh that told exactly how little he liked the idea, before folding his arms in front of his chest in a stubborn gesture that utterly failed to impress Hugh thanks to the glassy blue eyes and the soft sheen of sweat that Paul sported by now. “If I let you do this, can I at least check the PADD after dinner? There's work to be done.”
Hugh pinched the bridge of his nose. He felt a head-ache coming on himself.
“But only for an hour. You do need some rest.”
“One hour is hardly enough to-”
Wisely, Paul shut up as soon as he saw how Hugh's jaw was set. There was only so much leeway he would be given, and Hugh could be terrifyingly fierce when it came to Paul's health and well-being.
Paul nodded, albeit begrudgingly, and angled his head in defeat to give Hugh easier access to his neck.
As the hypo connected to clammy skin Hugh blew out air through his nose. He had won this round at least. Pity it likely wasn't the last one.
Stage four: Depression
“This is pointless.” Paul's whine came drifting over from the bed, where his blond head stuck out from a fortress of pillows and blankets that he had acquired and arranged around himself like he was intent on building a nest to live in on this very spot.
Half an hour ago Hugh had given him his PADD and with this fulfilled his half of the deal, just like they had agreed on. The result though was much as Hugh had expected.
“What is, honey?” His voice was gentle, despite it all. He knew how frustrated Paul got when unable to focus properly, and he was actually sorry for him.
“These readings, I cannot make sense of them,” Paul endeavoured to explain, rubbing at his eyes furiously as if that might solve the problem. “I should be able to, but my nose hurts and half the time I feel like falling asleep. Why do I have to put up with this anyway? I should be immune to this kind of thing. I travelled the network, I've got tardigrade DNA. Why did I even catch it? I should stop working with the drive and start looking into medicine instead. There's got to be stuff that's better than this and which doesn't make you feel like a zombie. And, Hugh, are you even listening?”
Next to the pile of used tissues, Paul looked utterly miserable, and it was a testament to his general state that he talked as much about something that wasn't his mushrooms.
It was just their luck that he had developed one of the more nasty sets of symptoms, and while Hugh gave him what release from them he could, he also knew that blocking them completely basically only dragged things out. Back in the early twenty-first century, before vaccines and effective therapy for rhinovirus-related illnesses had existed that was how the common cold was dealt with. And with both of them rendered useless after more than nine-hundred years of viral mutation and Discovery not yet having made contact with any advanced medical facilities, going back to those roots it was.
“I am, babe,” Hugh reassured his increasingly distressed partner. Stepping away from the replicator he revealed a hot, steaming bowl to him, the content of which was a liquid of a slightly golden colour.
“Chicken broth. My nan's recipe.” He answered a question that had not even been voiced yet, but which he could see shimmer in Paul's eyes. A tender smile appeared on his lips as he explained, “she insisted that as a medic I should also learn of the old ways. I didn't have the heart to tell her no, and her knowledge does come in useful every now and then. Also, it tastes great, too. You should really try it.”
For a moment Paul appeared to consider his options, took a look at the meal he was being offered and shortly after discarded the PADD with little grace. “Promise me it'll help? I hate feeling like this.”
Hearing the undisguised unhappiness in Paul's words Hugh leaned down, placed the soup on the night-stand next to him and then carded a gentle hand through pale blond hair.
“I know. Nan was never wrong about anything. This will pass.”
Paul looked up at him after this, and suddenly there was a vulnerability in his gaze that instantly melted Hugh's heart. For all that Paul could be a real pain when he was ill, he was also still his adorable genius and the trust he put in Hugh never failed to amaze him.
Paul shifted, took the spoon and the moment was broken. Its echo though remained with Hugh even when he sat down on their couch shortly after and began to read up on some files while Paul slowly drifted off to sleep.
Stage five: Acceptance
“So when do you think you'll be back on duty, Sir,” Tilly's voice came clear over the comm, the sound a stark contrast to Paul's croaked response.
“Wouldn't count on it being tomorrow.”
Tilly hesitated briefly and it was easy to hear she was genuinely disappointed, and more than a fair bit worried. “Oh. Alright. I mean, get better soon, Sir. We'll be happy to have you back.”
While the connection ended, Hugh saw the tiniest of smiles hush across Paul's face and it served to make his own expression light up as well. For all that his partner was often mistaken as cold and distant by people who didn't know him, he cared a whole lot and although he had never said it out loud to anyone it was clear that Tilly had long ago become one of his favourite persons around. They were similar in so many ways and yet so very different, and Hugh liked to think they had a good influence on each other. Another thought suddenly struck him at this, the realisation bending his lips in amusement.
“Paul Stamets, did you just admit to someone outside these walls that you are ill?”
Paul's face scrunched up for a second in a half-hearted grimace before something about him softened and he winced.
“I'm sorry. I know I'm not a good patient.” The apology was followed by a pitiful sounding sniff as well as a pause. Then, “Thank you for putting up with me.”
Hugh looked over to the bed where Paul lay with his hair tousled and his cheeks now slightly flushed though the scans repeatedly confirmed he was only running a mild fever that did not warrant any kind of concern. He took in the sight of his dishevelled, sick partner and he couldn't help the pleasant tingle that ran down his spine at the realisation that even like this he loved him.
He truly meant it.
“Even on your day off?” Paul could be adorably insecure when feeling unwell and at last Hugh set himself into motion and gestured for him to make some space.
Settling on top of the covers next to him, he opened his arms in invitation. Paul hesitated just briefly before he wriggled closer until his head rested comfortably on a warm chest and he heard the soothing beat of Hugh's heart.
Shifting a little until he himself was comfortable, too, Hugh chuckled quietly. Only Paul could ask such a dumb question.
“Yes, even on my day off, and on any other, too,” he clarified, basking in the happy sound that escaped the human burrito in his arms right after. “Now shut up and go back to sleep. You'll feel better in the morning”
Not bothering to hide a great yawn Paul tilted his head before he melted even more thoroughly into his newly chosen pillow. Already his mind was getting foggy and his limbs felt blissfully heavy. But there was one thing that still seemed very important and thankfully his mouth was still willing to work even when the rest of him was already quitting the service.
The mumbled “Love you, Hugh” was met with a gentle kiss to the crown of his head and a tender squeeze of his shoulders.
“I love you, too”
While soon after soft snores began to fill their quarters, Hugh resumed reading the paper he had abandoned earlier.
As far as days off went, this had certainly been not an easy one. Yet, as trying as it could be to look after a sick Paul Hugh was happily taking care of him. He always would, really, again and again. Just, if he was allowed to make this tiny wish, he'd appreciate it if a few millennia were to pass before he'd have to do so again.