He doesn’t need more than a bag.
“Do... do you want some boxes? For your things?”
Nothing in these quarters belongs to him. When he runs his fingers over those books, those trinkets, they’re empty. Paul can keep them.
Paul had been silent, as the door slid open and Hugh stepped tentatively inside to tell him he’d requested his own quarters. On a different deck. Paul had been silent, on the edge of his bed, as Hugh put some clothes in a bag, and zipped it up, and slung it over his shoulder, and turned to the door. And stopped, shoulders rising slowly, and falling as he exhaled.
Hugh’s shoulders tense, something tightens behind his eyes. The anger isn’t crashing so loudly in his ears as it had been yesterday when his own words had felt like broken glass in his mouth. But he coils like a spring every time he hears Paul’s voice, and at the same time his heart aches that he does, and he just wants to scream or sob at every syllable Paul utters, because the love that is so evident in Paul’s voice fails to stir anything but faraway dreams in him.
He turns around to Paul’s pained expression, his wide, questioning eyes, the downward curve of his mouth, eyebrows knit together.
“Was I wrong,” Paul asks, more to himself, in a voice so small it should frighten Hugh, but it doesn’t, “to bring you back?”
Part of him wants to just walk, wordless, out the door. How can he answer that? But there’s someone inside him, another man from another life, who’s been pleading with him not to let that man go.
He crosses the room slowly to where Paul sits, drops his bag, and hesitated for a moment before perching on the opposite corner of the mattress, his back partially turned to Paul. He runs his fingers over the soft sheets. Nothing.
“I would have let the jahSepp reclaim my matter,” Hugh begins, and he feels the mattress bounce a little as Paul turns to face his back. Paul is silent. Maybe hoping for a “but.”
“I think...” Hugh continues, and the other man inside him pleads with him to choose his words carefully, not to wound this man who loves him any more than he already has. “I think... after the months of pain, the confusion... I was... relieved, to see you. You were solid. You were real. You were there, for me. And I took your hand...”
Hugh turns a little so he can see Paul’s face, and his eyes are wide and shining, and he hastily wipes at his cheeks. His lip is trembling. And something slowly starts to move deep within Hugh, some emotion moving beneath his skin that isn’t prickling anger.
“I took your hand,” Hugh repeats, “and you... you pulled me to you... and I held on to you, and I think...” his voice is thick and there’s a deep, warm sadness spreading through his veins.
“I hadn’t realized until I saw you,” Hugh continues, “or it hadn’t fully registered, that I was dead.”
Paul makes a noise, like a whimper, but his eyes don’t leave Hugh’s face.
“And I wanted to come back with you Paul, for a moment there, I did,” Hugh continues, and he feels something building behind his eyes. “But...”
Paul hangs his head.
“After I couldn’t go through with you, when my... my hand, just... disappeared,” he takes a deep, trembling breath, “I realized I really was gone from that world. From this world. And that you... you needed to move forward. You needed to let me go.”
“But I brought you back,” Paul whispers, sounding almost frightened. “I brought you back... against your will?”
“No, no,” Hugh shakes his head, “wait. It’s... it’s hard to explain. I... give me a minute.”
Silence falls. Hugh stares at his hands. That has been the most disturbing part of all of this, that his own hands feel alien to him. Or is it that his own hands are nothing like the memories he has of them?
“It’s like...” he begins again. “Like there’s someone inside me. Living in my mind. No... I’m sharing his mind. Or he’s sharing mine. But he... he’s only a memory. I can only view his memories. Like they’re on a screen, like I’m watching them from some outside point. And everyone around me is telling me, that’s me, that’s me, that’s who I am.”
“And then I think, am I going crazy? Because that’s not me. Those aren’t my memories. Look,” he looks up at Paul, suddenly desperate to explain everything, to make him understand. “It’s like… like my new nervous system was fully formed, and then all these memories were pressed into it, like clay, like an afterthought. They didn’t... they didn’t grow with me. Someone else’s mind was taken and pressed into mine. Does... does that make sense? Paul?”
“I... yes, it does. I can... that would be disorienting.” He’s shaking his head in that familiar and unfamiliar way of his like he’s lost for words.
“That man, whose memories live in me? That man loved you, Paul. He loved you so much. You were... you were his whole life. He could feel what you’d lost because he knew he couldn’t bear to lose it himself.”
Paul covers his face with his hands. Hugh feels the prick of tears in his eyes and he grasps at the feeling. This is real. This is new, this is his.
“That man wanted to go with you. He wanted you to bring him back. But he was only memory. He was only ever memory, Paul. And I’m more than that.”
“And now everyone is asking me to choose. Choose if those memories, if that person, is a part of me or not. And I can’t just cast him out of me, but Paul, don’t you see? I can’t... I can’t rebuild myself out of dreams.”
Paul takes a deep, shuddering breath. There’s silence for a few moments more. It's out there now, every emotion that's been tangling in his chest, every thought he's been struggling to put into words.
“I...” Paul begins, looking at Hugh again. “I can’t say I understand everything... but... I can’t ask you not to do... what you need to do.”
It feels final, that. Suddenly, Hugh can't bear to be in this room, on this bed, beside this man any longer. He can only nod and reach for the bag he dropped at the bedside. He rises and Paul gets to his feet too. He walks to the door and Paul trails behind him. The door slides open.
"I really am sorry, Paul."
"I… I'm sorry too."
He can't look back.