It had been a full week since the Seleya, and four days since Doctor Phlox had released her to her quarters. With her time spent in seclusion for intense meditation broken only by minimal intervals necessary for basic bodily maintenance, the only people she’d had contact with other than the doctor included the captain – two rather tense and awkward conversations those had been – and the timid, overwhelmed crewman who’d been tasked with delivering her meals.
Finally, after four days, she felt sufficiently in control to leave her sanctuary and return to active duty…but first, she would have to convince the doctor. She chose to approach him later into the evening shift. While her composure had recovered enough to resume her duties, she felt enough residual apprehension to postpone any potential, idle social interaction for one night.
“We’re reaching that point again, Commander,” she overheard Phlox saying as she entered sickbay, a note of frustrated exasperation in his voice.
“I know, Doc.” She turned and spotted Commander Tucker seated on one of the beds with his back to her; he was wearing the off-duty clothing she often saw him in during their neuropressure sessions. He sounded resigned but insistent when he added, “Just for tonight.”
“That’s what you said yesterday,” the doctor replied.
The engineer sighed. “I know, but it’s just until—“
“Ah, Sub-Commander!” Phlox interrupted, catching sight of her as he turned to a nearby cabinet. His demeanour perked up significantly.
Commander Tucker twisted around to look at her, and Phlox took the opportunity to jab a hypospray none-too-gently against his neck. The engineer shot him a disgruntled look, and the good doctor simply grinned in response, cheerful as ever. “Off now, Mr. Tucker. You know the drill!”
“Thanks, Doc,” he acknowledged grudgingly, pushing himself wearily off the bed.
“Take a seat, Sub-Commander, I’ll be right with you,” Phlox instructed before bustling off to a secluded corner of his menagerie.
The commander stopped to speak with her on his way out. “You’re looking better.”
She took a fortifying breath, trying to rein in the embarrassment and self-consciousness that attacked whenever she thought of her explosive reaction to Trellium-D. “I anticipate being able to return to duty tomorrow.” This was the type of interaction she had been hoping to avoid at this late hour, but she found herself willing to indulge this one man – their recent neuropressure treatments had strengthened their working relationship and had even given rise to friendship. It had allowed a unique understanding between them, and she felt he was genuine in his concern.
It was for that reason that she added, before she could stop herself, “I regret that I am not fully recovered; however, I am much improved.”
He gave her a small smile. “Good to hear.”
As she regarded him more closely, she took in his haggard appearance. An exhausted Commander Tucker was not an uncommon sight – he worked far harder and longer than anyone else on the ship to keep them moving in the Expanse – but he didn’t appear merely fatigued…she couldn’t help but ascribe to him what Humans would term a “haunted” look, as illogical as such poetics might be. It was not the first time she had seen it since they entered the Expanse.
She felt her own genuine concern. Remembering the hypospray, she asked, “Are you well, Commander?”
“Oh yeah, I’m fine.” The smile didn’t quite reach his tired eyes. “Well, I’m glad you’re better. See you tomorrow.” At her nod of acknowledgement, he strode away and out the door.
T’Pol stared after him with a concern bordering more on the personal rather than professional, uncomfortably aware of her continued struggle to rein in unnecessary emotion. Her attention was roused from the commander’s retreating back when Phlox called her name, and she took a seat on the nearest bed.
“And how are you this evening, Sub-Commander? Better since this morning, I hope?”
“I have regained sufficient control to resume my duties.”
Phlox did a quick scan. “It does appear as if the synaptic pathways have nearly healed. I don’t anticipate your limited exposure was enough to cause any permanent damage. They should be good as new within a few more days.”
“I am cleared, then?”
Phlox regarded her for a moment, pensive. In any other circumstance she would simply have waited while he formulated a response, the outward pinnacle of calm stoicism, but instead she found her eyes darting around the room, betraying her mild anxiety; her grip tightened on the bed beneath her in a desperate attempt to keep from unseemly fidgeting.
“Physically,” Phlox finally spoke, “You are fit for duty. Psychologically, however, only you can answer that.”
T’Pol took a deep breath, centering herself. Haltingly, she said, “I am still experiencing some difficulty in controlling disruptive emotions. It requires significant effort to suppress what normally would require little conscious thought, but I am achieving such control.”
Phlox nodded in understanding, not an uncommon gesture from the doctor. He had offered such support to her, both vocal and silent, on numerous occasions, but instead of disregarding his offer as she nearly always did, this time she found herself drawn to the acceptance and sympathy he offered. She was almost compelled to confess, “I have experienced a host of emotions that I have, until now, only examined in theory, and in some instances I have been unable to identify what they are, let alone what factor causes such an emotion to surface.” Her voice dropped. “I cannot be sure whether I am simply experiencing a host of all potential emotions, or whether these are extant emotions that I have actively been suppressing until this incident.” She looked down. “This uncertainty is…rather distressing.”
Phlox smiled warmly. “That is certainly understandable, Sub-Commander. Fear of the unknown is a trait found almost universally, and it does not surprise me that, even though they suppress it, Vulcans experience this also. Obviously I cannot speak from experience, but I imagine that, on the rare occasion when a disciplined Vulcan mind is unable to contain a tight rein on its control, it is more a matter of a select few emotions that have ignited while the rest remain suppressed. Unfortunately, the Trellium-D affected you on a base, physiological level, preventing any measure of mental control at all. A week ago, when the exposure levels were at their peak, it did appear as though the sudden and violent mood swings you exhibited were triggered at random. But as you have been recovering it appears that the emotions you have expressed are more in line with what I would assume someone in your present circumstances would experience, whether suppressed or not, rather than those that have no grounding in your psyche. It only makes sense that the last vestiges of emotion to come under control are those that you actively experience, whether you were previously aware of their presence or not.”
T’Pol nodded absently, eyes downcast. Hesitantly, Phlox moved to the spot next to her on the bed. Instead of trying to suppress the urge to lean away as she often would, she was surprised to find her tense shoulders relax just a fraction at his calm presence.
While he had previously spoken with a clinical detachment, he now used a more personal, gentler tone. “What you must remember, T’Pol, is that yours was not a typical situation. Not all emotion is negative.”
She looked up at him then, unable to suppress the gratitude in her eyes…and finding she didn’t want to. “I am aware of that, Doctor.”
Phlox smiled. “I’m glad. Now, if you feel as if you can adequately perform your duties, and that potential interactions with the crew will not cause a setback in your recovery, then I see no reason for you not to return to duty. I am prepared to turn that decision over to you. For what it’s worth, I believe you are in good shape for tomorrow morning.” His jovial tone took on the hint of a stern note when he added, “So long, of course, that you get a good night’s rest.”
T’Pol hopped off the bed. “Thank you, Doctor.” They both knew she wasn’t simply referring to her medical clearance.
He grinned widely. “You’re most welcome, Sub-Commander. Goodnight.”
She nodded in acknowledgement and moved to leave. After only three steps, however, she turned back around. “Doctor, may I ask….”
“Yes?” he inquired after her hesitation.
T’Pol took a fortifying breath and adopted a ready stance, pouring all her strength into appearing at once professional and detached. “Was Commander Tucker’s visit this evening at all related to his recurring insomnia?”
The doctor frowned. “You know that I can’t discuss—”
“As I am charged with his neuropressure treatment, I believe I can and should be informed in this particular regard.”
Phlox studied her for a moment before inclining his head in agreement. “Of course. Yes, it appears as if, without neuropressure, the nightmares that are the primary cause of his insomnia have returned.”
“Why did he not come to me for treatment once I was released from sickbay?”
“Well, both he and the rest of the senior staff were under the – I assume correct – assumption that you required solitude in order to recover from your ordeal.”
“I would have made an exception for Commander Tucker’s welfare,” she replied, only realizing after she’d said it how true her words were – had he come to her, she would have helped alleviate his symptoms.
Phlox regarded her curiously. “I see….” His scrutiny was discomfiting, but thankfully he shifted the conversation. “I had hoped that, by now, he would be able to sleep completely unaided, but I suppose adequate rest alone will not cast out the demons.”
“Neuropressure can often require many sessions before the body is able to compensate on its own, and often it never will,” she observed. “As a Human, I doubt the commander’s physiology will ever be able to adjust to producing the desired result without the benefit of physical treatment.”
The doctor nodded. “I suspected as much. Unfortunately, while the neuropressure is helping him to function, it is not dealing with the underlying problem. I have suggested on multiple occasions that he might benefit from discussing the issue with someone he trusts, however he declined most emphatically, and I don’t think I have to tell you how stubborn he can be.”
T’Pol raised an eyebrow. “Indeed.”
Phlox gave her a sidelong glance. “I don’t suppose he’s ever mentioned his sister or his nightmares to you during your sessions?”
“No,” she replied, recognizing the doctor’s overly-casual manner. “He is quite vague in that regard. He speaks of other, unrelated things, but not of his family.” She was surprised to notice the disappointment that observation brought with it. She caught the doctor’s curious look and realized that this disappointment must be visible on her face. Catching herself, she quickly wrestled her features as best she could back into blank detachment.
“That’s too bad,” Phlox replied, pretending not to notice the struggle. “Hopefully, in time, he will be willing to open up to you.”
Preoccupied with her thoughts, T’Pol did not register his words immediately. Before she could question his singling her out in his comment, he spoke again. “Well, Sub-Commander, I suggest you get some more rest this evening so that you may return to duty tomorrow, should you so choose. Do not hesitate to speak with me should there be any need.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
T’Pol did return to duty the next day, and to her relief that return was devoid of much fanfare. The bridge crew bid her good morning with only slightly more enthusiasm than normal, and she was grateful when the captain’s “Good to have you back at your post, Sub-Commander” was said in relative privacy. The day was fairly uneventful. She spent most of it catching up on the accumulation of reports, evaluations, proposals, and other sundries that fell to her as First Officer.
She held her own throughout most of the day, but noticed an increased struggle to maintain her professional composure as the shift dragged on. Small things – like the sudden swishing of the turbolift doors at her back or even a curious audible alert from a monitor – caused a greater spike of nervousness and adrenaline than they had any right to demand, and by the end of her shift she was ready to retreat to her quarters for much-needed meditation. She suspected the fatigue from a long day was doing nothing to bolster her draining control.
And yet, after being relieved of her watch on the Bridge, she soon found herself stepping through the hatch into Engineering.
It was often busy in the heart of Enterprise, but since entering the Expanse the entire department had not had a moment’s rest. T’Pol’s own Science department had been far busier than usual as they raced to decipher the mysteries of the Expanse and anticipate the random anomalies that plagued their mission. As much as she didn’t want to acknowledge it, however, T’Pol conceded that their knowledge of these anomalies was, at the moment, so limited that a misstep by her department had yet to make a big impact, simply because there was no way yet to gauge whether a misstep had even occurred.
A misstep in Engineering, on the other hand, could destroy the ship. And while the doctor, the captain, numerous members of his staff, and T’Pol herself had mentioned on more than one occasion that he was working himself too hard, the fact was that Commander Tucker was too invaluable, and they all knew it. He was the Chief Engineer for a reason, and while he had trained his staff admirably, there was no denying that his expertise and instinct led him to successful solutions that others just couldn’t devise.
It was no secret that the commander’s personality lent itself to self-sacrifice if it meant the continued well-being of others, and it was more obvious in their current predicament than ever before. While everyone could tell him he should lessen his workload, they acknowledged that their words were often hollow platitudes – words said to ease ambiguous guilt as they retired for the night while the Chief Engineer to continued on, not only by choice but by necessity.
Of course, in the event that he did manage a whole shift off, she knew that depression fuelled his insomnia, which affected his effectiveness. T’Pol could not do anything about the former, but she could help to alleviate the symptoms of the latter. In the beginning it had been about necessity – Enterprise needed him fully functional – and while that necessity still applied, she found herself entering Engineering that evening not because she was concerned about the Chief Engineer, but because she was concerned about Commander Tucker.
She found him sequestered in a corner at the back of the reactor, coil-spanner in hand as he studied a wall-mounted monitor.
He turned to her, surprise morphing into a genuine smile. “Guess the mission last night was a success. I heard the Doc sprung you.”
“Indeed,” she replied, ignoring the perplexing turn of phrase in favour of studying his features. He looked worn, and that haunted look she had recognized the night before was still there.
He turned back to the monitor. “So, what brings you down here, Sub-Commander?”
Collecting herself, she answered, “I believe we should resume your neuropressure regimen this evening.”
He shot a look back at her, and she saw a brief flash of relief cross his face only to be wiped away moments later by a frown and a customary protrusion of his tongue beneath his cheek. Absently tapping the coil-spanner against the opposite palm, he gave her a small grin that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “That’s, uh…that’s alright. I know you said you weren’t at a hundred percent yet. I can wait.”
She steeled her gaze. “Your well-being is of importance—” she halted her words abruptly, just in time to stop the ‘to me’ from slipping past her lips. Instead, she finished, “To the mission.”
He tilted his head, eyes narrowing in confusion as he clearly caught the hiccup in her words.
Grasping at the threads of her composure and resisting the urge to look away, she added, “I believe I, too, would benefit from a neuropressure session.” It certainly wasn’t a lie.
To her satisfaction, his expression returned to a more jovial tone. “Oh, well, alright then. Give me a few hours to finish up here?”
She raised an eyebrow. “I believe your duty shift has ended.”
He gave her a wry smile. “And you can tell Phlox I’m well aware of that.”
She schooled her features, more comfortable with the familiar banter. “Very well. Come to my quarters at 2100 hours.”
He gave a friendly salute with the coil-spanner. “Yes ma’am.”
She nodded in confirmation, then abruptly turned on her heel and made for the exit. As she stepped into the corridor she allowed herself a moment to pause and collect her thoughts. Unusually anxious, T’Pol wondered at her insistence. She had felt it necessary to push the issue when faced with his reluctance, her concern for his welfare fuelling her argument. But his words brought to light something else as well. She had been musing only minutes before on the frustrating willingness he often exhibited to dismiss his own well-being for the sake of others, but she discovered that it was surprisingly agreeable when that fundamental – if somewhat unhealthy – aspect of his character was directed at her on a personal level.
She didn’t bother with dinner.
Three hours of uninterrupted meditation did wonders – she felt refreshed, more in control than she had throughout the day. She was still not fully recovered, she knew that, but she was well on her way, which was why she started only slightly when the chime rang, announcing Commander Tucker’s punctual arrival.
She called for him to enter from her place on the meditation cushion, and he promptly walked into her field of view. He gave her a smile. “Thanks again, T’Pol. I really do appreciate you seeing me tonight.”
She gazed up at him. “No thanks are necessary, Commander. I am simply fulfilling my end of our arrangement.”
“I know, but…” he took a breath and decided against continuing the argument she was sure he wanted to make. Instead, he gestured vaguely around the room in a manner she had long-since interpreted as a loss for words. “Well, thanks.”
Without preamble, he quickly pulled his shirt up over his head. As he did so, her eyes followed the hem of the material as it rose up over his torso, and her gaze lingered on the expanse of his broad shoulders when he twisted to deposit the shirt on the bench against the bulkhead.
“So,” he turned back around, “Where do you want me?”
His words broke through her distraction. Blinking, she raised her eyes a fraction to meet his. For a moment she wavered, then said, “Kneel before me.”
He followed her instruction with an air of wary concern, clearly having caught her hesitation. When he was at eye level, he said, “You know, T’Pol, we really can wait—”
“We will begin with the Kalal posture.”
He huffed once, narrowing his eyes, then conceded, straightening his back and allowing his shoulders to relax. His eyes closed as he concentrated on the breathing exercises she’d taught him. T’Pol lifted her hands and wrapped them around his upper arms, fingers finding the familiar neural nodes buried in his biceps.
She began applying pressure with her fingers to his warm skin, experience guiding her as to how much was necessary to achieve the desired result. After a full minute of consistent pressure, there was a momentary contraction in the muscles under her fingers before the tension gave way. As the nodes loosened, he let out a quiet sigh of relief. It was a common reaction, one that often gave her a detached satisfaction reminiscent of a job well done.
This time, however, she felt something else amongst the expected satisfaction, some small, buried measure of an emotion she was not supposed to feel. It almost gave her pleasure to elicit this reaction from him, and that acknowledgement both disturbed and fascinated her. She would have to examine the issue later.
She refocused her attention on his treatment, sliding her fingers two inches forward to locate the secondary bicep cluster. “You are carrying more tension than normal, Commander. Often it requires only half the amount of time to stimulate this particular area.”
“Yeah,” he said, opening his eyes. At this close proximity, the blue of his eyes – so much more vibrant than found among any Vulcan – always caught her attention. “Guess I didn’t realize how big a difference multiple sessions a week were making.” The next cluster released, and he hummed in relief, eyes fluttering shut once more. “Oh yeah, I definitely missed this.”
That odd sensation, that ghost of pleasure, flared at his words, and she allowed it to persist a moment longer than she should have before clamping down as best she could in her current state. She was not terribly successful. It was as if the three hours of meditation had never happened, and she felt herself as drained and volatile as she had at the end of her shift. She was at the whim of these foreign emotions, and that was simply unacceptable. She took a deep breath and once again forced her concentration back on the task at hand.
“Has the break in your sessions affected your sleep?” she asked. Part of the task at hand, after all, was to assess his current condition for the most effective treatment.
He took a deep breath and sighed, eyes still closed. “Yeah. After a few days the nightmares came back.”
She looked up sharply. “Nightmares?” She was well-aware of the cause of his sleepless nights, of course, but as she’d indicated to Phlox, Commander Tucker himself had never voiced anything to her beyond his simply having “insomnia.”
His eyes opened slowly and trained on her. “Yeah,” he spoke quietly. “I’ve, uh…I’ve had them since the attack. Pretty much the same one every night, but it doesn’t get any easier. Even when I can sleep, I don’t want to.” He gave her a grateful smile. “But the neuropressure has really been helping, a lot. I can usually get a full night’s sleep after a session.”
She was stunned. “It is gratifying to know the treatments are successful.” But it was not nearly as gratifying as his choosing to confide in her.
He nodded. “Yeah, they are.” He cleared his throat, offering up a small, self-conscious grin. “Anyway, while you were out, I tried to work a few of the nodes myself, but like you said before, I can’t reach most of them.”
“Indeed.” She moved her hands down to the neural clusters just above his elbows, the next step in their practiced routine. While she tended to avoid all but the necessary physical contact during these sessions, she now found herself sliding her fingers down the expanse of his upper arms, following the contours of his well-defined muscles. T’Pol felt a flush of heat invade her cheeks, and it was enough of a distraction to bring her back to her senses. She scrambled the will to pull herself out of the near trance-like state, deep concern for this latest lapse flooding her mind.
She really should end this, but how could she do so when he had just confessed how much relief he derived from her ministrations, relief he so obviously needed?
T’Pol began working the new cluster with her fingers, but her attention remained inward, trying to decipher her uncharacteristic reactions to this man. This illogical, irrational Human man. The Trellium-D exposure was clearly at fault for this unfamiliar and unnerving behaviour; her ability to suppress even the simplest of emotions was compromised still, even if such a struggle was insignificant compared to her state a week ago. But she had functioned the entire day with minimal discomfort – without the benefit of refreshing meditation in the latter half of her shift – and all in the company of those she did not know half as well as him.
Absently, she moved her hands to his head and began the final sequence of nodes in their current face-to-face position.
So why was she having trouble now with her most familiar colleague…friend? This query brought forth another: was her damaging exposure the origin of these obtrusive emotional and physical reactions, or was it simply the avenue of expression for responses that had already existed under a rigid structure of mental discipline? Phlox’s words from the previous evening swirled around in her head.
The questioning voice brought her out of her thoughts. She blinked up at him, noting the confusion and concern etched on his features. She raised an eyebrow, inviting him to continue.
He spoke hesitantly, as if unsure as to what to do. “Should I lie down now, or…?”
It was then that she realized her fingers had stilled at the base of his skull, gently cradling his jaw, the neural nodes having already been stimulated and released. How long had her hands rested idle there?
Without missing a beat, she replied coolly, “Of course.” Meanwhile, she berated herself for such an extreme lapse in concentration.
Clearly unconvinced at her cover-up, he grinned at her. “You daydreaming on me there?”
Mustering her control, she replied almost calmly, “I apologize. I was contemplating the number of tasks I must still address before I am caught up from my absence.”
He narrowed his eyes, a bit of the amusement leaching out his features. “Do you always think about work during neuropressure?”
“It is an efficient use of time.” It wasn’t a lie in the strictest sense of the word – it indeed would be an efficient system.
“How very Vulcan of you,” he teased, taking her words at face value.
He smiled tiredly as he repositioned himself on his stomach, but she had seen the flicker of disappointment flash quickly across his face at his false inference. While at any other time she would simply attribute such a reaction to mere annoyance that she was not focusing on his treatment, this time she believed it was more complicated than that. She knew him better than she knew anyone else on the ship, even better than the captain, and she therefore knew he would voice such a protestation if it were a matter of professional or physical concern. No, for some reason she knew that his disappointment stemmed not from the notion that she paid little attention to his treatment, but rather to him.
This thought brought back that inexplicable sense of agreeable satisfaction, the knowledge that he desired her personal regard, but it was overshadowed by an unwelcome emotion that could only be guilt. She found the thought that she had caused such disappointment to this particular man distasteful, and an odd notion entered her mind: if he found disappointment in her perceived disinterest, it was not logical, then, to conclude that he had a personal focus on her during their sessions?
Compromised or not, she felt more pleasure in that conclusion than any Vulcan should.
In an ingrained sense of self-defense, T’Pol chose not to verbally correct her deception, but made a concerted effort to concentrate on him for the remainder of this treatment. It would gratify her – rather illogically – to know she was accommodating his private wish, even if he remained unaware of her dedication.
She took up her customary position beside his prone form and began the practiced routine of neural node stimulation which began at the base of his spine and worked upward. She fought all the extraneous thoughts and questions to the back of her mind – those could be dealt with later, but the commander was in the present and deserved her attention to detail. She found that conviction surprisingly useful in quelling her more troubling thoughts for the time being.
As she slowly worked her way up his back she found herself yet again allowing her fingers to dance slowly along the warmth of his back, locating the next set of nodes in a far more intimate manner than the clinical practice she usually adopted. She knew it was inappropriate and that she should stop, but she couldn’t help herself, mesmerized by the hard muscle underneath supple skin. He didn’t seem to notice, making occasional sounds of relief as particularly stubborn nodes gave way but nothing more…or else, he simply didn’t care. So she continued.
By the time she reached his shoulder blades, his breathing had evened out and his periodic sighs and muffled hums of pleasurable relief had ceased, much to her odd dissatisfaction. It was not the first time he had fallen asleep during her ministrations, especially after circumstances caused a delay between sessions and his insomnia returned. Her common practice was always to continue through the posture as he dozed until she required him to change position. In such instances she was often grateful for the partial solitude this afforded her to complete the task at hand, especially on evenings when he was particularly conversational. This time, however, she wasn’t so much grateful as relieved. Perhaps his exhaustion would help mask her rather uncharacteristic and unprofessional lapses.
It wasn’t long, however, when that relief morphed into dangerous curiosity. Instead of waking him up at the completion of the last neural node, her hands resumed their roving, gently caressing the expanse of his broad back without the thinly veiled excuse that neuropressure allowed. She could no longer deny that the heat she was feeling in her cheeks and the center of her chest was the result of something other than the candles and the higher temperature she customarily kept in her personal quarters. When she came across a rather tight cluster of muscle not associated with any particular neural nodes, she began to massage it gently, wanting to alleviate any added discomfort that might affect his well-being. She had once overheard him mention to Lieutenant Reed that a former girlfriend had been a masseuse, and had then proceeded to anthropomorphize that his shoulders missed her more than the rest of him. Perhaps an aptitude for massage therapy was the key to this Human’s affections.
That thought stopped her cold.
She sat up straight and immediately snatched her hands back, cradling them against her chest as if they had been burned. She closed her eyes and concentrated on fortifying her cracked composure, needing to regain control over her quickened respiration.
She needed to wake him up. Now.
The typical practice she had adopted for accomplishing this goal was a rather loud and detached call of his rank. She couldn’t help but feel, however, that such an abrupt awakening seemed too unfair for the exhausted man. Unable to resist resting a palm on his shoulder, she leaned in close, her lips mere centimeters from his ear, and called, barely above a whisper, “Commander….”
“Mmm?” he hummed as he slowly regained consciousness. She reluctantly pulled away. He breathed out deeply and twisted himself toward her, a sheepish grin on his face. “Did it again, didn’t I?”
He slowly pushed himself into a seated position opposite her. “Sorry. Wasn’t snoring, was I?”
“No.” One-word answers were good; they helped maintain a detached tone.
“Well, I feel great.”
Another tiny thrill of pleasure.
Gesturing in her direction, he joked, “So, any spots in particular you want stimulating?”
The heat flared in her chest and she felt the muscles in her abdomen contract at his words, realizing only belatedly that he was referring back to neuropressure. He needed to leave; the shreds of her control were quickly slipping away. She stood up quickly.
“That will not be necessary, Commander.”
He cocked an eye up at her in contemplation. “You sure? Earlier you said—”
She had trouble maintaining eye contact. “My meditation prior to your arrival this evening was sufficient for my recuperation.” That was a lie. “I do not believe neuropressure would be beneficial at this time.” That was most definitely not a lie. “It is best that I retire for the evening. Considering your obvious fatigue, I suggest you do the same.”
He nodded in concession. “I suppose so.” There was an edge of disappointment in his voice as he stood, and she clung to it. An awkward silence followed. Finally, he gestured toward her door. “Well, I should….” She simply regarded him, afraid that if she tried to speak in this instance, she might very well lose control of the situation entirely.
Normally she would allow him to leave without further acknowledgement, but when he moved to the door she felt compelled to follow him. He keyed open the door before turning around; if he was startled to see her standing so closely, he didn’t show it. Before the awkwardness could resume, she said, “Sleep well, Mr. Tucker.”
“Goodnight, T’Pol,” he replied with perhaps the gentlest smile and softest voice he had ever directed at her. Then he turned and was gone, and she found herself watching his retreating form down the corridor, closing the door only after he was out of sight.
She then resigned herself to another full night of meditation.
It was several days before circumstances – both legitimate and contrived – allowed them another neuropressure session. By that point – with a few minor, insignificant exceptions – her control had been fully restored.
She had avoided Commander Tucker for nearly two days following the last troubling, discomfiting experience, and sought him out for tonight’s session only when a work-related discussion earlier in the day proved to her that his presence was no longer a compromising factor. She would admit to a flicker of guilt that, having performed neuropressure once after her ordeal, her own inability to maintain control had forced an unofficial delay once more, especially when he so obviously was in need.
She was confident, however, that none of the inexplicable and unprofessional thoughts and behaviours would resurface this time. That was not to say she had not considered and reflected upon them – they had in fact occupied a fair bit of her free time – however she had managed to relegate them to a detached curiosity, something to be studied and to learn from, both from the perspective of a scientist who had a passing interest in the evolution of mental discipline and as an individual living among a group of aliens she wished to better understand.
He arrived in her quarters and they worked efficiently through the various postures, the awkwardness of the previous session all but forgotten. They even engaged in comfortable conversation, resuming the discussion from earlier in the day regarding a planned upgrade to increase power distribution efficiency to the weapons systems. But while she was relieved to find she was in no danger of losing her control, she was surprised to find a small, undisciplined corner of her mind that almost missed those thoughts and feelings, that wished to be indulged despite her lifelong commitment to the teachings of Surak.
When their session was complete, she followed the commander to her door to bid him goodnight once more, concluding that it was an acceptable gesture as a colleague and friend. As she closed the door behind him and went about her nightly routine, she analyzed this strange sensation of loss, as if a piece of herself – a small piece, but a piece all the same – had left with him. It was an unusual sensation, one she was not overly comfortable with but curious enough to pursue.
Now that she was able to thinking clearly and without overt influence from the emotions the Trellium-D had stirred, she had a more objective view of the ordeal. The emotions she experienced were simply a vestigial part of her heritage, one that biology and culture had coevolved to overcome in the pursuit of advancement. Whether those emotions were extant or not before her exposure was irrelevant – if they were simply phantom manifestations of her stripped psyche then there was no more cause for concern; if they had existed before, then her mental discipline had previously allowed her to suppress them and function as normal, and there was no reason to suspect it should be any different now.
It wasn’t simply a matter of preferring to suppress these intense feelings, but rather a necessity for the continued integrity and prosperity of her people. The Vulcan mind and body was such that it simply could not function with unchecked emotion; if given free reign, it overwhelmed the logical centers and even the most disciplined of minds would be taxed to the limit of their abilities to regain control. The Trellium-D exposure had given her a brief glimpse into the volatile depths of emotionality, and she knew with utmost certainty that the only reason she had not succumbed permanently was due to the artificial nature of her ordeal – her loss of control was not the result of a breakdown in mental discipline, but rather a physiological degradation that the doctor had, thankfully, been able to repair.
By the time the disciplined part of her brain could begin to overcome the volatile unpredictability of unleashed emotion, the struggle had left her mental strength drained. It was the logical reason behind the persistent lapses and indulgent behaviour she had exhibited even as her synaptic pathways underwent regeneration. While it was often beneficial, she would concede – no doubt to Phlox’s delight should he ever learn of it – that even an inordinate amount of meditation was not a perfect substitute for the time required for complete recuperation.
She reflected upon the substance-induced remnants of emotion and behaviour that had manifested in her first day back on duty. Despite her fatigue, those lapses in control had not been particularly incapacitating, at least not in terms of the Human perspective that surrounded her. As such, she couldn’t help but wonder what experience those substance-induced thoughts and feelings might be if they were tempered by a fully refreshed and prepared Vulcan mental discipline. The Trellium-D exposure that had been so frighteningly devastating had been quite substantial, while the minute traces she and Trip – when had he become Trip? – had been working with when attempting to synthesize the compound had not seemed to affect her at all. Was it perhaps possible that limited exposure could be tolerated with little ill effect?
Solely for her benefit had the captain made the decision not to utilize the Trellium-D they’d managed to acquire, and it was not a decision she was comfortable with. Her well-being should not be placed above the lives of the crew and the mission – or the whole of Earth, for that matter – and she had said as much to no effect. But if she were to experiment and learn to what extent she could function given a certain amount of exposure, perhaps even develop a tolerance, it might be possible to protect the ship and appease the captain, or at the very least to protect herself and those around her should any more accidental encounters leave her compromised – a very real possibility on this mission. And having already experienced the full range of effects the substance produced, she would be able to accurately gauge when she approached her threshold.
It was a logical course of action, the decision a sound and rational one. Her primary motivation was for the good of the mission.
She conveniently ignored the finger pointed emphatically at Commander Tucker.