T’Pol was worried.
She had spent the last ten days trying to hide her concerns from Charles as they centered on his well-being, but, if his recent reactions were any indication, he was at least peripherally aware of her silent regard. Since she had begun instructing him, he had thoroughly impressed her with how quickly he picked up the basics of meditation. In retrospect, she shouldn’t have been surprised. Tucker approached every new task placed before him with commitment and dedication, displaying a zeal for perfection rivaling that of the strictest Vulcan, even if he cloaked it with an image of sloppiness. It had taken her nearly six months aboard Enterprise to comprehend that he never did things halfway, another two to realize that his appearance of unprofessionalism was an illusion designed to conceal intense self-doubt, and yet another month and a half to discover that even the captain seemed unaware of his friend’s deep-rooted insecurities. Few humans seemed willing to look beyond the surface, to notice how Charles always made himself available to others while carefully hiding the truth about his own fears and worries.
It was a surprisingly Vulcan thing to do.
At the moment, however, T’Pol’s primary concern revolved around Charles’ continued inability to sleep properly, especially as it had begun to affect his mental faculties. Meditation had helped somewhat – he was getting just enough rest to continue to function – but it clearly wasn’t a viable substitute in the long term. Normally an observant man, Charles was failing to notice important things, such as the indications the Zeon family sheltering them had secrets they didn’t want anyone to know. T’Pol had not bothered attempting to discern what these secrets were, but the fact that Charles seemed oblivious to their existence was worrisome. Inattention was something they could ill afford.
His health had begun to suffer as well, as his exhausted body struggled to ward off the freezing temperatures. Even when he was wrapped up in blankets or sitting before a fire, Charles would shiver or sniffle. He coughed late at night when the temperature was at its coldest, and the wet, raspy sound invariably caused T’Pol to wince in sympathy. He was ill and getting more so by the day; that he no longer complained about it was an indication of how grave the situation had become.
All of which left T’Pol in something of a quandary. Having considered the problem carefully, she suspected that a proper application of neuropressure might be the solution to Charles’ sleeping problems. Following her assignment to Earth, she had spent several weeks familiarizing herself with humanity in all its disparate forms; apart from the extensive anatomical records provided by the Vulcan consulate, she had even observed several autopsies of cadavers at a teaching hospital to better comprehend how their fragile bodies functioned. In her mind’s eye, she had already mapped out which pressure points would be effective, and which of them would be useless or even potentially dangerous to his physiology. Unfortunately, neuropressure could easily cause an entire new set of problems that neither of them were prepared to deal with at the moment.
It was a most vexing dilemma.
The sound of Tucker’s breathing drew her slowly out of her meditative trance, and T’Pol took a moment to study the man seated in front of her. Despite the dark circles under his eyes and the sparse, patchy beard he was beginning to cultivate for lack of shaving tools – she was looking forward to the day when he could remove the facial hair with something akin to undue haste; it was not a flattering look for him in her opinion – Charles remained an aesthetically pleasing male. She firmly suppressed her pleasure at his posture – for a human, it was perfect, though the lack of peace on his face was an indication of his continuing difficulties, and his obvious discomfort quickly chased away any satisfaction she may have experienced. Her eyes instinctively sought out his rounded ears, so different from those of a Vulcan, and a frisson of illicit emotion washed through her, forcing her to admit, if only to herself, that a sexual relationship between them seemed inevitable.
For her, he was her only potential partner on this world given her species, although it would be a mistruth to say she would not have considered mating with him otherwise, especially since she had canceled her union with Koss and likely ended any chance she had of obtaining a marriage with another Vulcan. While Tucker had many more possibilities available given his physical similarities to the Ekosi, his alien origin would make such a liaison dangerous at best. Still, T’Pol decided wryly, it would be best to keep him isolated from native females who might seek to attract his attention. He had already displayed a decided lack of judgment in that regard, and she had a duty to protect him from harm, even if that harm was from his own poor decisions.
Tucker’s eyes began fluttering underneath their lids, a clear sign that he was emerging from the meditative trance, and T’Pol’s lips tightened. There was no longer a reason for her to vacillate – a decision needed to be made. Logic demanded that she do whatever necessary to see to Charles’ health, even if that something made her uncomfortable. The only other option would be to leave him behind, and fend for herself, and every part of her revolted at that idea. Words he had spoken forty-six days earlier (forty point two-five Terran Standard, by her calculations) whispered across her consciousness.
“Come on, T’Pol. You’ve known me for over a year now. What are the chances that I’m gonna leave you behind?”
Zero, she answered the memory with grudging affection. Loyalty was in Charles Tucker’s blood, and she could not but return the precious gift he offered her with equivalent sincerity. It was not logical, but, since joining Enterprise’s crew, she had learned that logic was not always the only solution.
Though she certainly wouldn’t tell Charles that.
“Dammit,” Tucker muttered a moment later. He opened his eyes, and T’Pol studied the fatigue still swimming within them. Her concern increased exponentially. “I can’t feel my legs,” he complained good-naturedly. The comment had become something of a tradition – each time he emerged from meditation, he repeated it, usually varying the exact phrasing slightly. In response, T’Pol quirked an eyebrow, which was her regular response.
“How do you feel?” she asked, spearing him with a look that threatened dire repercussions if he tried to deceive her. Charles sighed heavily, the sound so heartfelt it seemed to have come from his very katra itself.
“Exhausted,” he admitted, “sore, cold, pissed off, and a little hungry.” He ran his hands through his hair. “I would kill for a hot shower right now,” he continued, wincing as he tilted his neck to one side. A cacophony of pops resulted, and T’Pol gave him another tight frown. “I don’t think this is workin’, T’Pol,” Charles said, defeat in his voice. “I’m not gettin’ any better.”
“Then we proceed to alternate options,” she told him. “Remove your shirt.”
“Vulcan science teaches us to prompt our bodies to create their own medicines,” T’Pol began to explain carefully. “There are neural nodes on your body that may be stimulated to aid in this process.” Charles’ eyes widened.
“You want to … stimulate my nodes?” he asked incredulously. There was no disguising the double entendre in his words, and T’Pol fought back a sigh of her own.
“This is not a sexual advance, Charles,” she told him flatly. It wasn’t entirely a lie – he had no way of knowing that neuropressure was one of the principal ways in which newly married Vulcan couples became familiar with one another so as to prepare for their eventual mating cycle. Because he was human, she could proceed without worry. What were the chances, after all, of such a bond even being possible between them? “You require rest,” she continued calmly, “and we have exhausted all other alternatives.”
“But … my shirt?”
“The nodes in question are three centimeters on either side of the fifth vertebrae,” T’Pol said. “I cannot access them while you are wearing your shirt.”
“Oh.” Tucker hesitated, before slowly removing the tunic. He frowned. “This is Vulcan therapy, right?” At her nod, his frown deepened. “Then how do you know it’ll work on a human body?”
“I have studied human anatomy extensively,” she admitted, hoping it would cause him to relax somewhat. To her surprise, his expression darkened instead and the muscles in his jaw tensed. He broke eye contact with her, glancing away and glowering at the floor for reasons that defied her comprehension. Despite speaking English, she sometimes longed for a universal translator while dealing with this man. “Relax,” T’Pol ordered him. “Focus on your breathing. It will facilitate the process.”
“Breathin’,” he repeated sourly. “Right.” T’Pol observed him for a moment before rising to her feet and skirting the candle so she could be at his back. She knelt smoothly.
“I have been examining the data from the books we salvaged,” she announced as she pressed her fingers into the appropriate nodes. Charles inhaled sharply at the touch of her hands, and, to T’Pol’s utter lack of surprise, a flood of alien emotion coursed through her mind. The empathic abilities of her people were a closely guarded secret, but, in that moment, she found herself wondering if the banned teachings of the Syrannites were true after all. Her research into melds after ... after Tolaris had given her no clear insight into why he had acted as he had, and, with the ease of long practice, she carefully pushed the memory back into the small corner of her mind where she could continue to ignore it.
“D’ya got a destination in mind?” Tucker slurred, his voice thickening as the neuropressure released the proper chemicals into his system. Already, his body was relaxing, as his mind began sliding toward somnolence. “After the snows o‘course.”
“There is a sparsely populated desert on the other side of this continent,” T’Pol told him. “I suggest we seek refuge there.”
“I’m not good in deserts,” Charles murmured, “but you’re the boss.” He slumped back, his entire body going limp as he slipped into unconsciousness. T’Pol froze in startled surprise as his head came to rest on her shoulder, his warmth breath caressing the side of her face. Though she had become inured to his scent over the last several weeks, the smell of his breath was oddly pleasant, informing her that he continued to be quite fanatical about his oral hygiene, despite their dwindling supplies.
The neuropressure worked better than I anticipated, she mused as she carefully extricated herself from Tucker. Easily lifting him from the floor – there wasn’t even the slightest of twinges in her shoulder from the healed bullet wound – she placed him in the bed and quickly extinguished all but one of the candles. Satisfied that the door leading to the rest of the house was firmly secured, she crouched before her duffel bag and quietly eased the scanner from its place of concealment. Sliding underneath the covers alongside Charles, she activated the small display and brought up the latest results of the translation software built into the device. Another of the books she had scanned was now available, so T’Pol pulled it up and began to read. Within seconds, she was thoroughly engrossed in the political history of the Ekosians.
When Charles rolled over in his sleep and curled an arm around her waist an hour later, T’Pol made no effort to push him away. Instead, she silently acknowledged that his extra warmth was appreciated, and continued reading. Nor did she give any thought to putting any distance between them when she slid the scanner underneath her pillow and closed her eyes. The howl of the wind caused her to shiver, and she let herself relax. It had been a good day.
But that night, her nightmares returned.