SPOILERS: "The Xindi," and it may not make sense without it.
DISCLAIMER: Star Trek belongs to CBS/Paramount. "The Xindi" was written by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: And so we head into the Expanse and Season 3. I'm not sure exactly how far I will take this season, since I have already written a lot of 'missing scenes' in the Commander Tucker series that fall after "Harbinger." If I can find something different I want to say for those eps, I'll keep going. But at this point I make no promises for completion, or for speed of updating. (Reviews never hurt the prospects for either, of course, since they are the drug that keeps a fanfic author posting.)
She decided to finish the neuro-pressure session with the Commander's shoulders, though she quickly realized it would take more time than she had to release them sufficiently. She had already spent most of the allotted time on his back, which had needed a great deal of attention.
Of course, it was also possible that she had worked on his back for so long because she was avoiding the awkwardness of eye contact in such an intimate position. She suspected he felt the same way, since he hadn't seemed to know where to look when she had finally asked him to face her. He had also been unusually quiet, though he was perhaps concentrating on the breathing she had taught him.
Although that was exactly what she had requested, she had found it increasingly awkward as the silent minutes passed. A Vulcan did not change her schedule because of feelings of awkwardness, however, so it was exactly 50 minutes from the beginning of their session that she lifted her fingers from his shoulders and said, "I believe we have accomplished as much as we can for one night. How do you feel?"
He smiled sleepily. "I feel great. Thank you."
"I suggest you continue to practice your breathing technique until it becomes automatic. It prevents injury and ensures maximum benefit from the neuro-pressure. It also offers significant benefits of its own, especially if you are ever in pain but lack access to medical help."
"Thanks. I'll keep that in mind." He pulled his shirt down over his head. "You know, Phlox probably would have had me agreeing to this in about a second if he'd just called it a massage."
"Indeed?" She did not bother to disguise her skepticism.
"I'm serious. Who doesn't love a massage? 'Vulcan neuro-pressure,' on the other hand … that sounds a little scary - like you're going to - I don't know - reprogram my neurons or something."
"I still doubt you would have welcomed the idea of a massage from me." She was certain she had not imagined the distinct increase in distance from him in the wake of her microbe-induced pon farr.
"Well… it's a little confusing, that's all. I mean, you are the same T'Pol who refused to shake my hand the first time we met. I know you're not big on physical contact…usually." His face flushed. "Which is probably why I kinda got the wrong impression earlier. Sorry about that."
"Your confusion was understandable. Neuro-pressure is a rather intimate exercise. I would not normally have agreed to do it myself."
He frowned. "Then why did you?"
"Dr. Phlox was insistent that you required assistance and that I could provide it."
"But if it makes you uncomfortable..."
"Surak teaches us that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one."
"Last time I checked, I'm just one, not many. Same as you. So I don't see why you'd need to go outweighing your needs in favor of mine."
"As Chief Engineer you are vital to the success of this mission."
"We could say just the same about you as First Officer, or Science Officer."
"We could, but I don't believe I require assistance to the degree that you do right now, Commander."
"So that whole thing about having trouble sleeping really was just part of the set-up?" He stuck his tongue in the side of his cheek and raised his eyebrows. "You lied?"
Trust Mr. Tucker to find a way to try to find a way to needle her even about this. "Hardly. My sleep patterns have indeed been disturbed. However, I can function well on far less sleep than a Human can."
His brow furrowed. "So … was that tiny little bit I did there enough to give you better rest tonight, or do you need more?"
Was he possibly just trying to get her to take her shirt off again? But that seemed unlikely – his manner tonight had not struck her as sexually attracted in any of the ways she had ever observed among Humans and their entertainments. He had reminded her more of a person gingerly dealing with dangerous explosives. "It is late, Commander. You should get some sleep."
"Next time, then. We could make it a little more even."
"Agreed. I will see you here tomorrow night at twenty-one hundred."
"Tomorrow?" His mouth dropped open.
"Will you not require sleep again tomorrow?"
"Are you saying we have to do this every night?"
She wasn't sure she'd ever felt quite so profoundly irritated in her life. "Do you find the idea distasteful?"
"No. No. Of course not. It's just … it's time-consuming. In case you haven't noticed, so far the Expanse is keeping us pretty busy in Engineering."
"You cannot hope to achieve lasting results from neuro-pressure without sustained effort."
He scowled and looked away. "I'll see what I can do."
Given his affect, she anticipated that Commander Tucker would not return for neuro-pressure the next night, or possibly ever. "You must do as you see fit," she said icily. She had compromised her principles to help him sleep, spent almost an hour touching and smelling his bare skin at great cost to her own emotional control – for while he might not be feeling any sexual attraction, she could not escape the growing certainty that she was – and now he didn't even want to show up for the next session?
She blinked, taken by surprise by the degree of anger she was feeling. She hadn't felt such strong emotion since childhood. Was this infuriated sense of having been personally rejected due to lack of sufficient sleep, or was it perhaps a hangover from that pon farr, or an effect of the Pa'nar syndrome? There was no escaping that it was irrational. There was no justification whatsoever for allowing herself to feel attracted to Commander Tucker, a professional colleague and a Human, especially during a mission this important.
Perhaps she should tell him to forget about the neuro-pressure. Given how it affected her, it would perhaps be foolhardy to continue. And yet she couldn't bring herself to say the words. She wanted that hour with the only man on the ship who ever seemed to truly see her - and he clearly needed it, even if he was doing his best to avoid it.
If he ever returned, she would just have to keep herself firmly in control.
She could still do that, surely? She turned away, afraid her face might betray some of her inner turmoil. She didn't return Commander Tucker's "Well, good night, then," or watch him go. Instead, she lit a candle and dropped down into her meditation posture.
Seldom had she needed it more.