“Haven’t I made it clear that I do?” T’Pol’s unwillingness – or, more likely, inability – to release her mate might indeed become gossip, if anyone else were witness to it, but, to Phlox, it was a positive development. With her ability to contain her emotions depressed by the ravages of trellium -D and the Pa’Naar Syndrome that had already reached the moderate stages, she was compensating by entrusting herself to her mate.
“It’s not that you haven’t made it clear, pepperpot.” Commander Tucker’s voice carried a note Phlox had only heard him use with T’Pol, and only when he was concerned for her. “It’s that I’m worried that your judgment might not exactly be at its best right now. Even without – well, without those injections, it’s been a hell of a day, and you told me yourself you haven’t been getting enough food or sleep. I wouldn’t want you to regret my hearing whatever it is Phlox has to say.”
Phlox cleared his throat. When Commander Tucker focused on him – there was little hope, at this point, that T’Pol would be inclined to focus on anything other than Commander Tucker – he said, “Rubbish. I assure you, Captain T’Pol is capable of making her own decisions. Moreover, her condition has improved since your arrival. Close physical contact seems to be necessary to her grieving process.”
“You don’t say,” Commander Tucker said, with a tone that suggested he’d had ample experience with that fact. “That why you’ve turned into an octopus, Captain Pepperpot?”
“I haven’t turned into an octopus, t’hy’la. I simply wish to fortify myself.” A slow, steady breath; Phlox had the impression she was breathing in the human’s scent. “There is some cause for concern in the scans you took, Doctor.”
She didn’t make it a question. She wasn’t human; she didn’t have the same need to cushion the edges of difficult circumstances. Phlox respected that.
“They show that you are, and will likely remain, dependent upon trellium -D.”
“The signs were subtle, and I had no reason to look for them, before today. But the evidence is clear, when your current scans are compared to those taken prior to our entrance into the Expanse, and those which follow. You were already sensitized and dependent upon small amounts of trellium-D when you arrived on the Seleya. The massive exposure you suffered there turned the dependency into an addiction – your “experimentation” with a neurotoxin known to be fatal to your species was your attempt to rationalize to yourself actions based upon the need for that substance. Subsequent events compounded that need, as your newly released emotions were overtaxed by circumstances beyond your control.”
“Oh, damn.” A soft, choking whisper. “Me. It was me. I came into your room; still had residue on me. Let you talk me into touching you; let you touch me – and, all the time, I was poisoning you.” He stopped, swallowing hard, his arms tightening around the woman. “I’m so sorry. I told you about my nightmares, and you cried. You cried, T’Pol, and I thought it was because you were lonely and hurting, and feeling my hurt – ”
“But you only felt it because I was poisoning you.” He stiffened, and said. “All of this – everything that’s happened between us – it’s because of that, because I let you touch me while I still had that damned ore on me – ” Commander Tucker broke the embrace, sliding the Acting Captain off his lap and rising to pace, one hand dragging through his hair. “Coercion – I coerced you, T’Pol. Like Tolaris did.” He spun around. “I’m no better than him – no, I’m a hell of a lot worse, because I exposed you, and now you’re going to have to live with that for the rest of your life.”
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