Anyone who didn’t know that Data had spent a few days as a human would never had guessed that anything was different with him. Only those who knew him well could tell that he was quieter than normal and only offered up information if asked for it directly.
“Poker tonight, Data?” asked Riker with a mischievous air.
They were in the final minutes of the Bridge alpha shift. It was their usual poker night and Data hadn’t missed one yet. The android seemed hesitant as he looked past the commander to the chief of security. Tasha leaned on the arch and furrowed her brow as if to question why he would decline.
“Not tonight, sir,” Data replied at last.
“Why not? You don’t have beta shift,” Riker countered with a touch of annoyance.
“Yeah, Data,” interjected Geordi. “It’ll be good for you to socialize.”
“While I do not wish to argue with you Geordi,” Data began, trying to be diplomatic, “I must point out that I have been in the company of my peers for several hours today already.”
“Okay, but that’s different,” Geordi explained. “You’ve been on duty all day. Tonight we can relax and have fun.”
The moment the words left his lips he knew that his android friend would have an objection. Geordi was starting to feel like he was back in the first few days of their friendship when Data had to be convinced that he wasn’t just some android, but a man like any other and a good pal.
“No, thank you,” Data retorted curtly.
“Well, we could go on the holodeck,” he suggested as an alternative. “You keep wanting to try out some of those Sherlock Holmes’ stories.”
“I am quite alright to return to my quarters,” his friend stated, declining his offer.
Riker was getting rather cross and then glanced up at Tasha and Worf. “Are you two going to be there?”
“Of course,” affirmed Worf.
“I’m not sure, sir,” replied Tasha, her gaze falling on Data at the front of the Bridge.
“Just know I expect everyone to come IF they can,” Riker stated with a little more understanding. “I guess I’ll simply have to wait and see who shows.”
With that Commander Riker left the Bridge. Since the captain was in his ready-room, Data took over command until the next shift came to relieve them. Tasha wanted to speak to him, however with Worf at her side she felt it would have to wait.
“You sure you wanna skip poker night?” Geordi queried from the helm.
“Yes, Geordi,” Data answered plainly. “I would prefer that you not ask me again.”
“Hmm, what’s stuck in his craw?” Worf muttered to Tasha.
“Not sure,” she muttered back. “I’ll let you know if I find out.”
It was killing Tasha to have to bide her time until she could speak to Data alone. Geordi followed his friend all the way back to his quarters, trying to convince him to at least join him for a drink in the officer’s lounge. Data, of course, declined.
So, Tasha sat in her own cabin for twenty minutes. She was practically biting her nails. It was so silly, really. She could have just talked to him while Geordi was around; he knew about their burgeoning relationship. It was only that she wanted complete privacy. Something about his attitude that day hinted that he was done with pretending to be engaged and it made her anxiety rise. If Data couldn’t be around Geordi, his best friend, then he was pretending more than she had realized.
When the computer notified her that Geordi was headed away from Data’s quarters, Tasha gathered herself. It meant the universe to her that Data could lean on her so heavily for support, but it wasn’t as though she knew what she was doing. The last time she felt so responsible for another person was back on the Turkana colony and that hadn’t exactly gone very well because she still ended up leaving on her own.
She stared at the closed door for a minute before leaving. Soon it was a few minutes later and her feet still wouldn’t budge. What was the worst that could happen? Data could tell her that he had given up and didn’t want to keep trying?
Deanna tried to reassure her that this all had to be Data’s choice. Tasha could be there for him as much as she wanted to be, but in the end it was his life. She didn’t care for that reasoning anymore. She felt far too invested to accept that he had the right to give up on himself.
Tasha took a long steadying breath and then opened the door. She still didn’t walk out into the corridor, but it wasn’t because her feet failed her, it was because Data was standing right in front of her with a bewildered look on his pale golden features.
“I had not even requested entry,” he said quietly. “How did you know I was here?”
“I..I didn’t,” she stuttered. “I was about to go find you.”
She moved aside and he came in. Once the door was shut again they both started talking at the same time.
“Data, I’m worried about you.” “Tasha, do not be concerned about me.” They said over one another.
“How can I not be?” Tasha pressed with insistence. “If you need some down time away from everyone then that’s fine, but I think you need to make it clear that that’s what you need. Otherwise we all panic.”
“Why would you panic?” Data asked her with a tilt of his head. “I have not yet attempted to shut myself off, so there is no reason for your panic.”
“Have you...been considering it still?”
“It is a perpetual recurring thought in the background of my other multiple thought processes; yes.”
“Even after we had that wholesome evening with the captain? Even today you could think that while Riker was inviting you to a friendly game of poker?” Tasha’s heart was breaking, even more so when he adverted his gaze.
“I should leave,” Data said abruptly, moving away from her and walking towards the door. “Clearly, I am upsetting you.”
“You’re not going anywhere,” Tasha told him, practically ordering him to stop.
Data turned on his heel and faced her again. “I am broken, Tasha.”
“Doesn’t it please you to make other people happy?” she prodded as she came closer to him this time.
“Of course it does.”
“Is it exhausting, or merely tedious?”
He frowned at her choice of words. “I would give anything to restore the confidence of my colleagues and friends, however no matter what I do it never is enough.”
“Why? It’s not enough for them, or for you?”
He slowly shook his head as he continued to process her words and grasp to form a reply in an eloquent, concise fashion.
“Everyday I do as you, Geordi and Troi have suggested,” he explained. “I go through the motions of my duties and attempt to find the little things that make each day notable and worth my while. Logically I know that this method is working.”
“But?” she pressed, afraid of the answer, but needing to hear it anyways.
“I am still lacking joy,” he admitted as he sat on one of her wooden, kitchen chairs. “It is though the prospect that I may again ‘feel’ something has been motivating me as well. However, with each passing day it does not happen. I make others smile with true happiness, but I cannot feel it myself.”
“You feel something though,” she countered as she came to sit next to him. “You can’t be faking the hints of contentment and comfort I’ve seen in you, any more than you’re faking the frustration you must be feeling now.”
“I do not feel frustrated, Tasha,” he said softly. “Geordi is frustrated. I feel nothing. I will always feel nothing. Even when I hold your hand it does not compare to the sensation I could experience when I was human.”
Tasha wanted to cry. If not for herself then for him. She nodded her head and took his hand. “If that’s what you believe and you can no longer pretend, then can you do one thing for me before...” She had to stop and take a breath. “Before you go offline?”
Data stood and brought her with him. “Anything you want,” he said, sounding more like his old self for a moment.
“Will you stay with me tonight and hold me? I don’t need you to have sex with me or anything,” she explained, feeling the need to be precise with him. “I just want to feel you hold me in your arms.”
“That is acceptable,” he told her kindly. “I will retrieve the sleepwear from my quarters and be back in a few minutes.”
“Oh, well in that case,” she added, gaining his interest. “Why don’t you bring whatever you’re currently reading and maybe your oboe? You know, make an evening of it?”
“I have no interest in anything in particular at this time,” he stated flatly. “Though I suppose you will need to eat and bathe before retiring. So I may bring something to read.”
She watched him leave and sat back down in the chair.
Tasha knew that the responsible thing would be to contact Troi and Picard immediately, but she could do that in the morning. There was no conceivable way that anyone was going to just allow him to shut down permanently. This was her last ditch effort to get him to reconsider.
As the evening went on, Tasha ate and then sat with Data on the couch. He did as she requested and allowed her to recline against him with his arms around her. They listened to some music and read for awhile, but Tasha began falling asleep.
“Shall we move to the bed?” he asked, making her stomach flip with nerves and excitement.
They weren’t going to do anything really. He wasn’t even going to be sleeping. However they had never slept together before. In fact, as a rule she never let any man sleep over in her bed. Such a thing would imply an emotional attachment and she tended to avoid those.
As they removed their uniforms they turned back to back. Even though they had seen each other naked once before it seemed like the right thing to do. After redressing, Data in pyjamas and Tasha in a long, loose fitting night shirt, they got into bed.
Data lay at an odd angle, waiting for her to position him like a puppet. She frowned a little at how unaffected he seemed and positioned him so that she could lie with her head on his chest for a time.
The steady, synthetic beating of his heart both comforted and distressed her. If he had his way that heart would never beat again.
“You’re so warm,” she murmured, holding onto him a little tighter.
“If my body temperature is uncomfortable—.”
“No, it’s lovely,” she said, cutting him off, closing her eyes to keep from crying. “You’re lovely.”
“You will meet someone else, Tasha,” he said, though he didn’t sound very convincing.
“Is that what you think about when you think of me? Do you imagine me in love with some other man?”
With her eyes closed she could feel him shift beneath her and his hand found its way into her short hair. He was slowly combing through it, his finger tips grazing her ear and cheek before repeating the motion.
He remained silent for a long time. Then at long last he answered. “When I think of you, I am often reminded of the things I cannot give you. Love, devotion, children, growing old together,” he listed. “So, yes. I do imagine you falling in love with someone else because you deserve someone else.”
Tasha opened her eyes and in the dim light of the room she stared into his familiar, yet alien golden-yellow orbs. “That’s a bunch of crap,” she said in a tone that seemed more loving than her sentiment. “You can do all of those things. Maybe not in an organic, human way, but I would never ask you to. If you give up now you’ll be giving me up, Data. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m all yours, already.”
It seemed to her that he was getting ready to argue, especially when he shifted so that he was no longer under her. Now they were side by side, his fingers still laced in her hair. Only he didn’t say anything, his eyes studied her face—her brow, the shape of her lips, the colour of her irises in the current lack of light.
He used his hand to guide her to him and he kissed her with a longing she was sure he couldn’t know. But she wasn’t ready to believe him yet. They had kissed before and he was still reluctant to accept that he could be in love with her.
Then he started to roll them until he was almost fully on top of her, pressing their bodies together—without causing harm of course—and kissing her continuously. He let up for a moment and she panted to catch her breath, staring up at him in disbelief.
“I think I want this,” he whispered, as though it was something awful. “I think I want you,” he said with more conviction. “I know you said you did not want to have sex and I am not convinced that I do either. However, I am compelled to make as much contact with you as possible.”
“Has that ever happened to you before? Have you...ever wanted to kiss someone, or become intimate without another person asking you first?”
“No,” he answered, a small grin lifting the corners of his mouth.
“And why do you think you want to touch me, to kiss me?” she asked while suppressing a laugh, hoping she didn’t sound as over the moon as she was feeling.
Data’s eyes searched internally in that way she often noticed. “Because...I because I want to express my...” He was honestly lost on what word to use to describe his meaning.
“Emotions, Data,” she said for him. “You want to express how you’re feeling about me.”
He nodded even though he recognized that it was not a question. She kissed him this time, taking him a little by surprise. She also entwined their legs so that she was more comfortable, earning a little hum of satisfaction from her partner.
“Can you forgive me, Tasha?” he asked when they parted. “Will you find a way to forgive my arrogance and for abandoning you?”
“You didn’t go through with it yet,” she said with compassion. “I was hoping that spending the night together would help you see what else there is to life than duty and responsibility.”
He caressed her face before rolling them back to wear they started, with her on top of him; her head on his chest.
“I think this should be my new therapy,” he whispered with a newfound understanding. “We can call it my Tasha time.”
She chuckled into his chest and leaned up to kiss him again. “We’ll work on the name,” she teased. “But honestly, anytime you don’t ‘feel’ right. Please come and see me. Even if we quickly hold hands in the turbolift, or make out in a Jeffries tube.”
“I believe that intimate acts in the Jeffries tubes are prohibited,” he reminded her. “As a security officer you should know this.”
“As Security Chief, I’ll over look it,” she stated poignantly.
“Ah, then it is good to be lovers with the security chief,” he mused.
Tasha was happy that he sounded so normal despite discussing something so abnormal for him.
“Is that so?” she joshed playfully.
“It is,” he replied simply. “You should sleep now and I will do my best not to kiss you while you slumber.”
She giggled at his insinuation that he might spontaneously wake her by smothering her with kisses in the middle of the night. After the week they had just been through it was a risk she was more than willing to take.