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Metamorphosis

Chapter Text

It was a beautiful day on Demis III. After a long day of mediation talks some of the crew of the Enterprise were invited to enjoy some of the tourist attractions just outside the capital city.

Lieutenant Tasha Yar was first to jump at spending the evening on the beach. The planet had two suns so the days were much longer than those on Earth. Joining her were Junior Lieutenant Geordi LaForge and Lieutenant Commander Data. A last tag along was newly appointed Acting Ensign Crusher.

They all made sure to wear something airy and cool; all except Data. The android was still in uniform when he met up with them in the transporter room. He caught the disparaging looks from his crew mates.

“Is something the matter?” he asked, unaware of his mistake.

“Data...you do own other clothes, don’t you?” Geordi questioned delicately.

The android surveyed his friends and then looked down at his attire, registering that they were all wearing something more appropriate. He didn’t want to hold them up and decided to remove his uniform shirt and go in only the shortsleeved top he wore underneath.

“Is this an improvement?” he asked them all.

Tasha let her eyes linger on the lean muscles of his exposed golden biceps. “Yep, I’d say so,” she hummed.

Even with Geordi’s VISOR, Wesley could tell that his friend was making a face and possibly rolling his eyes. What the boy didn’t know was that he was biting the inside of his cheek as to keep from saying something he would regret.

To get to the sandy beach they first needed to walk past the expansive boardwalk. There were merchants and artisans selling their wares. A middle aged native observed Tasha playfully placing a very feminine sun hat on Wesley’s head. It was adorned with all sorts of frills and bows.

“Maybe it suits you better than me,” the blonde teased as she forced it on the teen boy’s head.

Geordi smiled wide as he tried to suppress a fit of laughter. “I think you might be right,” he said, sounding serious.

Wes put down the bag of their things he had been carrying and decided to play along, knowing it was all in good fun. He admired his reflection in a nearby mirror and posed just so. “I think you could be right. But let’s be honest, I can make anything look good.”

“Can you?” Data commented, taking his statement literally. “I would like to challenge your assumption.”

The three of them laughed at the android, uncertain whether he had intended to be humorous, or not.

“Was that funny?” he added, baffled.

“Yeah, Data,” Tasha told him kindly. “Wes was being precocious,” she informed him.

Data nodded, befuddled by their continued amusement and Wesley placed the elaborate hat back on the rack. Then Geordi tousled the teen’s hair and the two took off towards the sand.

Data was about to follow when he saw Tasha eyeing a scarf. She looked as though she had a fondness for it, but was hesitant to touch it. The patterning somehow reminded him of the scandalous attire she was wearing when that thing that ‘never happened’ had happened.

“Do you like it?” he prodded. He delicately picked it up and held it out to her.

The truth was that Tasha did like it very much. It reminded her of the harem style clothing as well; clothing she had borrowed from Deanna Troi. She herself didn’t own anything so decadent and beautiful.

“Data, thanks, but it’s not for me,” she said dismissively.

The android was not ready to give up. He stood her in front of the small mirror where Wesley had been goofing off a few minutes prior. He then draped the flowing fabric across her front and looped it behind her neck.

“This particular shade of blue is quite complimentary to your eyes,” he said softly.

Tasha was momentarily transfixed by the image in the mirror. It wasn’t only the beauty of the scarf that she found seductive, but the synthetic man standing behind her. They suddenly locked eyes in their reflections and Tasha pulled away again.

“No. It’s too extravagant,” she mumbled. “I’m a security officer. I’d have no reason to wear it.”

Tasha didn’t feel up to confronting him about how weird he was being. They had an understanding, at least she thought they did. She realized maybe this was her doing. She just couldn’t keep her eyes to herself back on the transporter platform. So, she did what any mature woman would do and stormed off without explanation.

Data stood holding the scarf, stunned by her abrupt departure.

“Would you like to purchase that for your wife? Surprise her maybe?” asked the merchant woman.

“My wife?” Data queried, finally looking away from Tasha’s retreating form.

“Yes. You have a lovely little family,” said the woman who owned the stall.

The android quirked his head and furrowed his brow. Analyzing their collective behaviour he could hypothesize why she would think such a thing.

“I suppose you must receive tourists of all kinds here,” he said politely, “However, we are not a family. We are merely colleagues.”

“Is she your girlfriend, perhaps?”

“No, she is not,” Data answered firmly, though with a measure of regret. He pulled out the currency he had replicated for the sole purpose of using on their trip.

“And the boy?” the woman asked, skeptically as she took his payment for the scarf.

“He is a student in our care,” he explained.

“Data! Come on!” called Geordi.

“I must go now. Thank you for the scarf,” he said kindly.

“Of course,” the woman smiled.

 

Tasha was helping Wesley lay out the large towels they had brought with them. They sat fairly close to the water, the area bustling with activity of the other visitors. Geordi took out a frisbee from the bag.

“Who wants to play?” he said with enthusiasm.

“I will,” said Wesley, jumping back up. He adjusted his long shorts and tie-dye style shirt as he watched Data approach. He was about to invite him along, but noticed the scarf in his hand. “Come on Geordi. Let’s go closer to the water.”

“Hey, I didn’t even say if I wanted to play!” Tasha complained.

“Do you?” Geordi shot back.

“Not really,” she replied, squinting against the sunlight.

Her friend laughed at her awkward protest and she felt rather silly. Then Tasha felt Data come to crouch beside her. She gave him a questioning look as he placed the scarf into her hair and tied it behind her head so that it draped down her exposed back.

“What are you doing?” she whispered in disbelief.

“I have recently been exploring my artistic side and it is my opinion that everyone needs beauty in their lives,” he explained in hushed tones. “Even if that something has no utilitarian use. I have also observed that you are not a person who treats yourself to frivolous items, even when you desire them. So, this is my gift to you and I hope that you will keep it.”

“Is that what you think you are, Data?” she asked with a flirtatious air. “Are you a frivolous item that I don’t feel I deserve?”

The android blinked a few times, confused by her question. “I do not understand. Are you comparing me to an object?”

Tasha worried her lower lip, ashamed that he could misconstrue her words to think she would ever believe him to be nothing more than an object.

“No. I was trying to be clever,” she explained. “Sometimes I don’t let myself have real relationships with men because I struggle to trust them...I want you to know that I trust you, but I still can’t...you know...have you.”

“Have me?” he repeated with something akin to angst. He thought of the woman who sold it to him and how she thought he was buying it for his girlfriend. “I did not mean to offer this gift for anything in return. You are my friend.”

Tasha threw her head back and groaned in frustration. Somehow she was only digging a deeper hole. “I know Data,” she said after regaining her composure. “Thank you, it’s beautiful.”

“You are welcome,” he said simply. He thought it best not to say how he thought that she was beautiful as well.

 

A few hours went by and Wesley had to head back to check on a project. Geordi decided to go with him, hopeful that the romantic atmosphere of the beach at sunset would improve his unemotional friend’s chances with the hot and cold security chief.

Geordi hit his comm badge to notify the transporter room that they were ready to beam up, but the thing let out a dull buzz.

“Maybe you got sand in it?” offered Wesley as way of explanation. “Or water. You did go after the frisbee into the surf a couple of times.”

“These badges are not supposed to be susceptible to the elements, Wes,” the helmsman chided. “If they damaged so easily away teams wouldn’t use them.”

By now Tasha and Data had noticed they were having an issue. Wesley hadn’t had a badge issued yet and Data made the mistake of leaving his on his uniform shirt.

“You’re joking!?” exclaimed Tasha. “You—you forgot your comm badge on your shirt!?”

“I do not understand how I could have made such a simple mistake,” Data muttered to himself.

“Maybe you were distracted,” said Geordi as he shot Tasha a look. “I guess we were too since none of us noticed.”

Tasha appreciated how the helmsman didn’t single her out. She tapped her comm badge and made a silent prayer that it would work. It chirped, but just barely.

“Lt. Yar to transporter room,” she called into the air. Data was quickly gathering their things since it would seem they would be all departing together.

“Tra—ns roo—here.” The comms crackled and cutout. Even with the interference she could tell it was Lieutenant Miles O’Brien.

“I can barely hear you,” Tasha replied loudly. “Are you having difficulties?”

“It is possible that the planet’s atmosphere has shifted,” Data deduced.

When the android had researched the planet he noted that having the two suns sometimes caused unusual gravitational and sometimes magnetic shifts in the atmosphere.

“We are —ing to com—sate,” came O’Brien’s broken response.

“Maybe we should wait until later,” offered Geordi warily.

“Yeah, there’s a resort hotel up the way,” added Wesley. “No sense risking a beam up when we can just stay here.”

“Lt. Yar, I am only able to lock onto two signals,” came a much clearer voice over the comms. “Are there not four in your party?”

“Yes, there are. Wesley doesn’t have a badge and Data...misplaced his,” she explained. “We are all standing in close proximity.”

They were now gathered together. Data made a slightly embarrassed expression and looked away sheepishly. Wesley grinned at how sincere the android’s bashful reaction seemed.

“Hang on,” said O’Brien. “I’ll try and lock on.”

They could see some storm clouds approaching over the horizon, starting to blacken the distant sky. Data must have been right, there was definitely a change happening and fast.

“Okay, I’ve got all four of you,” O’Brien announced. “Things are getting fuzzy so we’d better make it quick.”

“Is that a technical analysis, Miles?” joshed Geordi to the transporter chief.

“Yes, it is,” he retorted.

Geordi and Wesley shared a laugh while Tasha pursed her lips at their childish behaviour. Data stood as straight as an arrow, as though his posture would assist the transporter sensors to get him back in one piece. Though he was now quickly re-assessing how dark the sky was getting and considered advising to hold off as Geordi had suggested.

“Transporting you now,” O’Brien informed them.

It was too late for second guessing. The familiar shimmer surrounded each of them as the oncoming storm caused the atmosphere to spark with a display of lightening. Just as they began to disappear from the beach, other patrons were beginning to run for cover. Someone knocked into Wesley and he fell into Data. Using his android reflexes, Data caught the boy before he fell out of reach of the beam.

Slowly the group rematerialized on the transporter platform; only instead of four they were three. The youngest, Wesley Crusher, was missing.

O’Brien hustled to try and discover why one of them was missing, but he stopped short when he scrutinized the arriving members. Tasha was fine and so was Geordi, but on closer inspection he could tell something was distinctly unusual about Data.

“Where’s Wesley!?” demanded Tasha as she looked around herself to account for her friends. Then she rushed to the transporter controls to see what went wrong.

“The buffer...the patterns...this is so not good...” muttered O’Brien.

Geordi turned to look at Data and he was instantly aware of the change in his android friend.

“Data, your halo is gone,” he said full of anxiety.

Tasha’s head snapped up as she looked at Data, as though for the first time. Geordi wasn’t wrong. His VISOR couldn’t detect the aura that usually surrounded the android because he wasn’t an android. His golden skin was now flesh toned and his eyes were dark instead of their usual alien yellow-green. His shirt had also been inexplicably changed to the tie-dyed t-shirt that Wesley had been sporting.

Data raised his hands to see for himself what was wrong. The realization was too much and he appeared to be hyperventilating. Seconds later, he fainted. Geordi tried to hold him up, but his dead weight—even though now that it was of a human male of his size and build—was still more than he could manage.

“What the hell happened, O’Brien!?” Tasha snapped, her fear and anxiety sky high.

“I think...it looks like they were accidentally combined,” he said in disbelief.

“What? Who?” implored Geordi.

“The Crusher boy and Commander Data,” he said slowly.

 

....

Chapter Text

Doctor Beverly Crusher tried not to lose her mind as she scanned the man lying unconscious in front of her on the biobed. For all intents and purposes half of him was her son and they needed to ensure he was physically sound and well enough before they could even attempt to separate him from the android second officer.

“Human, male, early to mid-thirties by his appearance, but oddly reads chronologically as fifteen,” the doctor rambled.

“What happened?” asked Captain Picard, over her shoulder.

“O’Brien says the magnetic charge in the atmosphere must have scrambled their molecular patterns as they transported,” she informed him. “Neither one was wearing a comm badge so it was harder to pick them up and differentiate between them.”

“But if they were standing apart, how could they become so fused?” he questioned, both fascinated and disturbed by the phenomenon.

“Geordi thinks it’s possible that he saw Wesley get knocked off his feet in the last instant they were planet-side. If Data saw it happen too he probably caught him to keep him from disrupting the beam. Damn it! I can’t tell where Data ends and Wesley begins.”

Picard uncharacteristically placed a hand on each of the woman’s shoulders and turned her towards him. “We’ll figure this out, Beverly. I know we will,” he told her as he held her firmly and made her focus on him and his words.

“But what if we don’t?” She sounded so lost and small, not like her usually confident self.

“We will. And if we don’t Data will come around soon.”

“If he is Data...what if his mind is Wesley’s; or he might not understand what is happening at all, or be someone completely new...”

The captain could tell she was spiralling, so he had the nurse get Doctor Selar to take over. Surprisingly, Beverly didn’t argue. She did however insist on being close at hand for when this hybrid person woke up.

Counsellor Troi came to join them. Picard explained what they knew so far, which was very little and took his leave. They still had a mission to complete and a science team to organize to analyze the stormy atmosphere in hopes of resolving the transporter issue before another diplomatic team was due to beam down in the morning.

It wasn’t much long after that the man regained consciousness and slowly opened his eyes. Beverly stood up but hesitated, not wanting to overcrowd the other doctor.

‘Data’ squinted against the harsh, bright lights of Sickbay. As he became more aware of his surroundings he was finding that everything was overwhelming. The lights, the sounds of the machines, the people talking off to the side, the feel of the hard slab he was lying upon.

“Welcome back,” said Selar in her Vulcan monotone. Her patient scowled and tried to turn away from the obscene volume of her voice. He had to settle with covering his ears.

“Am I speaking too loudly?” she inquired as she made an effort to soften her tone.

“Yes...Selar...too much...bright...loud...” the man murmured, sounding like Data but with Wesley’s teenaged edge of complaint.

Doctor Crusher had the lights lowered and came to take his hand. Deanna could sense his disorientation and anxiety, but could not yet discern much of anything else.

The patient shifted to watch as Beverly held his hand and gave it an affectionate squeeze.

Selar arched a perfect eyebrow at the other doctor.

“How are you feeling?” Beverly asked as their eyes met. It was a startling change to see Data’s face with such dark irises. They were not quite as brown as her son’s eyes, but more of a moody olive-gold.

“I am...feeling...confused,” he said softly. “Doctor Crusher, why do I suddenly want to call you ‘mother’?”

Beverly used her free hand to cover her mouth as she gasped and her eyes welled up with tears.

“That is because there was a transporter accident,” Selar told him bluntly. “You are now quite literally the embodiment of both Lt Comdr Data and Ensign Wesley Crusher.”

“Oh dear,” said the man.

“Do you perceive yourself as Data?” prodded Deanna with interest.

He slowly moved his head towards the new voice that was speaking to him. “Yes...I believe so, Counsellor Troi.”

“At least he seems to know who we all are,” the Vulcan surmised.

“Are Geordi and Tasha also suffering from a similar scramble?” Data wondered with worry lacing his voice.

“No, Data. They’re fine,” Beverly assured him.

She couldn’t help her maternal instincts and lovingly caressed his face. Much to everyone’s collective surprise, he leaned into the warmth of her hand and a small smile pulled at the corners of his mouth.

Deanna could feel the unexpected bond between mother and son even if Wesley was somewhere muddled in with the unemotional android. It was definitely present; his affection for his mother.

“May I make a suggestion,” the Counsellor chimed in. “I think perhaps once Data is cleared to leave Sickbay that he remain in Doctor Crusher’s care. Data doesn’t have a fully fitted quarters for human comforts and he may find himself with questions and concerns that will need attending to.”

“I think that is a most logical and responsible notion,” concurred Doctor Selar.

“I do too,” said Beverly. “What do you think, Data?”

“Yes, please. I do not wish to be alone,” he replied sounding quite childlike and uncertain of himself.

The red haired woman smiled, her maternal heart soothed by his willingness to accept her help.

 

.......

 

Doctor Crusher escorted Data to her quarters. The rooms were quite familiar even though newly human Data had a fundamental understanding that he had never lived there before.

As android Second Officer, Data had only visited the doctor once in their several months of serving together on the Enterprise. She had hosted a Yule dinner for all the senior officers in an attempt to bring everyone closer.

Always a student of human behaviour, he had found the dinner intriguing and full of unique human experiences that he was unused to seeing. Now, as he reflected on that memory, he had strange sentiments attached to it. The merriment everyone was having as they talked and became better acquainted; the way everyone joined in to sing ancient carols, even the captain. The thought made him smile to himself.

“You seem to be taking this in stride,” Beverly said as she watched his face light up.

“I was remembering the dinner we had here,” he said whimsically. “As I recall, Captain Picard sang along to ‘Good King Wenceslaus’ and corrected others when they stumbled.”

“Yeah, Wes laughed about that for days,” the woman mused. Then a shadow fell over her happy face. She did her best to hold herself together.

“It is curious that I can still recall most events with such clarity. My mind is not as easy to navigate as it was, but it is still quite capable.”

“Well, Wesley is quite intelligent and possesses an eidetic memory,” she explained. “I’m sure that being able to call up pictures in your mind so easily of anything you read, or consume is the closest a human comes to android precision.”

Although she was praising her son Data could hear the cold edge to her voice and he realized that she was not as okay as she was pretending to be.

“I am sorry if I have misspoken in some way. Maybe I should go and assist O’Brien and Assistant Chief Engineer Shimoda with resolving the issues with the transporter.”

Beverly caught his hand and made him stay. “Uh-uh,” she remarked. “You’re staying right here. Troi and I agree that we don’t know how you might react, or behave as this all starts to settle. Combining two minds is not done everyday. You might feel like Data now, but the longer you exist this way the more you might start to feel like Wesley. So just slow down and get comfortable.”

Data had to take longer than he was used to digest what she was telling him. He got the distinct impression that she would be happier right now if her son had been the more dominant personality. Then something occurred to him.

“That is the thing, Doctor,” he said as he sat obligingly in an armchair. “I am...comfortable. It is quite as though I know this place well and have spent many hours here; which of course I have not.”

“No, but Wes has,” she said, softening to him again. “That’s good, I think.”

She sat down, perching on the large arm of the chair. Ordinarily, he would question why she would choose to sit in his personal space, but somehow it felt natural.

Suddenly Data’s stomach rumbled loudly and Beverly laughed. “You sound hungry. I don’t suppose you have any preferences?”

“I have often heard people say that in times of uncertainty they like to eat foods which are familiar.”

“Hmm, comfort food, gotcha.”

She patted his arm, then got up and crossed over to the replicator. Data followed her over to the table and took a seat there. She placed a bowl of soup in front of him. At least he believed it was soup and being stranded without his vast android library of knowledge, he would have to rely on only what was literally in front of his face for reference.

Beverly instinctively performed her motherly routine of taking a spoonful of soup and blowing on it before offering it to him, as though he were a child. She caught on to what she was doing as he gave her a peculiar look.

“Sorry, I’m sure you can feed yourself,” she said bashfully. “It’s a chicken and vegetable soup. Wes always asks for it when he isn’t feeling well or doesn’t have time to stop to eat a more complicated meal.”

Data mimicked her motions and blew on the spoon before placing it in his mouth. She was right to be cautious it was quite hot, but not enough to burn his palate. Even though he lacked the sensors to analyze what was now in his mouth, he found the experience enticing; each ingredient creating an intriguing symphony of flavours.

“It is very good,” he told her between bites.

“Good. It doesn’t...I dunno...bring up any memories, or feelings for you does it?”

“I am uncertain as of yet if I am capable of experiencing any emotions,” he said plainly in his usual manner. “I suppose I have detected hints of something here and there, but I do not yet have the language, or understanding of what it might be to eloquently explain.”

Beverly abruptly moved and turned away from him. Data stood, concerned he had done, or said something wrong again. He came to stand behind his colleague, but as she turned to face him again—her face flushed and eyes red with tears—a peculiar thing happened.

Beverly Crusher was no longer his colleague and peripheral friend. She was suddenly quite the most important person in his universe and something inside his chest tightened as a weight pressed impossibly heavy on his being. He pulled her into his arms and held her tightly against him, unaware that he was crying now too.

“It will be okay,” he murmured into her red hair. “Don’t cry, Mom. You need to be strong. ‘Cause if you freak out, I’ll freak out.”

Beverly buried her face into the crook of his neck as he did the same. It almost hurt more to hear him say something like that; to channel Wesley so perfectly. After a few moments she regained control of herself and she moved to look into Data’s newly human face.

“You okay?” she asked simply.

He was most definitely crying now. He shook his head slowly from side to side.

“No,” he breathed. “What is wrong with me?”

“You’re scared and sad,” she said as she caressed his damp cheek. “Maybe you’re anxious too.”

“I do not like it,” he admitted openly. “Make it stop.”

She pulled him close again and combed her fingers through the hair near the nape of his neck. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you. I just got overwhelmed.”

Was it terrible that she actually felt better now that he was showing signs of vulnerability and fear? It was only normal when your whole life—the essence of who you are—was so completely altered. She also secretly preferred the moments when he most felt like Wesley and didn’t mind in the least when he called her ‘mom’.

“It’s okay, kiddo,” she continued with maternal affection. “You have a cry and then we’ll see if you can eat some more food. I’m sure that you’re hungry and tired. You’ve been through a lot.”

She could feel him pathetically nod as he continued to cling to her. Data had never known parental love, or any love for that matter. Even though his emotional state was so out of his control, he felt safe somehow knowing that she was his ally.

.....

Chapter Text

The next obstacle in Data’s newly altered existence was a rather functional one.

Sometime after partaking in the comforting bowl of soup and drinking a large glass of water his body began telling him that he needed something else. Without his analytical algorithms he was left to try and decipher what the problem was. Something somewhere was...uncomfortable.

Beverly returned to the table after depositing the dishes in the recycling receptacle. She studied Data as he shifted and wiggled in his chair. Clearly something was amiss.

“What’s going on?” she asked, placing a hand softly on his forearm.

The new human furrowed his brow and narrowed his eyes in concentration as though he was trying to deduce what it was. There were definitely clues, but it was like they were in a language he couldn’t comprehend. Then he shifted and a light went on in his brain as a building urgency became suddenly clearer.

“I...I do not know,” he said with hesitation. “I believe that perhaps I need to...urinate?”

Once again Beverly did her best not to laugh at his innocent confusion. “That’s quite plausible,” she told him. “You did consume a lot of liquids and heaven only knows the last time you—well...” She trailed off, not wanting to bring up her son again. “Can you manage on your own?”

“I believe so?” This was also a question.

Logically, android Data had consumed beverages and food that his synthetic systems would then discard in quite a normal, human fashion. So, he knew how to perform the basic act of what he needed to do. His real worry was getting better acquainted with his new body.

Beverly showed him to the bathroom and closed the door. “I’ll be right here if you need me,” she called to him.

Data undid his uniform pants and an abstract thought occurred to him. He would need ‘other’ clothes, like Geordi had suggested before they beamed down. As of right now he really only had uniforms in his size and there was no conceivable way that Wesley’s clothes would fit him.

He sighed and pulled his bottoms down. It was strange that this was still his body despite how alien and foreign it was. He could feel the coolness of the air on his presently exposed skin and it made him shiver.

He smirked slightly to himself; he liked shivering.

It was a mildly pleasant, automatic reflex. A perfectly harmless spasm that ran up his spine and caused all sorts of new sensations throughout his nervous system. He wondered briefly if it was akin to how it felt to be tickled.

When his amusement passed he lifted the toilet seat and began to urinate; or at least that was the idea. It took a moment for his body to respond to his intentions, but it did in the end. Data was astonished at how remarkably easy it was to instruct his body to perform a function without subroutines, or comprehensive commands. He just thought about it long enough and it happened.

To him, it seemed as though body functions would be a piece of cake. It was satisfying too, to relieve himself of the burden of a full bladder.

Job well done, he finished and decided to dab his penis as to not soil his clothing. That seemed to be a mistake. Another shiver ran through him. This one was different than before. The thrill made him both want to never do it again AND to never stop.

Data wanted to be sure that it was not some figment of his newly formed imagination. So he touched himself again, this time with the delicate pressure of his thumb. As he traced over the head of his limp appendage not only did he shiver, but blood rushed south and suddenly he had the beginnings of an erection.

“Oops,” he breathed. He was both baffled and fascinated that something like that could happen so easily and without his explicit say so.

“Everything okay in there?” asked Beverly.

Data’s cheeks felt hot and he decided to abandon his experiment. He washed his hands and splashed cold water on his face.

“I am fine, thank you,” he replied.

He flushed the toilet and the sound dispelled the concern that he had inadvertently started; his member back at rest. Now that he was able to, he pulled up his trousers and closed the fly.

Only before departing, he stopped to stare at himself in the mirror. He studied his features and decided that he still looked exactly the same as he always had except for the peachy hue of his flesh—made more intense from his recent experiment—and the altered colour of his irises.

Data felt his chest tighten and it was somewhat harder to breathe. The more he gazed into his own eyes, the more he thought about the boy whose life he had basically stolen and the more uneasy he became.

He decided that this must be guilt. It was awful.

“I am sorry, Wesley,” he murmured to his reflection. “We will endeavour to restore us both as soon as we can.”

His promise made, necessary or not, Data felt a measure of ease in his distress. He was not exactly better, but he felt as though he could continue on and face the boy’s mother once again. So, he opened the door and returned to the main living space.

“You sure you were okay?” Beverly inquired warily, taking in his flushed face.

“No, but I managed, I assure you.” He sounded a bit rattled, but it was understandable. “I will need clothes,” he added after a beat.

“Oh, yes. I supposed you’re right,” she conceded. “You can’t exactly sleep in what you’re wearing.”

“Sleep?” Data questioned.

In theory, he could probably push through and not sleep. However, if his human situation was not permanent then he should take advantage and partake in every routine and necessary human function.

“Yes, Data,” Beverly nudged with a grin. “Even you will need to sleep now. So, why don’t you pick something out and we’ll have the computer whip it up for you? Pyjamas maybe? Or a big sleep shirt?”

He gave his options some thought. Having never had to rest before he was unsure of what would be most comfortable.

“I suppose I should arrange for clothing for tomorrow as well?” he noted after another moment of consideration.

Before Beverly could comment the chime went on the door. She commanded their guest to enter. Both of them were surprised to see it was Commander William Riker.

The tall, broad shouldered man leaned on the doorframe at first. His face broke with a bemused smirk; one which gave his youthful complexion a hint of mischief that made his blue eyes dance.

“Well, good evening, Doc,” Riker said full of charm. “Sorry if I’m interrupting, but I just had to see this for myself.”

“Commander Riker, are you really here simply to gawk at Data?” Beverly fired back, warning him not to misbehave.

“Not at all,” he said defensively, holding up a bundle of clothing. “I know it’s late, but I figured that you two would have bigger concerns on your minds and I thought I would bring a donation of clothes for our newly human friend.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied Data as he came closer and took the gift. “This is quite considerate of you.”

Although Riker had called it a donation, Data could tell that these clothes did not look like hand me downs, but rather like items in his size. He almost inquired if the Commander had suddenly attained psychic abilities.

“No problem, Data,” said Riker lightheartedly. Then he paused and looked as though he was no longer sure of himself. “You are going by Data, right? Or should I be calling you Wesley?”

“Data is fine, sir,” replied the former android.

“You know, when Deanna explained to the rest of us what happened I felt a little bad that it wasn’t a complete swap,” Riker rambled.

“How do you mean?” prodded Data.

“You mean if Data was human, but Wes got to be an android?” Beverly questioned, sounding as though she didn’t care for that scenario in the least.

“At least they would still be two separate people and Data here would still have a turn at being human. I’m sure Wes would have been thrilled at a chance to be an android.”

“Well, that’s not what happened,” Beverly grumbled without humour. “They’re stuck together like some sort of nightmare of a genetic experiment.”

Riker grimaced. He could tell he had not only hit a nerve, but was on the verge of torturing the poor woman. “Sorry, Bev. Honestly, I didn’t mean to upset you. I guess it’s way too soon to laugh about it.”

“Thank you for the clothes,” she said plainly. “It’ll save us the hassle. It was very thoughtful of you.”

Beverly took the bundle from Data and retreated into her son’s bedroom.

“She is...she is trying to keep a brave face,” Data told the commander. “But she is quite disturbed, as she has every right to be.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Riker said with regret. “Look Data, I know she’s trying to be helpful, but if you want a break, or perhaps if Bev needs one, just let one of us know. We’re all here to help.”

“Of course. Thank you, sir.”

“Hey, we’re off duty and who knows when you’ll be cleared to come back, so just call me ‘Will’ for now,” he kindly offered.

“Of course, Will.” Even as Data said the First Officer’s given name out loud it didn’t sit right.

Riker gave him a few supportive pats on the shoulder and then took his leave.

Data went to join Beverly in the bedroom, but he stopped halfway. There was an unbearable pressure deep in his gut and he doubled over in pain.

Beverly heard him cry out and came running to his side. “What’s wrong? What hurts?” she asked, quickly slipping into ‘Doctor’ mode.

Data’s face was crumpled in anguish. It hurt to breathe—not like in the bathroom—and it was impossible to think. He was sure something inside of him was about to burst and he was about to die. Beverly rubbed his lower back while he remained kneeling on the floor doing his best not to panic.

When he was still unable to tell her what the problem was, she tried to get him to rise so they could get him to the bed. As he made an effort to stand a very loud trumpeting erupted from his backside.

Beverly strained to contain herself. She had never seen anyone so surprised by their own fart before.

“Feel better?” she asked, biting the inside of her cheek.

Data stood up straighter, the immense mystery pain gone.

“Did I have gas?” he queried, quirking his head to one side.

She nodded several times before breaking into a fit of laughter at the stupidity of it. Data smiled slightly, but was not quite capable of laughing; the humour lost on him.

 

......

Chapter Text

Data did not sleep that night.

He changed into a set of pyjamas from the pile of clothing Riker had brought. He fluffed his pillows and got under the covers. Beverly even came by and bid him goodnight, bringing him a glass of water to have beside his bed.

Then he lay there in the dark in Wesley’s small, single sized bed. His mind swirling with that feeling again—guilt.

He lay awake for hours, staring at the ceiling, his mind fixated on how everything in this room belonged to Wesley. The bed, the model starships, the collection of texts, the desk where he probably did his late night homework. His thoughts was disrupting every and all attempts to find sleep.

Then he suddenly remembered that Wesley had an ongoing project in one of the science labs; it was why he was heading back to the ship early. He would have to try and track down what it was in the morning.

Finally, when he decided he had enough of his racing thoughts and unquieted mind, he opted to read hoping that it may tire him.

He wasn’t wrong. The effort of reading and comprehending the subject matter did wear on him. It was so slow going compared to the microseconds it usually took him to consume entire works of literature. Even though he became more and more exhausted, sleep still eluded him.

At oh-six-hundred-hours Data decided to give up and begin his day. Starting with another trip to the bathroom and a shower.

The sonic pulse of water was soothing and warm. He did his best to resist overstimulating his genitals as he cleaned himself. Not that he was opposed to the concept of masterbation, he simply was not in the mindset to try it just yet, plus there was the guilt ridden implications that this body was not entirely only his.

When he finished he began towelling himself off. That was when he realized he hadn’t brought any clothes with him. Beverly had specifically asked him to get dressed before coming out into the main living space. They may have been more genetically closely related to each other now, but they were also still an unrelated man and woman living in close quarters.

He hoped that maybe it was early enough that his roommate would not be awake yet.

 

......

 

Meanwhile, Tasha tried to stay away. She managed to stay away all night.

She kept telling herself that it was what was best for everyone. Data didn’t need a dozen different people hovering over him while he tried to find a new normal in his life. Not that he would be staying as he was; they were working as fast as they could through the night to find a safe way to separate them again.

What could she offer him? Data was probably a mess. The poor unemotional android was probably drowning in teenaged boy hormones and angst.

No, she should keep her distance. So what if she wanted to know how he felt about her now that he could feel something? That was on her; this was her problem and not his. He had enough on his plate.

Only...they were friends. Next to Geordi, she liked to think that she was his closest friend. And Data would need his friends. She was Wesley’s friend too. It was nice having a young, smart kid like him around to give her a sense of the playful childhood she never got to have.

The more she fought against seeing him, the more she wanted to; until finally she was standing outside Doctor Crusher’s door signalling the chime.

“Enter,” Beverly called.

The door slid open and Tasha stood frozen for a moment.

“Oh, hello Lieutenant Yar,” the red haired woman greeted her visitor. “It’s awfully early, is something the matter?”

“Oh...no,” Tasha said, stumbling a little.

The blonde honestly had no idea what time it was and she supposed it was rather early. It was also a little weird that she now felt like she had to explain herself to her friend’s mother. Not that Beverly was Data’s mother and not that she was doing anything she should be ashamed of, or feel nervous about.

The doctor gave her an expectant look. “Would you like to come in?” she prodded.

Tasha flushed a little as she realized she was still standing in the doorway. She took a few steps forward and paused again.

“I...I wondered how Data was doing? Is he coping okay? I heard he was staying with you and I was worried he was struggling with being human and all.”

Beverly suppressed any comment about how everyone was curious.

“Let’s just say that between you and me I was relieved that he didn’t need me to help him go to the bathroom,” Beverly rambled in hushed tones. “Although, he did have a minor crisis that turned out to be just gas. Poor guy, thought his insides were going to explode.”

Tasha wanted to laugh, but it was all too surreal. Only a small, strangled noise left her throat and she coughed to try and cover up her discomfort.

“Yeah...I can’t imagine all the weird body quirks we experience everyday that we no longer pay any mind to,” Tasha commented conversationally.

“That reminds me,” Beverly chatted, “I was going to ask Deanna to discuss sex with him today during their session.”

“What!?”

Tasha was alarmed by this idea for several reasons. Firstly, because she was privy to the fact that Data knew what sex was and how to have it. Secondly, because the doctor was being way too casual talking about such an intimate act. Thirdly, she was royally disturbed that maybe the woman was implying that she wanted to have sex with him which would be all kinds of morally messed up.

“Sorry, too frank?” the doctor said with a sigh. “It’s just that poor android Data has no idea the cruel tricks and embarrassingly unwarranted things a young male’s body will do when least expected; or even when you think you expect it.”

“Oh...right,” Tasha said full of nerves. “Teenage boy problems. Sure. Being a teenaged girl was fairly rough as I recall.”

“I know, right,” Beverly said in solidarity. “Wes was always so adamant that he had things ‘under control’, but Data won’t understand why he can’t just, I don’t know, initiate some protocol and get his body to behave.”

The blonde made a face. She hated that he could be going through so many changes all at once. Then she thought about their night together and the blue scarf he had given her on the beach. Suddenly she needed to get out of there before she was the cause of his body’s bad behaviour.

“Well, maybe you can tell him that I’m thinking about him,” Tasha said kindly.

“Why don’t you tell him yourself? He should be out any minute?”

“Out?”

As the single word fell from the Security Chief’s lips, she heard a door swish open. Both women turned to see a very human Data coming out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist and another one wrapped around his head.

He was almost exactly as Tasha remembered; slim build with lean muscles. Only now he was in technicolor; his clean, unblemished, rosy skin dewy from the shower. Another obvious change was the hair on his bare arms and legs, as well as the sparse trace of pubic hair running scandalously from below his perfect navel to somewhere under his towel.

“What did I tell you about putting your clothes on before you left the bathroom?” Beverly chastised as she tried her darnedest not to get turned on by the sight of him. He was still partially her son after all.

Tasha snapped out of her lurid daydream at the sound of the doctor’s reprimand. The tips of her ears flushed in embarrassment.

“Apologies,” Data stated humbly.

He struggled not to stare at Tasha as he yanked the towel from his head to cover himself. His wet hair now stuck out haphazardly, only increasing his sexual appeal.

“I forgot to take my clothing with me. I have never forgotten such a trivial thing before,” he added with self deprecation before disappearing behind the bedroom door.

“Sorry,” Beverly huffed, slightly frazzled.

“It’s fine,” Tasha assured her. “It’s not like he new I was here.”

“Yeah, well he knew all right, after he saw you,” the older woman noted as she made a crude gesture with her hand.

“He didn’t...I mean...I wasn’t looking,” Tasha babbled nervously, knowing she could only mean one thing—that her presence had inadvertently given him an erection.

“Mom!?” came a cry of desperation from Wesley’s room.

“Oh my heavens, did he just call you ‘mom’?” Tasha asked in disbelief.

“Yep. He does that sometimes,” Beverly explained. “I think he’s having trouble getting his clothes on. Maybe you should go.”

By clothes, she probably meant his trousers. The thought made Tasha’s face flush even more.

“Good idea,” the blonde said curtly. Then she dashed out the front door.

Tasha leaned against the opposite wall, staring at the closed door as she tried to settle herself. That had not gone to plan. Not only had she not even gotten to speak to Data, but now she was very confused indeed. She always admired her friend for being an android and striving to discover his own humanity. What was to become of him now?

She decided in that moment that she would be good and wait for him to seek her out. She just didn’t know if she could take another half naked surprise like the one she had just witnessed.

.....

Chapter Text

Counsellor Deanna Troi invited Data into her office. If she was being honest with herself she had been expecting to hear from him sooner. From the look of things she probably should have called on him.

They sat down across from one another; Deanna in her usual seat and Data on the couch. Normally Data was quite rigid in his posture and held his body in perfect ninety degree angles.

Today this was no longer the case.

This human man was slumped against the back cushions and armrest. He was the embodiment of tired and she could sense both the physical and mental exhaustion he was emitting.

She didn’t want to overwhelm him further and used her tactic of letting him decide how much he wanted to share.

“So, Data, as you know these sessions are completely confidential,” she said with kindness. “I want you to feel at ease. You can use our time together to say as much, or as little as you would like. You can even ask me questions about your thoughts or feelings that perhaps you don’t quite understand.”

Data took a few moments to think over her advisements. He was a little bothered by how long it was taking him to process her words. Either it was his slower human brain, or the fatigue starting to set in.

He nodded in acknowledgement, but lacked the energy to reply.

Deanna watched as her patient slowly sunk lower into her furniture. She really wanted to stick to her guns, but an idea occurred to her.

“It would seem as though you didn’t sleep very well last night, or perhaps at all,” she observed, her voice soft, and monotone. “I can’t imagine the inner turmoil you must be experiencing, or how differently you now perceive the events surrounding you.”

She paused as his eyelids began to get heavier, hooding his unfocused eyes. The counsellor smiled serenely and continued on, this time even softer, with an almost slow, lyrical pacing to her words.

“But you should know that this is a safe space. A haven from whatever is troubling you. You can come here, anytime and leave everything else outside the door.”

Data was falling into a meditative state. His eyes finally closing all the way.

“Sometimes when my mind won’t rest...I simply listen to my own breathing,” she continued. “Feel the calming rise and fall....in and out...in and out.”

Data’s head lulled to his chest. He was gone.

So much for their first session. Deanna supposed he needed sleep more than he needed counselling at the moment. She sat back and picked up her PADD. She then began clearing her schedule for the next few hours so that Data could keep sleeping soundly and undisturbed.

 

 

It was a few hours later when the former android started to murmur in his sleep. His face began to show hints of distress and she could sense that whatever he was dreaming about it was something unsettling.

“No...no!” he cried out, startling himself awake.

Deanna gave him a moment, keeping her distance as he finished waking up and began to take in his surroundings.

“What happened?” Data asked, his words slurred a little.

“You were asleep just now,” she explained. “Maybe you were dreaming. What do you recall?”

“Dreaming?” he repeated, sounding unsure. “I always expected that dreams would be good things. A fond memory, or a quizzical muddle of things I have read, or observed.”

“I think you had a few of those too,” she said in a comforting manner. “But I guess this one was more alarming.”

Data sat up and rubbed at his eyes. “I was...” He tried to remember what was terrible about his dream, but it was as though the harder he tried to focus on specifics the more blurred everything became.

“I cannot remember what it was about,” he said with disappointment edging his words. “I believe that Lore was in the dream. He was being quite menacing and I was...”

“Take your time,” Deanna told him as she leaned in closer. She could tell he was struggling and starting to get frustrated.

“How do humans deal with this?” he blurted as he pulled away from her.

“Deal with what?” she prodded.

“Fallible memories,” he grumbled. “Why have dreams only to forget them almost immediately?”

“Because they help your brain remain functional, you know that,” she said evenly.

“No. They help humans remain functional. I am not a human.”

“Today you are,” she reminded him.

“How am I supposed to cope?” he demanded irrationally. “How do I remain functional? I have existed for over a quarter of a century as a perfectly content android and now I am supposed to learn about organic body functions and how to keep myself alive all in one day! This is ludicrous!”

“Data, it’s alright. No one expects you to be an expert so quickly,” she said calmly. “We are all here to help you.”

“Wesley is not here,” he said, his face contorting with emotion. “I have stolen his place. I have taken his life from him so that I can flounder and pretend to be human. I cannot believe that this was what I wanted...Even Tasha looked at me as though she didn’t know me.”

“Tasha? When did you see her?”

“This morning. She came by Doctor Crusher’s quarters and I frightened her. I could see the repulsion on her face.”

Deanna had had a quick word with Beverly before their session and she was fairly certain that the Security Chief was not repelled by Data.

“You don’t know that for sure,” she said. “Did you ask her?”

“No. I quickly went to dress myself and when I returned she was gone,” he said sadly. “She was so upset that she had to leave my presence.”

“I’m not sure if she was upset in the way you think that she was.”

“How do you mean?”

“I think you should speak to her,” Deanna advised.

“I will when she is available,” Data said with compliance. “However, she will be on duty and I will not be.”

“Are you bothered that you have been requested to refrain from your duties?”

“Yes,” he replied without missing a beat. “I am used to constant stimulation and multiple thought processes. I am also keenly aware of Wesley’s need to stay busy and continue to learn and experiment with technology. For example, before I came here I had to visit science lab two to review his current project with photosynthesis. Unfortunately, I somehow forgot about it without my advanced memory capabilities. I seem to have this new flaw...I can easily become distracted and forget.”

“That’s a very human concern,” she said kindly. “Hopefully you will adapt and find ways of triggering your memories and thoughts more easily. Your concentration and sleep patterns should improve as well.”

“Counsellor...” Data paused. He seemed a touch more troubled, like when he had his outburst about trying to figure out his new human body. “What if I come to discover that my goal of becoming human is not what I thought it would be? What if I come to understand that being human—physically organic and emotionally vulnerable—is not as optimal as being an android?”

“You mean, what if your life long dream to become human is a nightmare?” Deanna frowned at her own question, her heart tender to his fear and helplessness through his loss of control.

“Data, I think...I think that like with anything it is the journey that makes a thing worth while. But your journey was hijacked. I firmly believe that once you return to being an android and you continue your journey as it was meant to be lived that you won’t be so overwhelmed and afraid.”

“I will not be overwhelmed and afraid because I will not be capable of such emotions any longer,” he stated with a frown of his own.

“Perhaps not, but hopefully you’ll remember some of what you’ve learned during this time and you’ll be able to build on it.”

Data was not as sure as she seemed about it. He was full of doubt and didn’t really see the silver lining just yet.

“Thank you, Counsellor Troi. I will attempt to keep this in mind.”

 

......

 

After a day full of medical tests and scans for Doctor Crusher and the engineers to use as reference for their adjustments to the transporter, Data was feeling fatigued.

He felt as though his legs were moving through a think muddy substance instead of through air as he dragged himself towards Tasha’s quarters. He knew she would be off duty by now and he wanted to clear things up between them. Plus, there was something else motivating him despite his weary state. Something that was drawing him to her.

Tasha opened the door to her changed friend and looked a little startled to see him standing there. She distractedly combed her fingers through her short blonde locks as though to be sure she was presentable.

Data didn’t have to be an android to see that her pupils dilated as her deep blue eyes scanned him and her cheeks flushed ever so slightly as she played with the blue scarf tied loosely at her neck.

It was then that Data identified what it was that drove him to her. Attraction.

“You are wearing the scarf,” he observed, his voice soft and low.

“Yeah,” she replied simply, her blush rising to the tips of her ears.

Normally, Data would have been all business and made sure to say ‘hello’ in proper greeting first, but Tasha’s casual civilian attire and the blue scarf—which he had gifted her—caught his attention.

“You want to come in?” she offered sheepishly, like she had never asked him into her cabin before.

Data nodded wordlessly and followed her inside.

“Can I get you anything? It’s weird...now that you’re human you might actually want something,” she rambled nervously.

“I am fine, thank you,” he answered politely.

“Look, I’m sorry about this morning,” she said with mixed feelings. “I...I just really wanted to see you and I should have waited, or maybe I should have sent a request first.”

“It is fine,” he said kindly. “I am only sorry that you caught me so off guard. I no longer have a morality programme, but I was quite potently aware that I was in an inappropriate state of dress when you saw me.”

“Yeah, you were,” she concurred with a bemused smirk, feeling less awkward.

“Why did you come to see me? You never said,” he prompted.

“Oh gosh...”

Tasha wasn’t sure how to answer him now. She knew that she missed him and she was worried for him in a new body, knowing how confusing and strange it all must be for him. Only she wasn’t sure what to say.

“I...I suppose I simply wanted to make sure you were coping; like everyone else,” she said at long last.

“Like everyone else?” he repeated, sounding disappointed. “So, you did not have a specific desire to be in my company?”

Tasha furrowed her brow and took a beat to discern his meaning. She wasn’t sure if he was doubting her motivations, or if he was trying to elude to his own for coming to see her now.

“Did you...have a specific desire?” she prodded, testing her theory.

Data took a step into her personal bubble and reached out to touch the delicate blue fabric around her neck, consequently grazing his fingers against the sensitive skin there. She watched intently as his eyes studied the scarf. Then his strange, greenish brown eyes looked into her blue.

“I do, however I am uncertain if it is...mutual,” he said in an almost secretive tone.

Tasha was feeling reckless. She knew this was probably a big mistake, but she closed the distance between them anyways. She tucked a finger under Data’s chin, directing the angle of his face and then she kissed him softly on the lips.

She watched his features with fascination as his eyes involuntarily fluttered closed. She could tell he was enthralled by the new experience. For him it was all new. Kissing, although pleasant enough before, never felt like this.

Even though it was a chaste kiss it stirred something low in his loins and heat rose within him. His heartbeat quickened and so did his breathing. Every physical instinct told him to hold her and press her body to his, but he resisted. He was still too unsure of himself to give in.

When they parted Data opened his eyes and gave Tasha a bashful grin.

“That was exquisite,” he hummed in appreciation.

“You have no idea what exquisite really feels like,” she teased.

Data took that as an invitation to continue, but to his dismay Tasha pulled away from him.

“We shouldn’t,” she warned. “It isn’t you. I want to do all sorts of things with you...it’s just...”

“Wesley,” Data said with a frown, finishing her thoughts for her.

It stood to reason that if he was having impressions and ghosting thoughts that rightfully belonged to their teenaged friend that he might retain some of the memories Data created during their time joined together.

While they both eagerly wanted to explore what Data could feel and experience as a human, their shared desire was marred by the background noise that this body wasn’t Data’s alone.

“It just wouldn’t be right if we messed around in the heat of the moment and then poor Wesley had to live with that memory.”

“I have never been a teenaged boy before,” Data said with sensitivity, “However, I am fairly certain that he would not mind in the least to have a partial memory of intimacy with you.”

“Data!” she exclaimed, horrified by how dirty he sounded. “I mind! I don’t want Wesley Crusher making moon eyes at me because he suddenly knows what I look like naked—or worse.”

“If he picks up any of my existing memories he will already know this about you...because I already do,” he said playfully.

“That’s different. That’s unavoidable. This would be a physical experience that he is...much, much too involved in.”

“I understand,” Data said with reluctance. “May I ask something of you then, Tasha?”

“Of course.”

“If you agree that I have this attraction to you; and you and I get on well whether I am human or not; will you agree now to the prospect of a more intimate relationship once I am restored?”

“You mean once you’re only you again?”

“Unless my being an android is a deterrent for you?”

“No. That was never my problem,” she said with a measure of guilt. “It was that we became intimate under the influence of a virus and I never considered that you could actually want me that way. And of course the oppressive implications that I seduced a superior.”

Data cupped her jaw and looked at her longingly. “It was my privilege to be seduced by you. I was concerned that I took advantage.”

“So, all past mistakes aside,” she mused. “I would be happy to reevaluate our standing AFTER you’re restored.”

“Good. I am glad,” he said with relief.

Then he took a chance of his own and pressed his lips to hers again. He could feel her smile against him before she willingly parted her lips and swiped her tongue at the line of his mouth. He gave into her whim and allowed her deepen the kiss, lost in the sensations of feeling her tongue explore his mouth and cause new, tantalizing waves of desire that washed over his body.

He pulled back first this time. “Stop,” he panted. “We should stop.”

Tasha nodded and leaned her forehead against his while she caught her breath. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“Do not be sorry,” he sighed. “I will do my best to remember every last detail so that I may replicate the experience later.”

“With me, right?” she said sarcastically. Bemused that he could even conceive of masterbating to her image.

“Of course with you,” he said bluntly, missing her jibe.

.....

Chapter Text

The following morning, Beverly and Geordi joined Data as he checked in on the progress being made on the transporters. More specifically those in transporter room three where the android had suffered the accident that combined his synthetic body with Wesley Crusher’s human one.

O’Brien and Shimoda looked confident. Their previous two tests had gone to plan. They took an inanimate piece of technology and combined it with something organic, like a plant, then they successfully separated the two items again.

This time they were upping their game and had combined a sophisticated motherboard with a replicated hunk of beef. It was crude, but they didn’t want to test on anything living unless they absolutely had to.

“Here we go,” announced Shimoda, optimistic that their end result would be a success.

The transporter sprang to life and the beam dissolved the bizarrely mutated thing. Data reached for Beverly’s hand as the two separate beams rematerialized the two individual components. The computer tech was perfectly restored. However, the organic animal tissue looked contorted.

A moment after being recreated it suddenly expanded and exploded, violently sending fragments of protein flying through the air. Some of which sprayed onto the horrified witnesses.

Data instantly pulled his hand away from Doctor Crusher in order to wipe the almost gelatinous bits of meat off of his face.

Beverly, who had the most steadfast disposition when confronted with medical horrors, was sure she was going to vomit.

“Forget it!” she cried, the visceral repulsion filling her words with venom. “There is no way in hell I’m going to let you do that to my son!”

“Of course not, Doctor!” Shimoda replied, equally repulsed by what had just happened. “This was the first time something this awful has occurred.”

Geordi removed his VISOR so that he could pick the bits of beef off of it. “This is foul,” he muttered under his breath.

“Yeah, good thing we didn’t use the live goat like Riker suggested,” O’Brien snarked with frustration.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Data, we won’t be doing anything too rash,” Shimoda reassured him. “We’ll keep at it until we deem the procedure safe and one hundred percent successful.”

“You had better,” hissed Beverly. “I’ve never seen anything so terrible.”

“Makes me glad I only saw what happened through the filter of my VISOR,” huffed Geordi as he placed the aforementioned device back over his eyes. Then he realized that Data had been unusually quiet. “Hey, Data, you okay?”

Data was in fact not okay. He was terrified. Only he didn’t know that was the overpowering emotion he was experiencing. His hands trembled as he continued to try and clean himself off; actually all of him was trembling.

What he did understand was the implications that that thing that exploded could have been Wesley—it could have been him. It was more than his mind could process and without his internal alerts, or sensor readings he was helpless and simply stood there; unable to run, or speak, or do much of anything except numbly try to get the stuff off of his body.

“Data?” Geordi asked again, turning towards his friend. When he still didn’t form a reply, Geordi tried laying a steadying hand on his shoulder, but it seemed to have the opposite effect.

“Don’t!” Data shouted. He scrunched his eyes closed and pulled away.

Geordi looked to Doctor Crusher for her guidance. He had never heard him use a contraction before, or such a desperate tone.

“It’s alright, Data. We all know how horrible that was,” she said softly, trying to soothe him. “You’re probably experiencing fear. It’s a completely normal reaction.”

“I do not get afraid, Doctor,” Data muttered, his voice quiet and wobbling as he continued to literally shake in his boots.

“That’s not the case anymore,” she cooly corrected him. “You know that.”

“If being human means that I cannot function when frightened then I do not want to be human,” he ranted full of confusion and self doubt. “I cannot do this, but I cannot do that either,” he added with distain, gesturing at what was left of the distorted lump of animal meat on the platform.

“We’ll find a way,” Geordi told him with conviction. “Obviously, this is not the answer we need; not yet.”

“I am sorry, but I cannot...it is too much,” Data murmured. Then he retreated from the room, finally feeling his legs and feet beneath him once more.

Geordi looked like he wanted to follow his friend, but Beverly stopped him. “Stay here and help the engineering team,” she offered. “I’ll give him a few minutes and then I’ll go after him.”

Although Geordi was still technically a helmsman he was also quite a gifted engineer. So he did as she suggested and stayed.

 

.......

 

Tasha was in one of the rooms designated for personal fitness on the recreational deck. She and Worf were taking their time working through movements of their chosen martial art; the human Aikido while the Klingon chose Mok’bara.

They would often make a game out of comparing the two and then coming at one another. Worf had just managed to get the better of the blonde. He flipped her over and she landed hard on her back on the safety mats. It took her a few seconds to recover from having the wind knocked out of her.

“Good one,” she panted as she struggled to control her breathing.

“I can show you again once you are ready,” Worf challenged with a quirk of one eyebrow.

Tasha chuckled as she got herself off the floor. “I’m ready now and I think this time I’ll get the better of you,” she said with a hint of arrogance.

The Klingon beckoned her on and she charged him. She saw the move coming, but Data burst into the room and distracted her at the last moment. Worf picked her up and easily pinned her down to the mat.

“Damn it!” she cursed.

“I hope that was not your idea of readiness,” Worf quipped.

“Data threw me off,” she panted defensively.

“A likely story. In real combat you can’t allow for any distractions,” he chided. Then he turned to look at the newcomer. He noticed the bits of flesh still clinging to Data’s clothes. “What happened to you?” Worf prompted.

“There was an incident,” Data stated flatly as he stared off at nothing, unfocused.

Tasha stood and covered her nose. She scrutinized Data’s appearance and how unsettled his aura seemed. “Oh heavens, seriously. What is that all over you?” she said indelicately.

“It is Wesley,” Data replied, his eyes haunted. Tasha moved her hand a bit lower to her mouth as she visibly gagged. Worf curled his upper lip in disgust.

“Factually it is not, however, it may as well be,” he added, clearly unhinged.

“Data, what are you talking about?” she asked with more sensitivity. “Please take a breath and then explain it again.”

She came closer and slowly guided him with featherlight fingers to one the benches against the wall. Worf gave her a nod, knowing this was something that perhaps she alone could assist with. She nodded back to acknowledge his discretion and he took his leave.

The two friends sat in a strained silence for several moments. Tasha wanted to push him to tell her what was wrong, but knew that whatever had happened had truly rattled him. He would need to tell her in his own time.

Data finally turned his face towards her, but he still couldn’t speak. She reached a hand for his and held it firmly to try and ground him. He looked down to observe her tender gesture. When his eyes met hers again they were welling with tears.

“It’s okay,” she whispered. “Whatever it was, or is still going on, I’m here for you. I’ll protect you. It’s my job.” She added the last bit hoping to lighten the mood, but failed as he continued to fall apart.

Rationally, she knew that it was not her place to coddle him—plus he was covered in something that was all together grossing her out. But she was all he had at the moment and clearly he had come looking for her specifically for some reason. So, she pushed her doubts aside and pulled him to her; bringing his head down so that his face nestled in the crook of her neck.

Tasha sat holding Data in her arms for a good long time. Strangely, she would have loved to see the unemotional android have such a breakthrough. However, now that he was human and he appeared to be experiencing a real emotional crisis, there was nothing amusing, or fascinating about it.

No, it was terrible and heart wrenching.

It felt like to her that every time she saw him now a little piece of him had been changed, possibly forever. She should have been happy for him, but she wasn’t. Tasha hated to admit it, but she missed his unflappable android self.

“They cannot fix me,” Data muttered at long last.

Tasha made them move apart so that she could look into his face. “It’ll happen, Data. It just takes time. They will fix you.”

“Perhaps I need to try and find a human experience that will improve my wellbeing,” he rambled. “Maybe something joyous, or humorous.”

She felt a measure of relief that he hadn’t circled around to sex again. She just wasn’t ready to address that with him at the moment.

“Well, let’s start by taking you back to your quarters and getting you cleaned up,” she told him.

“That is an excellent idea. I believe I would very much like to visit my own quarters,” he informed her.

“Oh...right. But all your new clothes are at Doctor Crusher’s cabin.”

Data looked disappointed, so Tasha pressed on.

“So, I’ll take you back to the doctor’s quarters and you can clean up and then we can do something fun...on the holodeck maybe?”

“Do you not have Bridge duty?”

Now Tasha looked disappointed. “Oh, sure...well, maybe Worf can cover for me. I think the captain can make an exception.”

“Good. I would like us to do something together,” he said, his mood finally lightening.

“Good,” she mirrored.

......

Chapter Text

They met up with Beverly on the way back to the crew deck. She helped Data get cleaned up and changed while Tasha did the same. The doctor was all for a distraction and even offered to explain to Captain Picard herself why Lieutenant Yar was missing Bridge duty.

 

Against her better judgement Tasha stood back and let Data enter which programme he wanted into the holodeck computer.

As he tapped in his preferences she thought about taking him to see Counsellor Troi instead. However, she knew that he was struggling to cope with many new emotions and human changes to his perceptions; and sometimes a distraction was better than therapy in some instances.

When Tasha had moments where she felt useless, or out of control she liked coming to the holodeck and fighting it out. Working out her frustrations through physical exertion was her therapy. Not that she expected Data to feel the urge to kill something.

She wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. It was important to try to be Data’s friend, but when the large door opened and Tasha realized what he had chosen she was leaning back towards taking him to see Troi.

 

“This is...this is an agility course with a firearms element,” Tasha said hesitantly as she looked around the space. It looked like the programme that she herself had helped to design to test her team and keep them on their toes.

“Precisely,” Data affirmed. “In light of the horrors of the transporter failing to successfully separate organic and inorganic matter, I have deduced that I may be required to remain as I am.”

“Whoa, Data,” she said with mild alarm. “Twenty minutes ago you were upset because you wanted to be an android again. Now, you’re saying that you want to throw in the towel and make do?”

“I do not wish to sit idle in my quarters—Doctor Crusher’s quarters—any longer,” he explained. “I would like you to assess my capability level so that I may re-qualify for active duty.”

“As what rank? Acting Ensign, or Chief Science Officer?”

Data narrowed his eyes at her and took a step closer. She wasn’t sure what his deal was, but she thought he looked a little cross with her.

“Did Captain Picard offer you the position of Second Officer?”

“What!? No!?” she blurted with absolute surprise. “As far as I know the captain is hopeful that your situation will be resolved soon.”

“And if it is not?” he countered sternly.

“Well, then that’s his decision. Look, no one wants to replace you. It’s just that you aren’t technically YOU right now.”

“Exactly. That is why I would like you to assess my level of agility, fitness and skill with a phaser.”

“Alright, fine,” she said in resignation. Maybe he did feel like shooting at stuff and getting out some of his pent up frustrations.

Privately, however, Tasha was worried that Data was about to fall flat on his face. It wasn’t like Wesley was an unfit person, it was just that she had never known the teen to be very athletically inclined.

Tasha called into the air, instructing the computer to track time and accuracy. She set the difficulty to the most basic level. Data gave her a hurt look and she obligingly raised it by a degree.

“Okay, Data,” she said full of nerves. “I’m going to count down from three and the program will initiate. Ready?”

He gave her a curt nod and she started, “Three, two, one. Go!”

The human man took off like a shot.

She really wished he had started with something easier like endurance running, or strength training. She could only hope that in Doctor Crusher’s thorough testing she had thought of testing those things to make sure he was in good health.

Even though the computer would assure a random series of obstacles and targets it was widely known that Data could best any officer’s record. At least when he was an android he could. His reflexes and accuracy were practically flawless.

Tasha tried to remain impartial as he crawled through tunnels, climbed walls and jumped hurtles. He managed to shoot the targets deemed as ‘foes’ and not those deemed as ‘friends’. When all was said and done, Data returned to his designated place and the computer announced his score. Other than the additional time he required due to being made of flesh and bone rather than titanium alloy and bioplast, he was on par.

Data grinned at her as he panted to catch his breath. “I did well,” he said sounding full of pride.

“Well, you could do a little better with your breathing,” she teased. “Maybe start working out so your cardio improves. Plus, there is the fact that this was a level one test.”

That made him frown. “Then I will do the most proficient testing next and compare that to my original scores,” he told her with unwavering determination.

“Okay, well catch your breath and maybe rehydrate first,” she suggested kindly, handing him a canteen of water. “If you’re struggling with breathing just remember that you have lungs and a diaphragm now. Try to take long, slow steady breaths; even when you’re running.”

Data finished gulping down most of the water and wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. Then he demonstrated his breathing technique for her. “Like this?” he asked, taking a few inhales and exhales.

Tasha could tell that he was being too shallow. “Not quite. Have you ever tried yoga, or read about the breathing techniques it uses?”

He knit his brows together pensively and tilted his head. “You want me to breathe that deeply while running?”

“It’s not perfect, but it may make you more mindful and keep the oxygen flowing, as well as keeping your heart rate lower and more regular.”

She came to stand in front of him and together they took a deep, steady inhale and then let it out much more slowly.

As Data inhaled again Tasha placed a hand on his stomach. “Really fill your lungs and extend into your diaphragm,” she instructed.

He had to admit that feeling her hand on his torso actually helped him to focus. This was not at all like his sympathetic android systems. Breathing this intensely was hard work. Monitoring his oxygen intake was all by instinct and hypothesis and he missed his ability to run random internal diagnostics.

Tasha observed Data’s efforts. It was strange, but she was sure that his eyes looked bluer today than yesterday; yesterday they were that odd green-brown colour. She couldn’t help but appreciate the flush of his cheeks and sweat on his brow. There was something so honest and human about it. It was also turning her on a little.

She pulled her hand away from touching his abdomen. It suddenly felt like too intimate an act.

“Okay, hot shot,” she taunted lightheartedly. “Ready for round two?”

“I believe that I am,” he said with confidence. “The highest level please,” he reminded her.

“There will be real, holographic adversaries firing at you. You know that, right?”

“Yes, I do,” he stated flatly as he picked up his phaser and adjusted the settings. “However, the holodeck safeties will not allow me any real injury.”

“Okay, fine,” she huffed. Then she reset the parameters and stood back, out of his way. “Three, two, one. Go!”

Tasha was amazed. He was quick, focused and just as precise as before. If he managed to make it through with an acceptable score than she was more than willing to recommend that he return to active duty.

As Data returned to his starting place the computer announced his score. It was more than admirable. He smiled brightly as he puffed to catch his breath again.

Tasha chuckled at how pleased with himself he was. Even when he coughed a few times she was still happy for him. But then his coughing worsened and she came to his aid.

“Data, what’s wrong?” she questioned, full of concern.

It was as though her heart stopped for a fraction of a minute as she watched him collapsed to his knees. He kept coughing to the point that he was struggling for air.

Tasha hit her comm badge. “Lieutenant Yar to Sickbay. I need urgent medical assistance on Holodeck Two,” she exclaimed. “It’s Data. He’s having trouble breathing.”

“On our way, Lieutenant,” she heard Doctor Selar reply.

 

.......

 

By the time Selar and her nurse arrived, Data was coughing up blood. Tasha stumbled back as to give them room. She felt as though she was in a living nightmare. Data never got sick; never needed medical help before. Hell, Wesley told her about the time he was trying to figure out sneezing once because he had never experienced such a basic, mundane ailment before.

Selar gave him an injection and had him breathe with the aid of a portable oxygen unit. He seemed to be settling down again.

Tasha was worried it had been his heart, at least until he started coughing up blood. Then she really didn’t know what was wrong. Maybe his new human anatomy wasn’t ready for the hard labour he had put it through.

“Mr. Data, I need to get you to Sickbay,” Selar instructed. “Can you walk, or should I get a gurney?”

Data knew that under normal circumstances they would have transported him to Sickbay, but because of the nature of his current physical state it would be irresponsible to use a transporter.

“I believe I can walk,” he muttered into the silicone mask that covered his nose and mouth.

“I’ll help him,” Tasha offered.

Data allowed her to place his arm over her shoulders and she put hers around his back. Together they went to the turbolift and several minutes later they had him in Sickbay, lying on a biobed.

Doctor Crusher rushed in, mere moments after their arrival. “What happened?” she inquired, moving to Data’s bedside.

“We were running routine training tests,” Tasha explained. “He was doing really well and then all of a sudden it was like he crashed. He was coughing uncontrollably and struggling for air.”

“That shouldn’t have happened,” Beverly said in a no nonsense manner. “He was as fit as a fiddle this morning.”

“The scans I ran a few minutes ago say otherwise,” Doctor Selar informed her colleague. “It’s almost as though his physiology has shifted.”

“Damn it,” Doctor Crusher cursed. “Tasha, I need you to go check on the progress with the transporters.”

“What? Why?” Tasha asked, confused by how rapidly everything was happening.

“Selar and I will try to stabilize him, but if we can’t we might have no other choice than to try and separate the two of them.”

“But...but what if they still haven’t managed it?” Tasha noted full of anxiety. She thought about how Data had been covered in some sort of gelatinous meat substance earlier and he had been so terrified.

“Tasha is correct, Doctor. I do not want to risk death for myself, or Wesley,” said Data practically pleading with her.

“If we can’t stabilize you then you’ll die anyways,” she told him with reluctance, full of fear.

The Vulcan doctor practically scowled at her colleague’s terrible bedside manner. “Perhaps you should step aside, Doctor Crusher,” Selar advised.

Beverly wasn’t budging, but kept her mouth shut. Eventually, the two doctors got him stabilized and his vitals returned to normal, but only with the support of the biobed.

 

.....

 

Geordi came up to Sickbay as soon as he was able to. He came to visit his friend, suddenly regretting how he had been avoiding him.

Tasha was sitting by Data’s bed. The android turned human was sitting upright, which was a good sign, and the blonde Security Chief was holding his hand.

The helmsman raised a brow, intrigued to find the two in such close contact. He had always hoped they would come around and realize that there was more to their friendship, but he now wondered if Data would be able to continue fostering their relationship once he was back to his normal, artificial self.

“Hey, Tasha, how’s the patient?” Geordi asked with a playful grin.

“I am conscious and completely capable of responding to your inquiries, Geordi,” Data interjected missing his friend’s attempt at breaking the tension.

“I know, Data,” he said with a chuckle. “I wasn’t ignoring you, I promise.”

“Well, as you can see, Data is still Data,” Tasha said with a measure of relief.

“What happened? I heard things took a turn.” Geordi was eager to understand what went wrong as much as anyone else.

Data gave his friend a serious look and raised his brows. “We do not know,” he explained. “Doctor Selar theorizes that whatever electromagnetic phenomena caused our merging molecular structures may be shifting, or perhaps even attempting to correct itself.”

“Which means the change isn’t permanent,” Tasha summarized.

“And we need to resolve the exploding factor in our calculations,” Geordi added with a heavy heart. “Okay. Got it. O’Brien and I were discussing an alternative way of resolving the issue. That maybe it’s happening because we’re taxing the system by rematerializing both components at the same time. We might be able to draw more power and focus by doing it one person at a time.”

“But doesn’t that risk causing a differential in the suspended pattern?” Tasha questioned.

“Yeah, but what choice to we have?”

“I think it is a reasonable risk,” Data told him supportively. “Explore this solution further, Geordi, and if it proves successful I volunteer to be second.” He paused momentarily and then spoke again. “I mean to say that my android self will go second.”

Tasha gave his hand a squeeze, terrified by the idea. However, she knew he was right. It would be important to get Wesley back safe and sound first. He was still a child and she would have made the same call herself.

“Do you think you can remain calm if we put you on that platform?” Geordi asked full of worry.

“Of course,” Data replied without missing a beat.

“Data, you were literally having a panic attack after the last trial. You’re sure you’ll be able to stand there stock still while we beam you out?”

“Gee, maybe Selar can give you a sedative,” Tasha suggested.

“No. I do not wish to be impaired when the time comes. It is important that I am aware and able to function without aid.”

“Agreed,” Geordi said, giving him a friendly pat on the shoulder. “I’ll get on it and let you know.”

“Thanks, Geordi,” said Tasha with appreciation.

“Good luck,” said Data. It was an unusual thing for him to say, but his friend would need luck if they were to succeed.

Once Geordi was out of the room their eyes met again. Tasha inched closer to the bed and caressed Data’s cheek.

“You are worried,” Data said as he observed the change in her demeanour.

“I don’t want to lose you; either of you,” she said, trying to remain strong. “But mostly you, Data.”

“Tasha, I believe it is important to tell you that I am experiencing several new aspects in how I relate to you that are uniquely human.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?” she asked with a teasing air, trying not to dread what he was about to tell her.

“I am...physically attracted to you,” he confessed, his voice soft and low. “My body responds to you. Your voice, the sight of your smile, your proximity...”

“I know, Data,” she confided. “We’ve already gone over this.”

He thought back to the fleeting kisses they had shared already and nodded. “Yes, but what if it all ceases when I am an android?”

She could hear the trepidation in his words and leaned in to place a firm kiss on his human lips. “We’ll find a way to make it work,” she whispered, like a secret or a prayer. “Nothing about my feelings for you have changed. I’ve always seen potential in you, Data, whether you were synthetic or organic.”

“What if I am falling in love with you, but that will be lost in translation?” He sounded sad and worried for her feelings as much as for his own.

“It won’t be,” she said with conviction. “‘Cause I’ll know. I can feel for the both of us until you catch up. Or maybe, just maybe you will recall what it feels like and a part of your programming will compensate.”

“That is unlikely,” he said with a frown.

“Part of the human condition is to sometimes believe in the impossible.”

“Then I will believe in you, Tasha,” he said sweetly.

She kissed him again; this time with more longing and affection. It was going to be a long night and Tasha was resolved to stay by his side.

 

.....

Chapter Text

Tasha could feel the physical vibration through her hand as she helped Data to steady himself on the transporter pad. He looked like a child, insecure and vulnerable. She didn’t want to leave his side, but had to nonetheless.

“It’ll be okay,” she whispered reassuringly. Geordi and Miles wouldn’t be going ahead unless they were absolutely sure this is safe.”

Data swallowed hard and took a long steadying breath like how she had shown him on the holodeck. Tasha kissed his cheek not caring that Captain Picard was standing behind her, watching. It was an innocent act of friendship, if he thought it was anything else he didn’t say as much.

“Are we ready, gentlemen?” Picard inquired with his authoritative air.

“Yes, sir,” replied O’Brien.

“Are you ready, Data?” the captain asked with more sensitivity.

“Yes, sir,” he stated putting on a brave face. He coughed once—gaining Beverly’s concern—but managed to offset a full on fit.

Tasha slowly walked away from him, keeping eye contact the entire time until she was standing beside Doctor Crusher.

“Proceed, Mr. O’Brien,” commanded Picard.

“Energizing,” the technician announced.

Everyone held their breath collectively as the transporter beam surrounded Data and broke him down at the molecular level. After he was completely dissolved, O’Brien and LaForge entered the new sequence to start bringing each individual back into being. Believing the error lay in trying to bring both back into being at the same time; they went one at a time.

First to be put back together was Wesley. The teen boy rematerialized wearing the same clothes Data had been wearing, his hair slicked back. Otherwise, he looked like he did several days earlier when his mother last saw him.

Beverly sprinted to the platform and quickly scanned her son with her medical tricorder. Wesley grinned and the two embraced.

“Oh, thank goodness,” Beverly sighed with relief. “How do you feel, Wes?”

His eyes darted to Tasha and he blushed a little before replying. “I feel good. Normal,” he said evenly. “Was I really merged with Data...did that really happen?”

“Yeah, it did. I’m actually amazed you know that.” The doctor wanted to interrogate him further, but it was necessary to get him off of the platform so that they could concentrate on Data next.

Captain Picard was pleased to see his youngest crew member intact, not to mention the joy it brought his mother. He would have been lying if he hadn’t been dreading losing the woman’s son like he had her husband and felt a personal relief of guilt at witnessing the boy’s restoration.

“Please proceed,” Picard instructed.

Geordi and Miles adjusted the coding for the android and started to rematerialize him. Tasha could feel herself take a step forward in anticipation.

“Energizing,” O’Brien stated again.

Once Data was fully reformed in all his golden android glory, the Security Chief watched as Geordi did the honours and scanned their friend.

Data stood still as a statue, eyes forward and unfocused. Geordi’s brow creased with worry that he was so blank and unresponsive. “Data, you okay?” he asked.

The android blinked and turned his head to address the question. “Hello, Geordi,” he said in his usual soft cadence. “Although I am functioning within normal parameters, I am experiencing...some sort of error.”

No one liked the sound of that. “What kind of error?” Picard prodded.

“I do not know,” Data said in the same, unaffected tone.

Tasha was beyond worried for him. He had been through so much and she really needed him to be okay. For some reason she felt responsible for the whole ordeal, even though it was irrational to believe that it was her fault.

Briefly, Data’s newly restored yellow-gold eyes met Tasha’s blue, but they seemed empty to her; devoid of even the slightest warmth and kindness she was used to seeing. It left her cold and her stomach knotted with anxiety.

“Wes, do you remember anything about the last few days?” Beverly inquired.

“Sure, some,” he stated thoughtfully. “But it’s like trying to remember a dream. Some things about it are really clear and others are foggy.”

“Is that what you’re experiencing, Data?” Geordi questioned, hoping that maybe his issue was a simple concern of his restored android systems not being able to analyze and comprehend the human memories and the emotions associated to them.

“It could be,” Data responded. “I do not know.”

“I want to get Wesley to Sickbay and check him over,” Doctor Crusher told their captain.

“Agreed,” he concurred, moving to go with them. “Keep me posted, Mr. LaForge.”

“Aye, sir,” Geordi replied.

Tasha nodded as the others departed and moved closer to the platform.

“I’ll go over the transporter readouts while you check Data over,” O’Brien informed them.

“Good idea,” said Tasha. “Geordi, do you mind if I come with you?”

“Not at all,” he told her, happy for the company. “Maybe you can help me figure out what’s happened since you and I know him so well.”

Tasha reached for Data’s hand as he came down off the platform. He did glance down to see that she was attempting to touch him, but didn’t accept the act of kindness. He kept walking without acknowledging her.

“That’s weird,” Geordi whispered to her. “You okay?”

“Yeah, sure. I just hope that he is,” she confided, feeling out of sorts about the rejection.

 

......

 

As more diagnostics were done, internal and external to the android’s matrix it was becoming clear; something was definitely off about Data.

“So, you have a log that indicates the events of the last few days, but it’s incomplete and not as...normal as your other memory algorithms and logs,” Geordi reiterated for the fourth time.

“Yes, that is correct,” Data replied from his seated position.

“And your output and computation speeds are functioning at full capacity,” he continued.

“Correct,” the android affirmed.

Tasha had never seen her friend hooked up to the Enterprise computer before. She likened it to a patient in Sickbay hooked up to life support; the cable mimicking the effect of an IV line. It still didn’t feel right, seeing his inner workings of his head exposed. At least it proved without a doubt that he was definitely an android.

“Have you been able to better discern what the error is?” Tasha queried, feeling like maybe it had resolved on its own by now.

“Not as of yet,” Data said plainly.

“Well, maybe if you return to your duties and routines you might get a better idea of what it is,” Geordi offered, at a loss for any further actions to take at present.

“I do not wish to return to active duty,” Data told him.

“‘Cause you might not be up to snuff?” the helmsman surmised.

“No. I believe that you are correct in your assessment that I am fully capable of returning to Bridge duty and the like, however I do not want to,” the android explained.

“What do you mean?” Tasha prodded, feeling another twist in her gut. “You don’t want to resume your work?”

“Exactly. I have been in Starfleet for the past twenty years so that I may interact with humans and thus observe and learn how to be more like them in my quest for my own humanity. Now that I have been human and have failed, I see no logical reason to continue my efforts.”

“Whoa, Data. You didn’t fail,” Geordi countered with alarm. “This was a fluke. An accident. You can’t seriously throw away a lifetime of ambition because of one less than successful episode. I mean, setbacks are bound to happen on any journey to achieve greatness, but quitting—outright giving up? That’s not you.”

“That’s his error,” mumbled Tasha, her heart breaking. She crouched down to look him in the eye, doing her best not to fall apart. “Data, is that what’s wrong?” she asked quietly. “Can you still recall what it was to have emotions and now that they’re gone you feel empty? Like nothing matters?”

He knit his brows together and stared off at nothing, performing another internal scan. When he refocused he gave her a curt nod. It hadn’t seemed that simple, but he could now deduce that she was right.

Even though he could no longer reach for a tangible understanding of what it felt like to be happy, sad, afraid, or angry, he had a profound understanding that he would never experience these emotions again no matter what evolution he achieved as an android. Nothing would ever be as authentically human as actually being flesh and blood and bone.

“Yes, Tasha,” he said evenly. “It would seem that this is the case.”

“Great, so we have a depressed android,” Geordi scoffed.

“Depressed?” Data inquired. “Depression would depend on my capability to feel sorrow and despair. I am not capable of any emotional experience.”

“There’s another form of melancholy, Data,” Tasha told him, all too familiar with it herself. “The kind where you’re numb inside and nothing matters because you can’t see the point of anything if it doesn’t provide you the same enjoyment, or in your case, the same rewards of fulfilling a lifelong dream.”

“I guess this might be a problem for Counsellor Troi,” Geordi concluded. “His dream is dead and he feels dead inside. Fantastic.”

“This is not fantastic, Geordi,” Data rebutted, not grasping his sardonic tone.

“I know it isn’t,” his friend grumbled. “Data, what do you intend to do if you don’t continue on as Second Officer? What about your friends?”

“I do not intend to do anything,” Data responded very matter of fact. “I suppose I will have you shut me down and log my creator’s endeavours a failure. Doctor Soong was not able to create an artificial life that could achieve true humanity.”

Tasha turned away to hide her tears. She couldn’t stop them any longer.

“No way,” Geordi told him, his temper flaring. “No one is shutting you down—least of all me! You say you’re experiencing an error? Fine. We’ll find a solution and correct it. If you think I’m just going to let you give up, you can forget about it.”

“You are being irrational,” Data retorted.

“No, you are!” Geordi shouted. He caught himself and took a beat to calm down. “Okay...I need a minute. I’m going to go and talk to Troi. Tasha, please stay with Data and don’t let him do anything stupid.” As Geordi spoke he disconnected the android from the cable and closed the panels on his head.

“I am not capable of stupidity,” Data commented as he stood.

“Oh yeah, genius?” his friend snapped. “Did you even notice how upset Tasha is? Stay put and don’t move.”

Tasha wiped at her eyes as Geordi left the computer lab. She realized that Data was watching her with a curious look on his face.

“Why are you upset?”

“Because one of my closest friends just admitted that he would like to commit suicide,” she said with a sniffle.

“I am an android. Shutting me down is not the same—.”

“Yes, it fucking is!” Tasha yelled, cutting him off. “Don’t you remember anything about our time together? Anything at all? Don’t you remember saying that you thought you were falling in love with me?” Her words were coming fast. She was distraught and losing her grip on her usually controlled exterior.

“Yes,” he whispered. “I do remember, however such a thing is meaningless now, as I told you that it would be.”

“No. You said it COULD be,” she corrected him.

She pulled him to stand up and threw her arms around him. Then she kissed him for all she was worth. In the past Data had been amicable to her whims. He would move with her and trust her motives.

Now, as she poured her heart and soul into the kiss he was stiff and unrelenting; barely parting his lips, his body rigid and cold.

“Data, please,” she sobbed against his mouth. “Please just try...for me?”

“The result will be the same. I am only a machine,” he said plainly, taking her by the wrists and making her remove herself from him.

“You never believed that before,” she said with conviction. “You told me once that you chose to believe you were a person. With Geordi you learned about real friendship and with me...well I know I’ve been a fool about it, but I was still hoping we could be lovers.”

“While I am still fully capable of satisfying your physical and sexual needs, I must inform you that I have no further want to explore such acts. I have already collected sufficient information in this regard and it does not motivate me to explore such things any further.”

Tasha was crying again. She hadn’t been so inconsolable since the first night that she was saved from Turkana; when it finally hit her that that part of her life was well and truly over. She couldn’t accept that Data would never be a part of her life again. She just couldn’t.

“Fine. If you deactivate yourself then so will I,” she declared with defiance.

Data blinked and quirked his head. “I do not understand your statement,” he said.

“If you don’t want to live that’s your business, but I don’t want to live without you,” she said firmly.

“Then you should seek immediate psychological assistance. I am not worth such distress.”

“I don’t want to and you won’t be around to stop me,” Tasha hissed, practically daring him to react.

“I will inform Counsellor Troi of your turmoil then, before I go offline.”

“Why do you care? If you don’t care about your own life, why care about mine?”

“I am programmed to value human life and therefore I know it would be wrong to desire to commit suicide.”

“Then why are you allowed to?” she implored, full of hurt.

“I am not human, nor am I alive,” he told her.

“You’re alive to me,” she ranted. “You’re more real, kind and loving than most humans I’ve known. How can I go on without you? What about Wesley? You resisted temptation so that he could remain innocent. Don’t you want to see what he does with his life? Don’t you feel connected to him at all?”

That seemed to hit a nerve. “Wesley?” he echoed, furrowing his brow. “He does not need me anymore.”

“Of course he does. He looks up to you. You’re his teacher, his mentor. If you throw away everything now it will harm him. He’ll feel responsible.”

“No. It is not his fault,” Data told her, sounding slightly less self assured. “He gave me so much, but it is not his fault that I am broken.”

Tasha paused when she heard him say ‘broken’. Being broken was far worse than a simple error.

She decided to try again. She approached him slower this time, tucking a finger under his chin and guiding him to her like she did the day before. It was so hard to believe it was only hours ago that he was human. It was harder to believe that he was so empty.

Data gazed into her eyes like he actually wanted to this time. When she tenderly claimed his mouth she could feel him make an effort.

“I feel nothing,” he murmured when they parted.

“I know. I’m sorry,” she said, feeling his pain for him. “It will be okay. It just takes time.”

“I think...I think I want to believe you,” he confided. “If my absence will create so much chaos in so many people’s lives; the people I have come to regard as my friends, then I will make an effort for them.”

“Thank you,” Tasha gushed, feeling slightly less out of control. She kissed him again and hugged him about the shoulders.

Counsellor Troi and Geordi arrived in time to see the android place his arms around Tasha’s back and honestly hug her in return.

“Well, what do ya know?” mused Geordi.

......

Chapter Text

Deanna escorted Data into her office. She had already arranged to speak to Tasha later. The empath wasn’t entirely privy to what was going on between the pair, the android and the security officer, but she had suspected for months that something was definitely going on between them. Today’s emotional display on Tasha’s part was evidence to that.

Data sat with perfect posture on her sofa. A far cry from the exhausted, confused man he had been only a couple of days ago. It would be a good sign that he was back to his old self, but even she could see the change in him.

Data observed the Counsellor as she got herself a tea. When she offered him something he turned her down. His thoughts were drawn to the remembrance of the hot soup Beverly had given him his first night with her. It wasn’t just the knowledge that he would never again know the melange of such diverse flavours, but the loss of the doctor’s motherly affections that struck him.

“Is there something on your mind, Data?” Deanna asked him kindly. She could tell that he was reviewing something internally and thought this would be a good place to start.

“When I was human I had the privilege of a mother’s love,” he said astutely. “I have no recollection of my creator and will never know if he viewed me as a machine, or as his offspring.”

Deanna thought about all the attention and care Beverly had given to Data while he shared chromosomes with her son and frowned at the notion that she probably would resume her work relationship with the android now that her son was restored to her.

“Does that bother you? The absence of family?” she queried before sipping her tea.

“No, Counsellor, it does not,” he answered plainly. “Nothing bothers me. It may have when I was human, however now it is merely a footnote in my personal history.”

“Geordi came to me concerned for your mental welfare,” she said conversationally. “I suppose with humans it can take time to process our traumas and realize how they effect us. With you, you seem to have isolated the issue that you have failed at the one thing you have always wanted most and now there is nothing to look forward to. Does that sound right?”

“Yes, it does,” he replied after a fashion. “What else is there for me now? Tasha has made me aware that others have come to rely on me—both personally and professionally—and that their dependence and affection should add meaning to my continued existence.”

“You don’t agree?”

“I should. I know that I should,” he said with apprehension.

“But you don’t?”

“It seems unfair to continue to string along good people with the promise of something more. I am as I am and I will never be more.”

“Aren’t you enough as you are?” Deanna asked with sensitivity. “Aren’t you enough for yourself as you are?”

He had to ponder her questions for a time and she gave him as much as he needed. The empath sipped her tea and watched his features. Even though he was back to being a blank and unreadable canvas, she could still pick up on his own unique body language and she could tell that he was stumped. This very rarely happened and it made her worry for him.

“No,” Data said secretively.

“Why not?” Deanna prodded, leaning forward and giving him more attention.

“I am...inferior,” he stated frankly. “My brother...Lore was correct. He was far more human than I will ever be.”

“He may have been able to experience and express human emotions, but he lacked any real humanity. He had no empathy, or compassion. He was a psychopath at best.”

Data got quiet again, analyzing her opinions.

“Data, if I may?” she asked expectantly. He nodded vaguely and she continued. “I think if you truly feel, sorry, believe that you cannot achieve the unachievable goal of humanity then why give up your existence? You set this goal for yourself. So you can set another one. A more achievable one. Try setting smaller goals as you do already. Concentrate on your music, or your study of painting. Just start small and don’t worry so much about the outcome.”

“Because it is the journey that is important,” he said with the hint of a frown.

“That’s right,” she said warmly.

“I have no reason to set goals any longer,” he said as he stood. “I cannot hope to achieve anything.”

“Data, stop,” she ordered as he turned to leave. Normally her patients were free to end a session if they chose to, but she was getting a very bad feeling about letting him leave.

The android did stop and stay, but he kept his back to her in a disrespectful manner.

“Data, I want you to hear yourself. You just said that you lacked hope. Tasha said that you described yourself as broken.”

“And?” he queried, unchanged.

“I think you’re wrong,” Deanna said sternly as she stood and came to face him. “I think that you are so completely and utterly wrong.”

“Wrong? I know that I am wrong. That is why I should be deactivated,” Data said a bit harsher in his tone than before.

“Don’t you see, Data? Your despair. This lack of self confidence?” she prompted with an almost exuberant air. She placed a hand on each of his arms before continuing. “It’s so entirely human. Your self doubt and discouragement—viewing your experience as a failure. It’s all so completely normal. The desire to end it all is a bit disconcerting, but that too is sadly very human.”

“You are saying that my mental state...is actually an achievement towards understanding humanity?” he surmised.

“Yes. That’s exactly what I am saying,” she said brightly.

“Then it is unfortunate that I do not care,” he said bluntly.

“Data, what if Geordi came to you and told you he felt this way? What if Tasha said she was having doubts about whether or not she deserved to continue to exist? What would you do?”

“They would not have these thoughts,” he said factually. Though Tasha had threatened him earlier he never believed she was sincere.

“Why not? Do you think it was easy for Tasha to escape from her traumatic childhood? I’m not talking about physically leaving the planet. I mean the memories that haunt her even to this day. And Geordi, the pain and anguish he endured as a child and still does to some degree. But he perseveres because he believes in himself and what he can bring to this crew and others.”

“I am a machine. Asking me to believe in myself is like asking the Enterprise computer to believe in itself. It is nonsense.”

Deanna was ready to give up. She didn’t want to, but she had one last card up her sleeve. “Fine. Then you won’t mind if we dismantle you and send your parts to the Daystrom Institute so that they can study you and improve on your designs. After all, you aren’t a person. You don’t require a respectful burial. I mean, Doctor Soong didn’t sacrifice everything to ensure that you were found so that you could have a life and make friends. I’m sure he simply wanted his life’s work to be destroyed.”

She walked away from him and casually sat down again. She sipped her tea and pretended like none of it mattered to her in the least.

“I know what you are doing, Counsellor. You cannot use reverse psychology on me.”

She shrugged her shoulders and picked up her PADD, continuing her nonchalant attitude. “It’s too bad...I had the sense from Tasha that she was in love with you, but I suppose she’ll get over it; placing her heart in the hands of an uncaring machine. Metaphorically speaking of course.”

“She is not in love with me,” he said as he turned towards her. “She deserves better than me.”

“But she wants you,” Deanna countered with a sigh. “Poor woman. I don’t know what she saw in you...”

“You are being unkind,” Data practically snapped.

“So what? You don’t care,” she mocked. “You’ll be gone.”

“Of course I care. She is my friend and she deserves your discretion and respect.”

“And doesn’t she deserve yours as well?”

Data opened his mouth to respond and realized he had walked right into her trap. “You think I should try to do as you say and live each day for the small achievable things because other people value my life.”

She sipped her tea and touched her nose. “If you can’t find the passion to live for yourself, live for those you love and one day you’ll find it again. And before you lecture me about how you can’t love—don’t. You can. It’s in your kindness and your actions and how you put others first.”

“It is too much,” he said pathetically.

“I have one last suggestion then. Spend time with Wesley. You literally spent time in his skin. Maybe if you bond with him you’ll rediscover whatever it is you left behind with him.”

“Perhaps...perhaps if it can help,” he conceded.

“Good,” Deanna said with a kind smile.

.....

 

As Data exited Deanna’s office he found Tasha waiting outside.

“You are here,” he stated, his internal statistical analysis informing him that if she was there now there was a 98.7 percent chance that she had been sitting outside for his entire session.

“I’m worried about you,” she told him, chewing on her lower lip. “How did it go?”

“I cannot say that it went well, however I can say that Counsellor Troi is quite adept in her skills and should not be underestimated.”

Tasha grinned a little, hopeful that this meant she had made him see reason in the midst of his personal crisis. “So what now?” she asked, reaching for his hand. Much to her relief he took it this time.

“I would like to check on Wesley and see how he is fairing,” Data informed her.

“I think that’s a great idea,” Tasha concurred. “Do you want me to come with you?”

“Do you not have other duties?”

“You are my priority right now,” she confided as she rubbed little circles into his palm with her thumb.

Data blinked and looked down at their hands, the stimulation catching his notice. Of course he couldn’t actually see what she was doing since the action was on the underside of his hand. It was more a reflexive gesture.

“Tasha, are you in love with me?” he whispered, making sure that anyone who happened to walk through the corridor wouldn’t hear him.

“I don’t know,” she confessed just as quietly. “Maybe.”

“Counsellor Troi told me that she believes I am capable of love in my own way,” he said, sounding unsure.

“You don’t agree?” she pressed.

“I have no evidence to suggest that I am. Especially now that I have an understanding of what it can feel like.”

Tasha felt her chest tighten again, a wave of grief for his loss.

“What about what you want?” she asked, trying to nudge him in the right direction. “Do you want to spend time in my company? Do you want to know my thoughts and feelings even if they are contradictory to yours?”

“Yes, always,” he said without hesitation.

“Am I worth living for?” she added, her heart pounding in her chest in fear of his rejection.

“I did not see the meaning of this notion when I first came to be an android again. However, I see it now. The void—the emptiness I am experiencing is simply a symptom of my synthetic nature. In time I should adapt once more and the thought that I could lose your friendship is not one that I wish to entertain.”

“I think in time you might start to realize that you do have emotions; your own special, subtle emotions. It’s like when you stare into a bright light and then everything else seems so much darker by comparison. But once you adjust you’ll find that you can still see even in near darkness.”

Data appreciated her metaphor and decided to log it with his memories and thoughts pertaining to her and to his new depressed state.

“You are very wise, Natasha Yar,” he said. She could have been imagining it, but to her his sentiment was something akin to affection.

“Thanks,” she replied simply.

......

Chapter Text

Wesley was relieved to be home. It was an odd thought to have. He technically hadn’t been anywhere and had been sleeping in his own bed the past few nights. Well, not last night. Last night he had some vague impression of being in Sickbay.

He told his mother he needed a minute to change. He understood that it was difficult for her to let him out of her sight, but he just wanted a moment alone. His room looked the same if not ever so slightly more orderly than when he left it.

Taking out a fresh set of clothes, Wesley changed his attire. It was funny to him to think that the transporter had dressed them the same; that he and Data had been wearing matching outfits. The whole thing was really rather funny.

As he brushed his short brown hair in the mirror it suddenly struck him how alien his own face seemed. It was probably some sort of lingering disassociation due to his brain becoming accustomed to seeing Data’s features in his reflection. He would need to bring that up with Deanna just to be sure it was nothing to worry about.

Beverly entered his room a minute later. She collected the clothes that Commander Riker had dropped off, thinking that she would offer them to Data. Not that he would require sleepwear any longer, but the other outfits might find some use.

“Mom,” Wesley said quietly as he sat on his bed. “I feel sort of...I dunno. Mean,” he said after working out what it was he was trying to say.

“Mean?” she echoed, not quite following.

“Yeah, like Data was just getting comfortable and I shoved him out the door or something.”

Beverly smiled weakly at her son. She placed the pile of clothes on a chair and sat next to him. “It wasn’t as though you had a choice,” she explained. “The two of you were basically coming apart at the seams.”

“I know, but a couple of days doesn’t seem fair,” he continued. “How can an android really understand the experience of being human in such a short time?”

She wrapped an arm around him and hugged him tightly. “He had a few good moments and a few bad,” Beverly told him. “But we really couldn’t have left you two joined like that. Even if it was safe.”

“Yeah, I know,” Wesley lamented. “Maybe I should go see him. It’s like I feel responsible or something.”

“Sure,” his mother agreed. “But you are not responsible for Data. You’re a fifteen year old boy and he’s...well he’s a seemingly ageless android. But he is definitely an adult.”

Even though he knew his mother was right it didn’t changed how he felt.

It was then that the chime went on the door. Both of them went into the main living area, intrigued to see who it was.

“Come in,” prompted Beverly as she approached the main entrance.

It was Captain Picard and he smiled warmly as he entered. “Everything going well I trust?” he inquired with ease.

Beverly returned the smile and invited him to come and sit for awhile. “Medically speaking, Wesley seems to be fine,” she informed him. “He is feeling a bit out of sorts though.”

The boy shot his mother a look as though to say that he wasn’t wanting to share this fact with their captain. Picard missed nothing and wanted to offer his condolences.

“I suppose that such an extreme change to oneself can take time for readjustment and acceptance,” he said kindly. “Mr. LaForge has informed me that Data is struggling to accept the loss of emotion and by extension the enhanced experience of his senses. It must be startling to be like Dorothy returning to a black and white world after knowing the rainbow in a land called Oz.”

Wesley chuckled at the man’s attempt at sympathy through metaphor. “I suppose it must be terrible for him,” the teen noted with pity. “While he’s regained his android advantages of intelligence and strength, he’s lost the most fundamental weaknesses that make the rest of so human.”

Beverly touched her son’s arm in a show of support. She had been so wrapped up in assuring his health and well-being that she had forgotten to consider his counterpart.

“At least he has Geordi and Tasha to help him along,” she conceded. “I’m certain Counsellor Troi will aid him in coping as well.”

“Yes, I have noticed that our Ms. Yar has been particularly attentive to him these past few days,” observed Picard. “I am beginning to wonder if her attachment is more than mere camaraderie.”

Wesley shifted in his seat and prayed he wasn’t blushing. He knew all too well that there was something else going on between the two friends, but it wasn’t his place to say anything.

“Wes?” Beverly nudged, catching the change in her son’s demeanour. “Do you recall anything happening that we should know about?”

“Not really,” he fibbed.

In truth, Wesley’s memories were fuzzy and possibly flawed. Besides, he couldn’t be sure in the end if those were his feelings of attraction to the beautiful security chief, or those belonging to Data. Though, he highly suspected they were not his.

“No matter,” said Picard. “I’m certain if it becomes and issue in regards to their duties I will quickly become aware.”

The chime went on the exterior door again and all three looked up expectantly.

“Come in,” instructed the doctor.

The door swished open to reveal Tasha and Data. They were holding hands until they spotted Picard and instinctively let go.

“Speak of the devils,” mused the captain, causing the pair to give one another an auspicious glance.

“Well, come in, you two,” Beverly added, waving them over.

“We did not know that you would already have company,” stated Data, seemingly hesitant.

Wesley stood up and came over to greet them. “The more the merrier,” he declared. “You doing okay, Data?”

The android studied the teen for a moment. “I am functioning—I am well, thank you, Wesley,” he replied, correcting himself halfway as though suddenly recognizing that his formality was unnecessary.

“Good, I’m glad,” Wes told him before giving him an impromptu hug.

Data stood stock still as the boy wrapped his arms around his torso. As he looked to Tasha for guidance she gave him a grin. He decided that meant it was fine to reciprocate and he gently patted Wesley on the back.

“I’m glad to hear it as well,” added Picard. “You can take whatever time you need, Data. I don’t want you pushing yourself too hard simply because you don’t think you need personal leave.”

“Oh he knows, sir,” Tasha answered on behalf of her friend. “I suspect he’ll be ready for active duty in a few days.”

“Tasha is maintaining the optimism I currently lack in hopes that it will be...contagious,” Data explained with a measure of skepticism.

“Sometimes people just need the right people around them,” Wesley rambled as he led Data over to the seating area. “I think it’s a good thing that you came by. Come and sit next to me.”

Data obliged and ended up wedged between Wesley and his mother on the couch. When Tasha lingered near the door Beverly called her to join them.

“I should go,” Tasha said, full of nerves. “I don’t want to intrude.”

“Did you not say that I am your priority?” needled Data.

“Oh did she?” joshed Picard with interest. “Well then, you must honour your commitments, Ms. Yar and at least try to enjoy yourself.”

The blonde woman laughed nervously and came over to sit in an armchair by the window.

“I was telling my mom how I felt weird without you around, Data,” said Wesley. “I mean, it’s not like we were hanging out, or talking; but I still feel like you should be here somehow.”

“I did speak to you on occasion,” Data explained. “Especially in moments when I experienced guilt and believed that I did not deserve to be stealing your life from you.”

“You felt that way?” the boy questioned, feeling badly that he could have caused his friend any sort of pain. “It wasn’t like it was your fault. I feel sad now that you couldn’t have stayed human longer.”

“Even at your expense?” Data wondered.

“Sure. I know you would have protected us both.”

A ghosting of a smile appeared on the android’s mouth. “You will make a very good officer one day,” he said with something akin to pride.

“Indeed he will,” concurred Picard.

“Well, thanks, but I swear I wasn’t fishing,” Wesley said bashfully.

Beverly felt the need to put them all at ease again, but keep things going awhile longer. “You know, we were going to have dinner soon,” she said conversationally. “Perhaps we can make it a family dinner of sorts.”

“I do not require sustenance at this time,” Data stated before reassessing the invitation as well as the look of disappointment on Wesley’s face. “However, I would be open to continuing our social encounter.”

Despite Picard’s reluctance to stay, he too wanted to be supportive of his ‘family’. “I think that’s a splendid idea, Beverly. I will help you set the table,” he offered, standing up.

As the two eldest of the group started preparing for the evening meal, Tasha moved over to sit on Data’s other side on the couch.

“How are you doing now?” she whispered as she looked deeply into his eyes.

“Better,” he confided.

Data did something uncharacteristically affectionate then. He placed one hand in hers and the other in Wesley’s, linking them all together. Tasha smiled brightly at the gesture and Wesley rested his weary head on Data’s shoulder. She could tell that her educated guess of reuniting the android and the boy who had once shared the same space was the right call. Even though Data would still need more time this was a firm step in the right direction.

Beverly could tell that her captain was watching the others over her shoulder. As he began to grin she turned to see the three looking rather cosy on the couch.

“Data seems to have carried his new sense of family with him,” said Picard, keeping his voice down. “Hopefully more of his senses will begin to adapt to what he experienced despite his stubborn belief that he is emotionally incapable.”

“I’m open to having weekly dinners, but I would insist on making one change,” Beverly told him.

“Oh, what is that?” he teased.

“That we have everyone together,” she replied. “I suppose we’ll need a bigger space.”

“Or a second table,” he rebutted.

 

.......

 

Although Data was not convinced that his duties really mattered to him personally, he did understand that other people relied on him to perform them. So, after a few days he returned to the Bridge to attempt a return to his old routines.

Geordi grinned with delight when his friend took his position at operations. The helmsman had been recently absent himself, trying to solve the problem with transporters. They were finally leaving orbit of Demi’s III, now that all the talks were done and they wouldn’t need to study the magnetic phenomena specific to the planet’s atmosphere.

“Set a course for Starbase Thirty-Six at warp two, Mr. LaForge,” commanded Captain Picard.

“Aye, sir,” replied Geordi. “Coordinates entered and ready.”

“Engage.”

After a few minutes Geordi’s curiosity got the better of him. He was itching to know how Data was doing now that he had had time to readjust.

“So...how are things with Tasha going?” he asked discretely.

The android quirked his head and almost glanced behind him at the Security Chief. “You will need to ask Lieutenant Yar, Geordi,” he replied deadpan. “I am not privy to her personal goings on.”

“No, Data,” his friend huffed, keeping his voice low. “I meant, how are you and she getting on? Have you been...you know, romantic?”

Data gave the helmsman some serious side-eye. “I am incapable of romance, or any variation of affection.”

“Save it,” Geordi complained. “We can have this argument later.”

Data stopped what he was doing and inclined further towards the other station. “Are we arguing? I apologize if my corrections to your terminology have upset you. I suppose a more appropriate answer to your query is that Tasha and I have been spending a great deal of time in each other’s company and it has most definitely assisted with my inner conflict,” he rambled. “Though I must assert that it has not been romantic, or overtly intimate.”

Geordi was both relieved and upset by his answer. On one hand he was glad to get a more concise answer, but on the other he felt saddened that Data was still so resistant to the woman who obviously cared for him very deeply.

“Okay, thanks for clarifying,” he said evenly. “Can I ask why you haven’t become more than just friends?”

“Again, I am uncertain that this is appropriate conversation for on duty hours,” Data ranted, glancing quickly over his shoulder to be sure that neither their captain or first officer had caught on to their chat. “Tasha and I want to take things slowly. She insists that I have ‘the ball in my court’ and therefore I will move us forward when I am ready.”

“I get it,” Geordi noted with a sigh. “You only just came back on duty this morning. I guess I was foolish to think that maybe you used your time off to get closer to Tasha.”

“I did,” Data countered. “I believe that we are closer now than we have ever been. Perhaps my statement about our level of intimacy was incorrect after all. We are more personally and intellectually intimate. We are simply not more physically intimate.”

“Can I give a word of advice?” Geordi nudged.

“Of course. I value your opinion.”

Geordi stopped briefly to grin at his words. It was good to hear the recently melancholy android value something again. “Maybe you should approach your relationship with Tasha like you are with your official duties as an officer. For instance, if today and tomorrow go well then maybe you can take the leap with Tasha, knowing that she’ll be there to catch you; metaphorically speaking.”

“I am uncertain that your logic is sound,” Data retorted. “I have been a Starfleet officer for most of my life. Starting something profound with Tasha is all new to me.”

“But it’s important, right?”

“Yes, it is. I may still be working through my self doubt, however she has been a great resource.”

“And comfort,” Geordi added, knowing his point implied and emotional connotation.

Data shot his friend another look. “Perhaps,” he conceded, completely taking Geordi by surprise.

The helmsman smiled broadly. “‘Perhaps’ is good enough for me,” he chuckled.

The android made an internal notation of how rewarding it could be to make Geordi smile. At the same time he scolded himself for forgetting something so simple and fundamental to their friendship. In the end he could see that everyone was right, he did have value even if it was something as insignificant as making someone else happy.

......

Chapter Text

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.

“Goodnight, Data.”

“Goodnight, Tasha.”

......