It started after a routine diplomatic mission to a Class-M planet in the Redjian system.
“Lieutenant Data? Are you feeling alright?”
“I am feeling fine, Wesley. Why do you ask?”
Data wiped his leaking nose again, leaving a faint trail of circuit oil on his uniform sleeve.
“Oh. Um, no reason sir. You just…” Wesley paused, seeming unsure. This was quite interesting behavior, as Wesley was normally eager when speaking to Data.
“What would you like to say, Wesley?”
“I’ve never seen you wipe your nose before. I didn’t realize that Androids could get runny noses.”
“Androids do not get ‘runny noses’” Data said, repeating the new human phrase because he wanted to feel it come out of his mouth.
“Oh, of course not Lieutenant Data. Sorry, never mind.”
It continued on his next shift on the bridge. Data felt his left eye slowly twitch up, then down. Curious.
There seemed to be a sensation of dryness and pressure around his left eye and cheekbone. Data filed this information away as interesting, but ultimately too subtle to be worth further investigation. Up. Down. Hm.
It came to a head during the bridge crew’s weekly card game, nestled in the lower deck with his favorite humans and Klingons and a beautiful game of numbers and logic. Data knew that he should have been functioning with ease in such an agreeable environment, but for some reason, moving his normally deft fingers across his hand of cards to place his full house felt like he was pushing them through a vat of reactor grease. His normally superb vision felt untrustworthy, as twos spun themselves into threes and nines into eights. His skull itself felt strange, heavy, and pulsating with the subtle flashes of the old lightbulbs in the lower decks.
“Oh good, you are awake!” Geordi said, with a nervous laugh.
The nervousness in the laugh was uncharacteristic for Geordi, but it’s melodious sound still caused a unique reaction in Data.
“You look a little rough, buddy. Are you sick or something? Do you need to wrap up early?”
“Yes, Data, you do seem a bit under the weather.” Counselor Troi joined in, with a gentle smile.
“You are mistaken. Androids do not get sick. I am not susceptible to biological pathogens. I do not understand.” Data replied.
Data’s shipmates exchanged looks that intrigued him. Human mannerisms were an endless well of complexity.
“We know that Androids don’t get sick Data, but you’ve had a runny nose since our mission on Andoria, and you haven’t stopped rubbing your temple since we started our game. What would you call it?” Geordi retorted kindly.
“I do not know.”
“Data, Geordi, why don’t you come up to sick bay with me, and we’ll figure out what’s going on. I think that you’ve won enough hands of New Guillain Poker for today.” Dr. Crusher spoke up, smiling and standing, ushering Data out of his seat.
“Alright. Goodbye, Counselor, Lieutenant Worf. I will see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, let’s go get you checked out buddy,” Geordi put a warm hand on Data’s shoulder, affectionately jostling him.
The action brought a smile to Data’s sore face, as he was reminded of the deep friendship between himself and the engineer. Geordi really was a special human.
Dr. Crusher located trace amounts of Brucilieum particles on his scans; a rare element found on several planets in the Redjian system-- the system that they were just in for the mission on Andoria. Furthermore, Geordi manually inspected the secondary motor functions control panel on Data’s head while Data ran a full diagnostic check.
“Well, that must be it, Data. The contraction of your left eye lid, the subdermal facial pressure, the leaking nose ducts, and your lethargy can all be blamed on these Bruciliem particles interfering with your positronic brain.” Dr. Crusher said, smiling with amusement.
“Hey, so Androids can get sick, Data! You just need something a little fancier than human germs.” Geordi joined in playfully.
“But Geordi, I am not sick. I am simply experiencing physical symptoms caused by foreign particles in my system.”
“Data, that sounds an awful lot like being sick to me.” Dr. Crusher laughed.
“Ah. I suppose you are correct. I was--” Data cut himself off with a powerful sneeze, one that rattled the screws keeping his skull together and forced more circuit oil from his nose.
“Oh!” Both Geordi and the Doctor exclaimed together, before they saw Data’s expression of confused distress and burst into giggles.
Data recognized from his thorough analysis of human behavior over the past few years that being laughed at often caused embarrassment and shame, but all he could feel at the sound of Geordi’s soft giggles-- a sound he heard so rarely-- was warmth.
“What course of action would you recommend,” Data interrupted their petering out giggles, “to repair these malfunctions?”
“Well, Data, you aren’t going to like this, but based on these scans, the levels of Brucilieum in your system are decreasing naturally. I don’t think it would be wise to risk manually removing them all when any tool to do so might damage your circuits.”
“I agree. I would suggest using a sonic magnet to attract the particles or flushing them out with something, but the risks aren’t worth it when the problem will solve itself in a few days,” Geordi said.
Data nodded, as he understood that their proposal of allowing the particles to naturally dissipate was the most logical course of action. It was nevertheless unfortunate that he would continue to be affected by the numerous side effects.
“I’ll notify the Captain that you’ll be on sick leave for the next few days, Data. Why don’t you go back to your quarters now and rest? I recommend that you treat your symptoms the way one would treat a common cold.” Dr. Crusher dismissed him with a hand on his cold forearm.
“Of course. Thank you Doctor, and you Geordi.”
Androids do not get sick. Androids do not get sick, which meant that Data had no experience with treating a “common cold,” and he had never had the opportunity to observe his crewmates deal with sickness because they were always locked up in their quarters until they recovered. Starfleet had very advanced medical leave which ensured that no one ever had to go to work with so much as a sniffle.
This should never have been an issue, because Androids do not get sick. However.
Data was amused to find himself once again an exception to what Androids did and did not do.
He sneezed again, cataloging the now familiar rattle of screws behind his eyes, which caused the pressure building in his skull to flare up, and his nose to leak more steadily. The thin bioplast skin under his nose was beginning to chafe unpleasantly. He was tired. His body felt heavy and weak. He wished for the tenth time that hour that Androids could not get sick.
“Data, buddy? You in there?” Geordi’s voice called out, crackling over the intercom.
Rather than flex his creaky vocal cords unnecessarily, Data simply pressed the control panel to open his door.
“Oh, Data! I’m glad I came by to check on you, you look rough.”
“I--” Data paused to accommodate another sneeze, his eyes twitching with discomfort. “I am much the same as I was when you last saw me, Geordi.”
“Yeah, and that’s rough. What have you been doing for yourself? Did you make a cup of tea?”
“Tea? What for? I do not require liquid nourishment.”
Geordi made a contemplative noise, before nudging Data down on his couch until he was laying on his back, supported by the decorative pillows on the arm.
“Okay, Data, I think we forgot that you’ve never been sick before. You clearly don’t know the first step of taking care of yourself when you’re ill, so I’m gonna help you.”
“Geordi, that is not necessary. I am not seriously compromised, and will sustain no lasting damage from my condition. You should return to your normal activities.”
Geordi huffed pleasantly at that.
“I know that you’re gonna be just fine Data, but that doesn't mean I can’t help you be more comfortable right now. You're obviously miserable right now, and as your best friend, I won’t let that be-- no matter how temporary it is.”
Data’s tired processors must have been to blame for the way his thoughts stuttered to a stop at Geordi’s precious words. Obviously. He was struck stupid by the Brucilieum particles, not some kind (lovely, wonderful, honest, sacred) gesture by his friend. There was no other explanation.
“Thank you, Geordi,” Data finally replied, mustering the energy for a smile.
Geordi beamed back, saying, “Okay, step one. Let’s get you into pajamas. Go change and get into bed.”
“Now--” Data sneezed. “what?”
“Now, Data, I’ll make you my favorite drink to have when I’m sick.”
He walked up to the console in Data’s bedroom, turned over his shoulder to smile at Data (cuddled up in his bed with soft pajamas and a purring Spot in his lap) and ordered.
“Computer-- tea, chamomile, with 3 ounces of lemon juice and 2 ounces of honey, hot. In Data’s personal mug, please.”
With a series of beeps, a vibrantly orange mug with two triangle cat ears on the rim materialised, steaming.
“Here you go, Data. There’s nothing like tea with honey and lemon when you’re under the weather.”
As he accepted the comfortingly warm mug, Data questioned with a creaky voice, “Why would one be ‘under the weather?’ Is the weather not always above us, as long as we are below the clouds?”
Geordi let out another perfect giggle like the one in the med bay hours ago. Data soaked it up, carefully memorizing every note of the sound, its singular nature as well as its familiarity.
“No, Data, it’s just an old human expression that means you aren’t feeling well,” Geordi gleefully responded.
“I see. Very interesting. Thank you, Geordi.”
“Anytime, buddy. Say, do you want some Vaseline? Your nose is red as a Vermanian Crab-horse!”
Data smiled once again and nodded, comforted by the wonderfully human way his friend spoke. It was quite charming how humans explained their experiences using information from a vast array of sources.
Geordi summoned a small tub of a viscous, light colored substance that smelled lightly of eucalyptus. It looked similar to the greasing agents that were sometimes used to lubricate gears in Engineering.
Data watched with surprise as Geordi kicked off his shoes and sat on Data’s bed, folding his legs underneath himself. Geordi leaned over, hovering over Data’s face while he scooped out a small dollop of the ‘Vaseline’ and reached for the irritated patches of bioplast around his nose. Data unconsciously tilted his face to give Geordi better access. Data’s sophisticated hearing picked up on a sudden change in Geordi’s normally steady heart rate. Spot meowed and ran off.
“Is this okay? I was just going to apply this for you.” Geordi sounded uncharacteristically shy, and, receiving Data’s nod, he reverently spread the soothing gel onto Data’s face.
Data did not have lungs. Data had a highly advanced mechanical respiration system which created a similar effect to biological breathing, but it was not manually controlled, and it certainly was not affected by emotion.
Data’s lungs did not care about these facts. He felt his breath catch in his chest.
“Oh. You too, huh?” Geordi tilted his head to match the angle of Data’s, fumbling with the Vaseline in order to put it on the nightstand without losing any of the heady closeness between them.
Geordi was closer than he had ever been to Data. Data had been this close to others before-- barely inches apart from his father as he was assembled and repaired, clutched close to adversaries in violent conflict, even holding onto other crewmates in hugs in moments of camaraderie.
None of that had ever felt like this.
Nothing had ever felt like this.
Geordi leaned forward, and Data parted his lips on instinct, instincts ingrained in him from hours and hours of studying every aspect of human behavior.
They kissed. They kissed, and kissed, and kissed, Data’s cold bioplast lips against Geordi’s hot blooded lips, and they kept kissing until Data was forced to pull away to sneeze.
“Shit! Is it terrible if I say that I forgot that I came here because you’re sick?” Geordi exclaimed, his voice high and his breath uneven.
“Geordi, nothing you do could ever be considered terrible. You are wonderful.” Data replied genuinely, once he recovered from his sneeze.
Geordi did not respond with words, but Data sensed his cheeks and ears warm up, and felt Geordi’s lips press against his scrunched up forehead, then his cheek.
“Ah.” Data cleverly replied.
Geordi incredulously laughed, “Yeah, I know how you feel. I seriously didn’t plan on doing that, I was just supposed to come over and help you feel better--”
“You do help me feel better--”
“And I am so glad that I do, but I think we should hold off on the kissing until you’re not sneezing anymore--”
“Geordi, I wish to clarify, that you wish to kiss me more in the future?”
Geordi’s nose scrunched up and he said, “Yes, Data, I do want to kiss you more. I’ve wanted to kiss you for a while, I just wasn’t positive until today that you were interested as well.”
“I am. Interested, that is,” Data quickly asserted.
Geordi, once again, laughed. “Yeah, I can tell you’re interested, Data. I’ve never been kissed like that by someone who wasn’t interested.”
They smiled at each other again, and Data wiped his still sniffly nose again, scrunching up into his blankets and letting his head sink into his pillows.
“Geordi? If you are amicable, I would like to propose that you stay in here with me while I rest. I believe it would be most helpful in my recovery.”
“Yeah, Data, I’ll stay with you. Move over, okay?”
Maybe Androids could get sick. And maybe being sick wasn’t so bad, especially not when you had a best friend to look after you. Data smiled.