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The New Kid in Town

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Chapter One

Geordi lived and breathed Starfleet. He learned to walk through the corridors of a Starship. Family trips were spent, not in Florida or even the moon colony, but on planets half a light year from home. Ever since he could remember, his parents had told him stories of exploration, science, discovery; and he listened with wonder and awe. He yearned for the day he could be on his own ship, with his own crew; his own rank and job and duty to perform.

But that day was still far, far in the future. And sometimes it felt like it would never arrive.

He was starting his second year today. It was exciting; of course it was. This year they would go beyond the basic curriculum. New research opportunities were popping up every minute. The academics were going to be more difficult. But more rewarding, too.

But the academics weren’t what he was worried about. He’d never struggled to fit equations into his head, or memorize the entire history of Starfleet’s engineers and their respective ships. No, he was worried about something far more daunting.

See, Geordi hadn’t really had success in the ‘making friends’ department, let alone in the ‘romantic relationship’ minefield. Maybe it was because he was raised in space, surrounded by adults from the time he was a baby. Or maybe it was because he spent so much time reading and studying; his VISOR barely had time to register anyone else’s presence as he tore through book after book.

Whatever it was, Geordi doubted that the summer vacation would have fixed it. He hadn’t had the fortune of other boys, who sprouted like weeds over the holiday and returned to school looking like full ensigns. His uniform was still baggy. The way it stuck out at odd angles and fell over his hands made him look completely ridiculous. His mom had promised he’d ‘grow into it’. From his perspective, if it fit by the time he was a commander then he would be shocked.

Geordi looked himself over in the mirror one last time, as the morning birds chirped just outside his window. This was always a stressful part of the day. His VISOR could only make out outlines, really. The shape of his uniform; the line separating his hair and his forehead; his short stature, as he stood to his fullest height. He couldn’t tell if he had spinach in his teeth. And, even though he’d already been at Starfleet Academy for an entire year, he didn’t have anyone there to tell him he had spinach in his teeth.

Geordi pushed that thought aside, as he straightened his uniform as best he could. It was a new year; and the start of the academic-heavy portion of Academy training. He was good at academics. This was where he thrived. So maybe, just maybe, this would be his year. Who knew? Maybe today he would meet the love of his life.

Nah, probably not. He smiled at the idea, slipping his room key into his satchel. He’d been reading too many of his sisters’ novels. Stories of unlikely romantic encounters; knights in shining armor and everything. There weren’t any knights at Starfleet. None that he’d ever met. And today, most likely, was going to be filled with more droning professors than swooning lovers.

Best to get to class and save the dreaming for bedtime.

. . . . . . . . .

“Who can tell me how dilithium works, with regard to the matter/antimatter reaction in a standard warp core?” Professor Hanlon asked, scanning the room with his searchlight eyes.

Geordi raised his hand toward the sky without hesitation.

“Mr. La Forge?”

Geordi cleared his throat. “When dilithium is exposed to high temperatures and electromagnetic pressure, it becomes porous to light-element antimatter.”

Professor Hanlon beamed.

“Exactly, Mr. La Forge. You’ve been doing your reading.”

Geordi let himself smile, too. First question of the year down. About a thousand left to go before winter break.

He could do this. He could do this. He could-

“Psst,” whispered someone to his left. Ah, Libby. “Here.”

She practically shoved a crumpled up piece of paper into Geordi’s hand. He slipped his fist under his desk, out of sight of old Hanlon. He tried to keep taking notes; he really did. But the paper made his hand sweaty and then his hand made the paper sweaty and Libby’s eyes were boring into the side of his head.

Carefully, he unfolded the paper, cringing at every sound it made. As Hanlon turned to face the board, Geordi spared a glance down. Read the words.

Blushed.

“So…?” Libby said with a cheeky smile.

Geordi felt his face burn. He opened his palm and let the note fall to the floor. Then he leaned over his work and wrote faster; followed Hanlon’s every word like he was explaining the fountain of youth.

Beside him, Libby and her friend were giggling.

Geordi couldn’t understand what was so funny.

. . . . . . .

“Why didn’t you respond?” Libby asked as soon as the bell rang.

Geordi stacked his books and fit them into his satchel. Not exactly ignoring her, just making it known that other things were more important to him at the moment.

He didn’t respond until she shoved the note back into his hand.

“Ashley is just dying to go out with you,” she said, with that same sarcastic look on her face. It wasn’t exactly what he would call a smile that she wore. Maybe a sneer.

Behind her stood Ashley, and Ashley was definitely not ‘dying’ to go out with him. Ashley was rolling her eyes, smiling with the same unkind smile Libby always wore. Geordi couldn’t fully understand their joke; the ensigns he used to hang out with on the space stations never used this kind of ‘humor’ with him. But he knew, somehow, that he was being made fun of.

“I have to go,” he said abruptly, sliding his satchel over his shoulder.

As he hurried out of the room, ears burning, he could hear the girls laughing.

Maybe...maybe this wasn’t going to be his year after all.

. . . . . . . . .

There was one constant good at Starfleet Academy. Even among the stressful deadlines, the strange humor he never understood, and the less-than-chef-quality food in the cafeteria. There was his tech room.

Okay, it wasn’t ‘his’ tech room. But he’d been granted free use of it since his second month here, a perk of straight As and being a teacher’s pet, so it felt like his. It was a small room. (some would call it cramped). And dark. (some would call it gloomy). But it was all his for an hour or two, depending on how much time he slotted off for himself.

Since it was the first day of class, he didn’t have any competition. As soon as he left class and those giggling girls, he went straight to his hideaway on the other side of the building. His ID swiped him in without any trouble, and he entered.

The room greeted him with that dark coziness it always held. He dropped his satchel on the bench by door and eased the lights up a notch higher, so his VISOR didn’t have to work so hard. Then, for a minute, he just stood there. Gazed at the furniture, exactly where he’d left it three months before.

Home at last.

“How are we doing, computer?” he asked, as he sat on the rolly chair and spun around to face the desktop.

“All systems are functional,” replied that familiar computer voice that had followed him from ship to ship and station to station. From beyond Pluto, to San Francisco.

“Perfect. And safety is still on?”

“All student locks are activated.”

Geordi shook his head with a smile. “I was worried you’d say something like that.”

In here, he was like a different person. He was confident. Able. Maybe a little cocky. For an hour, he could pretend he wasn’t a gawky, awkward kid without a date to prom. He was a commander; no, an engineer. Or a captain, like his mother. And this was his ship: the Starship La Forge. Exploring new places and learning about the universe through experimentation and some calculated tinkering.

“Activate La Forge program 67,” he ordered. A pile of mechanical parts beamed into the replicator; his favorite set, which he’d been reluctant to leave behind last summer. “That’s more like it.”

Perhaps it was a lonely little life he led at school. But it was okay, when he was in here playing around with his robots and his toolkits. And he had friends, really. Not good friends. Not best friends. But, you know, people were usually nice to him. And professors liked him. So it wasn’t all bad.

And anyway, school was only a stepping stone, right? His life would start on graduation day. He had all that time left to worry about friends and relationships. Today, he could just tinker in his engineering room.

And wait for the future to arrive.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

Geordi spent nearly half an hour working on his electrical breadboard. It was as if the rest of the world didn’t exist, as he fiddled wires into slots, carefully plotted connections, and eased up the voltage to test his work. Technology was an escape to him, like books or holodeck simulations were to other people. Tinkering was more than a hobby; it was a part of him. As important as his VISOR; perhaps more so.

Grinning at the latest addition to his mess of wires and electrodes, he wheeled his chair over to the power supply. He chewed his bottom lip as he rested his hand on the dial. Slowly; slowly. One volt, and all was well. Two volts, and everything was still holding. Three volts. Four volts.

Geordi smiled. No short circuits; no misconnections; the ammeter wasn’t freaking out. Everything had gone perfectly! Another success story to add to his collection. Another series of connections and batteries that he could add to projects in the future.

He let out a breath with a satisfied sigh and dialled the power back down to zero. For a moment, he just sat back and sank into the joy of his work. Maybe he’d tell his parents about this tonight: tell them he was going to be a Starfleet engineer. He had another year or so to decide, but a year or so wouldn’t make a difference. He was sure of it.

It brought him such ease, to know what he wanted to do with his life. It had been complicated growing up with a captain for a mother and an exo-zoologist for a father. They each wanted their children to follow in their footsteps. They left some room for exploration, of course, but Geordi and his sister always knew their parents’ true desires.

Well, unfortunately for them, Geordi was going to be an engineer. And his sister Ariana was more interested in Earth animals than anything alien.

Geordi smiled again, and shut his eyes to cut off the images from his VISOR. Around him, the tech room whirred its gentle lullaby of humming machines and computer engines. The air was cool; almost as cool as the September air outside. Geordi was in paradise.

Until…

“Yo Tucker!” shouted the muffled voice of Peyton, Geordi’s worst nightmare. Presumably, he was speaking to Tucker Dennon, Geordi’s second worst nightmare. The pair of them were worse than Libby.

Well, at least they were out in the hallway.

Geordi sat up and leaned back over his breadboard, double checking all of the connections. He tried to memorize them; lock them into his VISOR somehow so they’d always be there for easy access. Just in case he ever needed to connect these exact wires in this exact way, on a Starship years from now. When he was chief engineer.

The thought made him smile. Geordi La Forge, a chief engine-

“Aw, Peyton, look,” Tucker Dennon said, in a mocking sweet voice. “Look who it is.”

A cold wave washed through Geordi’s veins. How many times had those guys taunted him the same way they were taunting some other kid now? And who were they going on about, anyway?

Geordi carefully slid the chair to the middle of the room. From here, he could just see through the window in the door. There stood Peyton and Tucker, big as they were, blocking out almost everything beyond them. Peyton leaned one football-sized arm against the nearest wall. His uniform clung tightly around his muscles, threatening to rip at any moment.

Tilting his head, Geordi just made out that there was a kid standing about ten feet in front of them. He was on the opposite side of the hallway, holding three textbooks under his arm.

His uniform was almost as baggy and oversized as Geordi’s.

“Excuse me,” the boy said. His voice was crisp and polite; the kind of clear accent used by newscasters and untenured professors. “I am trying to locate locker #357. I cannot determine the ordering system used in this building. Can you decipher it?”

Peyton and Tucker laughed their horrible laughs. Geordi cringed, and spun his chair back to face his desk. Another victim of the Terrible Two (as Geordi called them in private). Best get back to his work and-

“Ah, you don’t need a locker,” Tucker chided.

Geordi spared another glance out the door. Tucker and Peyton were approaching the poor kid. Their enormous bodies hardly shrinked as they went down the hallway, fists clenched at their sides. Geordi turned back to his work; back to his circuits. Back to paradise.

“Yeah,” Peyton cackled, “what you need is a maintenance hatch.”

Geordi’s brow furrowed. Who was this poor kid they were bullying? They were always a bit mean, but they never abused him like that.

The next moment, a terrible crash reverberated through the hallway. Geordi recognized the sound instantly; heavy textbooks landing on the floor. Then sounds of a scuffle, as Tucker and Peyton reached their target.

Then the sound of a maintenance hatch opening.

Geordi sprang to his feet, unable to listen to it anymore. He was out the door before he’d really found his courage, letting the tech room door shut behind him. Down the hall, Tucker and Peyton were still preoccupied with their prey.

“Hey!” Geordi called. He regretted it as soon as he said it, nerves zinging up and down his body. Omigod don’t get their attention, don’t get their attention, don’t get their attention.

The Terrible Two looked back at him, even as they continued to shove the poor new kid into the maintenance hatch door. Metal clanged, as the kid’s legs banged into the edges of the small metal corridor.

Geordi took a few big steps forward; anger and protectiveness overcoming his fear.

“You guys really think you’ll make it into Starfleet doing stuff like that?” he said sharply. Something he grabbed from his parents’ lectures, probably. For an extra hit, he added, “I’ll...I’ll tell Professor Hanlon if you keep that up. Come on guys, let him go.”

The plea was as much for himself as the skinny kid in the hatch. Peyton towered over him, as Tucker kept his hold on the kid.

Geordi gulped. Swallowed hard. But Peyton merely pointed his finger in his face.

“You won’t tell anyone about this, La Forge.”

Geordi nodded; all of that pent up rage melting back into self-preservative fear. He and Peyton stared at each other for another moment. And then, thankfully, Peyton motioned to Tucker and they sauntered off, leaving the kid with one last shove each.

Geordi let out a breath. Okay, he wasn’t going to die today. Not by those two, at least. With that in mind, he turned his attention to the other kid.

“Are you okay?” he asked gently.

The boy sat up so quickly he hit his head on the top of the maintenance hatch. Geordi cringed for him, but the kid didn’t seem bothered. He looked up at the metal ceiling of his small prison as if noticing it for the first time; curious, not frustrated, that he had just hit his head.

And that was when Geordi realized the kid was glowing.

Maybe it was a trick of his VISOR, but the kid had a yellow aura around him. Geordi had never seen anything like it; certainly not emanating from a human. And wait...the kid’s eyes were yellow, too.

Yellow eyes and a golden aura. He was different, which was probably why the Terrible Two had singled him out.

Geordi knew the feeling.

“Are you okay?” Geordi repeated, reaching out toward the boy. “Here, let me help.”

The boy blinked twice, staring at Geordi’s outstretched hand with wide eyes. He reached his own hand out, palm up: the same way Geordi’s was pointed.

Geordi chuckled.

“I meant, you can hold my hand to get out of there.”

“Ah,” the boy suddenly clasped Geordi’s hand tightly. “Thank you. You are very kind.”

Geordi watched him carefully as he stood. Not a scratch on him, it seemed. His uniform and his dark, slicked back hair were a little dishevelled, but that was to be expected.

“You still haven’t answered me,” Geordi said with another small chuckle. “Are you okay?”

“I am functioning within normal parameters.”

Geordi stared at him for a long moment, trying to understand. The way he spoke...the aura generated around him...his glowing yellow eyes…

“I am an android,” the boy said, as if reading his thoughts.

Geordi didn’t know how to respond to that. He’d met other species, of course. Vulcans, Ferengi, even a Klingon once or twice. But he’d never met an android. Not one that looked and sounded and felt so human.

“Oh,” he said, figuring he should say something. “I’m, er, I’m a human.”

“What is your name?” the android asked, in that same crisp, polite voice he’d used with Peyton and Tucker.

Geordi wondered briefly how the boy wasn’t more shaken up by everything that had happened. But then again, maybe it was just a part of being an android. Vulcans always hid their emotions. Maybe androids did, too.

“I’m Geordi. What’s your name?”

“I am Data.”

Geordi held out his hand again. This time, Data seemed to understand the meaning. He took it, and squeezed with gentle pressure.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Geordi.”

Data smiled softly. Geordi did, too, and then bent to pick up the fallen books. Two of them were closed, but one had fallen on its face. Geordi grit his teeth as he stared at the pages, crinkled beyond repair.

“You know, you gotta watch out for those two. They’ve been picking on first years since they were first years.”

Data knelt beside him, examining his books as he took them back. “I believe they were only attempting to celebrate their customs.”

“What do you mean?”

“Humans throughout history have engaged in traditions of ‘othering’, by selecting a group outside of their own and displaying threats. It is a way of strengthening morale among members of a society, or establishing a belief system.”

Geordi frowned sharply.

“Not at Starfleet, it isn’t,” he said quietly.

“Oh.” Data frowned, eyebrows lowering. “So...those students were not behaving correctly?”

“Definitely not,” Geordi replied indignantly. “Data...if anyone ever treats you like that, you tell someone, okay? Starfleet is about being...curious. And open to new experiences. And giving more than you get. Guys like that don’t even belong here.”

Data’s eyes bore into his VISOR, until Geordi was forced to look away. He stood slowly and waited for Data to join him.

“Are you sure you’re okay? It’s your first day and you’re already dealing with Starfleet Academy’s worst.”

Data nodded, cradling his books under his arm again.

“They would not have been able to cause me injury. My creator made sure that I was heavily protected against physical attack.”

Geordi wondered who this ‘creator’ was, and what they believed Data would need protection from. But he let the thought go. Data probably wanted to get back to what he was doing.

“Geordi?” Data asked hesitantly. “Would you be able to help me locate Locker #357?”

Geordi smiled.

“Of course. The three hundreds are down the hall here.”

Geordi started down the hallway, Data on his heels.

“But the lockers here are in the five hundred range.”

Geordi nodded. “It doesn’t make sense to me, either.”

They walked in companionable silence to the end of the hallway, where Geordi finally pointed out the proper locker. It was gray, just like all the others, and had a cheap lock on it like everyone else’s, too.

Either way, seeing it made Data smile.

“Thank you, Geordi. You have been very helpful.”

“Don’t mention it.” Geordi started to walk away, but turned back almost immediately. “Data, are you sure you’re okay? I-I just want to make sure. Usually people seem...I don’t know. Usually people are a little upset when something like that happens.”

“I am an android, Geordi,” Data repeated. “I do not have emotions.”

For some reason, Geordi didn’t believe him. But he walked back to the tech room without argument.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

The next morning was Geordi’s first exobiology class. He was a little worried about this one; not because he thought it would be especially difficult, but because his father would be watching his every grade.

Mr. La Forge was one of the top experts in the field of exo-zoology. He had tried to share his passion with his children, taking them to multi-world zoos and showing them video footage of the wild beasts from across the galaxy. But Ariana, his oldest, was always drawn closer to Earth animals than what lay out in the stars. And Geordi, of course, was more interested in machines than anything biologic.

If he were honest, Geordi only took the exobiology class to make his father happy. And, if any professor’s asked, to dabble in a field he didn’t know much about and explore all of his career options. But mostly to get his dad off of his back. If he made an honest attempt to enjoy the class this semester, the whole matter could be put to rest. Then he could spend the rest of his time at Starfleet working on engines and mechanics and robots; the things he knew he had a passion for.

Geordi took a deep breath before he entered the room. He could already hear the excited chatter of biology students; kids that would probably blow him out of the water with exo-animal facts. As for himself, he could hardly tell the difference between a Vulcan and a Romulan. His heart beat a little faster, his hand clutched his satchel a little closer to his shoulder. And then, with reluctance, he stepped through the threshold.

“Hey Geordi,” said a voice to his right as he entered.

Will, Geordi’s roommate.

Will was standing by the front-most desk, towering over Geordi as he entered the space. He was what Geordi would call a friendly giant; a bit nerve-wracking to those who didn’t know him, and a total softie to those who did.

“Hey Will,” Geordi replied. “Where were you all weekend? I didn’t see you move in. Our dorm’s felt pretty lonely without your clothes lying everywhere.”

Will smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

“My ship was late. Alaska hasn’t realized it’s the 24th century yet. I’m lucky I didn’t have to call a sled team to drive me.”

Geordi smiled outwardly, but his eyes met Will’s with a solemness that they both understood. He and Will didn’t speak much, Will opting to spend most of his time galavanting across campus with Paul Rice and the other Navigation guys. But even Geordi knew that Will didn’t always tell the truth; that there were things that even the charismatic and charming Will Riker hid from view.

In this case, Geordi knew that Will’s ship wasn’t late. Travel to and from Alaska was as good as anywhere else on Earth.

What had really happened, was that Will’s father was late driving him to meet his on-time ship. Will would tell him later on, when he had a little too much synthehol. Or when he and Geordi had one of their rare, albeit comforting, late-night chats, deep into the night across the darkness of their dorm.

Now that Geordi thought about it, standing here seeing him again for the first time since last semester, Will was one of the other best parts about Starfleet Academy. He had an air about him, like he could be the most popular kid on campus but he chose to be the nice kid instead. He could also cook a mean omelette, but that, of course, was less important.

“Are you in this class?” asked Geordi, finding that he was staring for a little too long.

“Nah, I’m heading out. I’ll see you later, Geordi.”

With that, Will disappeared out the door. Geordi didn’t expect to see him anytime soon, given Will’s track record of staying at every dorm and library couch except his own. But Geordi was already looking forward to hanging out with him again.

Geordi looked around the room for the first time. Half of the seats were already taken, students sitting in pairs at each table. He didn’t see anyone he knew that wasn’t already paired off, so he went to a seat toward the back of the room by the wall. With a calming sigh, he set his satchel on the table and pulled out his new note taking PADD, a gift from his mother for his good grades last year.

The PADD was sleek, one of the newest models. But if he were honest, it didn’t make him as happy as he thought it would. He had grown accustomed to an ache in his stomach; a loneliness that spiked at the beginning of each school year. As he looked around the room and watched the other kids laughing and joking and talking about their summers, that ache spread up his chest and formed a lump in his throat.

Yeah, he had perfect grades, and what seemed like a perfect family. But did any of that stuff really matter, when he still felt like this at the start of every class?

When Geordi next dared to look up, a familiar aura entered his VISOR from the front of the room. With his textbooks still held in the crook of his arm, Data looked just as much the new kid today as he did yesterday. His eyes shined over the room and landed on Geordi. Then they passed over him and searched the rest of the class.

Every table already had at least one person at it, and many had two.

Geordi cleared his throat, glancing around. He leaned forward in his seat and tried to speak, but no words came out.

Did he really…?

Yes, he did.

But...really, now, all he wanted to do was sit alone and feel sorry for himself, now that he had gotten a good start.

No, no. Someone needed him, and Geordi would be damned if he’d let someone else flounder the same way he always floundered.

“Data,” he called, pushing past the weird nerves mixing with the loneliness in his gut. “There’s a seat here.”

Data nodded, and sat abruptly in the seat beside Geordi. He slid his books carefully onto the desk, avoiding contact with Geordi’s satchel that was completely in his way.

“Let me grab that, sorry,” Geordi murmured, snatching up the satchel and tossing it onto the floor beside his own chair.

Data slid his textbooks so they were more directly in front of him, and then sat upright again facing the front of the room. His body made almost perfect ninety degree angles at every joint.

Geordi watched him for a moment, almost mesmerized. Data was...different, that was sure. Different from anyone else at Starfleet that Geordi had ever met. Not that different was a bad thing. It was just...different.

Suddenly a thought crossed Geordi’s mind, and he turned more fully toward Data’s side of the desk.

“Data...I thought you were a first year,” he admitted.

Data tilted his head.

“You are correct. Today is my second day at Starfleet Academy.”

“Oh. It’s just, usually you can’t take this class until after the first year.”

“Ah, yes,” Data turned in his seat to face Geordi. “I was asked to perform a placement test. After which, the test proctor determined that my scores were high enough to skip courses usually taken in a student’s first year.”

Okay, Geordi was impressed. He didn’t know anyone who was able to skip a whole year at Starfleet.

“You’ve gotta be the smartest kid in school,” said Geordi.

Data shrugged, completely nonchalant.

“I merely performed the examination to the best of my abilities.”

Geordi stared at him for a long moment. He had never met an android before, but so far Data was proving to be more humble than any human he’d ever come in contact with.

“Do you want to be my lab partner in this class?” Geordi asked. “Just cuz, er, we’re already sitting next to each other, and that’s usually how that works.”

Data smiled that soft, sweet smile again. The one that made Geordi wonder if he really was a human, and had just come under some spell that made him think he was an android. But the yellow aura glowed as bright as ever, as did the golden irises boring into his VISOR.

“Yes, I would like to be your laboratory partner.”

Geordi smiled, reaching out his hand.

“Alright. Welcome to Starfleet, Data.”

Data paused; then smiled with wide, innocent eyes. “Thank you, Geordi.”

The way that Data said it, it was like nobody had ever been kind to him before. Like he had never been ‘welcome’.

Geordi knew, as they shook hands, that this was going to be one interesting semester.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

Besides the tech room, Geordi’s favorite spot on campus was the Commons. This was a green field framed by gardens and the most recently finished buildings on campus. On a good day, the field was absolutely packed with students. On a bad day, when the wind howled and clouds rolled thunder across the sky, the Commons were barren. Like a coin being flipped, the fate of the rolling green hillside was one extreme or the other.

Fortunately for Geordi, the odds were in his favor today.

Rising early on Saturday morning, Geordi made it to his favorite spot before the Commons were too crowded. He sat in the shade of a Sycamore, his back leaned against the bark of the tree. A copy of an engineering textbook sat on his folded knees. The pages blew softly in the breeze, when it danced across the field. It was only enough of a wind to make the air a bit chilly; Geordi’s Starfleet hoodie was enough to keep him from being cold.

A perfect day in San Francisco.

Geordi glanced up from his book, out at the beautiful vista beyond the Commons. The Golden Gate Bridge glistened in the distance. Newly refurbished, it held that same charm that had brought tourists flocking here for centuries. A few passenger craft flew by as he watched. Briefly, Geordi wondered where they were going; where they had come from; who they were carrying.

With a satisfied sigh, he turned back to his book. It was interesting to him, even if others would find the subject boring or too technical. These diagrams were the result of so much human effort; so much progress and wisdom. Geordi had already dog-eared half of the pages on warp drive. Every student of Zephram Cochrane High School knew the importance of this history; Geordi, perhaps, more than most.

Growing up on starships hadn’t dimmed any of the mystery and the wonder of outer space for him. If anything, his upbringing had actually made him appreciate it all the more. The day he learned that humans, for most of history, had been trapped on Earth all their lives, a light was turned on in his head. It was as if it was revealed to him, that day, how lucky he was. How lucky they all were, to be living in this time and place.

Geordi smiled to himself, curling closer to the tree trunk; deeper into his hoodie.

What a life. What a world. What a-

“Get away from her!” shouted a boy, so suddenly Geordi felt his blood pressure spike.

Well, there goes the peaceful morning.

He plucked a buttercup from the grass and set it in his book to mark his page. Then, cautiously, he peeked around the tree.

Three students stood in the field just ten feet away: one girl, held protectively by her supposed boyfriend, and...Data.

Geordi got to his knees, watching the scene from behind the safety of the tree.

“I heard what you did to Robbie yesterday,” the boy continued. He was speaking to Data; tugging the girl along with him as he stepped away from the android.

“I assure you, it was not intentional,” Data said with a frown. “I am incredibly apologetic that I caused injury.”

Alarms went off in Geordi’s head. He stood slowly to his feet, still mostly hidden behind the tree. Data? Hurt someone? No way.

The boy scoffed at Data’s words. “An apology from an android,” he said darkly. “That’s one for the record books.”

With that, the boy and girl went off toward the closest building, leaving Data staring after them. Geordi glanced around. Everyone was minding their business, their noses hidden in their books.

Geordi pushed himself away from the tree.

Pushed himself toward Data.

“Geordi,” Data said with wide eyes. He stuttered back a step or two as Geordi approached. “How are you this morning?”

“How am I?” Geordi could have laughed if he weren’t so worried. “Data, how are you doing?”

Data’s expression turned blank; blanker than usual. Blanker than his true feelings.

“I am functioning within normal parameters,” he stated simply.

That same old phrase again. Geordi didn’t believe it for a second; it sounded like a cover up.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Data shrugged. “There is nothing to discuss. I will see you in our exobiology class on Monday, Geordi. Good day.”

He walked off before Geordi could stop him.

Geordi sighed as he watched him go. The boy and girl had already disappeared into the library, safe from whatever threat they somehow found in Data. And soon enough, Data was gone, too. Down the hill, toward the dorm halls.

Geordi went back to his tree; breathed in the scent of the sycamore. He opened his book and returned to reading. But everything felt wrong now.

And suddenly, this didn’t seem like such a wonderful time to be living.

. . . . . . .

As soon as Geordi stepped out of his first class on Monday, Libby grabbed him by the arm.

At first, he thought this was another weird game for her and her friends; some strange bullying tactic that he still didn’t understand. But standing in the alcove she’d dragged him into, he knew something was up. Her eyes were serious. Her frown was honest.

As soon as she knew he wasn’t going to run off, she dropped her hand from his arm. She crossed her own arms, as her eyes shifted to the hallway beside them before landing on Geordi’s VISOR.

“Geordi...some of us are worried about you.”

Geordi’s brow furrowed.

“Me? Why?”

He hadn’t had more than a few real conversations with her or any of her friends. And, to his knowledge, he hadn’t done anything worrisome in their engineering class. Actually, he’d had a pretty good day. Professor Hanlon called on him about four times, and he’d been right every time.

“Well,” Libby glanced off to the side; leaned in a little closer. “Everyone keeps seeing you hanging out with the new kid. Your lab partner in exo?”

“Data?” A weight dropped in Geordi’s stomach. “What’s wrong with that?”

Libby chewed her bottom lip.

“Did you hear what happened to Robbie? The synth clapped him on the back and almost dislocated his shoulder.”

He elected to ignore the word ‘synth’. As much as it made him shudder, it wasn’t worth the fight.

“That was an accident,” he stated between gritted teeth.

She shrugged, her hands rising defensively.

“I’m sure it was. But...people are afraid. There’s never been a synth in Starfleet before. And you know Dr. Soong’s reputation.” Her voice lowered. “Some kids are wondering what the synth was programmed for. I mean, Soong was a madman. And he was smart. And he had a grudge against Starfleet.”

Geordi bit back his knee-jerk reaction to remind her that it was attitudes like hers that drove Soong a million miles away; that drove him away from Starfleet. Instead, he rolled his shoulders back and let out a breath.

“His name is Data,” he mumbled.

Libby closed her eyes for a moment. “I know. Just be careful, okay? I know I haven’t always been good to you, but...I don’t want you to get seriously hurt by this kid.”

Geordi stepped away from her, gripping his satchel tight in his fist. “I’ll be alright,” he said flatly.

As he stormed off down the hallway at double speed, a small piece of him wondered...not whether Data was dangerous or not; that was ridiculous. But whether he was strong enough to deal with the storm that was coming for them, if he stayed by his side. So far, his role at Starfleet Academy was the quiet kid who worked hard and got perfect grades. But if he stayed on this path of resistance and interference...what would his role become then?

Chapter Text

Geordi lay in his room on Thursday reading over his exobiology notes. It was a quiet night, and had been a pretty quiet week after the incident in the Commons on Monday. That was fine with Geordi; preferred, actually. He really needed to study this semester. Classes were already getting more difficult than anything he’d faced before. He could handle most of it pretty well. But this exobiology stuff was something else.

Maybe it was because his father was so interested in it that Geordi couldn’t be. He’d grown up hearing about how great the subject was, and it never lived up to the hype. Early on, he’d decided his father’s career wasn’t for him. Apparently his brain had gotten the message; blocked out every exobiology fact he tried to memorize.

Upon his third attempt to read the same paragraph, something about the amoeba of Romulus versus the amoeba of Vulcan, he set the book down with a great sigh. He gave his eyes a short break by taking off his VISOR. It was calm in the darkness; peaceful. It also hurt less. That chronic headache from the sensory implants didn’t affect him nearly as much when the VISOR was off.

The door opened suddenly. Geordi recognized the footsteps, but returned the VISOR to his face anyway. When Will’s tall image pixelated in front of his eyes, he smiled.

“Hey. How’s your week going?”

Will hadn’t been in their room since last weekend when he’d first moved in. Geordi was always worried when he didn’t show up for a while; but he always returned. Sort of like a loyal stray cat.

“Not too bad,” Will replied. “How about you?”

Geordi tilted his book so Will could read the cover.

“This exo stuff is something else. I know it’s supposed to be cool; and it is, but...it’s just not for me, I guess.”

Will slid his boots off and wandered over to his bed across the room from Geordi’s. He looked happier than usual. A constant lived behind his eyes tonight. That was nice; last year the kid always looked so sad.

“Is Data in that class?” Will asked suddenly.

Geordi braced himself. So far, everyone who had mentioned Data seemed to have some unwarranted opinions. Geordi knew Will wouldn’t be like that. But if he’d been talking to others, then he may have gotten the wrong idea already.

“Yeah. He’s my lab partner, actually.”

Geordi held his breath as he waited for a response. He hadn’t known Data long, but he felt naturally inclined to defend him without hesitation. Maybe that wasn’t a good thing. Maybe he was being rash; getting attached too soon to someone he didn’t know. But Geordi had a good feeling about the new kid. If everyone else could just see him the way he did…

Will didn’t make any rude remark, though. His smile didn’t waver. In fact, it grew.

“He sits next to me in Navigation. That kid is smart. And fast.”

Geordi let out his breath, his lips easing into a smile.

“He is. And he’s got a knack for exobiology.” Geordi turned back to his book with a shake of the head. “Thank God for that, cause I’ve got no idea what I’m doing.”

Will laid back on his own bed, leaning his head on his hand.

“Did you hear what happened with him and Robbie last week?”

Geord’s smile faltered.

“Yeah.” He left it at that, so that Will could give his take on the situation.

“He’s a really sweet kid,” Will said with a rather surprising belly laugh. “But I wouldn’t challenge him to an Anbo-jyutsu match.”

The tension in Geordi’s shoulders eased. Oh, thank God for Will. For friends, allies, in this new field he was operating in. The field of complicated relationships and mixed opinions. A field he’d avoided like the plague last year.

“I wouldn’t either,” he agreed with a laugh of his own.

“I’ll let you get back to studying,” said Will. “I’m afraid I can’t help you with that exobiology stuff. I’m more of a pilot myself.”

Geordi watched Will pull out his PADD, sinking deeper into his pillows.

“Hey Will?”

Will turned to him sharply.

“It’s nice to see you again.”

Will grinned toothlessly.

“You too, Geordi.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 6:

The next day, Geordi had lunch in the cafeteria. Normally, he avoided this place. It was noisy, crowded, and loud - all the things that made his VISOR prone to feedback. But today was Friday, he was feeling good, and he wanted to be around people.

Besides, it was time he found out what all the fuss was about with the so-called ‘best salad in the galaxy’. Apparently it was the only unreplicated item on the menu, with fruits and veggies grown right outside in the California sunshine.

It sounded pretty good. And as Geordi stood in line with his tray at the ready, it looked pretty good too. Even his VISOR, impacted quite harshly by all of the people and conversations moving around him, saw that the salad was a masterpiece of color and diversity. When it landed on his plate, he had to stop himself from digging in right there. He took a quick bite of tomato to hold himself over, and then turned to the rest of the room..

The sight of the enormous space instantly made Geordi grimace. Static pulsed at the edge of his vision. In some areas, where groups of students huddled together, body heat readings were off the charts. Furniture readings were a bit haphazard as well, with all the chairs and tables and trash cans strewn around the room. He made a mental note not to walk around too quickly, lest he bruise his shins.

For a moment, Geordi longed to be out in the Commons; just him and the tree and the breeze. It would certainly be calmer; quieter. Maybe even a bit more enjoyable. But just then, a familiar golden aura entered his view; different from all of the other readings.

The sight of it made him smile.

“Data!” he called, approaching the aura like it was a lighthouse in this sea of electromagnetic waves.

Data spun around with his own smile; just a slight upward tilt of the lips. He had his own tray as well, which he carried with both hands at exactly parallel to the floor.

“Hello Geordi,” he said. He took a step forward...

And then Peyton stepped between them, facing Data head on. Geordi came to a stuttering stop, as Peyton’s figure loomed in front of him. He was unsure what to do for a moment, as if his mind had stopped working. There were two clear, conflicting thoughts in his head at that moment: he wanted to pull Data out of there; but he also wanted to run in the opposite direction.

“What are you getting that stuff for?” Peyton asked of Data’s plate of chicken and rice.

“This is my selection for lunch. I have a midday break at this time, at which I typically take sustenance,” Data replied.

The kid didn’t miss a beat.

Peyton only scoffed. “Isn’t your ‘sustenance’ engine oil, robot boy?”

Geordi came between them in two long strides.

“Okay, fun’s over,” he said sharply.

Peyton looked at Geordi with something like humor. He clicked his teeth; rolled his eyes. All the things that made Geordi’s anger rise higher than his fear.

“And what are you going to do about it?” asked Peyton, bending closer to Geordi’s level. “Tell my mom?”

“I’ll tell...someone.” Geordi shook his head with a sigh; shifted awkwardly from foot to foot. “Look, just leave him alone. It’s only his second week here.”

“‘It’ shouldn’t be here at all,” Peyton said with a dark smile. “It belongs in someone’s lab.”

Geordi lunged forward, almost knocking his salad onto the floor. Data stopped him before he could reach Peyton, with two strong hands on his shoulders. It didn’t stop Geordi from trying to push through, even as his feet skidded on the floor. But a few scuff marks were his only reward.

Peyton watched him with a calm disdain. Raising himself to his full, towering height, he walked off without a second glance. Just before he was beyond earshot, Geordi heard his murmur: “Freaks.”

The word deflated Geordi. He stopped fighting; relaxed his stance. Data slowly lifted his hands off of his shoulders and picked his tray back up off the floor.

Glancing around, Geordi saw that everyone in the vicinity was watching him; some with pity, some with irritation. He shrugged it off.

“Let’s go outside.”

Data followed him without a word.

. . . . . . . . . .

The weather today wasn’t perfect, but it would do. At least the clouds had scared most of the students out of the Common. Geordi’s favorite spot was open, and free of all of those people; all of that commotion. He showed Data across the lawn, and sat with him under the sycamore tree.

The Golden Gate was covered in a fog; a common occurrence but one that Geordi didn’t overly enjoy. Today, it was just another layer of interference in his vision. Another thing he couldn’t see clearly.

Another thing causing headaches.

“Geordi?” Data said quietly.

Geordi turned to him, sitting with the haze surrounding his golden aura. It was actually a beautiful sight. Data made the haze look good; intentional. Like an artist’s interpretation of an angel appearing out of a storm.

“Geordi...I am perplexed.”

“About what, Data?” Geordi popped the lid of his salad and took a large forkful. It was alright; nothing to write home about. Replicated vegetables tasted about the same as these ones. Or maybe he’d spent too much time on starships to notice?

“Geordi...why do you keep stepping between myself and students who attempt to incur injury to my supposed ‘feelings’? You know that I cannot be harmed by either their words or any physical altercation.”

Geordi stabbed a piece of lettuce with his fork and shrugged his shoulders.

“I can’t just stand by and watch those guys talk to you like that.”

Data thought for a moment, and then tilted his head. “Ah. So it is because of a moral principle you hold?”

Geordi couldn’t help but smile a little. Data’s way of speaking always made him smile. He couldn’t explain it; the kid was just...magnetic. (Literally and metaphorically).

“I guess so,” Geordi replied.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, as they each ate their food. Geordi was growing calmer now. Not so angry at the world. The breeze felt good on his face; the grass silky against his hand as he pulled up small tufts of weeds.

When next he spoke, Data’s voice sounded smaller; younger.

“Do you suppose that people fear me because I am different?”

The words hit Geordi in the chest. His head whipped up to meet Data, his VISOR staring right into those golden eyes.

“It’s possible,” he replied dumbly. There was more he wanted to say; but what? How do you respond to something like that?

Geordi cleared his throat and set his fork into the salad container.

“When I first got my VISOR, all the kids were scared.” He chuckled at the memory. “One of them asked if I was Robocop. You know, from the old film?”

Data nodded, his mouth a straight line.

“Is that story humorous because the students were mistaken?” he asked suddenly.

“Wha-? Oh, er, it’s more like: They used to be afraid, but now they know that I’m not really that different from anyone else. I just see the world a little differently. I guess I was laughing because, well...it used to mess me up, you know? When kids would keep a distance from me? I almost hated my VISOR at first. But then I got used to it, and everyone else did, too.”

Data nodded.

“I do not believe that the students will ‘get used’ to me in the near future,” he said, rather sadly.

Geordi frowned.

“Well, maybe not kids like Peyton. But some people will. I’m already pretty used to you. I actually...I actually like that you’re a bit different.”

Data’s lips turned into an almost imperceptible smile. They held each other’s gaze for a long moment, as the breeze played with their hair. Geordi turned away to look at the grassy turf he had just picked up. Examined the clover; felt the reeds of grass between his fingers. Breathed in and out and tried to forget the incident in the cafeteria. Tried to live in the moment.

He turned back up to Data, who’s eyes were still glued to him.

“Geordi, I do not know if it is rude to ask…”

“Ask away,” Geordi encouraged, lying back with his hands folded across his stomach.

“What is your experience of vision like, with your VISOR?”

“Hmm,” Geordi looked around, trying to piece it together. “It’s hard to explain to someone, cause it’s just normal for me. I guess I kind of see things like an infrared camera. Have you ever seen images like that?”

“Yes.”

“And then, if I want, I can look at things deeper; see the materials they’re made of, or look inside things like an X-ray. I just have to use my brain to change the settings.”

“That is fascinating,” Data breathed. It was more emotion than he usually allowed himself to show.

Geordi grinned in response, looking around him once more.

“The VISOR does have its drawbacks. My head is killing me today,” he said, as he brought a hand up to his temple.

Data was at his side before Geordi saw him move.

“Should I call for medical personnel?” he questioned, wide eyes darting across Geordi’s face.

Geordi raised a hand with a startled smile.

“No, no; I’m fine Data. It’s a figure of speech.” Data relaxed, but stayed a little closer than before. “‘Killing me’ just means that something is really irritating.”

“Ah.” Geordi could swear that his VISOR registered Data blushing a little bit. “I have not heard that phrase before.”

“Sorry about that.”

Another moment of quiet passed between them. Data lessened the awkwardness by eating his chicken and rice again. He ate just like a human would; someone had taught him manners better than Geordi’s own. As a piece of chicken slipped out of his mouth, he caught it with a napkin, and then dabbed at his lips.

Geordi smiled fondly.

“Data, do you experience taste? If you don’t mind me asking,” Geordi added.

Data swallowed, and set his plate on the grass again.

“I do not have taste buds, so my sensors only indicate the chemical components inside the food that I consume.” At Geordi’s confused expression, Data continued, “Eating is an important part of human sociology. Since I am to live among humans for the foreseeable future, I believe it is logical to maintain a human-like lifestyle.”

Geordi nodded, thinking about all of Data’s words carefully.

“Do you need sustenance? I mean, everything needs some form of energy.”

Data nodded.

“I do require some sustenance, yes. Normally I consume oil, as Peyton suggested when I first met him.” Geordi wondered if that were his first time hearing Data make a joke. Data continued, “I consume food more for the experience of eating than for mineral requirements. And I have a sleep program that I access when I need to recharge.”

“Same here,” Geordi said lightly.

They shared a smile. Geordi liked talking to Data. More than that, he liked listening to Data. Not just because it was fascinating as an engineer. But because it was comforting as a friend. It was comforting to have a friend, in the first place. Like having a safe place to land.

“Do you have blood and organs and stuff?” Geordi asked, resting his head on his hand, elbow in the grass.

Data’s eyebrows raised slightly at the question. He thought it over for a moment, eyes shifting back and forth.

“I have coolant and engine oil that function similarly to human blood. As for organs, I have fluid storage compartments that store the coolant and oil. These are the only purely biologic parts of my body.”

He paused briefly.

“I do not believe I have ever told anyone about myself in this way before,” he said quietly. “Beside, perhaps, the officers that first discovered me.”

Geordi wondered if he had gone too far in his questioning; crossed a line that wasn’t yet ready to be crossed. But then Data smiled softly, and rested more comfortably against the trunk of the sycamore tree.

“My defensive sensors are calm when I am near you,” he said.

Geordi felt his heart skip a beat.

“You know what, Data? Mine are too. When I’m around you.”

They shared another long look; another smile. And then gazed out at the fog surrounding the Golden Gate Bridge.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

Geordi took in a deep breath as he walked into his tech room again; back into his oasis of circuitry and mechanics. Back home.

This semester had already been substantially better than last year. He had more confidence. More friends. But still, it was nice to get away from it all every now and then. Spend some time dreaming; get his head out of deadlines and problem sets.

“Computer, run La Forge Program 15.”

Immediately, the replicator on the far left side of the room began churning out some of his favorite tools. Meanwhile, the replicator on the right was spitting out engine parts; a random mix of items that he could weld together to make into anything, really. This was his playground, and he was ready for a bit of recess.

Geordi sat in the spinny chair and let it turn him around 180 degrees. There, he snatched up a magno-wrench. Spun around again to find three hunks of metal, which he laid in front of him on the workbench. In the past, he had made these pieces into a rudimentary oven; a gift for Will that almost literally went up in smoke. Another time, he’d built his mom a necklace.

Today’s creation was still to be dreamed up. But he was looking forward to exploring his options.

He tapped the wrench rhythmically on one of the thickest chunks of metal. It made a deep, resounding thud with every beat. In a strange sort of way, it was actually quite calming. Like a Gregorian chant but with neglected parts of what could have been beautiful machinery.

Well, today Geordi would give them their second chance at life.

He smiled, as he tapped and thought and dreamed. Smiled because he was truly happy here; in this room and at Starfleet Academy. Things were finally looking up. His chest was light. His body felt electrified with new energy. And he was just...happy. There was no other word for it.

A sudden knock on the door and a bit of that happiness deflated. It was soon replaced with some irritation. Maybe he was being dramatic, but the door did say exactly who was signed up to work in the room, and he had made sure he was here at the right day and time.

“Yes?” he called, spinning around to face the door.

As the door opened, a golden aura spilled into the room. Geordi jumped to his feet; his frown switching to a smile, irritation switching to joy.

“Data, hi!”

Data smiled back at him, looking very slightly guilty.

“I apologize if I have caused any disturbance,” he said sweetly.

Geordi waved him off. “Don’t be. Come on in,” he added, dusting off one of the discarded chairs from the side of the room.

Data nodded in thanks and slowly sat.

He was still a little strange with some things. In this case, he sat rigidly upright; uncomfortably so. His arms dangled at his side at almost a ninety degree angle with the floor. Geordi didn’t comment. Maybe that was just how he liked to sit.

“This is the tech room,” Geordi said with a broad gesture to the small space. “I like to come in here every now and then...mess around with all this stuff.”

“Ah.” Data’s eyes flickered over each of the pieces on the workbench. Then he turned abruptly back to Geordi. “I came to speak to you about the project we are to work on for our exobiology course. At the end of class, you stated that we would ‘get in touch’, however, you did not specify a date or time when we would…’get in touch’.”

Geordi chuckled to himself.

“Well, Data, we did just have class yesterday.” At Data’s confused expression, he conceded. “How about Friday?”

Data nodded. “On Friday, I am available from 0 O’clock until approximately 7:48. And then from 10:30 until 13:05. And then from 16:35 until 23:59 and 59 seconds.”

Geordi blinked a few times, trying to make sense of all of the numbers. After a quiet moment, when he was sure Data was finished speaking, he said simply, “How about Friday evening? Around, er...20:00?”

Data nodded in agreement. “That time would be acceptable. Where would you like to work?”

“Er...one of our dorms, I guess. Everywhere else is either creepy or crowded on a Friday night.”

“Your dormitory may be more comfortable than mine,” Data said. “However, my dormitory has more privacy, since I do not currently have a roommate.”

"Let's do your dorm," Geordi replied. "I've never been in there."

A moment later, Geordi’s brows creased together.

“Wait, you don’t have a roommate? I thought everyone did.”

Data shook his head.

“I believe that there was a discussion about what would be most prudent. Since I am the first of my kind that many people have met, some members on the board of directors were hesitant to allow me to live in close proximity with other students.”

Geordi was silent for a long moment. Finally, he whispered, “That’s kind of messed up.”

Data shrugged, in complete nonchalance.

“There were many persuasive arguments made on both sides of the debate. However, the directors decided to…’err on the side of caution’. I believe that is the correct phrase.”

Geordi frowned.

“‘Err’ is right.”

Data’s head tilted.

“What I mean is,” Geordi explained, “People shouldn’t treat you differently than anyone else. Imagine if they did that to a Vulcan student, or a student who was mixed race. It goes against everything that Starfleet stands for.”

Geordi swore he saw Data relax, just a little, into his chair. He smiled, too; that almost-not-there smile that barely curled the edges of his lips.

“I am glad that you feel safe when in close proximity to me, Geordi,” Data said in a softer tone than usual.

They shared a look, which felt like it contained words. But before Geordi could actually say anything, Data stood back up.

“I believe that you only have forty-three minutes left in your allotted hour inside the technical room,” he said.

“Wait, Data.” Geordi rolled his chair over with an arm out to stop him. “You can stay. If you want.”

Data looked over the workbench, and then sat back down.

“Thank you, Geordi. I am...intrigued, to know what you are building.”

“Me too,” Geordi said with a smirk. “See, I usually just start tinkering with things, and then I kind of stumble onto whatever I want to make.”

“‘Stumble’? Trip; Stagger; Flounder; Teeter; Lurch?”

Geordi’s grin spread across his face.

“Exactly.” He picked up two different pieces of metal; one thick and rusty, the other a thin cylinder. He ultimately set down the bigger piece and traded it for a wire and battery that had been discarded on the tabletop. “Lately I’ve been getting into robotics and building circuits. I’m trying to know the ins and outs of everything I might come into contact with in my career with Starfleet.”

Data brought his chair closer to the table, until he was touching elbows with Geordi.

“My creator, Dr. Soong, was a notable figure in the field of cybernetics.”

Geordi’s head whipped toward Data at warp speed. He had never, ever, mentioned Doctor Soong; and Geordi had been wary to bring him up either. The rumors about that guy...and the mystery of his death, and Data’s birth. It was all too much for their fragile, new friendship.

“I’ve heard,” Geordi replied, the safest thing he could think of to say.

Data picked up one of the pieces of metal, lined with extensive wiring.

“This piece closely resembles my arm unit.”

Suddenly, way too suddenly, Data reached over and opened the outer casing of his right arm. The bioplast skin peeled back, revealing blinking lights; wires; thin tubes.

Geordi stared open-mouthed for a long moment. And then another.

What in God’s name was he supposed to say or do when his friend just...opens his arm up like that? Was that...was that normal behavior? Should he be worried? Data didn’t seem worried. Maybe he should be supportive. Maybe treating it like a weird thing would make Data seem self-conscious. But his arm!

“Are you alright Geordi? You have not spoken for 34.67 seconds.”

Geordi shook his head.

“I’ve just...never seen inside you like that.”

Wow, that was a weird sentence. He shut his eyes tightly, feeling his face light up in embarrassment. Then, remembering that all of this was probably strange for Data as well, he opened his eyes with a smile.

“I’m glad you trust me like that.”

Data smiled back, as if nothing was wrong. As if the inner workings of his arm weren’t exposed. So Geordi decided to act like it was all normal, too.

“Did you ever get to meet Dr. Soong?” Geordi asked, as a way to change the subject.

“No, I did not. He was presumed lost in the attack on Omicron Theta.”

Okay, now Geordi wished he hadn’t changed the subject.

“I’m sorry, Data.”

Data brought a hand - his left, whose arm was still fully closed - to his temple.

“I contain many memories from the people who were living in the colony at the time of the attack, including two files about Dr. Soong.”

“Just two files?”

“Yes,” Data paused, as he closed up his arm. “My creator was evidently an eccentric as well as private individual. I have one image of him, and one file of his journal entries, made just before the attack. Since I do not have any family with which to obtain more information, I am limited in what I am able to learn about him.”

Geordi wasn’t sure how to respond to all of this. He didn’t honestly have a ton of experience talking to people his age, especially not about matters this personal. But he wanted to try. For Data, he wanted to try his best.

“What did he look like?” Geordi asked gently.

“His appearance was almost identical to my own.” Data frowned, puzzled. “I am unsure what the purpose would be, in crafting me after his own image. It was not necessarily the simplest course of action. From my limited experience with humans, I do not find that they enjoy looking at themselves very often.”

Geordi almost made a quick joke, but Data seemed a bit too vulnerable for that right now. Yes, Geordi had decided in his mind; this android, at certain times, appeared vulnerable. And sometimes he looked lost. And sometimes he looked afraid. And sometimes he looked happy.

Geordi’s head perked up, finally with an answer.

“Data...well, you know how Dr. Soong was interested in creating a human-like android?”

Data nodded. “Yes. Though that was not explicitly written into the files I was programmed with, I have since read numerous textbooks that describe his work.”

“Well…” Geordi rubbed his hands together, “humans who look like other humans are usually related in some way. So maybe Dr. Soong wanted you to be like his...son. Not just an android he created, but his own kid.”

Data’s eyes widened at the thought.

“Do you believe that is true?” he asked.

Geordi shrugged with a smile.

“I think it’s possible.”

Data looked off into space. His eyes seemed...lighter somehow. Like they weren’t carrying a heavy burden or trying to be inhuman anymore. Like they were finally showing the true feelings behind the mask Data always wore.

“If that is the case,” Data said rather excitedly, “then I have a father. He is deceased, but he was...my father.”

Data smiled then, more than he had allowed himself to smile ever before. It barely reached his eyes; it barely looked like a smile to anyone less perceptive than Geordi.

But Geordi saw it. He saw it, and he knew then that he wanted to see it again and again.

Oh boy, he was starting to sense things when he looked at Data; things he swore he wouldn’t sense until after graduation. Small things: a fluttering chest, butterflies in his stomach, vibrations in his fingertips.

Maybe he’d caught something in the biology lab; accidentally brought home a bug kit or something meant for the entomology students. Or maybe...maybe he had caught something far more dangerous.

Maybe he had caught feelings.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

Data’s dorm was...lacking in some respects. Oh, there was a bed. A perfectly orderly bed, with Starfleet standard sheets and everything. There was a desk, too. This at least had a few personal items - a graded physics test (a perfect score, of course), a volume of Shakespeare, an Acting 101 textbook. But mostly, the room was just...space. A large, open cavity without anything to fill it.

“Data, we’ve gotta get you some decorations for this place,” said Geordi, as he pulled his PADD out of his satchel.

“I have everything that I require.” Data looked around the room.

“Yeah, but, you know...you should make it your own.”

When Data still didn’t seem to understand his meaning, Geordi sat beside him on the bed and explained, “When people move into a room, they usually add a lot of personal items. They go shopping, and then fill their rooms with things they like. Like...art, or books, or just pictures.”

“I do not have many personal items.” Data’s face fell slightly as he looked around his room again, apparently noticing for the first time how barren it looked.

Geordi frowned, and then clapped Data on the shoulder.

“Maybe one of these days we can go into the city and buy you some things. I haven’t been there in forever.”

Data’s eyes lit up at the idea.

“Are you referring to downtown San Francisco?”

“Yeah. We could go check out the aquarium, hitch a ride on a cable car, go buy some new clothes; it’ll be fun. Only if you want to,” he added with a flustered smile.

There was no need to worry. Data nodded instantly.

“I would like that.”

“Great!” Geordi cleared his throat; scratched the back of his neck. And then turned down to his PADD, and the pages and pages of notes and diagrams scattered on the bed in front of them. “I guess we should get to work on this project, huh?”

“That would be prudent.”

. . . . . . . . . . .

“But that was the summer of ‘48. The summer of ‘49 was the real kicker,” Geordi laughed, as he and Data lazed on the bed, Data’s casual pose a mimicry of his own.

Their exobiology project lay forgotten on the end of the bed, the title being the only component actually finished. Neither of them seemed to care much, as they talked and listened. It was well past 2200 now. Other students were returning to the dorm hall with loud, somewhat alcohol-driven rambles. Some were probably trying to sleep.

All Geordi knew was that tonight was flying by, and he couldn’t get enough of it. He was talking without a voice in his head telling him what to say, and what not to say, or worrying over the other person’s expressions. He felt free, in a way that he’d never been free before. Free to explore conversations he’d never had with anyone outside of his family. Free to give his unfiltered opinion on everything from clam chowder to Starbase 5’s poor excuse for a Holosuite.

The whole time, Data listened. He leaned his head on his arm, elbow on his bed; lying on the bed just like a human would. Though his emotions were rather muted, he smiled at the right times; frowned at the right times, too. It was like having...well, a best friend, Geordi supposed. This is what that felt like.

“Geordi,” Data said when Geordi paused to grab a drink of water from the replicator. “When humans travel, do they always travel with their entire family?”

Geordi shook his head as he made his way back over to the bed.

“Not always. But a lot of families go on vacation together every year; to spend time with each other. Although,” Geordi took a swig of water. “A lot of family vacations don’t live up to expectation.”

“Why is that?”

“Look, families are great and all; but sometimes being locked in a room with the same people you grew up squabbling with ends up being a recipe for disaster.”

“Is that what happened in what you referred to as ‘the summer of ‘49’?”

Geordi almost spit water out of his nose laughing. He swallowed before he could choke, and then nodded enthusiastically.

“That’s exactly what happened in the summer of ‘49’. Two preteens locked with their parents in a shuttlecraft for three days. Wasn’t exactly our best vacation.”

Data furrowed his brow. “When you use the phrase ‘was not exactly our best’, do you actually mean that it was a bad vacation? Or that it was good, but was not the best?”

“It usually means that it was bad,” Geordi explained, then cocked his head to the side. “But I guess it can go the other way, too. I don’t know. Language is pretty complicated.”

“Indeed.”

Geordi clapped him on the shoulder again.

“You’ll get the hang of it. It just takes a while.”

Data smiled softly, but didn’t look convinced.

“I believe that I can grasp the grammatical rules of human speech. However, my positronic matrix experiences difficulty in interpreting the use of sarcasm and humor.”

Geordi folded his hands on his stomach as he relaxed deeper into the bed.

“To be honest, I don’t always understand that stuff either.”

“No?”

Geordi shook his head, glancing off to the side.

“See, some people use humor to be nice, and other people use it to be mean. I have a hard time telling the difference sometimes.”

“As do I,” Data agreed.

Geordi raised his empty cup. “To us misfits, still figuring out the world we live in.”

Data stared at his hand for a moment, and then raised his own empty hand in the same fashion.

Geordi chuckled, and then lowered his arm.

“That was a toast,” he explained. “When you want to, er, send out a message, or thank something or someone, you hold up a drink you have and say a toast.”

Data grabbed his water bottle off of the side table. After hesitating for a moment, he raised it up and confidently said, “Toast.”

Geordi barely withheld a laugh.

“Er, it’s more like…” Geordi raised his empty cup again, “...A toast to Data, the best android I’ve ever met.”

Data’s head tilted this way and that for a moment. And then, again, he raised his water bottle.

“A toast to Geordi. He is a second year student at Starfleet Academy.”

Geordi waited for a moment, to see if there was more. But Data just lowered his bottle with a smile.

Geordi didn’t even correct him; just burst into a laugh, bent half over where he sat on the bed, and then set his cup down. Eventually, he sat back up again and stated, “You’ll figure it out someday, Data.”

. . . . . . . . . . .

“Geordi?”

Geordi turned up from his PADD to find Data holding a violin.

“Would you mind if I practiced for approximately 5.62 minutes? I am performing a piece in the winter recital and my orchestra instructor remarked that practice is essential.”

“Not at all, Data. Go for it.”

Data nodded, and then whipped the violin up beneath his chin. His playing was gorgeous. So gorgeous that it made Geordi stop working and simply watch. The bow moved like butter over the strings, in such arcs and stuttering vibrations that it almost moved Geordi, and he had never been a violin guy.

It was impossible, in that moment, to believe that Data was completely android, without the capacity for emotion. His facial expressions moved with the music; waxing and waning. Staccato nods of the head, and then legato closing of the eyelids. It was mesmerizing.

And then Data played a wrong note.

He seemed surprised at it himself, though Geordi met it with only a slightly humored expression. Either way, Data continued to play.

Until there was another hitch; this one a screeching sound almost like an alley cat.

Geordi cringed at the sound, but he had been expecting it for some time. His sister had tried violin once, in third grade. To put it frankly, it hadn’t gone very well. His mom had encouraged it at first, glad to have a musician in the family. But when the violin screeches started keeping her up so late that her Commanders started to notice, Ariana’s violin days were over. She got a puppy instead, and a lifelong bond with animals was struck.

Geordi thought about all of this as Data continued to struggle. Maybe he hadn’t practiced the end of the piece?

But no, there was something else. Because as Data’s violin struggled through the second to last page, his head movements were also becoming less and less controlled. His neck shuddered, and then tilted at an awkward angle. His eyes widened, closed, widened, closed.

“Data?” Geordi jumped up from the bed, but then just stood there. His brain froze, as he watched his friend twitch like that. Like he was thinking through a meteor field, bumping into every obstacle just to reach a clear idea. “Data are you okay?” he asked dumbly, taking a small step forward.

No, of course Data wasn’t okay. But what was he supposed to do? What could he do?

The violin crashed onto the floor, followed shortly by Data. He landed on his hands and knees, caught only just by his own power. Something about the fall snapped Geordi out of his daze. He ran to the scene and fell to his own knees, one hand reaching around Data’s back and the other holding his chest up above the hard floor.

“Data! Data, are you okay?” he repeated, rubbing his back.

“Geor-” Data’s voice spasmed; something that sounded like a robot dunked into water.

The sound scared Geordi so much that he froze again. Okay. Okay. Data needed help.

Who could help an android?

The nurse - maybe.

Engineering - probably, but they were gone for the day.

Geordi?

Geordi’s hands started shaking. Data’s weight was becoming heavy in his arms, his energy and strength depleted. Geordi helped him down to a seated position, leaning him on his own chest for support. While they sat, Data's hair tickled Geordi’s chin, as his head jerked rhythmically every other second.

Geordi made a decision then. He was here. He was the closest thing Data had to an engineer anywhere nearby. And if he didn’t help, he didn’t know if Data would make it to someone else. Geordi was certainly not going to leave him like this to go and find a late-night engineer.

“Data, I’m gonna help you out, okay?” Geordi said, finding his voice calmer than he thought it would be.

His hands were still shaking, but somehow he dragged Data over to lean against the bed so he’d have something to hold him sitting upright. When he was done moving him, Geordi stood back and took a breath. Okay. Part one finished. Now to open up Data’s head and see what was going wrong.

Nothing major. Just brain surgery on your new best friend. Piece of cake, right?

God, if Geordi didn’t get an engineering job after all this, he was going to defect from Starfleet and move to Omicron Theta himself.

Geordi crouched down and traced his fingertips gently across Data’s face. He looked into his eyes, but there was little recognition there. Something must have gone wrong with one of his processors. Okay; Geordi knew what processors were. He knew how machines worked. He knew how Data should work. Other than all of the unprecedented Dr. Soong-level stuff, which made up a large portion of Data’s programming.

Deep breath. Deep breath. Deep breath.

“Don’t worry, buddy,” Geordi cooed, as he flipped open Data’s head unit. “I’ll take care of you.”

Looking inside his best friend’s brain was not as alarming as it should have been. It was strange for a second, as his eyes glanced over Data’s hair sticking out of his head, and the bioplast skin that was hardly even difficult to move out of the way. But if he only focused on the mechanics inside of the skull, Data’s brain just resembled one of Geordi’s circuit boards. Albeit, a fragile and highly complicated one.

Geordi used his VISOR for the most part, only touching Data’s head to shift it when he absolutely needed to. It felt like a violation to touch his friend’s most delicate circuitry while he was out of it. And anyway, he was terrified to break anything with his clumsy, shaky hands.

When Geordi found the problem, he breathed out a sigh of relief.

“Oh thank God. I know how to fix this.”

He darted over to the replicator and collected his tools. In record time, he was back by Data's side; repairing, fixing, healing. Geordi had never wanted to be a doctor, and now he knew why. Repairing a broken machine was one thing; there were always spare parts, and machines didn’t have to be exactly the same when you turned them back on. But Data...Data was not just a machine. Especially not to Geordi. And if anything happened to him…

Geordi didn’t let his thoughts go there. As soon as everything was back in place, he reconnected the main wire he had been fixing and...there. Data’s head stopped jerking. His body tensed up again, like normal again.

Geordi closed up his head unit, and then took another breath. Here came the moment of truth…

“Geordi?” Data asked.

Hearing his voice almost made Geordi cry.

“Yeah Data.” Geordi crouched in front of him with a hand on his shoulder. “I-I fixed you. You had a bit of an issue for a second there. But it’s okay now.”

Data opened and then closed his mouth, looking to the floor.

“Data?” asked Geordi. “Has that ever happened to you before?”

Data’s head turned up slowly, and then he nodded. His eyes were bigger than usual; softer.

“Yes. It...it has occurred more and more frequently in the past two months. Up until now, it has repaired itself, and then I have gone to the engineering department for a diagnostic.”

“Do you know what causes it?” Geordi felt something constrict his heart even as he asked it.

“Yes.” Data sat up straighter against the bed frame. “As I learn, my positronic net forms new connections. Some of these connections interfere with my existing programming.”

“That’s gotta be pretty scary.”

Data nodded without hesitation.

“Each time I form a new connection, there is a risk of cascade failure. If my father were still alive, he may have been able to help prevent it. As it is, however…”

Geordi swallowed the lump in his throat. Data’s eyes were sad, as they danced back and forth across Geordi’s VISOR. Geordi couldn’t hold it in anymore. He snatched Data into a tight hug and set his chin on his shoulder, closing his eyes.

“I’m not gonna let anything happen to you,” Geordi promised, his voice a little watery.

Data was silent for a long moment. But then, in a small voice, he uttered, “Thank you, Geordi. It is...nice; to have a friend such as yourself.”

Geordi breathed in slowly, and then pulled away. He laughed at himself; patted Data on the shoulder to lessen the tension.

“After this, I think we both deserve a trip into San Francisco,” Geordi chuckled.

Data smiled, if only slightly.

“I agree.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

Geordi and Data stepped out of their exobiology presentation feeling like champions. Well, Geordi felt like a champion, anyway. He didn’t really know what Data was feeling, as he looked at him with that constant poker face.

“That went better than I ever could have hoped,” exclaimed Geordi, his hands talking with him at a mile a minute as they strolled down the hallway. “I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

Data tilted his head to the side.

“Though exobiology is not your best subject, I expect that you would have achieved a satisfactory score even if you had completed the project alone.”

Geordi nudged Data’s shoulder with his own.

“Nah,” he said with a smile. “I needed you in there. Did you see how much I froze up when Professor Braxton asked about Vulcan microbes?”

“I believe you experienced a phenomenon called ‘stage fright’, which is a bout of nervousness before or during an appearance before an audience.”

Geordi had grown used to Data’s strange way of speaking. The definitions, the tilts of the head, the almost unwavering voice. He’d grown used to it, and he’d grown fond of it.

“Data,” Geordi said, stopping as he reached his locker. “I think we deserve a holiday, don’t you?”

“A holiday?” Data paused for a moment with furrowed brows. Then he seemed to find some meaning in Geordi’s words and he perked up. “Ah; humans often take a vacation after a particularly stressful event, such as presenting a project.”

“Exactly.” Geordi opened his locker and stashed half of his books inside. “What do you think of going into San Francisco this Saturday, like we talked about? The weather’s supposed to be gorgeous.”

“In what way can weather patterns be attractive?” Data asked, in the same voice one might use if Geordi had said he had a crush on his cat.

Geordi laughed for a second, and then shook his head.

“No, gorgeous weather just means that you find it beautiful. Like a sunset is beautiful. It’s not like being attracted to it.” Geordi found himself blushing at the words, though he didn’t quite know why. “Gorgeous weather is...a blue sky, and the sun shining, and white clouds drifting through the air - all that stuff. And then if the weather isn’t gorgeous, that usually means that there are lots of clouds and storms; all the nasty stuff.”

Data spent a long moment processing this, as Geordi crammed another book into his locker.

“So there are qualitative measurements of weather patterns, based on a person's personal preference.”

Geordi tilted his head side to side, and then decided to give in.

“Y-yeah. I guess so.”

Data smiled, proud for getting to an understanding of some sort, and Geordi let him have it. God, he loved to see that boy smile. Loved to see his aura glow just a little bit brighter; his eyes shine just a shade more gold.

“I will speak with you at an undesignated time to create a plan for our holiday on Saturday,” Data said with a curt nod.

Geordi grinned again.

“Sounds great, Data.”

. . . . . . . . . .

On Saturday morning, Geordi woke up with an almost painful excitement in his chest. He certainly hoped it was excitement; a tingling sensation reaching from his stomach up into his throat. Really it felt like a stomachache, or a bad case of anxiety.

Whatever the feeling was, it was a strong one. It followed him to his mirror, as he tried to piece together an outfit that wasn’t horrible. Unfortunately, but expectedly, Will was already gone for the day. He probably wouldn’t be home until late at night, if ever, so he couldn’t be relied upon to help Geordi get ready.

God, why was he so nervous? It was just a day in San Francisco. He’d been there before; loads of times. He’d hung out with Data loads of times, too. In class, in the tech lab, in the kid’s dorm room even! So why why why was he so nervous about this?

Geordi grit his teeth and tossed yet another shirt aside. Nothing was good enough; nothing was right. Why hadn’t he bought new clothes this year? His mother had offered, and he knew he needed them, but he always declined. Now he had a whole day planned and nothing to wear and -

“Geordi?”

Geordi glanced at the clock and - yep - eight O’Clock on the dot; not a second before or after. Damn, Data was always so punctual.

“I’ll be ready in a sec!” he called, looking over his pile of clothes with more intensity.

“Okay, the pink one is out...so’s the hoodie…”

In the end, Geordi decided on a beige cardigan and jeans rolled up to the ankle. Not the most exciting outfit, but it would do. He snatched his satchel off of his bed right before bounding to the door.

The door unlatched with a sharp click, and there stood Data. Geordi had never before seen him out of uniform, even on their late-night study sessions. But today, Data wore bright orange slacks; a blue jacket over a white T-shirt; he even had a pair of sunglasses sitting on his head. He was so out of regulation uniform that Geordi almost wrote him a citation.

Geordi only smiled, mouth open and speechless.

“Data...you look…” he cleared his throat. “I was starting to think you lived in that Cadet uniform.”

Data tilted his head. Usually that meant confusion, but his eyes looked far too pleased with himself to be considered ‘baffled’ about anything.

“Is this appropriate clothing for our outing? I believe it is consistent with the expected weather.”

Geordi nodded, setting his satchel over his shoulder.

“It’s perfect.” Geordi shut the door behind himself and started toward the exit with Data at his side. “Do you get cold? Or hot?”

“Not usually. My body can withstand temperatures that would be extreme for humans, either hot or cold. However, there are certain temperatures that are too extreme for my function. High temperatures can burn the bioplast of my skin, and low temperatures can interfere with the mechanics that are necessary for my life.”

Geordi held the door as they left the dorm hall. The weather really was wonderful; sunny, cool. Just a cloud or two, separated by many miles; fluffy and white and nonthreatening.

Geordi took a deep breath of the fresh air and listened to the birds as they walked toward the train station.

“Today is perfect,” Geordi sighed.

Data’s head tilted, brows creased together.

“I believe that there was a report of an earthquake in…”

“I mean,” Geordi cut in. “Perfect for us.”

“Ah.” Data was silent for a long minute, and then he added, “It is faultless...on a personal scale.”

When they boarded the train, they stayed standing. This was mostly because Data didn’t need to sit and Geordi wanted to be close to Data, so he stayed by his side. The train was clean as ever. Silver glistened all over, shining in the light filtered in by the wide rectangular windows on either wall. It was like if Geordi’s tech lab had a power wash, and all of the metal and robotics in there actually glowed like they were supposed to.

Geordi made a mental note to do some cleaning when he went back in there, if just to see if he could make it all shine like that.

“Geordi, what is the first item on our schedule today?”

Geordi leaned against the pole as he dug into his satchel.

"Let me see..."

He’d thrown a lot of random trinkets in this bag, ‘just in case’. Now it was making it difficult to find the one thing that was actually necessary - the schedule.

“...if I can find it…”

The train lurched suddenly, throwing Geordi off balance. He started toward the floor with both hands still in his bag; heart falling up into his throat. But just as suddenly, a strong hand grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back up. The hand remained there, until he had a mind to grab onto the metal pole and turn to see his savior.

Ah, of course; Data.

“Thanks, D,” he breathed, patting Data’s hand to let him know he could let go.

He missed the contact when it was gone.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

“I have never seen a hill that was quite this steep,” Data said.

Geordi smirked, nudging Data with his shoulder as they looked down.

“Are you afraid of heights, Data?”

Data’s head turned to him swiftly, but he did not respond. Geordi raised his hands in surrender.

“I’m just wondering. We don’t have to do it if you don’t want to…”

Data instantly stepped up into the cable car, staring at Geordi the whole time. Geordi smiled brightly, and then jumped up to join him. For a moment, they looked out at the steep, steep hill they were about to descend. The road seemed to end just ten feet in front of them; like the edge of the world. Beside the road were rows of brightly colored buildings, that also seemed to end abruptly. Way in the distance was the water; glistening blues and greens in the sunlight.

Data slipped his sunglasses down onto his nose and grabbed onto the railing. When the train lurched, Geordi copied him.

“Not gonna fall off of this thing,” Geordi said with a nervous chuckle.

“Do not be afraid,” Data said with a small smile turned toward him. “I will catch you if you begin to fall.”

Geordi’s heart pounded double time, more at the words than the sharp angle at which the cable car tilted. He stared at Data for a long time; at his glowing aura, his profile, his casual clothing. Memorizing it. Keeping it saved, in his head or his VISOR; wherever it could stay safe. Time would pass and he would start a career at Starfleet; he would have crews that would become his family; maybe he would save lives.

But in this moment, he felt in his heart and soul that none of that would compare to this moment. How could it? He felt lighter than he had ever felt before. Better than ever. Happier than ever.

“Data…” he broke off, as Data turned to him.

Geordi turned back to the scene in front of him, with a smile and a shake of the head. Looking ahead. Holding onto the railing for dear life.

Watching the world float on beside, as they headed straight toward the distant bay.

. . . . . . . . . .

“Data! Data look!”

Geordi patted Data’s back about a dozen times, practically jumping up and down on the boardwalk. Finally the android turned to the scene:

“I believe they are called Sea Lions,” Data said. His voice was as calm as ever, but Geordi recognized the excitement in his eyes. “A pinniped in the family Otariidae.”

“They’re so big!” Geordi said with a wide grin.

Data stared at him for a moment without a word. His golden eyes danced along Geordi’s lips; his VISOR; his bouncy feet. Then he turned back to the sea lions.

“I did not think that you enjoyed biology,” he said quietly.

Geordi gave a mock-offended gasp.

“Biology’s not my strong suit. But that’s the nitty gritty stuff; learning all those scientific names and the anatomy of a microbe and stuff. This is…” Geordi shook his head, as a blubbery sea lion hopped along the pier. “They're so cute,” he giggled.

Geordi leaned over the railing, watching the animals bathing in the sunlight. They stayed for a long time. It was amazing that places like this still existed. Geordi remembered learning about, from both school and his father, the many perils that animals had gone through in the past, mostly because of humans. There used to be things like ‘endangered species’ on Earth; not because of anything they did or didn’t do, but because of human activity. For a time, his father had told him, it seemed that humans would be the destroyers of many of the creatures of this planet.

Well, Geordi was certainly glad that humans had changed in the past few centuries. Glad he could still watch these blubbery, chubby, amazing animals hopping along the pier.

“Phew,” he breathed, about ten minutes into their sea lion-watching. “I am getting baked by the sun. Do you want to grab an ice cream?”

Data nodded.

“I believe there is an ice cream parlor located 30 meters from here.”

. . . . . . . . . .

“Mmmm,” Geordi moaned; eyes closed. “That is the best ice cream I’ve ever had.”

He kicked his crossed legs in front of them, letting the wind whip at his exposed shins where he had folded up his jeans. Beside him, Data had done the same with his pants; had the same cross-legged position as well.

“You got the vanilla-chocolate swirl with sprinkles?” Geordi asked, as he opened his eyes and turned to Data.

“Yes. Since I do not experience taste as you do, I usually attempt to add texture and diverse flavor combinations.”

Data licked his ice cream, accidentally spreading some on the tip of his nose. Geordi laughed heartily.

“Here, let me get that for you.”

He swiped his thumb over the top of Data’s nose, and then wiped it into a napkin.

His heart was practically beating out of his chest, as they locked eyes; as they shifted closer together on their little bench.

Geordi turned away abruptly, not wanting to stare too long. He looked instead at the bay. The sun was starting to set over the horizon; just starting to darken the blue of the sky. Just starting to end their day out.

Geordi licked his ice cream again, setting his hand on the bench. Then he shifted ever closer to Data’s side of the bench, pretending just to be changing his position.

Data’s hand lowered to the bench as well, as he stared out at the same point Geordi was watching.

“It is...gorgeous,” Data said softly.

Geordi beamed at him.

“It is.”

Geordi suddenly felt a wave of calm wash over him. All of that anxiety and excitement he’d been feeling all day just melted away, like the ice cream dripping onto his hand. The ocean wasn’t so chaotic anymore. The sea lions, too, had quieted down. The whole city was slowly shifting into night mode; hover cars gliding up the hills into the bar district; lights flickering on along the pier.

Geordi’s fingers danced along the bench until they landed on Data’s hand; colder than he expected. Softer than he expected. Electricity shot up his arm, and for a moment he thought Data had some kind of defense mechanism. But no; it was just his own nervous system.

Data stiffened at the contact at first; turned down sharply to their hands. Then, slowly, he turned his hand upside down, until Geordi’s palm was flat against his own. Geordi’s fingers curled in between the spaces of his own.

He had witnessed this, in films and textbooks. Apply pressure; not too much or you will injure Geordi’s hand. Lock the fingers together, to symbolize the connectedness between you.

Geordi slowly turned his VISOR toward Data; achingly slowly, because the nerves were coming back in full force. The stomachache, the electricity, the quickening heartbeat. All of it mixed and spread through his whole being.

He took a deep breath.

“Data…” he cleared his throat. Took another deep breath. Oh God, Data was looking at him now, his aura bright as ever in the dimming light. “I’ve been thinking, er…”

Geordi paused at the sound of his voice cracking. Be cool, be cool, be cool.

Data, for his part, was patient. He waited without a sound, watching Geordi with his unique gentility.

“Would you be interested in being more than friends?” Geordi asked quickly, getting the whole thing out as quickly as pulling a bandaid.

Data blinked twice.

“What is the meaning of ‘more than friends’?”

Geordi almost scratched the back of his head, but remembered that his free hand was still holding his ice cream. He glanced at it awkwardly, took another lick just to kill time. Then, slowly, turned back to Data.

“Er, well...I mean...do you want to go out with me? Er, be my boyfriend?”

Data stared for a long time, in which Geordi didn’t breathe. He leaned a little closer, as Data continued staring. And then he frowned, as Data stared some more.

“Data?”

Geordi squeezed his hand.

“I-I’m sorry, if I made you uncomfortable,” Geordi stammered.

Data continued to stare.

“We don’t have to go out, if you don’t want to. It’s okay.”

Data finally turned his head, his eyes blinking back into focus.

“Geordi,” Data said softly, “I have no quandary in being your boyfriend. But I must make it clear...I can not feel the same emotions that you do, and I may not ever.”

“That’s okay,” Geordi said, squeezing Data’s hand tighter; leaning closer.

Data shifted so that he faced Geordi more directly.

“I am not human. I do not know if I can pleasure you the way that a human can.”

“That’s okay,” Geordi laughed. “I don’t want a human, I want...I want you.”

Geordi choked on air for a second, as he realized what he had just said. All of it came flooding into his head. This conversation, this day, this semester. It was all so good and so fragile and Geordi needed this to work like he needed air. When had this happened? When had he become this person he was today?

“Are you sure?” Data asked, his eyes bright and unblinking.

Geordi leaned closer still, until he could smell the ice cream on Data’s lips.

“Yes. I’m sure.”

Data smiled then; a bigger smile than Geordi had ever seen him wear. It seemed to brighten his entire aura; made his entire being glow in Geordi’s VISOR until it blocked out the descending darkness of the sky.

Data’s eyes darted back and forth, until he whispered softly, “Are we boyfriends now?”

Geordi laughed, pressing his head into Data’s shirt. He held himself there for a moment; breathed in the lavender scent of Data’s freshly laundered T-shirt. Felt the artificial heartbeat of his boyfriend (He had a boyfriend!) beneath the metallic frame of his ribcage. Listened to the soft currents of the bay washing ashore.

“Yes Data,” he said, lifting his head. He looked into those golden eyes with a bright smile on his face. “We’re boyfriends.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

Geordi stepped out of his physics class and almost right into Data.

“Woah!” he called, stopping just short of ramming his head into the taller boy’s chest. “I didn’t see you there, D.”

Data thrust a flyer in front of him. It was almost illegible, the way that the words and colors danced in Geordi’s VISOR. But he pieced it together enough to get the general idea.

“Oh, your recital; right! This Friday.”

Data nodded with that little smile of his, as Geordi took the flyer from his hand.

“I will not be able to sit beside you during the performance, since I am supposed to remain with the orchestra,” Data explained. “However, I have observed that many of the performers have invited friends and family for ‘moral support’. If you cannot attend, that is perfectly…”

“No, no; I’ll be there.” Geordi grinned, leaning his head against the locker beside him. “It’ll be cool to see you onstage. You’ve been practicing for that all month.”

“There were many intricate pieces to practice before the concert," Data admitted. "Mostly I struggle with the emotional aspect of musical performance. My fellow violin players often say that I ‘hit the right notes, but not the right feelings’. I have analyzed these words often, and have come to the conclusion that I need to practice my facial expression and movements while performing.”

Geordi had a few choice words for his ‘fellow violin players’, but he didn’t say them right now. Instead, he set a hand on Data’s shoulder and stroked his thumb across his bicep.

“Well, I think that your playing is perfect.”

Data tilted his head with a raised finger.

“I believe that you are attempting flattery. The last time I practiced in front of you, I made three separate errors.”

Geordi shook his head with a smile.

“Well, I didn’t notice any of them.”

Data smiled softly, but then glanced down to the floor. When he turned back up to Geordi, his smile had been replaced with a frown.

“Unfortunately, I must go to my next class now. I will see you at 1700 hours for dinner in my dormitory, correct?”

“Yeah.” Geordi grabbed Data’s arm before he could walk off. “Wait, before you go.”

Geordi pulled Data into a hug. They’d been practicing this a lot this past week. At first, Data had been stiff and hardly dared to reciprocate the hug lest he injure Geordi. But now, he was almost completely relaxed. His arms wrapped around Georid’s middle, squeezing just enough to be noticeable. His chin slowly sank onto Geordi’s shoulder the same way Geordi’s reached up to his own.

It was a perfect hug. But one that was cut short all too soon.

“Don’t be late for class,” Geordi said, as he forced himself to pull away.

Data nodded.

“Goodbye, Geordi.”

“See ya, Data.”

Geordi watched him disappear down the hallway with a longing in his eyes; his arms; his whole body. What he wouldn’t give to hug him for a little bit longer. To look into that aura until it hurt his eyes. To be held by those arms until the rest of the world didn’t exist.

He sighed and leaned against the lockers. The halls were becoming crowded; students shuffling this way and that. But Geordi only had eyes for that fading aura.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Data adjusted his white bow tie and looked up at the ceiling. It was a painted black, presumably for the same reason that the rest of the backstage area was painted black. Any other color would cause distraction in the audience when the curtain moved. Bright colors more intensely activated the color region of the brain, responsible for visual perception. Thus, the black paint reduced this effect, and so audience members could focus on the performance.

The performance that Data should probably focus on as well.

His pieces were well rehearsed, both in accuracy and performance. Geordi had spent three consecutive nights in his dormitory room with him. His comments were not always constructive, but they were a valiant attempt at ‘bolstering confidence’. Data did not need ‘bolstering’ since he did not have the capacity for ‘confidence’, but he allowed Geordi to speak freely all the same. The counselor at Starfleet Academy had often commented that good relationships were founded on mutual respect. Data could show respect by permitting Geordi to give him undeserved praise without constantly reminding him that it was unhelpful to his performance.

His cue was still two minutes and twenty five seconds away, if there were no delays. So Data turned back to the ceiling.

He wondered, briefly, where Geordi was sitting tonight. In the dress rehearsal, he had sat in the front row. However, there would be a much larger audience tonight. There was a 1 in 40 chance that he would occupy the same row as the rehearsal, which left a lot of room for an alternative decision.

He also wondered what Geordi was wearing tonight. The concert was formal for performers, but rather informal for members of the audience. He had already seen two students wearing shorts and sneakers. But he, himself, was wearing a coat and tails. It was common for couples to dress similarly, or wear matching colors, to functions such as this. Would Geordi adhere to the expectation? Possibly not, as Geordi very rarely conformed to normal opinion and style.

One minutes and three seconds until his cue to go onstage.

Data looked at his shoes. Geordi had assisted him in choosing a pair from the clothing replicator in his dormitory. These were popular, standard black dress shoes worn by many men attending formal occasions. They were not designed for comfort, though it hardly affected Data, but rather for aesthetic pleasure. Many things in the human world, it seemed, followed the same description.

Data picked his violin and bow up off of the floor where they had been resting. For a moment, his brain suddenly flashed to the first night he had practiced in front of Geordi. He had made it through almost an entire piece before his brain shut down. Would that happen again tonight? Or had he practiced enough that the connections were already well in place? Would he experience a cascade failure, in front of the entire school, at a function that was supposed to be enjoyable?

He hoped not. Or rather, since he could not feel hope, he...believed that it would be a more preferable situation if he did not experience any problems with his positronic net tonight. Geordi was in the audience, and he did not want...it would be more preferable for everyone if Geordi didn't have to worry about his well-being.

Thirty seconds until his time to go onstage.

Data’s fingers practiced the music he had been preparing for weeks now. They flickered silently over the strings, as his facial muscles moved in a way that mimicked human expression. There were so many different aspects involved in tonight’s performance; the clothing, the music, and performers and their relationships, the audience, the black paint on the wall behind the curtain. So many things. So many. So many. So many...

“Data, you ready?” asked a sudden head peeking out from the curtain -- Mr. Denham, the orchestra director.

Data Lowered the violin and bow to his side.

“I am, sir,” he said with a nod.

Mr. Denham smiled, holding the curtain open for him.

“You’re gonna do great, Data. Just like we rehearsed.”

Data nodded again and started onstage.

Immediately, he was met with a light that interfered with his optical functions. He adjusted for it, and continued forward. Beneath the light he could see rows and rows of students and professors seated in the enormous space. It was impossible to see exactly how many audience members there were; certainly more than in the dress rehearsal.

When he was 68% of the way to his place on stage, the audience began clapping. Strange, since he had not performed yet. He cataloged it as another aspect of the world of performance. Another. Another. Another fascinating aspect of humanity.

His feet were at center stage before he knew it. Which was strange, because he had an internal chronometer. He felt every second. Every nanosecond. But he had not felt those 2.5 seconds in between stage right and center stage.

The audience stopped clapping abruptly, preferring to watch him in silence. As he raised the violin to his chin. As he looked over to the piano player with which he shared this duet. As he began to move the bow over the strings.

It was perfection. The bow moved just as he had practiced. His face expressed exactly what he told it to express; exactly the right movements at exactly the right time to convey the feelings of the composer. He played, and the audience smiled relaxed smiles, and the piano player played with such passion. Her fingers danced along the keys.

Data continued to catalog the experience. He did not want to miss one segment of this night.

The heat that emanated from the stage light. Dozens of pairs of eyes watching him. The sound echoing through the room, from his violin; the music that he had memorized so well. His bow tie, just a little too tight around his neck. A silk bow tie. Replicated silk, which was actually energy converted into matter and formed into the shape and texture and other characteristics of silk. Energy was measured with the SI unit of the ‘Joule’. Energy is the property of matter and radiation which is manifest as a capacity to perform work. Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.

Light. The light. The stage light. It traveled at 300,000,000 meters per second. It blocked out most of the audience; made them into only dark shadows. Data searched these shadows.

Searching. Searching. Searching.

Were his fingers still playing the music? Was the song over yet? His chronometer was not functioning.

He continued to search the audience. Search for one person. One student. One out of the two hundred and four people sitting in the theater. One out of the five million items zapping through Data’s brain.

Data heard the violin shriek, as the bow ran across the strings harder than it was meant to.

Error. Error. Error.

But finally, he found someone in the shadows. He found the particular someone he had been looking for.

Geordi’s VISOR was the last thing that Data saw before he collapsed to the floor of the stage.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven

“Data,” came a voice from the darkness.

Total darkness. His visual processors were evidently still offline.

“Hey, Data,” the voice repeated.

Data recognized it as Geordi’s voice, 12.8 centimeters above him. Worried. But this was not his ‘extremely worried’ voice. Perhaps ‘moderately worried’ was more accurate. The tone was identical to one Geordi had used after an accident in the tech room two weeks, three days, and four hours ago.

Data suddenly felt another sensation; a tap on the cheek.

Geordi’s hand? Negative. This one was larger; rougher. Most likely an older adult.

Data opened his eyes and found Mr. Denham’s face looking down at him. The music teacher was still in his concert suit. But now his eyes were a little bigger, eyebrows quirked. Data had seen the expression many times before; mostly in students about to take an exam. It usually correlated with a human’s feeling of concern or anxiety.

As Data tested the motor abilities in his neck, tilting his neck 15 degrees to the left and then right, he considered why the eyebrows were so important in a human’s communication. But as soon as his eyes landed on Geordi, his thoughts ceased.

“Geor-” Data said, pausing when Geordi raised a stopping hand.

“Shh,” Geordi murmured, taking the seat beside Data’s. His hand clasped around Data’s and squeezed. A gesture of comfort. “It’s okay.”

Looking around, Data found that they were backstage. He and Geordi were seated on a pair of fold-up chairs beside the band room, while Mr. Denham was crouched in front of him. If he listened carefully, he could hear the faint playing of the next act in the performance: three second-years playing a viola piece.

“How much time has passed?” asked Data, making to stand.

He was held back by a stern hand on his chest.

“Easy, Data,” said Mr. Denham. He procured a cup of water and set it in Data’s hand. “Drink this; it’ll help.”

Data looked at the cup with furrowed brows. Why would water help him function properly again?

Mr. Denham gave him a warm smile. “You’re not the first kid to faint on that stage. You’d be surprised how often it happens.”

Data’s eyes shifted back and forth.

“Ah; I see.” He smiled politely. “I do not believe I ‘fainted’, per say. What actually occurred was…”

Denham raised his hands with a smirk. “Whatever you say, Data.” As he stood, his expression turned more serious.

“Feel better, okay? And drink that water.” Before he reached the curtain, he spun back around with a pointed look. “Geordi? Look after him for me. We’re gonna need our first chair violin for our next concert.”

“Will do, Mr. Denham,” Geordi replied with a forced smile. When Denham was back onstage, he leaned closer to Data. “Are you okay?”

His voice had taken on a soft, watery quality. Data had not cataloged this exact expression, but he believed it meant ‘extreme concern’. The additional fact that Geordi’s hand was holding his own with 20.5% more strength than usual supported that hypothesis.

“Yes, Geordi.” Data looked at the cup of water, and then threw it back with one big gulp.

Geordi sighed heavily, and rested his head on Data’s shoulder. In turn, Data leaned his head on Geordi’s. Whenever he did this in the past, Geordi’s heart rate had increased by 10%. Tonight, however, it actually lowered Geordi’s heart rate by 5%. Data made a note to investigate the reasoning behind this phenomenon.

“Data, what happened?”

Data lowered his brows further. The query did not make sense. Geordi was there when the incident occurred. And, presumably, he had been the one to repair the damage.

“I do not understand.” Data raised his head so that he could see Geordi’s face again. “You have seen the connections in my positronic net interfere with one another before. Is that not what occurred tonight?”

Geordi shook his head.

“No. I checked, but everything seemed normal. It was more like you just...fainted.”

“I cannot faint,” Data stated. “The leading causes of fainting are low blood sugar, which I do not have; emotional trauma, which I cannot experience; and dehydration, which would only occur due to a loss of my lubricating fluid. I can not determine any plausible reason why my body would cease to function, if it were not in connection with my positronic net.”

Geordi shrugged, lips pursed and head turned away.

“Well, I don’t know Data. What did it feel like?”

Data thought back to the experience.

“There seem to be short gaps in my memory, starting when I first entered the stage. I will have to run a diagnostic on my internal chronometer. Additionally,” he continued, “My thoughts seemed to have overlapped while I played. I focused intently on nearly every aspect of the performance, so much so that it nearly overwhelmed my positronic net. I then began thinking of words that branched off of words related to the performance, presumably as a means to distract myself. It was during this that my system malfunctioned and I...overloaded.

Data broke off with a tilt of the head.

Geordi was smiling.

But Data had not made a joke; he had actually never attempted to make a joke in his life. He made a mental note to read a joke book. (Geordi enjoyed comedies). Then he formed an expression that meant ‘confusion’; a slight squint of the eyes, lowering of the brows, quirk of the lip.

“What is humorous?” Data asked, when he was confident that his facial expression matched his words.

“You’re gonna say that I’m wrong, but...all of that just sounds like stage fright.”

Data nodded. “You are correct in assuming that I do not believe that you are correct.”

“You have a way with words, D,” Geordi said, before chuckling softly to himself.

They sat in silence for a moment, as they stared into the blank space behind the stage. The audience clapped at the most recent act, and then Mr. Denham began introducing the next performers. When the silence was filled with another muffled song, Data spoke again.

“I know that it was not stage fright because I can not feel emotions, Geordi.”

His voice was smaller than usual; almost like a child’s.

“Even though I wish that I could,” he added with a frown.

Geordi’s head turned to him sharply. His smile fell. His brows creased into their ‘extremely worried’ expression.

Data turned to the floor.

“Wait…” Geordi turned in his chair; rested a hand on Data’s arm. “You...you want emotions?”

Data nodded, still staring at the floor.

“I want to be human.”

Geordi let out a long breath, pulling Data toward himself. Data rested his head in the crook between Geordi’s head and shoulders. He had worn formal wear, as Data had predicted. It matched his own black and white color scheme, but with a tie instead of a bow tie.

Geordi’s clothes were softer than Data’s. They caressed his cheek; smelled of the machinery and robotics in the tech room. For a reason that Data could not explain -- another anomaly to investigate with a diagnostic -- his artificial breathing slowed as he sat in Geordi’s embrace.

“Data…” Geordi said quietly. “I never knew you felt that way.”

Data shook his head.

“I do not feel anything, Geordi.”

Geordi softly kissed the back of Data’s hand before continuing to massage his back.

“Look, you can be anything you want to be,” Geordi said. His voice was still in the range between ‘concerned’ and ‘worried’, but it was drifting into ‘sad’.

“I am not as certain as you are,” admitted Data.

“Someday,” Geordi sighed, squeezing Data’s hand. “I hope you see yourself the way I do.”

“That would be impossible, Geordi. I do not possess your VISOR, or your unique perspective as an individual.”

Geordi smiled to himself, running his thumb along the back of Data’s hand. His hand was soft. Not quite as soft as his silk tie, or the rest of his new suit. But it was considerably softer than most of the other materials Data had come into contact with in his short life.

“Then I hope someday you see yourself the way that you should.” Geordi planted a chaste kiss on the top of Data’s head. “Because you’re absolutely perfect.”

Data did not respond. He did not want to argue with Geordi, even though he knew that he was incorrect.

He was not perfect, and he would never be perfect. He was not even a perfect android, let alone a perfect person.

But for tonight, he could let Geordi believe that he was.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

Geordi wasn’t sure he was happy or sad to see Will in their dorm. Happy, of course, because he hadn’t seen much of Will in these past weeks. But sad, because it was the night before Thanksgiving.

By all rights, Will should be going home to Alaska. He should have a dad that wanted to be with him. Geordi was only here because his family was five light years away; what was Will’s dad’s excuse? That the two hour hover ride was just too far?

“Hey,” Geordi said with a smile. Best not to even bring up the fact that they were here, while most of the school was off with their families. Will was probably already thinking about it as much as he was.

“Hey Geordi.” Will lowered the book he was reading and sat up on his bed. “Done for the weekend?”

“Yep,” said Geordi, letting his satchel drop unceremoniously to the floor. “I am beat. Hanlon gave us a cumulative test today and my head’s been in a fog ever since.”

“Good old Hanlon.” Will shook his head with a smile. “I love the guy, but his tests are the worst. I literally had an easier time getting my advanced piloting license than my first physics test with him.”

They shared a laugh.

Once he’d sobered, Geordi sighed with a smile. “I’m glad to see you, Will,” he said.

Will nodded.

“You too, Geordi.”

They shared another look before Will turned back to his book.

“Oh, Will,” Geordi interjected. “You don’t mind if Data comes over tomorrow, right?”

Will’s face lit up. “Not at all! Wait; do you guys, er...want some alone time? I can go find somewhere to hang out if-”

“No, no; don’t worry about it. Actually, er,” Geordi lowered his voice, shifting over to sit on the side of the bed closest to Will. “I think he could use the extra company. He’s seemed pretty...off since the concert a couple weeks ago.”

“Is he okay?”

“Yeah, I mean, we’ve run all of the diagnostics and everything checks out.” Geordi frowned. “He’s just not feeling very confident lately.”

“Data? Not confident?” Will’s smile faded. “We’ve gotta remedy that.”

“I think it’s just gonna take time.” Geordi stared into the distance for a moment, before turning his head sharply back to Will. “Don’t...tell him I said any of this, okay?”

Will motioned his lips being sealed, which Geordi took with a smile.

“I just want to give him a good day, you know? Get him out of his head for a little while.”

Will cocked his head to the side.

“You know, Geordi; I’m actually an expert in getting someone out of their head.”

They shared yet another smile.

God, it felt good for Geordi to get this stuff off of his chest. To let someone else know that Data wasn’t okay, and that he wasn’t okay that Data wasn’t okay.

“Thanks Will,” said Geordi.

“It’s no problem. I...I’m glad to have the company, too.”

They met eyes. Spoke without speaking.

Then they nodded, and continued on with their quiet night in.

. . . . . . . . . .

“Pass it here!” Will called across the Commons.

Ah, what a day it was. Cold enough to allow Geordi to wear his favorite Starfleet hoodie with a beanie. Still warm enough that they could play outside without catching a chill. The Commons were virtually empty, with everyone either at home or watching a parade from the safety of their homes. And so, they had converted the green space into a temporary football field.

Will easily caught Data’s perfect pass, and started sprinting toward Geordi’s ‘endzone’. He tried to catch up with him; he really did. But he’d spent most of this semester in a stuffy tech room, and Will had spent much of his time in the outdoors playing all kinds of sports. So Will made it to the endzone ten paces ahead of Geordi, and Geordi slowed to a stop with a burning in his side.

“I’m really questioning this two-on-one thing we’ve got going on,” Geordi huffed, struggling for breath in the crisp autumn morning air.

“I told you - you can have Data after this half.”

“I do not know if I am the ‘star player’ on our roster,” Data said, approaching the endzone. “I do not have very much practical experience with the game of ‘football’.”

“Neither do I,” Will admitted. “Geordi’s the one who suggested it. Maybe he’s the star player.”

Will grinned, tossing the ball to Geordi.

Again, Geordi really tried. But he wasn’t expecting the ball, and his reactions were slow. And the ball, well...it ended up bouncing off of his hand and rolling into the shrubbery beside their field.

“Then again,” Will said with a cringe.

“Ha ha.” Geordi scooped the ball up off the ground and started toward halffield. “Okay, Will; you ready to run again?”

Will breathed out heavily, jogging back to half-field.

“On it.”

“Ready...hike!” Geordi shouted.

Will went off running, as Data followed him on defense. They zigged and zagged, weaving an intricate pattern across the Commons. Geordi shifted back and forth. Then pulled his arm back; let the ball soar. It flew high into the air...glided, like a knife through butter…

And landed right in Data’s waiting hands.

Will, standing about fifteen feet away, only laughed.

“Geordi, are you just trying to let your boyfriend win? I mean, there’s no shame in that.”

“No!” Geordi let out a laugh. “I was really trying that time!”

“That time?” Will questioned. “What about the other three rounds we played?”

Will clapped Data on the shoulder.

“You know, I’m not sure if I’m the star player being passed between you two, or if Geordi is just the worst player and he’s getting sent from team to team each round.”

Data furrowed his brow.

“I thought that you said that I was the star player?”

“Data!” called Geordi, with a proud, proud smile. “Is that the first time you ever made a joke?”

Data turned his baffled expression to Geordi.

“Was that humorous?”

Will nodded, with a more subdued smile than Geordi’s. “It was, actually.”

Data smiled, then. A sweet, polite smile that Geordi found irresistible. He stared, for a long moment. Took another ‘picture’ with his mind. This moment: on the Commons, watching Will and Data smile on a Thanksgiving morning, the cool air blowing in from the Bay, nobody else around.

Another perfect moment. They were rare; but maybe someday they wouldn’t be. Maybe someday every moment would be perfect.

Geordi held onto this image; this moment, just in case that ‘someday’ never came.

. . . . . . . . . .

“What am I thankful for…?” Geordi asked himself, tapping his fingers unconsciously on the table in his and Will’s dorm.

The table was gorgeous, filled with all of the traditional Thanksgiving foods. Data was at his right hand; Will at his left. Last year he’d spent the day with his family. An argument had broken out; one of his little cousin’s had started crying. Somehow half of their Holodeck celebration ended up being eaten by the computer.

So, basically, this year was a major improvement.

“I wonder what I’m thankful for,” he said with a smile at Data. He kissed his hand and then kept it in his own.

Will rolled his eyes with a smile. “You two want a room?”

Geordi laughed; but Data seemed a little confused. His head shifted from right to left, brows furrowed.

“You are thankful for my hand?” Data asked, and then nodded. “Hands are a sacred part of the body in Vulcan culture. However, I was not aware that you-”

“No, no,” Geordi broke in, as Will laughed beside them. “I’m thankful for you, Data. All of you.”

Data’s face froze for a moment; golden eyes practically boring into Geordi’s VISOR, mouth slightly ajar. But then he smiled his little smile and relaxed.

“Thank you, Geordi.”

Geordi returned Data’s smile, trying to convey a lot of things in look.

Data had to know how much he meant to him. He had to. But somehow, Geordi felt that he wasn’t getting through. Like there was a fog in Data’s mind even thicker than the one on the Bay; it clouded out every positive thing that people told him, only letting in the taunts and jeers from the few jerks at Starfleet.

Geordi made a promise to himself to break through that fog in Data’s mind. Make sure that boy knew how important he was. Not only to him, but to the world. Maybe it would take a long time. But they had to get there eventually.

“You guys want to eat?” Will joked, breaking the long silence in the room.

Geordi shook out of his daze and turned to his plate. Replicated turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, more. He smiled; at the food, at the company, at his life at Starfleet Academy. God, he had a lot to be thankful for.

“More than ready,” said Geordi, picking up his knife and fork.

Each of them dug into their food without hesitation. Forks clinked against plates. The conversation softened into murmured comments about the food. While they started on dessert, Geordi turned the music on; a mix of instrumentals that had something for each of them. Guitars for Geordi, jazz for Will, classical for Data.

As they ate their pie (pumpkin, Will’s favorite), Data sat up straighter in his seat. Geordi glanced up at him between bites. He looked excited about something; like he was about to start explaining a fact that he had picked up. He did love to share fun facts.

But when Data spoke, it was not about exobiology or theatre or any of his usual topics.

“Knock knock,” Data said. Then, without missing a beat, “Who’s there? Arthur. Arthur who? Arthur any leftovers?”

Geordi and Will looked at each other with the same cringing expression. Silently, they argued with one another who would take the plunge and explain the joke to Data. Ultimately, Geordi relented.

When he turned to Data, he found him looking a little sad; his lip sticking out in a slight pout.

“I presume that I did not tell the joke correctly,” Data said quietly.

Geordi ran a hand through his hair.

“Well...not really. With knock knock jokes, you kind of need the other person’s interaction. So...here, I’ll do one. I say ‘knock knock’, and then you say ‘who’s there?’.”

“Who is there?” Data repeated.

“And then I say ‘Gladys’, and you say ‘Gladys who?’.”

“Gladys whom?”

“So I say, ‘Gladys Thanksgiving, aren’t you?”

Geordi paused with a smile, but Data had literally no reaction. In the awkward silence that followed, Will burst out laughing.

“Did you think of that yourself, Geordi?”

“Nah,” Geordi shook his head with a grin. “My mom told me that one every year when I was younger.”

Data’s head tilted this way and that, still processing. Eventually, his brows furrowed.

“Geordi, I still struggle to understand humor.”

Geordi set his hand on Data’s. “Well, knock knock jokes are kind of complicated. Do you know any other one’s?”

“Yes, I do.” Data sat up straight again. “Why did the turkey join the band? Because it had the drumsticks.”

“Aw man,” Will groaned. “That was a good one, though.”

“You’re getting better at this, Data.” Geordi grinned, if just so Data would feel better about his joke telling.

“Am I?” Data smiled to himself.

“Definitely,” said Will, with a twinkle in his eye.

Silence followed again; a gentle silence filled with food-dazed faces and stuffed bellies. Geordi looked around the room and, though he tried, could not think of a Thanksgiving he had ever enjoyed more.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

Thanksgiving break ended too soon, and suddenly Geordi found himself back in class. The only gratifying fact was that his first class of the day was Physics. Dr. Hanlon was still his favorite professor, and he was one of Dr. Hanlon’s favorite students. Today they were learning about circuits, one of Geordi’s best subjects, so class flew by.

Before he knew it, Geordi was standing out in the hallway again. Satchel on his shoulder, Cadet uniform uncomfortably tight against his neck. He was back in the zone. Back in school. Back to work. It felt good, actually. Like the break had restored him to his full abilities and now he could show off to the school just how capable he really was.

Geordi ran his fingertips along the lockers as he strolled down the hallway. It was emptier than usual today; some students were apparently extending their break. That was okay. Preferred, actually. After all of the socializing with Will and Data this weekend, Geordi could use a bit of alone time to recharge and ease into the week.

One look ahead, and he realized that he was not going to get any of this ‘alone time’ after all.

“What’s up, robot lover.”

Peyton. Approaching with Tucker at his side.

The sight of them made Geordi’s skin crawl. He ducked away; averted his gaze so that maybe he could just ignore them. Make them wonder if he’d even heard. Don’t bother them, maybe they won’t bother you. Walk; walk; walk. Stare straight ahead. Keep your VISOR glued on the intersection ahead, where you could break off and disappear into the tech room or a professor’s office.

“Hey!” Tucker’s enormous hand landed on his shoulder and spun him around. “C’mon, we’re just trying to be friendly.”

Geordi took an unconscious step back, as the two bullies filled his vision. God, they were tall. Taller than Will. And a hell of a lot less friendly, too.

Peyton cracked his knuckles as he nudged Tucker’s shoulder.

“We’re probably the only humans he talks to,” he grunted. “Spends all of his time with his little robot friend.”

“He’s an android,” Geordi said.

Why did he say it? Why was he responding?

Damn it, what was he doing backing into an alcove with Peyton and Tucker surrounding him? He felt like a zebra cornered by a pair of lions.

Peyton and Tucker shared a mock-impressed look. Then Tucker’s hand was on his shoulder again; pushing him none too lightly into the tiled wall.

Now he was out of sight of the main hallway, which was becoming less and less crowded as students filtered into their classrooms. Surrounded by two bullies.

God, what a difference this day was to the Thanksgiving dinner just four nights ago.

“Oh, android lover, I’m sorry,” Tucker said, in a tone that made it clear that he was not, in fact, sorry. “Because robots are so different.”

Geordi almost responded again; something about how every first year at Starfleet should know the difference between robots and androids. And how they should be welcoming to new forms of life. And how these two jerks weren’t going to make it very far on any Starship they somehow get themselves onto.

But his words wouldn’t have made a difference, and he knew that. So he just tried to even his breathing, as Peyton laughed his horrible laugh five inches from his face.

“Nobody human would go out with him, so he’s dating a machine,” Peyton chortled.

The color in Geordi’s face was fading. The color in his whole mind was fading; turning into a nightmare of angered thoughts and curses and…

“Excuse me,” Data’s voice suddenly said behind the pair of giants holding Geordi pinned against the wall. “It is unkind to bully.”

Tucker kept his hold on Geordi’s shoulder, but Peyton turned around with an amused scoff.

Oh no, Geordi thought. He almost wished that Data would walk away. Go somewhere safe; somewhere far away. Let him deal with the taunts. Let him take it, because he could. He wouldn’t enjoy it, but he could take it if it meant that Data was safe.

Peyton crossed his arms.

“What are you going to do about it, robot boy?”

Data tilted his head.

“I am an android. I will not harm you, because it is against my nature. However-”

“Against your coding, you mean,” Tucker said, smiling at Peyton as if he’d just said the most prolific words in the human tongue.

Data was undeterred.

“It is true that my coding prevents me from doing harm to a human being. But I ask that you release my boyfriend and allow him to continue with his day. He has a chemistry class scheduled to begin in one hour and ten minutes, and he may wish to study before-hand.”

Tucker tightened his hold on Geordi. His breath smelled; God knows how since there were replicators in every bathroom that could generate as many tubes of toothpaste as a person desired.

“Listen to this thing,” Peyton said, patting Data on the head. “Just a few months ago it was just a lost little first year. What have you been teaching it, Geordi?”

A wave of anger finally flooded Geordi’s system. He shoved against Tucker’s hand, for all the good it would do. But Tucker held him even tighter, standing closer to hold him in place.

“He’s a person, not a thing,” Geordi said through gritted teeth. “Can’t you get that through your head?”

Peyton’s face flashed in actual anger for a moment. He turned away from Data and took his former spot beside Tucker. The pair of them created a wall about half a foot above Geordi’s smaller form.

“We’ve got a mouth on us today.” Peyton cracked his knuckles. “Anything else you want to say to us, robot-lover?”

“Er…” Geordi stammered, as he looked from Peyton to Tucker to Peyton to the tiny, tiny space in between where he could see Data.

Oh God, Data. In the short glance Geordi was permitted, he saw that Data was angry. His fists were clenched. His eyes were like daggers on the back of Peyton and Tucker’s heads.

“I will only ask you one last time,” Data commanded. His voice was louder than usual; stiffer. Like one of the officers Geordi used to spend time with on his mother’s ship.

Tucker and Peyton ignored him. Until, of course, Data’s hand latched onto Tucker’s shoulder and spun him around.

The force of it made Tucker cry out, which scared Peyton enough to drive him back a few paces. This formed a clearing for Geordi to slip through; just enough time to get to Data. Stand between him and the bullies. Protect him.

“Okay,” Geordi whispered, setting a hand against Data’s chest. His artificial breaths were much more labored than usual; chest heaving out and in. “Okay.”

The anger that had flashed across Data’s face shifted into something else; wide eyes, frantically searching Geordi’s VISOR. Fingers shaking as he clenched and unclenched his fists.

He was scared. Terrified.

Geordi held him tighter. “It’s okay,” he assured. “It’s okay.”

Off to the side, Peyton and Tucker were not helping. Evidently they had recovered from whatever fright Data had invoked in them, and now were watching Data with amusement.

“Aw, look at it, Tucker,” Peyton laughed. “We set something off in it’s programming.”

“Got your wires crossed there, buddy?” Tucker added.

Geordi wrapped his other arm around Data’s shoulders, hushing him softly. Data’s body was hotter than usual, especially his face. The heat rising off of him was making Geordi’s own face sweat.

“Shh,” he murmured. “Come on, Data, let’s get out of here.”

“Geordi-”

“Come on.”

Geordi cast one last glare back to Tucker and Peyton, who waved them off with satisfied smiles. Oh, how much he wanted to hit the smug grins off of their faces.

But no. Not today. Not right now. Right now, Data needed him.

“Let’s walk,” Geordi encouraged, guiding Data down the hallway. He nodded politely to a passing professor; silently cursed the fact that the professor hadn’t been there five minutes before.

When they arrived in the adjacent hallway, Geordi guided them into the tech room. Out of sight, out of the commotion, out of harm’s way. Into their little portion of paradise. It was cool in here. And with the door closed and locked to everyone outside, they could be alone for as long as needed.

“Data, talk to me,” Geordi said, kneeling in front of Data’s seat.

There was little response. Data’s eyes shifted back and forth, as his thumb continued to massage his pointer finger. A nervous tic Geordi had noticed early in their relationship. A confirmation to Geordi that Data could feel emotions and was a fully sentient being with all of the errs and quirks that came with the title.

Geordi set a hand on Data’s, squeezing until Data turned to him.

“Is it another malfunction?” Geordi asked.

Data nodded slowly.

“Geo...Geordi; I do not want to go to engineering to be repaired. I want you to repair me.”

Geordi was a little terrified at the idea. Sure, he’d done it once. But that was out of necessity. Not to mention the fact that he was already on edge from the bullying session he’d endured.

But Data needed him; wanted him. God, the kid had never used the word ‘want’ before, and all of a sudden Geordi wished he hadn’t. It put him in a horrible position. Help Data, because it’s what he wants, or force him to go to some stranger in the engineering department? Help Data, but risk hurting him physically, or send Data off to someone else and definitely hurt him emotionally?

“Okay, D,” Geordi sighed. Dammit, he couldn’t say no to those glistening golden eyes. “I’ll take care of you. Just sit tight, I’ll grab my toolbox.”

Thankfully, the tech room replicator gave him everything he needed. Geordi made quick work of gathering the supplies and rushing them over to the workbench. Then he made quick work of opening Data’s head unit (it was still strange, but not as strange as it probably should have been, to look inside his boyfriend’s head) and connecting him to the computer.

“Tell me if anything feels off, okay?” Geordi said. His teeth were chattering. His hands were shaking. But he could do this. He’d done it before, and he could do it again.

“Geordi…” Data started, then paused.

Geordi froze in his work.

“What? What is it? Is something wrong?”

“Negative.” Data sighed with a small frown. “I...it would be advan-advan-advantageous if you spoke to me throughout the procedure.”

Geordi’s lips quirked into a ghost of a smile.

Data’s temperature rose 0.1 degrees higher. “Then, of course, y-y-you could more quickly determine any prob-prob-problems with my auditory processors.”

“You know,” said Geordi. “For a second, I thought maybe you just wanted to hear my voice.”

He peered around so that Data could see the smile on his face.

“That,” Data said, as his head jerked unnaturally. “Is an...unrelated, though positive, correlation.”

The words calmed Geordi. Perhaps things were bad; his boyfriend did have a slight malfunction, after all. But things weren’t so bad that Data couldn’t amuse him with his way of speaking; his subtle flirting, if it could be called that. Somehow, Geordi knew that Data would be alright today. Maybe not forever, but today.

“Okay, Data, I think I see the problem.” Geordi picked up a new tool and carefully maneuvered it in between the fragile connections in Data’s head. “It looks like some new pathways have caused problems again.”

Data tensed up, keeping his head more still than usual. Geordi set a gentle hand on his shoulder, pausing his work for a moment.

“I’ve got you, Data,” he murmured. “Don’t worry.”

“I can not worry, Geordi,” Data responded instantly.

Geordi was almost glad to hear the lie. If he hadn’t dismissed Geordi’s ‘emotions talk’, then Geordi would have had something to be nervous about.

“I’m gonna move this new pathway over a little bit and fix it so it won’t interfere with the older ones, okay?”

“That sounds like-like-like a reasonable course of action, Geor-Geor-Geor-”

“Okay.” Geordi took a breath as he grabbed another tool off of the table. “Almost done. Then you’ll be all back to normal.”

“Geordi?”

“Yeah, Data?” Geordi asked, as he resumed working.

“Do you remember when I told you that my greatest wish was to be human?”

Geordi smiled sadly at the memory. Backstage, Data’s hand in his. A night filled with so many different emotions that Geordi had hardly finished processing them yet.

“Of course.”

“It is when I am being repaired that I am...reminded especially of my ‘otherness’.” Data’s foot tapped on the floor restlessly. “However...you always...lessen the impact of this reminder.”

Geordi smiled, as he fit the connection into place.

“I’m glad I can help, D.” Geordi finished fitting the wires into place, and then gently maneuvered his hand away. “I think we’re about finished here.”

Geordi closed up Data’s head; unconnected him from all of the tools and monitors he had used. Then he took his usual seat beside Data’s, latching onto the android’s hand.

“How are you doing?”

“I am no longer experiencing the malfunction,” Data replied. His tone was not very encouraging.

“But?” Geordi asked with a frown.

Data’s head tilted. He looked at the floor, then his hands.

“The threat of cascade failure is still inherent to my positronic net.” His frown deepened. “And, even though you have repaired the interference, my artificial heart and lungs continue to function at a rate that is faster than usual.”

Geordi leaned forward, knocking Data’s knees with his own.

“Well, I’ve been thinking about that, D,” he said. “Maybe some of it wasn’t because of the malfunction. Maybe...your body is just starting to respond emotionally.”

Data shook his head.

“I do not-”

“Feel emotions, I know. But Data,” Geordi said with a smile, “maybe Dr. Soong did give you emotions. Maybe they're just...I don’t know. Buried; or subdued.”

Data tilted his head, thinking. But then he shook his head again.

“If my body’s response is not due to emotions, which is highly probable, then it may be an indicator of a cascade failure beginning in my programming.” Data stood suddenly, and disappeared to the side of the room where the replicator was. “Computer, can you create a diagnostic tool, designed to check for failures in advanced programming?”

“Data?”

Data spun back around.

“I must continue to examine myself for errors. If I detect a malfunction or cascade failure early enough, then I may be able to prevent total failure.”

Geordi frowned tightly.

“Data, shouldn’t we go talk to engineering about this? If you’re that worried, maybe they could help.”

Data shook his head.

“They have already run diagnostics and found no issues. However, I believe that it is possible that there is an underlying problem causing my apparent ‘stage fright’, as well as my seemingly ‘emotional’ outburst in front of Peyton and Tucker.” Data’s eyes softened. “Geordi, I do not want to experience cascade failure.”

“I don’t either, Data. But...come here.”

Geordi crossed the room in three paces and pulled Data into a hug. His hand travelled up Data’s back; rose to cradle his fragile, worried head.

“I know you’re scared,” Geordi said quietly, hushing any words to the contrary. “But I’m right here. And I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Data didn’t even try to argue. As he returned Geordi’s embrace, he closed his eyes.

“I know, Geordi. But even you may not be able to stop a cascade failure once it occurs. I must make sure that it has not already begun, and stop it if it has.”

Geordi sighed into Data’s neck. He was worried; terrified, that something so bad could happen to someone he cared so much about. But a part of him was already forming a plan. He couldn’t let Data continue in this way. He couldn’t let him stay scared his whole life; scared of his own programming.

Geordi made a promise to himself then, that he was going to help Data trust himself. Trust his emotions.

Trust that Geordi would always be there to save him; every time. No matter how impossible the situation looked.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

“Come in, please,” came Data’s sweet voice.

Geordi wished he were glad to hear it. He wished that the sweet tone made him happy. He wished he were thrilled to see Data spending so much time in the tech room; the place that had once been his refuge.

But how could Geordi be happy to know that Data was locking himself away in here, day and night, the same way he used to? How could he be glad to hear the forced joy in his boyfriend’s voice. His boyfriend, whom he knew was worried sick over his possible malfunctions.

“Hey Data,” Geordi said, when he finally worked up the courage to fake a smile.

He shut the door behind himself so they could be alone. Alone together, that is. Though Data didn’t seem inclined on being ‘together’. His back was still turned to the door, face poring over the readout from yet another diagnostic.

“How many tests have you run in the past couple weeks?” Geordi asked. Because he had to know. The same way you have to know just how badly you failed that exam; a strange part of the psyche that almost craves to hear the worst of the news, if only to know that it could only get better from there.

“In the past two weeks and four days,” Data said, still staring at the readout screen, “I have conducted 120 minor diagnostic scans, as well as 47 intense scans. So far, I have not located a fault that would result in a cascade failure.”

“Isn’t that pretty conclusive?” Geordi crossed his arms, leaning on the door.

Data shook his head. Continued to stare at that blasted screen.

“I must be thorough, if I am to rule out the possibility of a serious error. It may be that my scans are incomplete, in a way that I have not yet realized. If this is the case, then there may be a multitude of errors which cannot be detected by the technology I am currently using.” Data finally turned to Geordi. He looked...tired. Like he hadn’t slept - or, ‘entered his dream program’ - in weeks. “I may construct my own diagnostic program. With my positronic net, I should be able to find new ways of detecting errors in my coding. You may assist, if you would like.”

“Data…” Geordi’s voice softened. “You’re starting to scare me.”

That got a reaction, at least. Data’s eyes widened, seeming to shine a little brighter. He shifted closer to the workbench, too; as if to give Geordi some room.

“I do not want to cause you fear, Geordi. That is why I must be proactive with a new diagnostic scan.”

Geordi’s frown sharpened.

“D...have you ever thought about talking to a counselor? I think it could really help.”

“Geordi, I do not have any emotions to discuss with a counselor.”

“Data,” Geordi stopped himself just before he lost it. Sighing, he leaned heavier against the door.

How could Data sit there and be so...so stubborn? So sure that he was right and Geordi was wrong?

“I just want you back,” Geordi said finally. His voice was almost broken, but he didn’t care. Maybe if he cried, Data would actually listen to him.

A silence filled the room, as they each avoided eye contact. Data was still turned halfway around in his chair, frozen at Geordi’s words. He looked like he was thinking hard. Every now and then, his head would tilt in that way that Geordi secretly found adorable.

Just when the quiet was becoming unbearable, Data’s eyes flickered up to Geordi’s VISOR.

“I apologize, Geordi. I...have allowed my personal conflict to interfere with our relationship. It is unfair to you.”

Geordi sighed. How could he stay mad at that face? At that boy? With his little frown; his big glistening eyes; his exhausted frame?

“It’s okay, Data. I just...I miss you. You haven’t been yourself lately.”

“I am unable to be anyone except myself,” Data corrected, with a flicker of a smile. “However, I understand that you mean that I have been acting out of character, and I agree with that statement.”

They let another moment of silence pass between them, as machines whirred around them. On the workbench, another diagnostic report came in. But this time, Data ignored it.

“Geordi…” Data shook his head. “What should I do?”

What a question. Geordi had a few ideas, of course.

Put all of the computers away, for a start. Stop believing that you have a fatal error when you’re not sure. Stop terrifying your boyfriend.

No, Data was in too fragile a state for all of that right now. He didn’t need anyone telling him he was doing things wrong, or that he was mistaken. He needed...well, he needed to let loose.

“Data, I have a proposition.”

Data spun his seat around fully, peering up at Geordi with a curious look.

“Yes?” he encouraged.

Geordi let a hint of a smile cross his face.

“Winter break is coming up,” Geordi said simply.

“Yes. It begins in one week, one day, and twenty two hours.”

“Well,” Geordi continued, “how about you take winter break off. Completely. No work, no diagnostics, no worrying. And then when we get back to school, if you want, you can go right back to sitting in here all day and night.”

Data though the offer over, as his eyes danced left and right. Geordi gave him another smile and held out his right hand.

“Deal?”

Data looked at the hand, and then up to Geordi’s face.

“Deal.”

They shook hands, Data’s grip so firm that it almost hurt Geordi’s hand. When they let go, Geordi leaned in closer and kissed the top of Data’s head.

“I’ll see you later, Data,” he murmured. “Remember to get some sleep.”

“I will enter my dream program for a few hours tonight.”

“Promise?” Geordi asked with a pleading smile.

“Yes, I promise.” Data’s expression turned troubled for a moment. “But Geordi...what if I malfunction during our holiday? What if...what if I cause you injury?”

Geordi let out a slow breath.

“You won’t. I know you won’t. Hey,” Geordi took a strong hold of Data’s shoulder. “Is that what you’re worried about? Accidentally hurting me?”

Data’s eyes turned to the floor. He nodded, gently.

“It is...a priority of mine.”

“Well you don’t have to worry about that, okay? Right now you’re the one hurting, so it’s my job to look after you. Got that?”

Data did not look convinced, as he turned back to Geordi. But he nodded again.

“Yes, Geordi.”

Geordi squeezed his shoulder one last time, and then started for the door.

“Geordi?”

“Yeah, Data?”

A pause, as Data gathered his thoughts. As Geordi watched him from the doorway. As time stood still.

“Thank you. For remaining my boyfriend through this time.”

Geordi smiled.

“Data, I think you’re gonna be stuck with me for a long time.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen

“Geordi, Winter Break begins tomorrow,” Data said suddenly.

Geordi looked up from his exobiology microscope just long enough to smile. “I know, D.” He turned back to the microscope for a moment before closing his eyes back with a shake of the head. “Can you try to focus this? This thing always messes with my VISOR.”

“Of course.”

Data replaced him in front of the microscope, finding whatever microbe they were looking for in a fraction of a second. He sketched the little creature on his PADD. To Geordi, it looked a bit like Tucker, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t want to think about him or Peyton; not when winter break was about to begin and he was about to get his boyfriend back 24/7.

“However, tomorrow is also the first night of Hanukkah,” Data continued, even as he finished the perfect details of the microbe’s membrane.

“Right. It’s pretty early this year,” said Geordi. “Don’t worry, we’ll get everything decorated in time. Your dorm this time, right?”

“Yes,” Data agreed. “Since Will is not going to be with us for the holiday season, I assumed that you would rather join me in my dormitory. However, we can stay in yours, if you would prefer.”

“No, no; yours is fine.” Geordi pretended to write something as the professor walked by their table. “We need to get that place decorated, anyway. It still looks pretty gloomy.”

Data nodded.

“Yes, I am planning on taking an art course next semester. Perhaps I will be able to add more ‘personal touches’ to the walls of my dormitory, such as you added your posters of-”

“More biology, and less chit-chat, boys” Professor Pilfrey cut in, appearing as a looming shadow above them.

Data and Geordi’s heads bowed down to their PADDS.

“Yes, professor,” they replied in tandem.

They were silent after that, focusing on the microbe instead of each other. But just once, Geordi passed a coy smile across to Data. And just this once, Data responded with a boyish smile of his own.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

“How does that look?”

Geordi stepped back and surveyed the newly replicated menorah, sitting in the perfect center of Data’s table. The blue and white runner added to the look; as did the neatly laid plates and utensils sitting on either side of the small table.

Data nodded, as his soft eyes observed Geordi’s work with admiration.

“It is aesthetically pleasing,” Data said, adjusting his kippah. “However, the menorah is 2.6 millimeters closer to the left side of the table than the right.”

Geordi snapped his fingers with a smile.

“So close!”

Data fixed the menorah so that it was ‘perfectly’ in the middle, and then stood back up again.

“We may begin now,” he said, satisfied.

Geordi sat and waited patiently while Data went to the replicator to get something. It was so nice to be back together again. Actually together. Now that Data was sworn not to worry over his possible ‘malfunctions’ and everything else, he was forced to be present. And, well, Data’s presence was all that Geordi ever wanted anymore.

Data sat in the chair opposite, and Geordi had never been more attracted to him. It felt like it had been so long, since he’d really seen Data. Since they’d spent meaningful time together. And now here they were; alone at last. Sitting here in this comfortable, soft light. Celebrating instead of worrying.

Geordi couldn’t help but stare with a smile, as Data raised the lighter he had replicated and brought it to the center candle.

“Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu…” Data began singing.

Geordi was lost to the world; held in the warm embrace of the glowing fire, his boyfriend's gentle voice, and the quiet of a campus gone silent.

. . . . . . . . . .

“Oh!” Geordi exclaimed, nearly dropping the latke he was holding. “I almost forgot. Will left a present for you before he left.”

Geordi hopped off of Data’s bed and hurried to his satchel on the other side of the room. His hand disappeared into the mess inside his bag, fingers groping around. After a short moment, he glanced back to Data.

“I know it’s here somewhere...here we go!”

He pulled out a wrapped box. It was crinkled and had about ten pieces of tape stuck to it. But the paper was a gorgeous blue color and the object inside was fully hidden, so it wasn’t a complete disaster.

Data didn’t seem to mind either way. His eyes lit up at the sight of the gift. and as Geordi passed it off and joined him on the bed again, his golden eyes shined brighter than ever.

“It was not a requirement to give me a gift,” Data said, holding the box like one might hold a fragile piece of china.

“I know, but...you know Will. And besides, it’s a tradition.”

Data smiled softly as he looked at the box. His fingers pried up one of the pieces of tape. Then another. Then another.

“Aren’t you going to open it?” asked Geordi.

“I am.”

“You can just...nevermind, go ahead.”

Geordi grinned as Data continued his strange tape removal method of opening the present. Once all of the eleven strips of tape were peeled carefully off of the paper, Data set about opening the wrappings.

“It is...a box,” Data said simply.

“The present's inside the box.”

“Ah.” Data opened the box inside the wrapping paper, and found an object within. “It is a book. ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’.”

Geordi peered over his shoulder so he could see the book cover again. It was a gorgeous copy, with a leather casing and illustrations for every story.

“Will said you remind him of Sherlock Holmes,” Geordi explained.

Data turned to him with a smile.

“I will read and determine whether Will is correct.” Data set the wrapping paper aside and opened up to the first page of book, looking closely at the drawings inside. “Please tell Will that I am grateful for the gift.”

“No problem.”

Again, a companionable silence passed between them. Geordi leaned his head on Data’s shoulder, as they looked through the book together. And as they finished their replicated latkes, they read the fantastical adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen

“My dear Holmes,” Geordi said in his best British accent. “How ever did you find the culprit?”

Data smirked, brushing off his overcoat. “It is simple, Watson.”

His British accent was almost as bad as Geordi’s.

“Clearly, the suspect must have been small enough to fit inside the nook in this wall,” he explained, gesturing to the small crawl space in which the poor dead mouse lay.

Geordi avoided looking directly at the animal. Growing up in Starfleet, one got used to eating replicated ‘meat’ that didn’t come from an animal. Hunting had been banned in his great-great grandfather’s time. Other than Will and his father, Geordi couldn’t even name someone who went fishing these days.

But still, he guessed, some things would never change.

“How did you determine that it was this cat in particular?” Geordi asked.

Data raised the little orange tabby and held its gaze. It meowed once, in its high-pitched voice. Then began purring intensely.

“Orange fur was found at the murder scene,” said Data, snuggling the cat into his coat so that it would be sheltered from the cool December breeze. “And paw prints, perfectly matching those of this individual.”

“In addition,” Data continued. “The claw marks located in the crawlspace match the width of this cat’s claws.”

Geordi peered around the mouse and, sure enough, found criss-crossing claw marks creating a symbol on the side of the crawlspace.

“X marks the spot,” he remarked.

“Spot,” Data repeated. He lifted the cat again, enough so that its nose was lined up with his own. Its whiskers touched his cheek briefly, as it yawned. “Perhaps that is what we should name this cat.”

“Huh?” Geordi broke out of his accent. “Wait, Data, I don’t even know if we’re allowed pets.”

Data looked up at him, and Geordi knew that they were keeping the cat. How could he say no to those shining yellow eyes? Matched with the shining brown eyes of the little kitty cat cuddling its furry face closer to his boyfriend’s cheek?

“My ethical programming will not allow me to leave this cat unattended,” Data said matter-of-factly. “And since there are few others remaining on campus to take care of the cat…”

“Alright.” Geordi sighed with a smile. “Let’s get him inside.”

“I believe it is a female.”

“Let’s get her inside.” Geordi paused, as he followed behind Data’s trailing overcoat. “But if that thing has kittens, we are not keeping them.”

One more look from Data and Geordi started preparing himself to be a cat-father of nine.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“Merry Christmas, Geordi!”

“What the-?” Geordi jumped at the sudden voice in his ear. His hand groped carelessly over the table beside Data’s bed. He knocked his PADD onto the floor; almost knocked over a lamp. Finally, he found his VISOR and slid it onto his face.

Data. Of course. Standing directly in front of him wearing a pair of old-fashioned pajamas: long johns with a woolen cap.

Geordi rolled over and tried to close his eyes.

“What time is it?”

“It is currently 4:30 in the morning, December 25th,” Data replied curtly.

Geordi groaned and slid the VISOR back off of his face. In front of him, he heard Data shift.

“Is it not the custom to wake early on Christmas morning?”

“Yeah, if you’re five.”

“Oh.” Data was quiet for a moment. “I apologize, Geordi.”

“Apology...accep…”

Geordi was asleep again before he could finish his sentence.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

The next time Georid awoke, it was to a much different scene. Data wasn’t screaming in his ear, to start. He was sitting quietly across the room, sipping a mug of eggnog. Still he wore those old pajamas, now with a pair of slippers to match. Spot the cat was in her usual place by his feet. She licked her paw, and then noticed Geordi and laid back down.

Geordi sat up with a bright smile.

“Good morning, Data.”

“Geordi!” Data turned and shut his book; another Sherlock Holmes anthology, this one annotated. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Data.”

Data’s room looked wonderful today; like it came out of an old-Earth greetings card. The tree sat in the corner, surrounded by presents and a toy train that made a little ‘choo-choo’ noise as it passed around the skirt of the tree. Lights shone in half a dozen colors all over the walls. And in the background, Nat King Cole was singing a gentle carol.

“Data...this looks…”

“I recently researched the traditions of Christmas,” Data said, moving toward Geordi. Spot trailed behind him, unable to let him more than three feet away from her.

“Like waking up early?” Geordi asked playfully.

“I apologize that I-”

“Don’t worry about it, D.” Geordi reached out for Data’s hand, which he took. “Thank you for all of this. It was...not looking like this yesterday.”

Yesterday they had begun Christmas decorating, after a week of Hanukkah celebrations followed by a week of grogginess and Sherlock Holmes adventuring in which time lost its meaning. It was only because of Data’s internal chronometer that Geordi was able to learn that yesterday was Christmas Eve. And at that point, of course, there was hardly enough time to put up stockings, let alone actually prepare.

“What is your favorite Christmas tradition?” asked Data, guiding Geordi to the seat beside the tree.

“Hmm.” Geordi sat on the cushion as Data sat on the arm of the chair, hands still intertwined. “I think it’s probably the music. You can’t beat a good Christmas carol.”

Data nodded along. Geordi wasn’t sure he did this because he agreed or he wanted to look like he knew what Geordi was talking about. Either way, it was adorable. And either way, it made Geordi kiss Data’s hand in response.

“Geordi,” Data said. “I have a gift for you.”

“Aw, Data, you didn’t need to.”

“It is a tradition.” Data smiled that sly smile; the one that made Geordi sure that this boy knew far more than he let on about humor, about people, about conversation.

“Well, alright,” Geordi relented, letting go of Data’s hand so he could get up.

A moment later, Data returned carrying a neatly wrapped box. He’d done a slightly (read: much) better job at wrapping than poor Will. The wrapping paper he chose was splendid as well; red and green stripes that ran perfectly parallel to one another.

“It’s gorgeous, D. I almost don’t want to open it.”

“That would defeat the purpose of gifting you a present,” Data explained.

Geordi smiled with a shake of the head and forced himself to tear into the paper. It felt like it was something special; heavy, and an undefined shape that Geordi couldn’t place. When all of the paper was removed, Geordi flipped the object over in his hand and gasped.

It was an art piece, made of his favorite tools to work with in the tech room. Lights glistened here and there, other borrowed items from the workbench. Together, all of the metal and glass and electronic pieces melded together into a mosaic that looked like Geordi’s face. He’d included the VISOR and everything.

“Data...this is so cool! Oh my god.”

He leaned over and gave Data a tight hug, which was reciprocated with a soft smile.

“I am relieved that you enjoy it. One of the students in the art room I worked in was not nearly as pleased with it as you are.”

Geordi’s head whipped up.

“What’s that kid’s name, Data? I just want to talk.”

Data raised his eyebrows at him.

“I will not reveal the student’s identification. I do not want you to get into trouble with the dean for my sake.”

“I know, D,” Geordi laughed. “I was joking.”

“Ah…” Data’s brow quirked. “I still have a lot of improvement to be made in understanding humor.”

Geordi turned back to the portrait with a wide grin.

“This is...amazing, Data. You’re amazing.”

They met eyes. And then Geordi slowly lowered the picture to the table and smiled sweetly.

“I actually, er...I got you something, too,” Geordi admitted.

“Geordi, that is highly unnecessary. You have already given me a multitude of gifts for Hannukah…”

“This is special, though. I, er...I made it. I meant to finish it before, but...well, it was kind of complicated...You’ll see.”

Geordi’s hands were shaking as he pulled a gift bag out of his satchel. His legs were shaking, too, as he crossed back to where Data was still sitting on the arm of the chair.

Geordi paused to gather himself. Took a deep breath. Took in the sight before him; Data, eyes wide and hopeful as they were exhausted by Geordi’s endless presents. The multi-colored lights shining around the tree and lining the walls. His own robe covering pajamas that were well slept in. Spot lying comfortably on the skirt of the tree, watching the dangling ornaments with a predator’s eye.

Something told him that this was one of those moments; one of those short pieces of time that he would remember forever. That he would look back on in his old age and say, yeah...that was a good time. That was a good life.

“Geordi?” Data prodded gently.

“Here you go, Data.”

Geordi passed him the small bag. It wasn’t much of a wrapping job; just a red bag with some green paper inside. Data made quick work of it, and Geordi was kind of glad. His heart was beating out of his chest as he watched. As Data reached in. As Data pulled out his gift.

“It is...I do not know what this is,” Data said, with a close inspection of the device in his hand.

Geordi’s heart galloped into his throat. He folded his hands together just to get them to stop shaking so much.

“It’s, er...it’s a program, Data. For you. For your positronic net. I...I think I can install it today, if you want. It’s a, er…” Geordi willed his mouth to stop shaking so that he could speak clearly. “It’s a fail-safe. If it works right, and, I mean, it should...then it’ll catch anything like a cascade failure before it happens, and reroute your programming to fix itself. It’s not, er...it’s not Soong-approved, but I did get some of the engineers to look at it. They think it should work pretty well.”

Geordi scratched the back of his neck, as he stared at Data. He hadn’t responded yet. Why hadn’t he responded yet?

“It connects to your central processor,” Geordi continued. “When a new connection causes an error, this thing detects it instantly and stops the problem before it causes any harm. It learns from your positronic net, so as soon as install it, it’ll be personalized to exactly what you need.”

Data still hadn’t responded. He was just...sitting there, staring at the device. Quiet. Too quiet. Oh god, had Geordi made a huge mistake? Was the totally out of line here?

“Data? Is...is it okay?” Geordi shook his head and looked to the floor. “I-I can put it away if-”

Geordi’s sentence was cut short.

Not by Data collapsing, his biggest fear. Not by an irritated scowl, or an angered shout. Not by a malfunction.

Geordi was cut off by Data’s lips on his own. Data’s lips! On his lips!

Geordi’s VISOR cut out for a second, as his heart leaped into his throat and then dive-bombed into his stomach.

Data’s lips! On! His! Lips!

He had kissed Data’s hand before. Kissed his head. Kissed his knee, after a particularly nasty fall had torn his bioplast open on the football field. But he had never kissed Data’s lips.

He’d never kissed anyone’s lips before, come to think of it. What was he supposed to do? How did Data know what to do? Did he stay up reading about this stuff? Or was it just instinctive?

Geordi decided that the best course of action was probably to stop thinking so much.

What a moment it was to stop thinking. Oh, he could get lost in it forever. His face was held in Data’s cool hands. He was holding Data’s hips so he didn’t collapse under his still-shaking legs. The room was quiet (Bing Crosby, now, singing about this Silent Night).

All was calm.

All was bright.

Geordi only broke the kiss to breathe. But then he met Data’s eyes and was frozen still. His aura was glowing brighter than ever. His eyes were inches from his VISOR. He could still taste the eggnog from Data’s lips.

What a moment. What a lovely, lovely moment.

“Geordi,” Data whispered. He looked like he was about to cry. “I will not experience a cascade failure?”

Geordi smiled. “No, you won’t.”

Geordi pulled Data closer to himself. Kissed his lips again, just to remember what it felt like. This one wasn’t as shocking, but it felt good all the same.

“You never have to worry about that again,” Geordi promised.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen

If Geordi could have, he would have traded the rest of his school career; hell, his Starfleet career, if he could only live in that winter break for forever. It was a dream, to live in Data’s dorm room with the Hanukkah and Christmas decorations still lining the walls. To solve ‘mysteries’ around the quiet campus in full Sherlock Holmes-era clothing. To learn how to take care of Spot and avoid her claws (he was still working on that one).

It was...yeah, paradise. But paradise can’t last forever. Not when there were classes to take and engineering manuals to study; careers to begin and lives to start. But Geordi did wish they could have stayed in their little Eden just a little bit longer.

“I gotta get to class,” Geordi sighed, rolling out of Data’s bed. The floor was cold today; a harbinger of things to come, he guessed.

Back to school. Back to the real world. Back to the daily grind.

Data was already up, holding Spot’s newly replicated bowl. The cat was basically climbing his leg to get to the food in his hand. Her claws and meows were almost vicious; feeding time was the only time she was like that with Data. But Data was patient with her. He waited, and gently murmured directions for her to follow to behave ‘in a way that reflected her inherent good nature’ (Data’s words, not Geordi’s).

As he watched their little moment together, Geordi crossed his arms and leaned back on the tall bed. He could watch this forever. He could stay here forever, with Data and Spot. Watching him trying to feed her every morning. Listening to her moan for her breakfast as if they’d forgotten to feed her dinner (which would, of course, never happen with Data around). As the birds chirped outside, and the sounds of the hallway were blocked out by the sleepy haze that still hung around Geordi’s ears.

Yeah, he could get used to this.

It was a shocking idea at first, as he stood there in his pajamas in another boy’s room, to realize that he had found something he wanted to keep forever. But what was truly shocking was that...he was not shocked. All of this actually felt natural; like destiny, something that Geordi had never believed in before.

Well, he believed in it now. Because a few months ago he had been lonely, and scared, and a bit unsure of himself. And he was still all of those things, to some extent. But he was getting better. With Data at his side, he was becoming who he’d always wanted to be.

And, at least it seemed to him, Data was slowly becoming who he’d always wanted to be. They weren’t there yet, no. But maybe someday…

“Geordi?” Data asked, throwing Geordi out of his half-asleep daydream. “I believe that your physics class begins in twenty minutes and 10 seconds.”

“Right. Thanks, D.” Geordi shook his head out. “Guess I got a bit distracted.”

“I will meet you after your class,” said Data. “You mentioned that you enjoy eating together, so I will wait until after your class to consume brunch.”

“That’s really sweet, Data,” Geordi replied, with a quick kiss on the cheek as he strolled to the door.

“Er, Geordi?”

Data looked Geordi up and down with a concerned brow.

“Wha-?” Geordi looked at himself and found his pajamas still covering his legs; slippers on his feet. No shirt. “Guess I forgot we aren’t the only ones on campus anymore.”

“No we are not.” Data passed Geordi his cadet uniform shirt with a frown.

Geordi enjoyed that frown more than some of the smiles Data had shown him over the past few weeks. It meant that Data had enjoyed this winter break, too. He liked being alone with Geordi. Maybe someday he’d even be able to express that himself.

For today, Geordi would take the frown.

. . . . . . . . . .

“Hello, Geordi.”

Geordi looked up from the padlock of his locker and smiled.

“Hey D. I’m just gonna put some of my books away, and then we can go to brunch.” Geordi shrugged the satchel off of his shoulder and opened it in one smooth motion.

“Where would you prefer to eat brunch today? The cafeteria is an obvious choice, as is either your dormitory or my own. There is a new cafe located just ten...minutes…”

Geordi’s brow furrowed as Data broke off.

“D?” he asked, looking up from his books. “Wha-?”

Oh no.

Tucker. And right behind him, Peyton. They looked well rested. Probably didn’t use a brain cell all winter break between the two of them. They did certainly spent plenty of time at the gym, however. Tucker’s arms were about as wide as Geordi’s face now.

“Still dating the computer, La Forge?” Peyton asked, landing his fist on the locker just beside Geordi’s. It made a booming noise, like thunder.

“Look,” Geordi sighed, “can you two just leave us alone?”

Tucker approached at the side, blocking Geordi between himself, Data, and Peyton. Geordi was only glad that Data was in front of him, within view. However this little chat of theirs played out, they were in it together.

“Afraid we can’t,” said Tucker. “You know, my father believes that androids will be banned one day. Probably because of freaks like you that keep flirting with them.”

Geordi’s face burned. He locked his VISOR on Data so that he wouldn’t blow his top, but even still he was getting close. Data’s expression was deflating as he watched; which made Geordi even more upset than Tucker’s words. To watch those eyes lose their spark; the lips turn into a frown: it was worse than all of the taunts they could ever throw at him.

Peyton sauntered around Geordi and came to stand beside Data. Now he was surrounded, instead of Geordi. But that didn’t make him feel any better.

“How much do you think the spare parts will be worth?” asked Peyton, surveying Data like a predator watching its prey. “There are markets in the Epsilon system that would kill for some of this tech.”

“Is that what you two are at Starfleet for?” said Geordi, louder than he meant to. But he was angry; properly angry. No; more than that. He was furious. How dare they treat Data like that? How could anyone look at him and want to hurt him? “To scope out tech you can sell to the highest bidder?”

“You don’t know anything about us,” Tucker shot back, prodding his pointer finger into Geordi’s chest.

“Do not hurt Geordi.” Data took a step forward, closing Tucker in between himself and Geordi.

The action seemed to set something off in Tucker’s head. He ducked out away from Data and stepped aside. When he turned back to them, his face was red; eyes wide.

“Is that what you’ve been doing, La Forge?” he asked, voice hysterical. “Programming this thing to protect you?”

Peyton laughed again; his grating, screeching laugh that shook the surrounding lockers. “What a damn scaredy cat!” he cried.

“Do not speak ill of Geordi,” Data said, enunciating each word. His fists were clenched at his sides; teeth set in a grimace.

“Or what, freak?” Tucker asked, getting his nerve back. “If you even look at me wrong, I will tell my father. He’ll take you apart himself and ship you back to Omicron Theta. There are some good trade routes around there; maybe that’s where I’ll start my career.”

This all was starting to feel like some kind of nightmare. Maybe Geordi had been reading too much Sherlock Holmes. Or maybe he’d drunk too much during their New Year’s celebration. Surely his boyfriend wasn’t being threatened right now? Surely they weren’t cornered by their lockers by the two biggest bullies in Starfleet?

“If you even think about hurting him,” Geordi started, stepping up to Tucker with much more fury than fear.

“You’ll what?” said Tucker, standing at his full height above Geordi.

Oh man, had he gotten taller over break?

“I’ll…I’ll tell Starfleet high command. My mother is a captain, you know.”

Tucker faltered for a second. Then he bared his teeth in a dark smile, eyes glistening as they passed over Geordi’s face.

“That VISOR of yours is pretty rare,” he said, reaching out an enormous hand. “How much do you think we could get for it, Peyton?”

“Do not touch Geordi,” Data said; an order. His voice had never been so filled with emotion. His aura had never glowed this bright.

Tucker ignored him.

“We could break it into its parts, sell ‘em individually. Act as the middleman for some sucker to buy all the pieces to put it together again. We’ll have enough to live it up in Epsilon.”

“What the hell do you want?” Geordi asked, backing away from Tucker’s hand. “We have everything we could ever want; food, housing, living expenses, replicators. What else do you want?”

“We want more,” Tucker said simply. “Peyton and I are dreamers.”

“Ha; sure.”

“Tell me you won’t inform Starfleet about me, my father, or anyone else operating in the Epsilon system,” Tucker murmured. “And I won’t break your VISOR.”

Geordi stared for a long moment. Swallowed the lump in his throat. Felt every fiber of his being telling him to run and hide and damn the consequences. Give this all up; go back to being a lonely little kid with no friends and no attachments and no worries.

No. No, he could never go back to that. Not after winter break. Not when he and Data had tasted paradise.

“I don’t listen to threats anymore,” Geordi said with a shake of the head. “Especially not from some greedy bully like you.”

The next moment was absolute chaos.

Tucker went to grab the VISOR off of Geordi’s face. He shut his eyes instinctively. But then a gust of air hit his face: an arm passing between them.

Data.

Geordi opened his eyes and found Data’s aura glowing directly in front of his face. His arm, holding onto Tucker.

Okay; maybe Geordi wasn’t about to lose his VISOR. Cool.

In the next second, Data whipped Tucker around; spun him until the back of his shoulder hit the lockers hard. He cried out.

Tucker's voice rose about an octave higher.

“Don’t hurt me!” He glanced fearfully to Peyton, who had backed up more than a few paces. “I-I only wanted to mess with La Forge! Get off of me, android!”

Tucker pushed back against Data, but it was of no use. Data had more strength in his pinky finger than the bully had in his entire body. He stayed stuck; pinned between Data’s hands on his shoulders and the unyielding lockers.

“I will not allow you to hurt Geordi,” Data said.

His voice was so shaky; one the edge of a rickety precipice. In all of the days they’d spent together, even the tough ones, Data had never bared his emotions in this way. Geordi had grown accustomed to the subtle expressions; the very slight changes in posture. He wasn’t used to this: shining eyes, broken voice, shaking hands.

“Data,” Geordi said, forcing his voice over the lump in his throat.

“You are unkind,” continued Data, his face inches from Tucker’s. “And you do not deserve your place in Starfleet.”

“Okay; okay,” Tucker said, trying to shove past him again. And again, it was of no use. “Just let go of me, creep! Peyton, get him off of me!”

Geordi turned and found Peyton looking somewhat smaller than he usually did. His whole body was folded in on itself; as if he could hide from Data in the middle of this nearly empty hallway. But as Tucker struggled in Data’s unrelenting hold, Peyton stepped forward.

“Let ‘im go, android. Or I’ll...I’ll call campus security. I will.”

Data didn’t seem to hear him, caught up as he was in his intense battle to keep Tucker held fast against the locker.

“Data,” Geordi repeated. “Data, it’s okay.”

“It does not feel okay.” Data turned his face to Geordi.

Oh man. He was crying; or, at least, what Geordi assumed was his version of crying. Two golden tear tracks lined his face. A new tear was forming in the corner of his right eye. When he blinked, it started down his face, following the same river already traced down his cheek. Geordi watched, chest aching, as the tears stained two golden lines into his bioplast skin.

They held each other's gaze for a long moment. And then, of course, Peyton had to be stupid enough to break it.

“Let Tucker go!” he shouted.

He suddenly made a bold dash forward, muscled arms outstretched before him. Data heard him coming, of course. He let go of Tucker at the last second and turned on Peyton instead.

In one quick motion, Data let go of Tucker, spun on his heel, and punched Peyton square in the face.

He didn’t use nearly as much force as he could have; that was obvious. But the force was enough to knock Peyton off balance with a cry of shock. He managed to stay on his feet; a hand flying to his face where he’d been hit.

“You’re gonna pay for that!” Tucker yelled.

But even as he said it, he stumbled over to Peyton. His arms latched around his friend and pulled him along.

Just once more, he turned back to Data.

“My father will send you back to the junkyard you came from!”

Peyton and Tucker ran off after that. Good riddance to them. Geordi was almost glad to see their terrified faces; Peyton’s bloody nose. They gave him a sick sense of pleasure. The bullies becoming the bullied.

But when he turned back to Data, all of that sinister glee washed away.

“D?” he asked gently.

Data was a mess. Tears were running down his face faster than ever, accompanied every now and then by hiccuping sobs. His hands were shaking. Even his uniform was affected by the horrible feelings he was caught up in; all battered and wrinkled from the scuffle.

Geordi didn’t even know how to respond. He’d never seen Data like this; hell, Data had never seen Data like this. He was hurting, and he was crying, and he wasn’t even supposed to be able to do either of those things.

All this time Geordi had wanted Data to understand his emotions. And now that he was feeling them, Geordi wished he wasn’t. Wished Peyton and Tucker were far, far away. Wished he had the words or the experience or the wisdom to calm his boyfriend.

But they were both in way over their heads, in a situation neither of them quite understood.

So Geordi did what he could. He took Data into his arms. He eased him to the floor. Kneeling in the empty hallway, he lodged Data’s face in the space between his neck and shoulder; gave him a safe place to cry.

It killed Geordi to feel Data’s tears on his neck. But somewhere deep, deep down he knew that this had to happen. At some point, Data had to find these feelings. He had to cry, because he hadn’t for so long. He had to let himself feel, because he’d been ignoring his feelings for way too long.

“Shh,” Geordi whispered, rubbing Data’s back. “It’s gonna be alright.”

“No, I do not believe it is.” Data sniffed and wiped his eyes in Geordi’s uniform before starting to cry again. “I will be deactivated and disassembled. Tucker’s father will sell me for parts.”

“No he won’t. “Not if I have anything to say about it.”

Data sniffed again. “I will be kicked out of Starfleet.”

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” Geordi repeated. “Data? Data, look at me.”

Geordi took gentle hold of Data’s face; inches from his own. Kissed a stray tear.

“You’re not going to get kicked out of Starfleet. You’re not going anywhere. We’ll get through this. Okay?”

Data’s eyes shifted away. Geordi turned his head back to face himself.

“Hey; we’ll get through this.”

He held Data’s gaze. Locked eyes for a long moment.

“Everything is gonna be okay,” he promised.

It certainly didn’t look like it right now. But Geordi knew that he was correct.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen

“Data’s innocent!” Geordi shouted.

He’d been in the counselor’s office for about 5 seconds. She’d only just seen him over the stack of books on her desk. But he was determined not to screw this up; he had a promise to keep, after all.

“It wasn’t his fault. I was there; I saw the whole thing.”

“Please, Mr. La Forge,” Counselor Ramos said. “Let’s sit down and take a breath.”

“He didn’t do anything wrong! Those guys wanted to start something and-”

“Geordi.” Counselor Ramos’ voice was light and airy, but her expression was stern. She nodded pointedly to a chair, which he took.

“Now, let’s start at the beginning. I know that you and Data are close. Is that why he was at your locker?”

“Y-yeah.” Geordi folded his hands on his lap. “We were...we were gonna go to brunch together.”

It seemed like a different life; back when they were planning brunch. Back when Geordi’s body didn’t feel like it had acquired an outer skin, that danced and tingled and felt like it needed to be shed so that he would feel like himself again.

“And then the other boys arrived.”

“Yeah. They...they’ve been picking on me for a while now.” Geordi paused, waiting for her to ask why he’d never told her that before. But she stayed quiet, so he continued, “They came over and started saying some really...really bad things.”

“To you or to Data?”

“Both of us. About our relationship,” again he paused, waiting for further questioning. But again she waited for him to continue. “And about Data being an android and everything. Then they started threatening us. I-it was worse than their usual stuff. I mean, they’ve always been jerks, but this time...I don’t know.”

“How did they threaten you? Was it verbal or physical?” she asked, scribbling some notes onto her PADD.

Geordi stared at her stylus for a moment, wondering what she was writing. Then he shook himself out of his daze.

“Both, I guess. They were standing around us a-and...they told Data...they talked about taking him apart a-and selling his parts. They said if I told anyone they’d take my VISOR.”

Counselor Ramos finally betrayed her emotions at that. Nothing anyone else would notice, but Geordi wasn’t ‘anyone else’. Her temperature rose 0.3 degrees. Her breathing and pulse quickened, too.

“That must have been an incredibly jarring moment. How did you respond?”

“Well…” Geordi rubbed his palms together. The room was gradually becoming unbearably hot. And smaller, too. Were the walls closing in? No; no, they weren’t. “I told them I didn’t care about their threats. And then Tucker went to grab my VISOR and Data, well...that’s when he took hold of Tucker.”

The counselor continued writing long after he stopped talking. Geordi waited patiently as long as he could. But then it got to be too much.

“Peyton went after Data to pull him off of Tucker, and that’s when Data hit him. He...he wasn’t trying to hurt him. I-it was just a really chaotic minute there.”

Geordi went quiet again, as his foot tapped restlessly against the floor.

“Please don’t kick him out of Starfleet,” he pleaded suddenly. “I-it was my fault as much as his. I should’ve walked away when they started bothering me. Or...or I should’ve de-escalated the situation.”

Counselor Ramos clicked her stylus closed and looked up at Geordi, for the first time since he’d started his story. Her smile was warm and kind. It actually did help a little bit; made him feel like he wasn’t a criminal.

“Geordi, I’m not a policewoman. I’m a counselor,” she said. “I’m here to help you sort through this experience. I’m not here to judge you or anyone else.”

“I-i know,” Geordi murmured, looking to the floor. “I just...I would rather be kicked out of Starfleet than watch Data get kicked out. He...he’s such a good person and...T-they aren’t gonna…?”

“They aren’t going to...what, Geordi?” Ramos asked, sitting forward in her seat.

“Well...” Geordi scratched the back of his neck. “Part of me was terrified that....that they were going to deactivate him or something.”

Ramos’ eyes widened for a moment. She brought her PADD back out and made a note.

That one made Geordi’s cheeks burn in embarrassment.

“I can see why you’d be so upset,” Ramos said. Then, with her kind smile, “I promise nobody is being deactivated.”

Geordi let out a relieved sigh, which was met by another of Ramos’ curious looks.

“Geordi, you don’t have to answer this but...have you ever been in a situation like this before?”

“Er,” Geordi’s lip quirked into a smile. “No, I haven’t. I’ve never even gotten in trouble in class before.”

Ramos smiled to herself.

“Geordi...people don’t get deactivated for a scuffle in the hallway.”

It sounded obvious now, of course. Geordi felt his face blush brighter.

“I guess...I don’t know. Some people haven’t been very kind to Data and...I get worried that it’s becoming the norm to treat androids like...like they aren’t people.”

Ramos breathed deeply.

“Well, according to the official Starfleet Academy manual, students will be treated equally in all respects. And, with that in mind...the maximum penalty for a fight with no major injuries is a two week suspension and 10 counseling sessions.

“Two week suspension?” Geordi’s jaw dropped. “That’s...that’s the maximum?”

“Individual altercations will be investigated. So if it is found that one party instigated a fight, then they’ll generally receive a harsher punishment than the other party.”

Geordi released a loud, one-syllable laugh. This was like...not quite a dream come true, but it was certainly better than any of the scenarios playing out in his mind.

“Geordi...aren’t both of your parents Starfleet officers?” Ramos asked.

Geordi shrugged, with a set grin on his face.

“Yeah, they are. But I’ve gotta be honest, counselor. I’ve never read a Starfleet manual before.”

. . . . . . . . . .

“Data!” Geordi cried, running flat out down the hallway.

Data was sitting on a bench about twenty feet from the counselor’s office. He looked up when he heard Geordi. Ah, thank God; he wasn’t crying anymore. Yellow tracks still lined his face, but they were dry now.

Geordi let out a breath that he felt he’d been holding for a long, long time.

“You okay?” He pulled Data close to himself as he squeezed in beside him on the bench.

Data returned the hug with a gentle hand on Geordi’s back. It was more tentative than usual; his hands were still a bit shaky. But at least he was responding.

“I am...functioning within normal parameters,” Data said quietly. That old favorite phrase. “I spoke with the counselor. However, I still do not understand what caused my body to act in that way. It seemed that my functions were not under my control for a moment.”

“Well,” Geordi shrugged. “Maybe you just got carried away. That happens when you’re really upset.”

Data didn’t look convinced. His frown deepened. But he didn’t negate Geordi’s hypothesis either.

Geordi let out another sigh and wrapped an arm around Data’s shoulder.

“Let’s get you back to your dorm. We have to talk to the dean later and we’re gonna need all of our energy.”

. . . . . . . .

When they left the dean’s office later that evening, Geordi felt like he was walking on air. Just a few hours ago, he’d imagined that Data would be kicked out of Starfleet, if not sold for parts. Minutes before that, he’d been terrified of having his VISOR ripped off of his face. And now?

“I can’t believe that they’re gone,” Geordi breathed. He wore a smile that could never be washed away; not in a million years. “Peyton and Tucker are gone.”

“Geordi, I still do not understand.” Data’s brows furrowed as they walked. “They have not been found guilty of a crime in a legal court. Why do they not stay and clear their names?”

“Because they’re guilty,” Geordi said simply. He guided them down another hallway, toward the door. “See, I told the counselor what Tucker said; and I assume you did, too.”

“Naturally. I am unable to lie.”

“And then the counselor told the dean and, well...she’s not happy. She was about to launch a full investigation of what their families are doing in the Epsilon system and, well...Tucker and Peyton don’t want that. So they’re getting out of town before Starfleet issues a warrant. It’s so crazy.”

Data nodded, raising his eyebrows.

“Yes, the situation is strange. Unexpected. Surprising.”

Geordi clapped Data on the back and held the door open for him.

“God, Data. I feel like I could fly.”

Data turned to him with an alarmed expression.

“That would be a highly dangerous endeavor, and as your boyfriend I must advise you not to put yourself at such risk.”

Geordi just smiled. Laughed. And it felt a bit like flying; to walk with Data across the grounds knowing that their worst enemies were going far, far away. Maybe someday he’d meet them again. He’d be a commander on a Starship, and he’d arrest them for illegal smuggling. That would feel good. Maybe it was wrong to think like that, but boy it would feel good.

And Data could be at his side. He’d be a commander, too. They’d go off into the universe and explore new worlds and save lives. They’d be as unstoppable then as Geordi felt he was now.

“Data, I’m so happy.”

Geordi took Data’s hand into his own, and knew that he never wanted to let go.

. . . . . . . . . .

“Since you requested to do counseling together,” Counselor Ramos began, “we will need to increase our visits to 6, instead of the 3 that you are each required to attend.”

“That’s okay with me,” Geordi said, leaning casually back into his chair. “How about you, Data?”

“I do not know of any reason to object to the requirement.”

Counselor Ramos smiled in the same way many who met Data smiled. It was a certain feeling he invoked in people. Not quite like a young child, but with that level of innocence and unforced humor. It was like hanging out with a ray of sunshine.

“I think that during this visit, we should try to find a baseline of emotional clarity, which we can work on in future visits. I want to know where you’re both at, with regard to this altercation as well as anything else that might be bothering you.”

Geordi shrugged. He still had that smile glued to his face. It hadn’t faded in two days, and he had a feeling that it was never going to.

“To be honest, counselor, I’m happy.”

“Data, how are you feeling today?” she asked.

Data turned sharply to her, like a deer looking into headlights. His head tilted curiously.

“Since I do not have emotions, I believe it would be most helpful for you to focus on Geordi in these meetings.”

Counselor Ramos’ smile didn’t falter. But she did shift her posture. Her elbows met the table as she leaned more casually over her desk.

“Data...I know that you would probably rather move on, but let’s go back to the altercation for a moment. What sensations did you feel when the other students were speaking derogatively toward yourself and Geordi?”

Data frowned, glancing toward the floor.

“My temperature rose 0.6 degrees, with most of the ‘hot’ feeling located in my face,” he explained. “Additionally, my pulse and respiratory systems increased throughout the incident.”

“Those were the physical symptoms,” Ramos said. “What was going through your head?”

Data was silent for a long moment. Geordi could tell that he wasn’t spending this time trying to remember; Data’s memory worked faster than the Starfleet computers, and that was saying something. He was pausing because he didn’t want to say something.

“D?” Geordi asked.

“Let’s give him time to respond,” Ramos said softly.

Data finally turned back up to Ramos, locking eyes on her. His fingers clenched onto the armrest of his chair.

“It is against my ethical programming,” Data murmured. “When they began threatening Geordi, I had the thought to defend him, even if it caused the other students harm.”

He looked down again. Geordi noticed his aura glow brighter; his pulse quicken.

Counselor Ramos didn’t seem deterred.

“Data, sometimes our thoughts don’t align with our values. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It’s just a part of being human.”

Data’s head perked up at that. As her words sank in. But then he shook his head with a sad smile.

“But I am not human.”

Geordi’s impossible-to-wash-away smile washed away at that. He wanted to grab Data into another hug. Kiss him until he felt better. But he decided he’d better let Ramos handle this.

“What thoughts did you have later on,” Ramos continued. She didn’t acknowledge his statement. Not yet. “When you grabbed Tucker?”

“I…” Data broke off, shaking his head. “I am unsure.”

“Take your time.”

He breathed in; out, very slowly.

“I had the thought that...there was a sensation in my abdomen, like a weight had been dropped. However, I found no broken pieces when I ran a diagnostic the other night. I also felt a weight in my throat, as if something were stuck in my windpipe.” He paused, eyes flickering back and forth. “When I began crying, there was a peculiar sensation in my chest. I have never had that feeling before. It was hot, but not in the way that the sun is hot. I...I do not know if I am making sense.”

Ramos cocked her head to the side.

“Data, everything that you are describing is completely normal. It’s what people usually feel when they’re upset.”

Data bit his bottom lip, shaking his head.

“I have read much about human emotion. In fact, I was enrolled in an acting class this semester. But since I do not experience emotion, I can not find a reason why I would feel such sensations.”

Geordi could have screamed. Data was so close. So close to understanding, but missing the punchline; that one connection that would make him realize that he already was everything that he wanted to be and more.

“Data,” Ramos started, “If these sensations are not caused by emotions, then what do you presume they are caused by?”

Data shook his head again.

“I do not know, counselor. I have run every diagnostic. Geordi designed a failsafe, so that my connections cannot become entangled with one another. Beside emotions, I do not know of anything that would cause these specific sensations.”

Ramos sat back and said, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

Data’s head whipped up. So did Geordi’s.

Ramos let out a chuckle. “Are you both fans of Sherlock Holmes?”

“I have read every work by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,” Data replied. “The line that you have just quoted appears in ‘A Study in Scarlet’, which debuted in 1887 and was the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in English literature.”

Data went suddenly quiet after his explanation. The counselor watched him closely. After another moment, Geordi turned to him as well.

His jaw was open as if trying to speak without sound. His eyes were unblinking. He seemed rather lost to the world around him.

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth,” Data repeated to himself.

He looked up, then. Blinked once.

And then smiled.

God, that smile melted Geordi’s heart. He could’ve died happily in the embrace of that smile.

“I must have emotions,” Data said.

It was such a simple sentence. Four elementary level words. But they sounded like Shakespeare to Geordi. And to Data for that matter. His smile grew; brightened. Until he looked like the happiest person in the world.

“I...I must have the capacity to feel emotions,” he said again, shaking his head. “There is no alternative. Counselor...I...I have feelings! I have emotions!

Counselor Ramos grinned in response, but forced herself to stay reserved and calm.

“Yes, Data; you do.”

“I never thought...in all of my father’s journals, he never mentioned…” Data broke off, shaking his head again.

“Data; Geordi,” Ramos said, standing. “I think it’d be best to close the meeting here.”

“I agree,” Geordi replied, eyeing his boyfriend as he got to his own feet. “Data, you ready to go?”

Data flashed that smile toward Geordi. His aura was glowing so bright it almost hurt to look at.

“Yes!” he said, much too loudly. “Thank you, Counselor.”

“I’m just doing my job,” Ramos said with a modest wave. “The next step, Data,” she added, with a pointed look, “is helping you to understand these emotions, and respond to them in a healthy way.”

“I look forward to it, Counselor.”

Ramos shook her head with a proud smile.

“You boys have a good day.”

“I believe that I will,” Data replied.

And, for once, Geordi knew that he was speaking from the heart.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen

Data was not a new person when they walked out of the counselor’s office. He was the same boy that Geordi had always known, with all of the associated quirks and tics and habits. But there were noticeable changes. His smile was wider, his aura brighter. The balls of his feet carried him bouncing along the sidewalk.

It was an honor to witness. That was Geordi’s first thought. It was a privilege to be the one here to watch Data grow and find himself slowly transforming into the man he wanted to become; growing closer to that ideal with every inhale.

“Geordi, I was unaware that flowers had such a lovely scent,” Data said, as he literally stopped to smell the roses outside of the administration building.

“Does it feel different when you smell them now?”

“In the past,” data explained, “I believed that the slight tingling sensation in my chest was a physical reaction to being in close proximity to the flowers. But now I understand that it was actually an emotional response.”

Geordi took hold of Data’s hand as they walked; swung it to and fro. He was walking on the balls of his feet, too. Who would have thought a trip to the counselor’s office could produce this? This joy; this feeling; this utter bliss.

“So, Data,” said Geordi. “I think we should take this whole thing slowly.”

“What do you mean?”

Oh no; now that Data’s voice held more emotion than he’d previously displayed, it tugged closer to Geordi’s heartstrings. He’d never be able to say no to that boy now. Not for anything.

“Well...emotions can be pretty tough to deal with. I don’t want you to get overwhelmed too fast.”

Data frowned, but then nodded in agreement. “That is prudent. My neural net is still growing, and I am sure that these new emotional capabilities will put stress on the failsafe you installed during winter break.”

They passed through the Commons, toward Geordi’s dorm. They’d planned to have dinner there tonight, as a treat for going to counseling. Will had even promised to bake them some cookies.

“I was thinking,” Geordi said, unlocking the front door of his building. “Maybe we could watch a movie tonight.”

“Fictional stories are how I have come to understand many human emotions.” Data held the building door open for Geordi. “What genre were you planning on viewing?”

“I think we should start out with a comedy. Those ones are Will’s favorite, too.” Geordi stopped in front of his door and lowered his voice, “You don’t mind if he joins us, right? I could talk to him if you want to be alone.”

“I enjoy Will’s presence,” Data replied with a smile. “Just as I enjoy your presence, Geordi. I know that now, in retrospect.”

Geordi squeezed his hand. When that wasn’t enough to show the amount of affection he felt right now, he stood on tiptoe and pecked Data on the cheek.

When he pulled away, Data’s face was blushing a bright yellow.

Data’s hand slowly raised to the spot Geordi had kissed; a point just below his left cheekbone. Glistening yellow eyes met Geordi’s VISOR.

“When you kiss me...I feel happy.”

Geordi grinned, and then placed three more rapid kisses on Data’s face: his other cheek, his nose, his lips. Afterward, Data’s face was practically glowing gold.

“Well then,” Geordi said casually, as if he hadn’t just nearly caused a malfunction in Data’s servos. “I guess I’ll have to kiss you more often.”

Before Data could respond, Geordi unlocked and opened his door. They were instantly greeted by the smell of cookies fresh out of the oven. It was like a memory hidden in a scent; Holodeck adventures with his sister, Christmases long gone, Zephram Cochran High School Robotics Team Championships.

But none of the memories compared to this one: his hand in that of his android boyfriend’s, Will standing in the tiny kitchen with an apron tied around his waist, the sight of his homey dorm room. This was the best chocolate chip cookie memory yet. And it was only getting started.

“Hey Will.” Geordi forced himself to let go of Data’s hand as they separated. “Can I talk to you for a sec?”

“Sure.”

Will wiped his hands in his apron and followed Geordi to the very edge of the room. They left Data smiling widely at a picture frame depicting Geordi as a young boy.

Glancing from Data to Geordi, Will smiled his twinkling smile. “What’s up with him?” he asked quietly. “He looks...if I didn’t know any better, I’d say he looks happy.”

“Funny story.” Geordi scratched the back of his neck. “Data realized he had emotions during our counseling session.”

Will’s eyes widened. He smiled, as wide as Data had smiled earlier.

“That’s amazing,” he exclaimed, struggling to keep his voice down. “Should I…? Would it be weird to congratulate him?”

“I...don’t know, to be honest.” Geordi’s lips set in an awkward grimace. “I’m trying to act natural right now. Be happy for him, but don’t make it a big thing, you know?”

“Got it.”

There were moments when Geordi was astonished he’d found a friend like Will. This was one of those moments. He was such a genuine guy; someone you could mess around with, but who could tone it way down when you needed him to be serious. Everyone at Starfleet knew Will had a bright future ahead of him. Geordi just felt lucky to be his roommate.

“Thanks Will.”

Will flashed that smile again. “Don’t mention it.”

Rather abruptly, Will turned back to Data and called out, “Anyone want cookies? 100% unreplicated. Authentic. Lovingly crafted.”

“Unreplicated ingredients? Really?” Geordi questioned.

“Okay...I couldn’t find unreplicated flour. Or chocolate chips. Or eggs. But everything else is genuine.”

Geordi bent his head in laughter.

“Sounds perfect, Will.”

. . . . . . . . . .

Data’s laughter during their movie was something to behold. The sound was loud and boisterous. Anyone else and Geordi would have found it grating. But because it was Data, he couldn’t help but love it. By the third joke of the movie, Geordi found himself laughing not at the humor, but at Data’s reaction to it.

“Are we sure we want to introduce him to 1930s comedy?” Will asked, as Data’s barking laugh echoed through the space.

“Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are a classic pair,” Geordi said, as he continued to chew his fourth cookie of the night.

Data suddenly turned away from the screen, wiping tears out of his eyes.

“Geordi,” he said between giggles. “What does your watch say?”

“What does-?”

“It says ‘tick tick tick tick’.” Data threw his head back and laughed. “It is humorous because people used to wear watches that made a ticking noise. But the man meant to ask what time it was.”

Geordi smiled politely until Data turned back to the TV, then leaned closer to Will.

“You know, I think you have a point.”

Will gave him a smirk and continued to nibble his cookie.

. . . . . . . . . .

“Geordi?”

“Yeah D?”

Geordi looked up from his PADD. Data’s lips were set in a frown, as he gazed down at his exobiology notes. It was unlike him to pause during classwork. Usually he sped through it before Geordi had time to write his name at the top of the page.

“Do your emotions ever cause distraction?”

Geordi let out a whistle of air. “You have no idea.”

“Ah,” Data said, nodding. His frown deepened as he turned back to his work.

“Are you okay, Data?”

Perhaps it would have been better if they’d waited to watch the movie. Now that they were on a sugar high, it was incredibly difficult to concentrate. Will was already asleep; passed out on the couch at some point during the last number. Maybe Geordi should have insisted he and Data do the same.

But this exobiology homework really needed to be finished, so here they were on the floor with the remainders of Will’s cookies sitting on a plate in between.

“I am unsure,” Data finally responded. “There is a feeling of...unease. And I am finding myself drawn to nearly any activity other than this homework.”

Geordi smiled, relaxing.

“You’re probably just bored.”

“Bored?”

“Yeah.” Geordi sat up straighter, stretching his spine. “It’s one of the worst feelings there is, in my opinion. I don’t get bored much, but homework will do that to you.”

“Oh,” Data breathed. “This is one of the worst feelings?”

“Well,” Geordi tilted his head back and forth. “Not really. I’m being a bit dramatic.”

Data turned back to his homework. But a moment later, he was looking at Geordi again.

“Geordi?” Data bit his bottom lip. “I am glad that you were there with me today, when I discovered my emotional capabilities.”

“I’m glad too, Data.”

They shared a smile. And then, leaned over their exobiology homework, they shared a kiss.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty

Geordi awoke on Valentine’s Day with a type of excitement usually reserved for birthdays and graduation ceremonies. The excitement of a day filled with expectations, and a day that you wanted to go right so badly that a piece of you just wanted it to be over. He’d never had a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day before. And suddenly, now he did.

But even with the strange, other-worldly feeling in his chest, his dorm looked the same as ever. Mountains of dirty laundry taunted him from beside the bathroom door. Dust tracked across the surface of every piece of furniture. Will was asleep on his stomach, half of the covers dripping off of his bed.

Geordi shook his head with a smile.

Ah, Will. Able to pilot a finely tuned spacecraft. One of the top contenders for valedictorian in two years' time. Most likely to become a commanding officer before the age of 30. And the heaviest sleeper Geordi had ever met.

The morning routine went as it usually did. Feet shuffled across the tiled floor, tripping over pajama bottoms. Hazy vision vaguely interpreted colors as toothpaste bottles, uniforms, and replicated toast.

A typical school morning. Only with the added heart-pounding thrill of things to come.

“See you, Will,” Geordi murmured to the drooling lump on the other side of the room.

When Will failed to respond beyond a snore, Geordi shook his head with another smile and opened the door.

“What the-?!”

Geordi jumped back at the sight of a large figure sitting in the doorway. Blood roared in his ears; his heart pounded even faster than it already was.

But then he looked closer.

It was a teddy bear. Well, some people would call it a ‘teddy bear’. It was actually a stuffed version of a Vulcan sehlat. Geordi remembered the creature from pictures in his exobiology textbook. All in all, the bear was big, fluffy, and completely harmless toward Geordi, not least of all because it was stuffed with replicated cotton.

The blood shifted from Geordi’s ears and heart to his cheeks as he blushed. At least Will was still asleep. He’d never have lived that down; gasping at the sight of a teddy bear.

The sehlat’s height rivaled Geordi’s own; its width made it nearly impassable through the door. But somehow, he managed it. Waddling the whole way, Geordi maneuvered the great beast inside and kicked the door shut behind him. Luckily, his VISOR had a certain setting at which it could see through the bear without seeing through the rest of the room. Geordi found the setting soon enough, and managed to get the bear through the mess on the floor without incident.

It took up an entire chair, staring at the opposite wall with eyes that seemed a little too lifelike. But Geordi loved that sehlat. It was exactly the kind of ridiculous thing Data would do. He probably read about ancient Earth Valentine’s Day traditions and got a little excited.

They’d been working with the counselor often in the past month, but Data’s emotions were still heightened. His highs were higher than average; his lows lower. Two weeks ago he had literally cried over a bowl of spilled milk. Last weekend he’d spent ten minutes laughing about the fact that Geordi had put his uniform on backward.

Everything was dialed up to ten with him these days. Geordi only hoped he could keep up with him.
. . . . . . . . . .

“Today was such a long day,” Geordi groaned, setting his head against Data’s chest as soon as they reached each other in the hallway.

Above him, Data nodded.

“I have noticed that emotions can alter the perception of time,” he said. “Joy causes time to shorten, while impatience causes time to move slower.”

“They say absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Geordi quipped, wrapping his arms around Data’s middle.

It felt like coming home, being around Data. Geordi still couldn’t believe how fast that statement had come to be fact. But here he was. And here Data was. And so, he was home.

“Perhaps those thoughts are connected.” Data returned Geordi’s hug, but his mind was elsewhere, running a mile a minute as usual. “Time moves slowly when we are waiting to see one another again. And time generally increases the closeness of a relationship. Therefore, when one is waiting to see someone again, the ‘heart’ does grow...fonder.”

Geordi tilted his head up to Data’s. Mere centimetres apart, holding his boyfriend in his arms, listening to his wise, simple words, it was impossible not to feel complete adoration. He gave Data a short kiss on the lips; traced his arms up his back to wrap around Data’s neck.

“I could listen to you speak all day.”

Data’s eyelids fluttered. That smirk crossed his face; the one that made it clear that as innocent as he may seem, he knew exactly what effect he was having on Geordi.

“Then it is a good thing that I am an android,” Data said. “I am able to speak for an indefinite amount of time without break.”

Geordi cocked his head to the side.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes. In fact, since it is possible for me to recharge without my dream program or entering a conventional ‘sleep mode’, if I plug myself into a computer. So I can-”

Geordi’s lips covered his abruptly, cutting him off mid-sentence. Data didn’t seem to mind. His eyes closed. His arms pulled Geordi closer to himself.

When he was sure Data was entranced in the kiss, Geordi pulled away. “What were you saying again?” he asked, with a coy smile.

Data opened and closed his mouth a few times, then shifted from foot to foot.

“I...that was a...unique circumstance. A proper experiment would require there be no external variables.”

“Is that me? The external variable?” Geordi slurred. God, he felt drunk. He’d never been drunk before, but he guessed this was what being drunk felt like.

Data seemed confused about how to respond. Perhaps as confused as Geordi was, at this moment. Geordi had forgotten they were standing in the middle of the hallway. Forgot about the possible professors passing by; the classmates he had to look in the eye tomorrow; the future commanders watching him make out with his boyfriend.

All of this came into his mind, now. But still, he didn’t find it in himself to care much about what they all thought. All that mattered was the feeling in his chest: bubbly, excited, young, free. Things that, once upon a time, he thought he had skipped right over.

Oh, how quickly a life could change. And not, Geordi believed, for the worse.

. . . . . . . . . .

That evening, Data’s dorm was a picture of romance. Candles glowed on the meticulously set table. Replicated oysters, truffles, and red wine filled the plates and glasses. Geordi stepped back and admired the table; the curtains glued to the wall behind created the perfect formal backdrop.

He also admired Data.

They had both dressed for the occasion tonight. White shirts, tucked into jet black slacks. Data had even added a vest; gray in the front and black in the back. It looked even better on him than his orchestra uniform.

“Is the environment adequately decorated?” Data asked hesitantly.

Geordi grinned in response.

“It’s perfect. C’mon, let’s go eat before the food gets cold.”

Data pulled out the chair on the left for Geordi, and pushed it in once he was seated.

“You’ve done your homework,” Geordi remarked.

“My…? Oh, you are referring to my learning the intricacies of romantic dates.” Data nudged his chair closer to the table, until he was within arm’s reach. “Yes. I have a strong desire to demonstrate my affection this evening, since it is Valentine’s Day.”

Geordi smiled. He couldn’t think of a good enough response, so he let Data’s statement hang in the air. It added a layer of warmth to the room; Data’s quirky way of expressing himself had become Geordi’s favorite language.

“Cheers,” Geordi said, raising his glass of wine, “to Valentine’s Day. And to us.”

Data picked up his own glass. Oh, how different he was from the boy Geordi had met five months ago. But how unchanged he was, as well, in all of the ways that mattered.

“To us.”

They clinked their glasses together, and then took a sip each. Data’s face puckered instantly; eyes squinting and lips pursing. Geordi cringed as soon as he swallowed.

“Wow,” he breathed. The strong taste stayed trapped in his throat for a long moment. “That is some...strong stuff.”

“Perhaps we should have some of the food?” Data suggested. “To help ‘wash it down’?”

They tried the truffles first. The earthy taste made Geordi feel as if he were eating dirt, but he forced himself to down two bites. When it became too much, he scooped out the meat of one of the oysters on his plate. He stared at it a moment too long, as it slid disgustingly on his spoon. With shut eyes, he downed the oyster in one gulp.

“Ugh,” Geordi croaked, as soon as the slimy oyster was down his throat. “I did not like the consistency of that.”

He turned up to find Data’s face similar to that of a young child who’s recently tasted a lemon for the first time. Geordi would have laughed, if his face weren’t busy carrying the same expression.

“Geordi,” Data said, finally. He shook his head out after swallowing another bite of oyster. “I...do not enjoy the taste of this food.”

“Me either.”

Geordi stared at his plate. At the oysters, and the truffles; the hardly-touched wine. His fork and knife hovered for a moment as he deliberated. And then he came to a decision.

“You know...I’m kind of in the mood for some chips.” Geordi looked up to Data to gague his reaction.

His eyes lit up at Geordi’s words. His fork had lowered back to the table.

“I am as well.”

. . . . . . . . . .

Geordi’s heart was hammering in his chest. It had been doing so all day, but this moment it was especially jumpy. On the outside, nobody would have noticed. They would only have seen a well-dressed young man sitting on a sofa eating chips and drinking soda. But Data probably did notice. He always noticed everything; which made Geordi’s heart beat a little faster and his sweat fall a little thicker.

“I’ve, er, I’ve got some music. If you don’t mind,” he stammered, stumbling to his feet.

“I enjoy most of your musical selections.”

They shared a smile. It didn’t exactly fill Geordi with all of the confidence he needed, but it was always nice to make Data smile.

Geordi found his fingers shaking as he entered the correct orders into the computer keyboard. Gods, why was he so nervous? It was Data. It wasn’t some random girl his mother was trying to push him toward in high school. Data was safe. Data wouldn’t hurt him.

Well, maybe the fact that it was Data made this all more stressful. He didn’t care if he messed up in front of people he didn’t care about; not anymore. But if he messed up in front of Data? His brain wouldn’t let him rest for weeks; probably years. Especially if he messed up...this.

“It’s, er, just something I thought to do,” he continued, as the computer took way too long to take in the information he typed. “I loved the sehlat, by the way. And the box of chocolate you left at my locker.”

“You are very welcome.”

Gods, why did the kid need to be so perfect? Now Geordi’s hands were practically vibrating, they were shaking so hard. And Data knew that. He knew Geordi’s heart was threatening to bounce out of his chest. He knew his temperature was up twenty degrees. He knew his palms were sweaty enough to fill swimming pools.

“Just one...second.”

Geordi pressed one more key and finally, finally the music turned on. ‘Cheek to Cheek’, a classic from one of the movies they’d watched with Will that first night of Data’s emotional journey. The sound quality in the room was perfect, too; every note grazed gently against Geordi’s eardrum.

“Would, er…” Geordi took a deep breath; clenched one hand by his side as he held the other one out toward Data. “Would you like to dance with me?”

Data’s eyebrows raised. He took Geordi’s hand with an eager smile.

Okay. Okay. So far so good.

Geordi lowered his hand to Data’s back, as Data took the lead with a hand on his waist. All the while, their hands stayed clasped together; Data’s palm cooling the sweat off of Geordi’s.

It was...it was pure bliss. There was no other way to describe it. Everywhere they touched felt like an electric connection. Geordi’s nerves were dancing even more than he was. And Data led their dance so well. And his dancing, combined with the music, combined with all of the other feelings...Geordi felt as if he were about to burst.

“Data…” Geordi started. His teeth were chattering so hard he wondered if the room were made of ice. But no; it was warm. So, so warm here, being held by Data in this way. “I’ve been meaning to tell you something.”

“Yes, Geordi?”

The room suddenly began spinning, as Data’s intense stare locked onto Geordi’s VISOR. He stopped dancing; held Data in place. Willed himself not to lose his dinner.

“Geordi?”

“I’ve been meaning to tell you…” Geordi repeated.

Deep breath. It’s Data. He will not judge you.

“Data,” Geordi said, squeezing Data’s hands in his own. “I...I love you.”

Geordi’s throat emitted an anxious giggle right after he said it. But it took his brain a full five seconds to process his own words:

He’d said it. He’d said the words that he had been thinking, feeling, dreaming for so long. Data knew, now. He knew because Geordi had just said those three words. He’d never said those words to anyone else; never. Not in a romantic way. Not in a serious way. Not in a ‘oh-my-gosh-I-can’t-live-without-you-way’. But now he had.

“Geordi, I…” Data’s lips curled into a smile. It looked...well, it looked human. More human than any smile Data had ever worn before. “I am in love with you, as well.”

The words could have killed Geordi. His entire body felt the impact; head buzzing, heart pounding; muscles quaking.

“You...you do? You are?” Geordi squeezed Data’s hands over and over again. Anyone else and he probably would have hurt them, he was using so much force.

Data nodded enthusiastically.

“Yes. I have known ever since I became aware of my emotions. However…” Data broke off with a sheepish look to the side. “Each time that I attempted to inform you of my feelings, I was overcome with a type of...anxiety. Is that normal?”

Geordi leaned in closer.

“Data, I’ve been having the same exact feelings,” he said. “I was so worried that you didn’t feel the same way, or I was moving too fast or something. I’ve...never really been in love before.”

“Nor have I.”

“Well then.” Geordi bounced up to his tip-toes and gave Data a long kiss. “I guess we’ll just have to figure this out as we go, huh?”

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty One

“I’ll be in the front row,” Geordi promised, taking hold of Data’s hands.

The collar of his shirt was nearly choking him, but he could be uncomfortable for one night; for Data. When you were the first violin’s boyfriend, you had to be required to make such sacrifices.

“I will look for you, while I am performing my solo.”

Data’s eyes were wide; his voice hurried. Geordi noticed these things, even if otherwise Data appeared completely normal. He also noticed the way Data’s hands squeezed tightly to his own, almost to the point of hurting.

“You’re gonna be great, D.” Geordi gave him an encouraging smile. Let him know how sure he was that this night was not going to end in disaster. “You’ve been practicing so much, and you sound so good.”

Data looked down, kicking dust away from his shiny, black dress shoe.

“I am anxious. The last time I performed on this stage, I collapsed. What if that happens again tonight?”

Geordi frowned sharply. The memory of that night still hung in his mind, too. That jarring moment when Data’s violin shrieked. Data’s eyes rolling back as he fell, limp, onto the stage floor. Running up there with his eyes glued on Data’s unmoving form, fearing the worst. Carrying him over his shoulder with the help of Mr. Denham. Staring at him sitting unconscious in a fold-up chair backstage.

Geordi shook out his head to clear it of these thoughts. Data was okay. Data was standing in front of him, alive and well and waiting for a response.

“You won’t collapse,” he said simply.

“But if it does occur? There is a statistically significant possibility that my heightened emotional state will cause me to…’faint’.”

Data blushed, looking down again. Geordi couldn’t stand to see him like this; lips pursed, eyes lidded. He was the poster child of self-consciousness.

“Data look at me.” Geordi placed both of his hands on Data’s shoulders. He squeezed, until Data turned his head up again. “You’re going to be fine. And if something does happen, I’ll be right there.”

Data relaxed a little at that. He smiled; his eyes softened. The words hadn’t fixed everything, no. But they were starting to help.

“Geordi,” Data said. “Thank you. For always...I believe the expression is ‘having my back’.”

Geordi smiled, gliding his hands up Data’s neck until they cradled his jaw.

“I’ll always be there to rescue you, D.” Geordi gave him a quick kiss; like a wisp of air grazing both of their lips.

When Geordi lowered his hands again, Data tilted his head.

“One of these days, I will need to return the favor. Although, since you are without imperfection, it is unlikely that you will ever need ‘rescuing’.”

Geordi shook his head with a smile.

“Data, that’s very sweet, but I am not perfect.”

The seriousness of Data’s responding expression almost made Geordi laugh. His pale eyebrows furrowed together. Those golden lips formed a little pout.

“Yes, you are,” Data replied, in the same tone he would use if he were explaining that ‘water is wet’ or ‘two plus two is four’. “I have not yet found a single imperfection in your personality, your appearance, or your actions.”

Geordi looked askance with a bright grin. When he turned back, Data still wore that same, serious expression; as if Geordi’s imperfection were a simple fact of the universe.

“Have you been taking flirting lessons from Will?” he laughed.

Data’s eyebrow quirked again.

“I was not aware that Will gave such lessons.”

Geordi couldn’t help himself. He pulled Data in for another kiss. This time, he let it linger; held Data close to himself. They bumped noses once, as they shifted to a new angle. Both laughed about it, and then set their lips on each others’ again.

And then, of course, the five minute warning sounded from the backstage speaker.

Data broke away first, glancing around for his violin. Their sweet moment ended so abruptly it left Geordi’s head spinning. And Data was anxious again; eyes wide, limbs fumbling as he snatched his bow and sheet music from the floor.

“It’s okay,” Geordi murmured. “You’re gonna be great, Data.”

“You are sure?” Data asked.

His eyes met Geordi’s VISOR. And oh man, Geordi could have kissed him again. He looked so damn human, with his dishevelled jacket, his dusty sheet music binder, his harried expression.

Geordi satisfied himself by fixing Data’s jacket, maneuvering the fabric until it fell more evenly across his pointy shoulders.

“Yes I’m sure,” Geordi said. “You’re going to be amazing. When you’re out there, just look at me and pretend we’re in your dorm hanging out.”

Data nodded. His face was a different shade than usual; more green than gold. But he nodded, forcing himself to be confident.

“If you say that you are sure that nothing will go wrong,” Data said, “then I suppose nothing will go wrong.”

Geordi shook his head with another smile.

“I don’t know when you decided I was perfect. But I’ll take it if it means you’ll trust my opinion of you for once.”

They shared a long look. And then, finally, Data smiled. “Perhaps,” he said, “someday I will believe the good things that you tell me about myself.”

“Likewise.”

Geordi glanced at the clock and then grimaced.

“We better get you onstage.”

“That would be a good idea.”

Geordi clapped Data on the back as they walked toward the door. God, he loved this. He loved having someone to walk with. He loved feeling like a teenager, not just a Cadet or a student. But more than that...he loved Data.

“Break a leg,” he said, holding the door open for Data to pass through.

Data’s head whipped around with an expression that was truly priceless.

“Geordi, why would you wish for me to break my leg?”

Geordi chuckled to himself. “In all of your acting lessons you never heard that?”

“Certainly not,” Data retorted. “We have a very supportive class. I am surprised that you would-”

“Data, it’s an expression. It means ‘good luck’.”

“Ah.” Data had never before looked so exhausted by humanity. “I see. I apologize, Geordi.”

“It’s my fault,” Geordi admitted. “Good luck. And don’t actually break your leg.”

Data smiled, and then disappeared into the crowd of performers waiting to go onstage. Geordi watched him for an extra moment, smiling as he made a lame joke to a cello player. And then, with another glance to the clock, he made a beeline for the front row of seats in the audience.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The show. Was. Perfect.

Geordi clapped after every number. Thankfully, Mr. Denham had livened up the selections for this concert; interesting mixes of old and new music instead of all classical. Everyone was so talented, you’d never know that none of the performers were pursuing a full time music career.

But he was especially impressed by Data. God, that boy performed. The way he glided the bow across the strings, it was like he was playing the strings of Geordi’s heart (and he did not usually get sappy enough to think such words). And his facial expressions...it was a perfect blend of acting and playing music.

As the crowd dispersed after the show, Geordi found his way to the side of the room. Out of the streaming waves of people, he could observe his surroundings without being squashed. He could also admire the flowers he had ordered for Data; a set of beautiful red roses all done up in a pretty bouquet. Not the most original idea, of course; but he thought Data would appreciate it at least.

From his little spot in the corner, Geordi watched Mr. Denham exit the theater. By this time the crowd had mostly dispersed. A few stragglers ambled in between them, but they were able to make eye contact.

“Hi Geordi!” The music director beamed. “Did you enjoy the performance?”

“It was fantastic.” Geordi looked both ways, and then crossed in front of a group of oncoming students. “Really good show, Mr. Denham.”

“Thank you,” Mr. Denham said with a proud smile. “I’ll tell you, this group of students is one of the most talented I’ve ever had.”

He started to turn away, presumably to say his hellos to other students and professors waiting in the lobby.

“Oh, Mr. Denham.” Geordi caught him by the arm before he could disappear into the crowd in the next room. “I never got to say...thank you. For helping me with Data at the last concert.”

“Of course, Geordi. I am glad that everything went well tonight. He deserves it.”

“He does.”

At that, they said their goodbyes and Geordi let Mr. Denham go. He sniffed the roses again; turned to the stage door. And a minute later, he was rewarded for his patience.

“Data! Hi!”

Data’s face lit up at the sight of Geordi. Literally, his face appeared to glow in Geordi’s VISOR from the beaming smile spread across his lips. They hugged in a jumble of Data’s violin case and roses, which neither of them seemed to worry much about.

“That was amazing. You were so good!” Geordi gushed. As soon as they pulled apart, he thrust the bouquet toward Data. “These are for you.”

“Thank you very much, Geordi.”

Data grinned at the roses; held them like a precious baby in his arms. Geordi’s heart soared, seeing his boyfriend standing there in front of the stage door, dressed to the nines, holding his violin case in one hand and a pile of vivid red roses in the other. It was straight out of a dream he may have had once. A dream anyone would have; because this right here was perfection.

“I love you so much,” Geordi said.

And the words felt so natural; like they’d always been there and he just had to find them. And now he had found them. Now he had gotten used to them.

Now they were his and Data’s words, which they could share a million times a day without them losing their value.

. . . . . . . . . .

The next morning found Geordi strolling quietly through the Commons. The breeze was gentle, and his Starfleet hoodie was more than enough protection from the chill. It was only late March, but already the flowers were starting to bloom. That was alright with him; spring could never come soon enough for Geordi.

He turned a corner and saw his old favorite Sycamore tree. He could remember the first time he’d ever seen it; a young boy visiting Starfleet with his mom and sister. His mother had been giving some kind of talk to the students. Maybe a commencement speech, maybe something smaller. It was so long ago he couldn’t remember. He’d been bored by the whole idea of a half an hour long speech, so instead he and his sister ran out here to play in the shade of the Sycamore.

The next time he saw this tree was as a teenager. This time he had been with both of his parents, visiting as a prospective student. Eager, brace-faced, and nervous, Geordi had disappeared out to the Commons to get some breathing space. The relentless stream of expectations and goals set by everyone except himself was heavy on his mind in those days. He could still remember how stressed he had been. As good of a student he was, he hadn’t entered Starfleet feeling prepared.

Of course, most of his memories of the tree were from his first year here. How many hours had he spent reading about warp drives and robotics in the shade of this Sycamore? How many times had he run away from Peyton and Tucker to hide in this, his safe space? He couldn’t count the number of lonely days he’d spent tucked against the bark, dreaming of going off into space and finding a place where he belonged.

But now, he was not lonely anymore.

Now, Data was sitting beneath the Sycamore waiting for him.

Geordi watched him for a moment before showing himself. Watched him pick grass as he flipped to the next page in his book. He wasn’t wearing a Cadet uniform this morning; Data had been getting lax about that on weekends. Instead, he had a pair of khaki shorts, a gray sweater, a pairblack and white sneakers.

The sight made Geordi smile.

“Hey Data,” he said, finally approaching.

Data’s head turned up with his own wide smile. His eyes lit up as they registered Geordi’s presence.

“Good morning, Geordi.”

They shared a short kiss, their new greeting, before Geordi sank down beside him. Data shifted over just enough so that they both could lean against the tree. He even closed his book, so as to give Geordi his full attention.

But for a moment, they just sat in silence. Data crossed his legs, and then crossed his arms in front of his legs. Geordi found the ordinary action so endearing, just because it was a perfect example of how much Data had changed; grown. His movements were fluid, like any other kid’s. He wasn’t so stiff and uncomfortable all the time. And as he gazed out at the ocean beyond, his eyes were soft and relaxed.

He was closer than ever to achieving his dream of becoming a full human. And Geordi was so, so happy to be a part of that continuing journey.

“It’s gorgeous outside,” Geordi breathed.

“It is.”

Geordi gave him another long smile; another loving stare. Then, slowly, he lowered his head to Data’s shoulder and rested it there.

Objectively, Data should have made a pretty poor pillow. His shoulder had very little padding and about five layers of metal. But subjectively...well, subjectively, Geordi loved everything to do with Data. Especially sitting close to Data. Close enough to hear the rush of air entering his synthetic lungs; the hum of his cybernetics.

“Geordi?”

“Yeah Data?”

“I am happy.”

People often speak of ‘three little words’ being the greatest words in the universe. Usually they are referring to ‘I love you’, or, according to the famous Captain Kirk, ‘Let me help’. But to Geordi, those ‘three little words’ that had just escaped Data’s mouth were better than anything else.

It had been such a journey; such a struggle. Bullies; school stress; hell, the stress of his best friend collapsing in front of him more than once.

But for now, things were at peace.

Oh, someday they would surely have other issues to deal with. Starfleet careers were rarely simple, and never easy. They would have people to explain themselves to, or protect themselves from. They would see more rainy days.

But that was in the future. All that mattered to Geordi was this, right here: sitting by his favorite tree with his favorite person in his favorite place. He watched the fog roll in beneath and around the Golden Gate Bridge. Watched a hover car slow to a landing in a field a few miles away. Listened to the ocean waves beating against the shoreline, and the birds chirping in the Commons looking for someone’s breakfast to steal.

Geordi nestled deeper into Data’s shoulder, inhaling the scent of engine oil combined with maple syrup lingering on Data’s lips and sweater from breakfast.

Engine oil and maple syrup: Data in a nutshell His lovely, lovable Data.

“I’m happy too,” Geordi murmured, reaching over to take Data’s hand into his own.

And the boys stared out at the ocean for a while longer, knowing that whatever their futures held, they would be there to meet it together.

Chapter Text

Hey everyone!!

I just wanted to check back in to inform you that I've started the sequel to this story!! It's called 'Starfleet Academy: Senior Year'. I know some of you already know about it, but I wanted to put it here for newer readers.

Here is the link to the next story, or you can find it on my profile:

https://archiveofourown.org/works/24811027/chapters/60007996

Again, thank you so so much for all of the support! I hope you enjoy the next installment of this story.