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Will You Meet Me in the Middle

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Prologue  

When it came to love, Geordi La Forge had three simple rules:

  1. No falling in love with a straight guy.
  2. No falling in love with a best friend.
  3. No falling in love with a superior officer.

He’d accumulated these rules over time. The first he’d always had. It was just common sense. No use setting himself up for inevitable heartbreak. The second was a lesson hard learned his first year at the academy—the following year had been the loneliest of his life. The third was mere pragmatism, added to his list the day he got assigned to the Enterprise. Starfleet frowned on such associations, ergo it would do nobody any good.

So how was it he’d managed to break all three rules in one fell swoop?

The feeling came upon him gradually, but the realization of it struck him all at once on one innocuous day, sudden as lightning.

Seated across from him at lunch, Lt. Commander Data’s head cocked to the side as everyone else laughed at Riker’s story of the recent diplomatic snafu on Antheis IV. As the peals of laughter from Geordi, Wesley, and Counselor Troi subsided, Data’s mouth dropped open, his eyebrows arched.

“I see,” he said. “It is amusing because she confused the chicken for an eggplant. Yes. That is funny.” His lips lifted into a smile, either from his own amusement or from pride at having cracked the humor code.

Affection burst inside Geordi’s chest like sunlight. It tingled everywhere it touched. For a being who claimed to have no emotions, Data had quite the diverse collection of smiles, each with a unique connotation, and if Geordi could distill them all into liquid form and bottle them up, he would never again need to touch a drop of alcohol to get a pleasant buzz.

Geordi scoffed, amused by his own fanciful imagination. Since when are you such a romantic sap, La Forge?

His body went still.

Romantic…sap? Romantic sap? Why would he think a thing like that? What did romance have to do with Data?

Then, the lightning struck. A thousand memories flashed through his mind, all the little moments where Data had inspired in him a warmth, a joy, a yearning, unparalleled by any he’d experienced before. The way Geordi felt more alert in his presence. The way he watched Data’s face for expressions more than anyone else’s. The way Data’s aura triggered a sensation of comfort and calm that eased the aches of even the most painful day.

As if he could convince himself out of it, Geordi desperately ran through his three rules. He couldn’t be in love with Data. He couldn’t. Data was his superior officer. Data was his best friend. Data—

All right, so Data wasn’t a “straight guy.” Arguably he wasn’t even a “guy,” and he didn’t have any sexual or romantic orientation. But Geordi recognized the intention of the rule had always been, don’t fall in love with someone who has no interest in men, and therefore the spirit of the rule had still been violated.

Geordi shot to his feet. An unnatural silence cut across the group as every face turned up to him, some with surprise, others with concern.

Trying to play it off light-heartedly, he started to say, “I—”

Think I left the stove on almost came out of his mouth, before he realized this would be an in-joke with Data, the only one who would possibly understand the outdated reference to an old Earth movie they’d watched together earlier in the week. Heat rushed up his neck, into his face. He stumbled over the words “…have to—have a program running I forgot…need to check on.”

With less than his usual grace, he hastened away from the table. He headed toward engineering, hopeful that tinkering with mechanics would help settle his mind while he tried to determine what he should do.

 

Later that evening, a knock came at his door. He’d retired to his quarters about an hour earlier, and had spent all his time since in a near-panic over the day’s revelation. While on duty for the remainder of the afternoon, it had been reasonably simple to focus on his work and shove aside his thoughts and fears. Now, in the silence of his room, their screams grated on him like audio feedback.

“Come in,” he called, hoping his visitor, whoever it was, wouldn’t notice the sweat plastering his uniform tight to his skin.

The door swished open and Counselor Troi walked in. Geordi stiffened. Not an altogether nice reaction, but he had an educated guess as to the purpose of her visit. She must be able to sense his turbulent emotions from all the way across the ship.

Averting his gaze slightly, he said, “Good evening, Counselor. What can I do for you?”

He cringed at his very obvious discomfort, expressed through formal language and feigned ignorance.

“I’m sorry, Geordi,” she said, her sympathy plain. “I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I’m simply concerned about you.”

“I appreciate the concern, Counselor, but…” Geordi shook his head. “This is just something I need to work out for myself.” 

“For now, don’t think of me as the ship’s counselor. I came here merely because I thought you might need…a friend.” She placed a gentle hand on his arm. “We don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to.”

The anxious pitter-patter of his heart slowed. “We don’t?”

Deanna’s eyes crinkled with a full smile. “Not at all. How about a game of Parcheesi instead?”

 

It took two games of Parcheesi and one and a half games of Go before Geordi felt calm enough to broach the subject.

“What…did you feel from me, exactly?”

Deanna glanced up at him, before returning her attention to the board and placing a black stone. “First, something powerful—bright and happy. Then, distress. Panic. Guilt.”

 Geordi huffed. “I fed you a whole messy stew of emotions, huh?”

“It’s normal for humans to experience many different emotions at once.” She gave him an apologetic smile. “Only, not usually at such a volume.”

“I’m sorry—”

“There’s no need. Geordi…”

She waited until he dragged his gaze up from the board and looked her in the eyes. How she could tell exactly where his gaze was directed, he didn’t know. Probably his emotions betraying him again.

Once his attention was fixated on her, she said, “Your feelings are not a burden to those who love you. They are an integral part of who you are.”

In the absence of tears, which he held back with all the might he possessed, a bashful heat flooded Geordi’s cheeks. The insecurity that crawled beneath his skin was soothed by the balm of her words. Still, his pulse picked up its pace, thumping harder and harder in his veins.

Placing a white stone as casually as possible, he asked, “Is that the case for everyone?”

“How do you mean?”

“Feelings being an integral part of them. Is that true for everyone? Like, Data, for instance. Do you ever sense feelings from him?”

Quiet descended. A black stone clicked against the board as Deanna set it down. After a moment, she sighed.

“No,” she admitted. “I do not.”

Geordi wasn’t sure why his urge to cry multiplied tenfold. This wasn’t new information. What had he expected?

“But, Geordi…” She put her hand on top of his, her fingers soft and gentle against his skin. “That doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t have them. Data is…different. His body doesn’t function the same way biological lifeforms do. So why should his feelings?”

Her argument made sense, but Geordi wasn’t in a mindset to hear it. All his hope had been sucked away, like oxygen in a hull breach. He was left to suffocate in the cold dark void of space. From her worried expression, he knew Deanna could sense the depths of this despair.

Shame rushed through him. Hurrying to his feet, he fought to regulate his breathing and said, “Well. That’s fine, anyways. So long as he’s—”

Happy, he almost said. Something that Data distinctly was not and never would be. Finally, tears sprang to his eyes. He stoppered the floodgates, hoping he could get Deanna out of the room before evidence of his crying fell below the line of his visor. Please go, he thought. Please, please go.

“Healthy,” he completed dumbly. Deanna stood as well, a crease between her eyebrows. Before she could speak, Geordi said, “This has been great, Deanna, but I—I think I’m more tired than I realized. It’s an early bedtime for me.”

After a second, Deanna nodded sadly. “Of course. I…” She paused. Apparently thinking better of whatever she’d been about to say, she simply smiled. “Sweet dreams, Geordi.”

The door swished shut behind her. Removing his visor, Geordi laid down on his bed, curled into the fetal position, and cried.

 

 

Part One

Data’s Personal Log

 

Observation: For the past nineteen days, Lieutenant Geordi La Forge has spent an average of 8.37 hours per week fewer in my company.

 

Day 19

Hypothesis #1: Geordi has a busier schedule than usual.

Solution: Help Geordi manage his workload.

 

Day 20

Evidence collected: The Enterprise has no current assignment beyond its primary directive to explore new reaches of the galaxy. The engineering department is engaged in no significant tests, overhauls, or activities at present. Geordi has made no mention of new hobbies, nor are there any signs of such in his quarters.  

Conclusion: False. Schedule is no busier than usual.

 

Hypothesis #2: Geordi is distancing himself from his friends due to depression.

Solution: Enlist others to supply emotional support. Give positive affirmations. Provide chocolate.

 

Day 22

Evidence collected: Geordi’s time spent with other crewmembers is equal to time spent prior to now twenty-two day period. No decrease in smiles, laughter, or number of appearances outside his quarters. Consistent levels of excitement and engagement with hobbies, such as engineering, reading, and roleplaying in the Holodeck.

Conclusion: False. No signs of depressive episode.

 

Hypothesis #3:

 

Day 23

Hypothesis #3:

 

Day 24

Hypothesis #3:

 

Day 25

Hypothesis #3: My company has become undesirable to Lieutenant La Forge.

Evidence collected: Initial observation holds true after twenty-five days. (With slight adjustment to average of 8.83 hours per week.) The only observable differences in Lieutenant La Forge’s behavior are in relation to myself. Differences in behavior include socializing less during personal hours, lessened direct engagement in group settings, and can a tone be said to lack warmth, given that the variable of tone has no heat signature? an unquantifiable change in tone. Differences in behavior do not include lack of professionalism or a formal complaint to Captain Picard.

Conclusion: True. Lieutenant La Forge has demonstrated no objections to my role as a Starfleet officer, but the cutback of previously frequent social interactions demonstrates an objection to my role as his friend.

Solution:

 

Day 26

Solution: Cease all interactions outside of professional contexts.

Intended effect: Increase the comfort and happiness of Lieutenant Geordi La Forge.

For once, Data considered himself lucky to be an android. Humans would no doubt struggle greatly with such a decision. The loss of their once-best friend would weigh on their psyche like 30g—or perhaps, implode their emotional stability like a matter-antimatter collision. Luckily, Data could only speculate, as all such emotions were foreign to him. For him, it was not easier said than done. Once he analyzed the situation properly and devised the appropriate solution, its implementation was like flipping a switch to reroute the electricity that sparked pathways through his circuitry.

There was very little difficulty involved. He knew Geordi’s habits “like the back of his hand,” per a colloquialism Wesley once taught him. It was an easy thing to stop visiting the mess hall, as he had no need to eat. The Holodeck was similarly easy to give up. It held little appeal for him now. He chose instead to spend his free time in his quarters, staring at space from one of the viewing decks, or socializing with his other friends.

This was the only time Data ran into trouble. Sometimes, his friends invited both he and Geordi to socialize simultaneously. The first time it happened, Data failed to consider the possibility beforehand. He was thus already seated in Ten Forward with Riker and Captain Picard when in walked Geordi and Counselor Troi.

Data nearly hit Guinan with his chair as he stood. After she graciously accepted his apology, Data turned to his two commanding officers, all while hyperaware of the shrinking distance between him and Geordi. Twenty steps…fifteen…ten...

“Forgive me, Captain,” he said. “I must excuse myself.”

He ignored Picard’s surprised, “Oh. Very well, Data,” and circled around the table. He left Ten Forward at a quick pace, giving Geordi as wide a berth as possible. A sense of failure, which would no doubt manifest in a human as guilt, followed him out.

I will do better next time, he promised himself.

And he did. From then on, Data made certain to apprise himself of the attendance list for any social gathering, no matter how small. Whenever Geordi was included, he politely declined the invitation.

It was a good thing Data was an android. Were he not, he imagined he would now be experiencing an overwhelming degree of loneliness.

It was a very good thing indeed.

 

“So, whaddaya say?” Riker asked, hands on hips. “Up for a little exercise?”

The proposal in question was an Olympic-themed Holodeck program, wherein each participating crewmember would get to choose one athletic event at which all would compete. The date was set for three days hence.

Data set down the paint brush he’d been holding. Before him sat a blank canvas.

“I do not require exercise to remain in peak physical condition,” he informed Riker.

Riker grinned, a reaction that made Data’s head tilt as he tried to compute the reason behind it. Riker was…amused. Odd. Data didn’t believe his physical efficiency was normally considered “funny.”

“It’s not about that, Data,” Riker said. “It’s just for the fun of it. C’mon, it’ll be a hoot.”

“A ‘hoot,’ sir?”

“Just say yes, trust me.”

Data couldn’t deny it sounded like a unique and therefore interesting way to pass the time. “May I ask who else will be participating in these Olympics?”

A considering, thoughtful look took the place of Riker’s humor. “You always ask that nowadays. You never used to before.”

“I must respectfully insist on an answer, sir.”

Riker pursed his lips. “Well, a bunch of us have signed up already. Worf, the captain, Dr. Crusher, O’Brien. Half of engineering. Most of the command track.”

“Is Lieutenant La Forge included in that list?”

There was a long pause. “Yes, he is.”

Data nodded. “Thank you for the invitation. I am afraid I cannot accept.” The conversation over, he picked up his paint brush again. He stared at the white canvas, hand poised in midair, willing any creative idea whatsoever to hit him. Any at all. It shouldn’t be this difficult to choose something to paint. All he had to do was choose.

“Data…”

Surprised, both at Riker’s continued presence and the sound of pain in his voice, Data turned back around. “Sir?”

“Is everything…okay?” Riker asked. “Did something happen?”

“I am not certain what you mean. Please clarify.”

“You and Geordi.”

A sudden spark of electricity misfired in Data’s circuitry. He blinked twice and regained his equilibrium.

“Have you two had a falling out?”

“Falling out of where, sir?”

Riker exhaled a sharp breath. “No, I mean… Have you had some kind of a fight? Are you angry with him?”

Something akin to alarm—though not, of course, the feeling itself—caused Data to sit up taller. “Of course not. Even were I capable of feeling anger, Lieutenant La Forge has never done anything that could inspire the emotion in me.”

“Then what is it?”

“What is what?”

“Goddammit, Data.”

Riker pressed his fingers to his forehead, massaging the wrinkles in his brow. Data sank a little lower in his seat and kept silent. He had no desire to aggravate his friend and superior officer. As was often the case, he wasn’t sure what he’d done to trigger this reaction.

After a deep breath, Riker looked him dead in the eye. “Why are you avoiding him? He’s your best friend, isn’t he?”

“I…” For a strange moment, Data found himself speechless. He swiftly recovered. “He is, yes.”

Before he could choose between adding That is why I am avoiding him or But I am not his, Riker said, “Then why would you want to hurt him like this?”

Data’s back went ramrod straight and his eyes grew wide. “I beg your pardon, sir. Did you say hurt him?”

“Yes, Data. Hurt him.”

“I have never desired to hurt Lieutenant La Forge. You believe my avoiding him has had this effect?”

Riker huffed an exasperated, though perhaps also fond, laugh. “What did you think would happen, Data? Wouldn’t you feel hurt if your best friend started avoiding you out of nowhere? Refused to see you anymore, bolted out of the room every time you tried to talk to him?”

“I cannot feel hurt,” Data said, but he spoke from behind a veil. No longer looking at his friend, his gaze turned inward.

“Sure, sure. But…”

 

Day 42

Hypothesis #3: My company has become undesirable to Lieutenant La Forge.

New evidence: Avoidance of Lieutenant La Forge has caused the subject negative emotions, per First Officer William Riker.

Conclusion: Flaw in original hypothesis

Solution: FAILED

Intended effect: Not achieved

 

“Data?”

He blinked, only then realizing he’d forgotten to blink for much longer than a human would forego the action. One more reminder that he was not, and never would be, human.

Suddenly, two wires in his stomach region became crisscrossed. Nothing damaging, but strange nonetheless. Perhaps he should check that with Geordi—

The wires tangled together and cinched into a knot. He barely kept from flinching, less from the discomfort than from the shock.

“Data, are you all right?”

Data’s eyes flashed up and met Riker’s. “I did not mean to hurt him. How can I remedy the situation?”

Riker smiled, his gaze softening. He placed a hand on Data’s shoulder and, for some reason, squeezed it. Data wasn’t sure of the purpose of this gesture, but he couldn’t deny that the brief pressure gave him a sense of security. Stability. Before he could analyze further, Riker said,

“Talk to him. That’s it.” His hand gave another squeeze, then pulled away. “I have every confidence you two will sort this out once you start communicating again.”

Talk to him. Why had this simple, direct approach never occurred to him when he was initially analyzing Geordi’s changed behavior?

“Talk to him,” he echoed. With a slight purse of his lips, Data nodded and stood. “Thank you, sir. I will seek him out right away.”

Riker grinned. “Attaboy.”

 

Part Two

The ship’s computer located Geordi in the Holodeck, so that’s where Data went. A program was running when he arrived. Data confirmed with the computer that Geordi was the only crewmember within, and then entered.

He paused just inside the doors. Looking up and around, he saw dense gray clouds, a barren landscape, and a far-off blue horizon. A short ways ahead, the rocky ground fell away in a cliff, and beyond it stretched an ocean, its dark blue tint almost indistinguishable from the sky above. The only sound was the constant of waves rolling and crashing against the cliffside below. Everything about the illusion appeared hazy and bleak. Each muted color, each layer of the design bled into the next. Like being inside a Caspar David Friedrich painting.

Sitting at the cliff’s edge approximately ten yards away, his legs dangling off the side, was Geordi. Data walked a straight line towards him.

When he reached Geordi, he stopped, standing just behind his shoulder. Only then did he discover that Riker’s advice, talk to him, wasn’t easily done. He opened his mouth, but words failed him. He couldn’t choose what to say, how to begin—

“I’d like just a couple more minutes,” Geordi said, his gaze focused out on the ocean. “If that’s all right.”

Data’s brow creased. Now he really didn’t know what to say.

“I…am not certain I understand your meaning.”

Geordi glanced up, but only for a split second. The sight of Data seemed to cause him an unpleasant physical shock, forcing him to look away. Data felt an electrical shock of his own immediately after. He frowned. He really might need to ask for a full diagnostic—

“You want to use the Holodeck, right? I wasn’t planning to stay much longer anyway.”

Ah. Now he understood.

“You mistake me, Lieutenant,” he said. “I came here with the sole intention of speaking to you.”

At that, Geordi’s head snapped up again. This time his gaze lingered. “Oh. Well…in that case, why don’t you take a seat.”

Data did so, settling himself beside Geordi on the ledge, letting his feet also hang off the side of the cliff. He gazed down, staring for a long moment at the white spray of the ocean where it met rock. The rhythm of the waves was entrancing—fierce and dependable. Yet each wave was different, creating a unique spray that was never perfectly replicated. His superior senses could make out every variation, each new arc of water and each musical tenor of the repeated collisions.

When he finally pulled his attention away, he realized Geordi was tense beside him. He could feel it through the press of their legs together.

“Is this disagreeable to you?” he asked, uncertain why this should be the case when Geordi invited him to sit in the first place. “I can remain standing if—”

“No, Data.” Geordi took a deep breath and let it out, staring once again at the horizon. “It’s fine. What did you want to talk about?”

Data couldn’t help but feel he’d done something wrong. He struggled to quiet the analytical workings of his brain—What did I do, what did I do, what did I do, they cried, electrical impulses firing as he tried to gather and sort evidence—and focus on his main objective.

“It has come to my attention,” he said, “that recent actions of mine may have caused you some distress.”

Geordi’s whole body stiffened. In that moment, he was so still he could have been an android. “Someone told you that?”

“Yes.”

“They shouldn’t have. Who was it?”

Per Data’s programming, he ought to answer Geordi’s question with the simple, honest answer. Instead, he replied, “I believe that fact to be less relevant than the fact that, evidently, I made an error in judgment.”

Brow creased, Geordi turned to look at him. “What do you mean?”

“I never intended to cause you harm, Lieutenant. If my—”

“God, Data, can’t you—” Geordi clenched his jaw shut around the brittle words. “Can’t you even call me Geordi anymore?”

“Of course I can. I am sorry, Geordi. I did not mean to upset you.”

Geordi’s shoes scraped against the rocky cliff as he leapt to his feet and walked several feet away, turning his back to the ocean, to Data. His hands clenched into fists by his side. Stunned into a lack of motion, Data took a couple of seconds to follow suit.

“Geordi?”

“Stop, stop. Please.” Geordi faced him again, hands splayed out in front of him, as if to ward off something bad. “That’s worse.”

Before Data could do more than open his mouth, Geordi answered his question.

“You…using my name just because I asked you to. To make me feel better. I don’t… I’m not trying to order you around, you know? You can do whatever you want, say whatever you want. You don’t have to adapt yourself to my needs.”

Data’s head cocked. “Is there something wrong in wanting to increase your feelings of comfort and happiness? Is that not what friends do?”

A pained huff left Geordi’s lips, and he turned so that his face was in profile. Below, wave after wave slammed into the rocks. “What friends do, huh? I guess that leaves us on pretty uneven ground.”

“Can you elaborate?”

“You can make me happy, but I can’t do the same for you. I can never really be your friend, then, can I?” His tone was neither angry nor irritated—it was difficult for Data to gauge what emotion he was feeling through his stoicism and the way he seemed almost to blend into the paintbrush strokes of the landscape.

Simultaneously, Data was struggling to process the confusing content of Geordi’s declaration. He blinked several times. First of all, recent evidence showed that Data was in fact quite bad at making Geordi happy. And as to his last claim…

“G—” He began to say his name but stopped himself, still unclear whether or not this was acceptable. “Though I do not experience happiness as humans do, you have always been my best friend.”

Geordi’s posture sagged, his expression softening.

“I know, Data,” he said. “I know. I’m sorry. It’s not fair of me to take this out on you. Especially after I already made your life so difficult lately.”

Data’s brow wrinkled. He took two steps forward. “I fail to see how you drew that conclusion. It is I who have made life difficult for you, though I assure you this was not my intention.”

“I know you would never set out to hurt anyone, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Geordi said. “I understand why you…had to do what you did. Nobody should’ve guilted you about it.”

Data ignored this last part, focused on what came before. It simplified matters to know that Geordi was apprised of the whole situation. However, one massive, gaping black hole of a question remained.

“You understand,” he echoed. “Good. Then can you tell me why it did not work?”

“Didn’t work?”

“What did I do wrong?” Data clarified. “I deduced from your behavior that you no longer desired to socialize with me during our off-duty hours. Therefore, I presumed that any time you continued to spend in my presence was merely out of a sense of obligation, and I could free you of that burden by taking it upon myself to cut all social ties between us. I believed this would make you happier. However, if instead my actions hurt you, I would like to know—”

“Hang on there a second, Data,” Geordi said, putting up a hand. He took a step toward him, looking more alert than before. “Are you saying you stopped being friends with me because…you thought I wanted that?”

“I have never stopped considering you a friend. But that is why I withdrew from your company, yes. It was the most logical conclusion based on the facts. Did I get it wrong?”

Hands on his hips, Geordi bent forward at the waist and let out a sharp, breathy chuckle. “Well, I’ll be damned. We sure got our wires crossed, didn’t we.”

Eyebrows in two arches, Data said, “How did you know?” At the look Geordi gave him, his eyebrows settled back into place. “Ah. A figure of speech.”

Geordi’s brief bemusement morphed into concern. “What do you mean ‘how did you know’?”

Standing straight, he crossed the remaining distance between them. Data held himself very still, as if any movement might scare Geordi away again. Geordi reached a hand toward him but let it linger in the air, not yet touching.

“Are you all right, Data?” he asked. “Have you been experiencing malfunctions of some kind? You should have come to me immediately.”

“It is nothing serious. I would rather return to our discussion—”

“Sorry, Data. This takes precedence,” Geordi said, all business. “Let’s go to your quarters so I can run some diagnostics on you while we talk, all right?”

There was no reason why Data should be hesitant to leave. Yet, as Geordi led the way out of the Holodeck, he paused, his eyes pulled toward the vista by some powerful force. He took in cloud, sky, ocean, cliff. Waves crashing like cymbals in an orchestra. He raised his right arm, as though the horizon were within reach of his fingertips. What would it feel like, he wondered. Like burlap, or perhaps gauze?

“Data?”

He lowered his arm and turned. “Yes, I am coming.”

 

Part Three

Back in his quarters, Data sat on the edge of his bed and explained his symptoms. Geordi listened with a growing furrow in his brow.

“And are the wires still knotted together?” he asked.

Data paused. Focused inward. Evaluated. “I am no longer aware of them. I must therefore assume that they are, as I would have felt it if they moved again.”

“I just can’t think of anything that could cause that,” Geordi muttered, more under his breath than to Data. “The occasional electrical misfiring, maybe. But wires moving out of place on their own?”

“Please, do not be concerned,” Data said. “I am experiencing no pain or discomfort.”

“But Data,” said Geordi, “what if it’s, I don’t know, technological warfare? Maybe someone’s infected you with a bug.”

Data couldn’t deny, this hypothetical was…unsettling. Before he could say anything, Geordi gave himself a shake.

“Sorry. No use theorizing. First I’m gonna hook you up to the computer and run some general tests, all right?”

“And then?”

“If it doesn’t find anything, I’ll open up your stomach panel and take a look inside, see what I find.” A pause as he connected a cord from the computer to the appropriate port at the back of Data’s head. Then he circled around to stand in front of Data.

“Is that okay?” he asked, sounding nervous, even alarmed.

Data lifted his gaze to meet Geordi’s, and only then noticed he’d tensed up at Geordi’s suggestion. Each of his limbs was more taut than a human’s could naturally be. His eyes, too, were stretched unusually wide.

But it wasn’t due to an adverse reaction. Rather, his brain had envisioned the scenario, Geordi’s hands easing open the panels of his stomach, and it led Data to remember the feeling of Geordi’s hands. They weren’t rough or scratchy, like Data’s imagined horizon. They were soft. Delicate, yet strong. Tender.

He blinked himself free of the thoughts. “Yes, of course. I am in your hands, Lieutenant.”

Geordi paused. A slow smile lifted the corners of his lips. “Data, was that…was that a joke?”

“Huh.” Data tilted his head. “I believe you are right. It is called a double entendre: when a word or phrase has two meanings, often used for comical effect.”

Biting his lip, Geordi turned his face to the side, though this did nothing to hide his grin. Data smiled and let his posture relax.

“Well,” said Geordi, “this is gonna take a minute. While we wait…” He hesitated, then grabbed Data’s stool from in front of his easel and took a seat.

Eyes drifting past his blank canvas, still white, still untouched, Data had the compulsion to throw a sheet over it. He did not.

Instead, as he stared, an image sparked in his mind. He thought back to the Holodeck—the colors, the lines, the textures. Except…in that, there was nothing original. He could reproduce a Caspar David Friedrich painting stroke for stroke, but what would be the point?

Then, another image overlayed the first. A figure. Horizontal rim of the visor merging with the lines between cliff, ocean, horizon. Vertical form standing out amidst the background, yet still at home in the painting’s soft textures and dark tones. Something unique. Something his own.

“There’s something I need to explain, Data.”

Data looked into Geordi’s visor. For a moment, he saw cloudy skies behind the man. A color palette of blues and grays. “Yes?”

Geordi’s hands grasped the front edge of the stool, his legs to either side. The metal squeaked in his grip.

“I never wanted us to stop being friends,” he said. “I thought you’d started avoiding me because I was, well, making you uncomfortable. So I didn’t wanna, you know…force myself on—I mean, force my company on you.”

“That is also what I believed,” said Data. “Only, in reverse.”

Geordi nodded. “I get that now. If I’d known before, I would’ve told you right away that it wasn’t true. I’m sorry I made you think I didn’t want to be friends, Data. I do. If you still do too, of course.”

The room’s temperature rose. Then Data realized that, no, it was not his external sensors but his internal sensors that were registering an increase in warmth. Were his wires overheating? So far, at least, it didn’t feel unpleasant or dangerous.

“I would like that very much.” Data smiled, and Geordi mirrored the smile back at him.

Before a comfortable quiet could settle, Data’s smile fell away as he recalled a remaining point of confusion.

Almost as soon as it occurred to him, the obvious answer pinged in his brain.

“Ah,” he said, nodding. “My initial observations of your changes in behavior were erroneous, then, were they not? Could they also be related to the malfunctions I seem to be experiencing?”

At this, Geordi’s gaze shifted aside. “Um. No, I don’t think so. Your observations weren’t wrong. I was a little distant with you for a few weeks there. Not on purpose, but…well, like I said, I was worried I might be making you uncomfortable. So I was trying to compensate.”

Data’s head tilted. “May I ask, what caused you this worry? I have always enjoyed our time together.”

Geordi’s attempt at a smile came off more like a grimace. “It’s…complicated.”

“I would like to try to understand.”

Geordi hesitated, uncertainty and perhaps fear playing across his features. Then he took a deep breath and—

As if to spite Data, the computer beeped completion of its program at precisely that moment. Illogical, Data thought, frowning to himself. Computers do not feel things like ‘spite.’ Nonetheless, he waited tensely as Geordi hopped off the stool and hustled to read the results.

Geordi clucked his tongue in disappointment. “Not showing anything. Looks like it’s the hands-on approach after all.”

This time, Data experienced both a twisting of wires and an increase in internal temperature at once.

“That is advisable,” he said, “as my symptoms seem to be increasing in frequency and degree.”

Alarmed, Geordi jerked his head around and met Data’s gaze. “Are you feeling something right now?”

“I have felt several ‘somethings’ since sitting down,” Data divulged. He ignored Geordi’s hands on hips posture that denoted exasperation. “Lack of complete motor control, raised internal temperature, and more shifting wires.”

“All right, I need you to tell me exactly when each of these happened,” said Geordi, while he unplugged the cord from Data’s head and replaced the paneling. “For that matter, go through each of the earlier ones too. Tell me what was going on each time.” He sat back on the stool. Tucking one foot up under his other leg, he pulled out his PADD and prepared to take notes.

So Data told him. He went one by one, beginning with those that had occurred during his conversation with Commander Riker. For each, he described the moment directly preceding it:

“You and Geordi.”

Discussing his recent distance from Geordi.

Contemplating his own lack of humanity.

Thinking about asking Geordi for a physical.

Geordi meeting his gaze, before quickly looking away again.

Geordi’s hand slowed, his note-taking coming to a halt. His head remained bowed towards his PADD. Though cognizant of this development, in the absence of new instructions, Data continued dutifully with his recitation.

Contemplating the feeling of Geordi’s hands.

Geordi still wanting to be friends.

“Looks like it’s the hands-on approach after all.”

Only once his task was complete did Data pause to actually consider the data he’d presented. His eyes froze in the open position as his gaze was yanked inward without his say so.

 

Day 42 (Evening)

Observation: Geordi features in all but one circumstance preceding a new symptom.

 

Hypothesis #1: Symptoms are not random.

Evidence collected: Statistical likelihood of Geordi coinciding with 7/8 symptoms by chance near zero.

Conclusion: True. Symptoms derive from specific triggers.

 

Hypothesis #2: Symptoms are the result of internal stimuli.

Evidence collected: On no occasion when a symptom presented itself was I in contact with new external stimuli.

Conclusion: True. If the symptoms are not random, they must be caused by my own thoughts or reactions to situations.

 

Hypothesis #3: These symptoms were triggered by

 

His mind whirled through centuries of downloaded human knowledge. Accumulating information. Processing. Analyzing dozens of rapid-fire compare/contrasts.

“Geordi…” he said.

Data blinked, but his eyes remained wide. He focused them on Geordi’s visor. The other man sat with uncharacteristically upright posture, his shoulders tense.

“I believe my data banks have diagnosed the cause of my symptoms.”

“They have? As what?”

“I…” Electrical sparks echoed along his frame. Each tiny shock sent a tingle through him. It wasn’t unpleasant. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

“Geordi, I think I am in love with you,” he announced.

Only after the words were out of his mouth did it occur to him to question whether he should share this revelation with his friend. After all, much of human art and literature centered around the devastating consequences of unrequited love. If Geordi didn’t love him back, as he could hardly be expected to, sharing this information could be highly detrimental to their friendship.

Too late now, he thought.

Geordi was unmoving. He hardly even seemed to breathe. A feeling—a feeling, Data had feelings, how could he have thought for so long that he didn’t?—of panic zinged through Data’s circuitry.

He opened his mouth to apologize for the sudden and blunt delivery, but Geordi spoke first.

“Data,” he said, his voice raw, ragged. “Are you…sure? Do you… Do you understand what that means?”

“I am quite confident,” Data said. “In fact, I have determined that I feel an entire spectrum of emotions that I did not believe I had the capacity for. In many cases, they do not manifest in me as they do in humans, but upon running a detailed analysis comparing my thoughts and sensations with those recorded throughout human history as denoting specific emotions, I can state with surety that I do experience these emotions as well.”

Geordi’s jaw hung slightly open. “Which…emotions, for instance?”

Data looked up and to the left as he ran through the list he’d just stored in his memory files. “Love, curiosity, affection, hope, grief, guilt, loneliness, joy, shame, adoration, pleasure—”

“Okay, okay.” Geordi held up a hand. An abrupt laugh burst from between his lips. “I’m sorry, I…I’m a bit…overwhelmed. I don’t know what to…”

Something like a hammer struck Data in the chest. “I apologize. I should not have dumped this on you. I will understand if you do not wish to be friends any—”

No.” Geordi practically lunged to his feet, the stool shoved behind him. “I mean…yes, I don’t want to be friends anymore—”

Despite what he’d just said, Data felt a sinking sensation, like gravity had increased on him.

“—because I want to be with you.”

Data blinked. Looked up. “Pardon?”

Geordi’s smile was the sun emerging from behind dense gray clouds. Its shine was so bright, even Data felt lightened by it. This smile was followed by a loud, unrestrained laugh.

“Data,” he said, beaming, “I love you.”

“You…do?”

Yes.” Geordi laughed. “That’s what I was so worried about! I thought you’d realized I felt that way, and it was making you uncomfortable because you didn’t, because you couldn’t, feel the same for me. I’ve known that I love you for forty-two days, and I think I fell in love with you long before that.”

Unable to remain seated any longer, Data rose to his feet. He and Geordi stood mere inches apart, Data’s head angled down and Geordi’s angled up.

“Then…it is acceptable for me to say that I love you?” Data checked.

Geordi grinned, and Data immediately mirrored the expression. He couldn’t have stopped himself if he tried.

Then Geordi wound his arms around Data’s back, and his body’s electric tingles amped up, as Wesley would say, “to eleven,” though there was no measurement Data could use to genuinely quantify them.

“More than acceptable, Data,” said Geordi. “It’s preferable. One might even say highly encouraged.”

Data chuckled. “In that case, I find it imperative to inform you, Lieutenant Geordi La Forge, that I love you. And intend to do so for the remainder of…well, always.”

This earned him a surprised laugh, and Data added a new emotion to his list: pride.

“Is that agreeable to you?” he asked.

“So long as you’re okay with one thing.”

Data cocked his head, listening. He wasn’t afraid—Geordi was still smiling, and besides, there was no condition in all of time or space Data wouldn’t accept in order to keep the love he’d finally, miraculously discovered.

“I’m going to love you for even longer than that.”

Data’s brow creased. “Geordi,” he said, “there is no such thing as ‘longer’ than al—”

The press of Geordi’s lips to his own cut his words short. He didn’t mind. After a split second to adjust, he moved his lips tentatively against Geordi’s. This he had done before. But at the time, he hadn’t known he could enjoy it.

And he did. He definitely did. He could hardly keep still as Geordi slid his hands up Data’s sides. His own arms wrapped around Geordi in return. They continued to kiss, Data’s movements gaining confidence, his touches more bold. Geordi tasted like rain, and the air around them felt charged, as if a bolt of lightning had struck in Data’s quarters and he was its conductor.

Finally, their lips parted. Geordi hauled in a deep breath, clearly experiencing a lack of it. Concerned, Data stood up straight.

“My apologies,” he said. “I will be more careful not to—”

“Oh, just kiss me,” Geordi said. One hand tugging on the back of Data’s head, he reached upward.

Data leaned down and met him halfway.