Lore was gone. Beamed out of the Enterprise cargo bay, and into the expanse of open space. The commotion that followed was disorienting. Dr. Beverly Crusher hugging her son tightly. Captain Picard issuing orders. Commander Riker, and Lt. Yar helping Ambassador Naseema to her feet as other Enterprise personnel filtered in, beginning to clean up the mess of containers scattered across the cargo bay. The giant crystalline entity that had threatened the ship, moved away, and everything seemed to return to normal.
Once his mother had assured herself that he was alright, and released him, Wesley Crusher returned his attention to the Feeonix ambassador, now being inspected by the captain.
“I am alright, sir, really,” she insisted, even though her voice was strained, and gravelly. Picard frowned, unconvinced. She already had bruises rising on her neck, and her face was swelling from where she'd been struck. She'd winced slightly when Riker had pulled her from the deck, leading Picard to suspect she also had several cracked ribs. The handful of hair that Lore had ripped from her scalp, was lying in the middle of the floor.
“Naseema, Dr. Crusher needs to have her phaser burn attended to, I really must insist that you accompany her to sick bay as well,” he replied. Lore had beaten Worf unconscious in the turbolift, and Picard could only imagine what the android had done to Naseema. He wanted assurance that she wasn't more seriously injured than she let on.
“It is not as bad as it looks,” she told him. “I do not need medical attention. My injuries will be gone by tomorrow but I would like to go to my quarters, and get cleaned up.”
“Alright,” Picard reluctantly agreed, “so long as you're sure you're alright.” He gave a quick, uncertain glance at Data, and hoped his second officer hadn't noticed the instant of mistrust. “I'll have Lt. Yar go with you,” he continued.
“Thank you, sir, but I will go with Data,” Naseema interjected. “He must return to his quarters as well, and I see no reason to delay Lt. Yar from her duties. We will both return to the bridge shortly.”
Picard sighed quietly but nodded. “Data, are you alright?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” he replied. “I am fine.” The ugly twitch Lore had inflicted on him, surged up, and his face tensed as his left eye forced itself shut.
Picard frowned, and eyed the android quickly. “Good,” he replied tersely. “Now get rid of that damn twitch.”
“Yes, sir,” Data acknowledged. He moved forward, and gently placed his hand against the back of Naseema's arm, just as he had dozens of times before, but this time something was different. She was trembling. It was unnoticeable to the naked eye, and perhaps even a human touch, but his hands were far more sensitive. He could detect the quicker pace of her blood, the quivering muscles beneath her skin, the lowered temperature of her flesh. Something was very wrong. “Naseema, are you sure you wish to go with me?” he quietly asked. “Perhaps the captain is correct, and you should report to sick bay.”
“I do not need to go to sick bay,” she replied sharply. “I will go with you.” She made eye contact with him but quickly diverted her gaze away from his, and looked at the floor as she moved for the exit. Wesley watched silently with concern. He seemed to be the only one in the room, other than Data, who recognized that something wasn't right.
The android, and the Feeonix made the short journey to the senior officers' deck without speaking until the turbolift doors opened. “Naseema, would you like me to escort you to your quarters, or would you prefer to be alone?” Data asked her. Up to this point she had not even given him a glance, but now she looked up at him, and searched his face for several seconds before replying. The awful twitch flared up again, and a horrified expression flashed across her face before she turned her eyes back to the floor.
“Data,” she began, her voice still a hoarse whisper. “I do not expect you to understand my reasons, but at the moment, I do not wish for you to be out of my immediate field of vision.” She placed her hand on his arm but she still refused to look at him. Admittedly, he was confused by her behavior. She had never treated him with disdain before but right now, that was the only word he would use to describe her manner, yet she was insisting on his continued presence. However, he was not quite confused enough to misunderstand that his newly acquired twitch was causing her discomfort, and upset. He needed to be rid of it.
“Please accompany me to my quarters so that I may fulfill the captain's order, and remove this facial tic. You may observe me, and you may also find it will alleviate some of your tension to do so,” he suggested, trying his best to sound reassuring. He'd never seen her so agitated, and he found he didn't like it.
“Yes,” she nodded.
He led her down the corridor to his cabin, and she sat in the chair at his workstation while he retrieved the small servo stimulator from it's drawer. She watched quietly, albeit suspiciously as he turned to the long mirror on the wall, and ran the wand-like device across his face until the uncontrollable spasm ebbed away, and finally relaxed permanently. He carefully kept one eye focused on watching Naseema in the mirror, and he saw her expression change from suspicion, and mistrust to something closer to a traumatized sadness. He had removed what he thought was the source of her distress, yet she remained unhappy. He realized he was still wearing Lore's clothes.
“Naseema, I am going to change into a proper uniform now, if you accompany me to the other room, you may observe me there as well,” he politely told her. Her face flushed, and she gave him a delicate smile.
His offer was tempting. She didn't give much thought to his physical appearance initially. She wasn't usually attracted to human males but as she came to know him better, she found his incredible intelligence, coupled with his eager curiosity, and honest innocence, very appealing. Once she laid eyes on him, dressed in a well tailored pin stripe suit from Earth's pre-war 1930s, she was amazed at how incredible he looked in it. The perfect specimen of masculine cool. She was so amazed, that she nearly melted when he asked her if she would agree to be 'his girl' during their holodeck excursion with the captain. She did agree, and in doing so, helped to give birth to their alternate personae, Carlos and Blondie, but as much fun as Carlos and Blondie were, they were not here now, and no matter how close she was to experiencing her personal fantasy of Commander Data without his clothes on, it would not be enough to make her forget what had just transpired in the cargo bay.
“As appealing, ahem,” she cleared her throat self consciously. “As appealing as that prospect may be, I will not invade your privacy just to settle my own nerves, Data.” she replied, her smile vanishing. “I will remain here.”
He nodded, and disappeared into what would have been his bedroom, if he owned a bed, to change his clothes. He was quick about it while analyzing what she'd just said to him.
How odd. He had offered to change his clothes in her presence since he was sure it would make her feel better. By this point he had deduced that his identical likeness to Lore was causing her to feel unsafe, and her need to have him in the same room was to reassure herself that he was not going to change into his brother. He surmised that Lore must have used that deception in order to gain access to her, and now she needed to be sure that he was not really Lore in disguise. He was still confused though. Her response to his offer had been one of embarrassment. Why would she say that the prospect was appealing, and then refuse. She was well aware that he was incapable of feeling uncomfortable or self conscious, and they had been over this before. He had seen her naked, and it seemed logical that since the opportunity for her to see him in a similar state of undress had presented itself, she would wish to take advantage of it. Perhaps seeing him undress would offend her morals, although he was wearing underwear, it wasn't as if he would be completely naked, and she had said 'appealing', he had not misheard her. He wondered if he should ask her to clarify but he didn't want to upset her further so he decided that he would ask Geordi later instead.
He reappeared in the main room quickly. Naseema said nothing as she carefully let her eyes travel up his body, beginning with his legs, up his torso, continuing to his shoulders, and then back down again. She finally met his eyes, and gave a slight nod of approval.
“Naseema, is there anything else I can do to convince you I am me?” he asked, the concerned frown returning.
He could tell she was still agitated even though she was attempting to hide it. She indicated she was satisfied with his appearance, and that he wasn't Lore yet there was still fear in her eyes. He didn't know what to do, and pressing her for guidance also seemed like the wrong approach.
“No,” was the blunt, unhelpful reply she offered. She stood up, and moved towards the door. “Please take me to my quarters.” He didn't move immediately, still confused, and over thinking each approach. His inaction only served to rile her, and she locked eyes with him. “Now,” she added, her tone turning cold so that her single word command came out with a snap.
If she didn't know better, she could swear she'd hurt his feelings. The look in his eyes was almost pained. She knew he didn't know what to do to help her, and needed her to tell him but she didn't care. She was focused on controlling her own inner turmoil. She was in pain. Her face was sore, and every expression she allowed to cross it reminded her that her cheekbone was fractured, and likely her jaw. Lore had even knocked one of her back teeth out when he'd punched her. Every time she swallowed, it felt like she was pushing a mouthful of broken glass down her throat. She knew there were perfect fingerprint bruises rising on her neck. Fingerprints that would match Data's exactly should he choose to wrap his hand around her throat as Lore had, and she would be just as powerless to stop him as she had been with Lore. She was angry too. Angry at Data. Something deep in her gut told her they should have left the disassembled pieces of his twin at the Omicron Theta colony, and run as fast, and as far away as they could but nobody agreed with her. She had begged Data not to reactivate his brother. In fifteen centuries she had never begged a man for anything but her android companion had managed to bring her to her knees, and still ignored her pleas. His desire to discover his origins had overpowered her intuition, and she had nearly been murdered as a result. Sacrificed as an hors d'oeuvre to a giant, energy sucking snowflake. Data's twin, the earlier, more experimental model, proved to be malevolent, vicious, and violent. Centuries ago, on Earth, Lore would have been labeled a sociopath, psychotic, deranged. She had known many others like him in her lifetime but something set him apart from them. He was the only man who'd ever been able to physically overpower her. When he hit her she gained a terrifying understanding of the condition of human women. An understanding that had eluded her until now. Never before had a man been able to use his physical strength against her. She had never been afraid of a man in her entire life, and looking at Data now, she realized how easy it would be for him to do the same. She'd been aware of his great physical strength before now but it was only now that she was forced to accept how easily he could hurt her or even kill her if he wanted to. This unpleasant awareness was the source of her shaky, fearful anger. She felt a need to push him now, to see how far she could go before he would lash out at her, the way Lore had.
He didn't react to her sudden, icy tone. He simply extended his hand towards the exit, indicating that he would comply. She moved to leave, and as the door opened, his voice stopped her.
“Naseema,” he said very softly. “I am sorry.” His apology caught her off guard, and she glanced at him. He still had the pained look in his eyes but as their gazes met it seemed like he was at least trying to understand the source of her hostility. Her anger subsided but only for a second, just long enough for her to reply.
“I know.” She turned her back to him again, and continued into the corridor. He followed her, and his longer legs allowed him to catch up with her quick pace in only a few steps. He walked beside her in silence. Their quarters were only a few sections apart, and it was less than two minutes before they reached her door but it was long enough for him to analyze this change in her behavior.
He took in every minute indicator she'd given him since they left the cargo bay, and he'd come to the conclusion that she was very very angry. Angry with him. Her silence, and abrupt commands were the results of her attempt to keep her temper to herself. He wanted to touch her again, if not to comfort her, then only to see if her symptoms were still present. He could only hazard an educated guess as to the reason for her anger. He had remedied the problems with his appearance yet his efforts did little to assuage her ire. What he was left with was the harsh fact that he'd ignored her pleas to leave Lore's body on Omicron Theta, and the ugly bruises now visible on her face and neck were the result of that ignorance. There was no way she could have known exactly what would happen once Lore was reactivated but the bad feeling she had from the moment they beamed down to the planet was enough to convince her they should leave immediately. Not so for him. He'd wanted so badly to find out where he'd come from, and the circumstances that led to his discovery by Starfleet, that he'd been more than willing to dismiss her initial concerns, and then coldly rebuff her tearful plea to continue his quest without reanimating Lore. He found the answers he sought but now it appeared that the price he had to pay for them was much higher than he'd anticipated. He was so accustomed to being right, that it never occurred to him how wrong he could be. He'd almost paid for that miscalculation with her life. He understood now how much he valued her, and he did not want to lose Naseema's friendship. He needed to find a way to fix this. To make her understand how sorry he was. He wasn't sure he would be able to do that on his own.
Once inside her cabin, she went directly to the bedroom, pausing in the doorway to issue another instruction. “I would like to change my clothes as well. Please stand in the doorway so I may see you at all times,” she said. He complied, standing in the doorway without speaking, his hands folded in front of him. She turned her back to him, and proceeded to pull her bloodied shirt over her head exposing the full extent of Lore's assault. He made the attempt to look away from her as she undressed but once he caught sight of the bruises across her ribs, and back, creeping around her abdomen, he was unable to move his eyes away. If she was aware of his stare, she didn't let on. She simply continued to shed her clothes, and replace them with loose fitting attire that would allow her to move more comfortably without the feeling of tight fabric pressing against her injuries.
He felt a twinge inside his skull as the visual record of Lore's attack was revealed. If he'd been a human man, he would have been stricken with a feeling of guilt so strong, he probably would have needed to vomit. Perhaps he hadn't been the one to inflict the injuries with his own hands, but in an indirect way, he was certainly to blame, and he knew it. He wondered now if she insisted that he be present at this moment because she actually needed to keep him in her field of vision or because she wanted him to see what Lore had done to her. He also wondered it she had refused a visit to sick bay because she didn't want the captain to know how badly she'd been beaten. Ultimately her motives didn't matter. He had seen the evidence, the result of his arrogance. He was almost glad he wasn't able to feel anything because he was sure if he could, he would feel terrible.
Once she was dressed, she finally looked at him, really looked at him but she still said nothing as she moved past him back into the main living area of her quarters. She went directly to the replicator, and requested a very strong drink. As she waited for it to materialize, she cast her eyes in his direction again.
He had been attacked by Lore too, and while he bore no physical injuries, she wanted to ask him if he had any feelings about what had transpired but she knew it was pointless. 'I am incapable of feeling anything', he would say even though it wasn't entirely true. She could hear the guilt in his thoughts, and she could see it in his eyes. He didn't know what it was but it was causing his positronic matrix to process incorrectly. She could see him unsuccessfully attempting to correct the malfunction that was causing the unpleasant sensation, and it didn't give her any satisfaction to see him fail. He couldn't be expected to understand what she didn't entirely understand herself, that while she felt anger towards him for the actions that brought Lore into their lives, she was far more shaken by the fear and vulnerability Lore had made her feel, and the lingering effects she was experiencing now. She had not been a target of convenience or opportunity. Lore had come after her specifically. He had removed the one obstacle that stood in his way, and attacked. The assault was personal. She felt like a victim, and even though she wanted to punish Data for his mistakes, she also needed him. He was the only one who could protect her from his brother. She needed to calm herself. She could feel her control slipping away.
As her drink appeared in the replicator tray, she reached out to pick it up. She hadn't realized how badly she was still shaking until she tried to grab the glass. It trembled in her hand for a second until she lost her grip on it, and it tumbled to the floor, spilling it's contents on the carpet.
“Damn it!” she muttered as she stooped to pick up the now empty glass. Data took a step towards her, no longer willing to stand aside while her condition worsened but she startled him as she suddenly fired the glass into the bulkhead, shattering it. “Do not touch me!” she screeched, her voice strained, and hard. She glared angrily at him but as quickly as the flames flared up in her eyes, they receded, and she took a quick, shallow breath before apologizing. “I am sorry, Data,” she told the now wide-eyed android who was frozen in position. He followed her with worried eyes as she brushed by him, and sat down on the sofa, afraid that her legs would fold up underneath her, and more afraid that he would carry her to sick bay despite her protests if she collapsed in front of him.
“Naseema, I wish to help you,” he said. “Please tell me what to do or I will call Dr. Crusher.”
“Please do not threaten me,” she hissed. Her throat was closing up as the tears filled her eyes, and her fragile composure collapsed.
“I did not intend to threaten--” he attempted to explain, but his words fell short, and she wasn't listening to him anyway. She stifled her initial sob with her hand as the tears spilled out so abruptly that Data was left staring wide-eyed, and open mouthed, completely taken off guard, and totally lost for a response. It was then that the indicator rang. Naseema barely reacted, possibly hoping that whoever was on the other side of the door would just go away.
“Perhaps this is not the best time,” Data called out but he heard the door slide open, and glanced over his shoulder as Wesley Crusher barged in. The boy turned his horrified expression on the android when he saw the Feeonix crying.
“Data, why are you just standing there?!” he asked, and then without hesitation he moved to the spot beside Naseema, and threw his arms around her. Data watched in awe as the Feeonix accepted Wesley's embrace by wrapping her own arms around his neck, and continuing to sob into his shoulder. They remained that way for more than ten minutes with Wes just holding onto Naseema as she released the emotion she'd been suppressing. The young acting ensign finally turned to look at Data, who'd been watching them in silence. “Data, how can you just stand there, and watch while your best friend falls apart in front of you?” he asked. It was obvious Wesley was surprised and a little disappointed with Data's inaction.
“It is alright, Wes,” Naseema interjected, wiping tears from her face with her fingertips. “I have given him good cause to keep his distance.” She winced as she touched the bruised side of her face, and glanced up at her android companion. Data looked over at the smashed glass on the floor as Naseema turned back to Wesley. “Please forgive me, Wes,” she said. “I will return momentarily.” She got up from the sofa, and retreated into the bedroom, using the wall to steady herself. Wesley watched her go, and then met Data's gaze again.
“Wesley, how did you know what action to take when you saw Naseema crying?” the android asked earnestly.
“Data, most people don't want to have someone stand there and watch them while they cry. A hug is usually a pretty safe response to someone who's upset.” Wesley replied with a sympathetic expression. “I could tell she wasn't okay when we left the cargo bay. The captain gave me permission to come by and check on her, and I'm glad I did.”
“But how did you know she was not okay?” Data continued.
“I don't know,” Wesley shrugged. “I guess I just did. I mean, we were just attacked, and look at what Lore did to her. I was afraid, and I don't have the kind of power Naseema does.”
“I am not sure I understand,” Data replied.
“Imagine how awful that must have been for her,” Wes explained. “You're the only one on the ship who's strong enough to overpower her, and she adores you. Lore has the same strength as you, and he pretended to be you so he could get into her room, then he beat her up, and then tried to kill her. Couldn't you tell how terrified she was?” The young man was proving wiser than his years, in more ways than one, and he searched the android's face for some kind of acknowledgment or understanding.
Wesley's words had a profound effect on him. He had been completely ignorant of Naseema's point of view, and if he were capable of being ashamed of himself, he would be. He had been fixated on what he perceived as anger directed at him for bringing Lore's body back from Omicron Theta. He had discounted that her anger was a symptom of a much deeper wound. Lore had possibly destroyed the trust he'd worked so hard to build with Naseema. She'd confided in him before that she had a deeply ingrained distrust of men. Of their anger, their jealousy, their possessiveness. She'd witnessed what men were capable of doing to those weaker than themselves. She'd told him of men who'd become violent with her...and how fortunate she was that she was far stronger than they were. He realized he was an idiot.
His expression became sheepish as he looked at Wesley's expectant face. “Thank you, Wesley,” he said, “I believe I understand now how I have failed to appropriately respond to Naseema's distress.” He looked over his shoulder at the bedroom doorway. “I hope I have not caused irreparable damage to our relationship.”
“I doubt it,” Wesley replied with a smile. “I think she'll forgive you if you give her a chance. Just stay with her, and be there for her. She's been through a pretty traumatic experience. I bet she'll need another hug before the end of the day.”
“Perhaps you are correct,” Data said but his tone was audibly flat. He wanted to believe Wesley but now he was unsure. His error in judgment had been egregious, and he did not know how easily Naseema would forgive his negligence.
She re-entered the room then, and approached Wesley. “Thank you,” she said quietly, and the two hugged again.
He observed how close in age Wesley and Naseema appeared, and even though he knew how old she actually was, it nevertheless struck him how despicable it was that any man would strike a woman who was half his size, and by all outward appearances, barely an adult. He understood now why her emotional outburst took the form of uncontrolled anger. He should be angry too.
“Thank you,” Wesley replied. “I know you were ready to face off with Lore to protect me. I was scared too.”
“You are a very smart, insightful young man, Wesley Crusher,” she said, smiling softly as she touched his cheek.
“I hope you feel better soon,” he told her. “The captain said to tell you to take as much time as you need, and for Data to stay with you as long as you want him to.” He tossed a knowing look in the android's direction before he gave Naseema's hand a squeeze and left to return to the bridge. Data nodded at him as he exited, and once Wesley was gone, the android and the Feeonix were left standing on either side of a chasm filled with awkward tension.
“Naseema, if you wish for me to go,” Data finally said after several seconds of silence. “I would understand.”
“I do not wish for you to go, Data,” she replied. “I do not want you to leave believing that I am still angry with you, and...” she paused to take a quick breath, “I do not want to be alone.”
“Naseema, please sit down, and allow me to get you a drink,” he said making an effort to ensure his voice was soothing and gentle. She nodded, and complied, sitting on the sofa while he went to the replicator, and replaced the drink she had dropped earlier. He handed it to her, and then sat next to her. She thanked him, and used both hands to steady the glass as she downed nearly the entire thing with one breath. She was still shaky, and Data took the glass from her to prevent her from dropping it again. She met his eyes, and he looked at her with concern. “Are you certain you do not wish to see the doctor?” he asked. “You have been beaten very badly, Naseema. You have sustained several bone fractures, and I am able to detect the changes in your body temperature, and blood pressure. I believe you are in shock, and I am concerned that you require medical attention.”
“I know,” she replied quietly. “I am aware that you are concerned, and I have given you good cause to worry, but I do not need to go to sick bay. There is nothing Dr. Crusher can do. I simply need quiet, and some time to heal on my own.”
“Perhaps you should lie down for awhile,” he suggested. “I promise I will remain here until you instruct me to leave.” He searched her face for any sign that he was helping but all he got was a weak nod from her.
“Maybe you are right,” she replied, “but I do not want you to stay out here. I want to see you. I am afraid I need that assurance right now. I will go and lie down if you agree to come with me.” She waited for him to waver but he was not about to let her down again, and he quickly nodded his agreement. He took her hand, and looped her arm around his, helping her to the next room. She crawled up on the bed, and laid her head down letting a broken sigh escape her. Data looked for somewhere appropriate to sit but Naseema wrapped her fingers around his. “Please lie down next to me,” she said.
He hesitated at first, unsure if complying with her request would be inappropriate but he'd already decided that he would do whatever she wished him to do, and if she needed physical closeness, he would provide it. He lay down beside her, and propped himself up with his elbow.
Not requiring any kind of sleep or rest he was almost never in a position to be laying down, and he knew he appeared somewhat awkward. He'd also never before found himself in the position to be offering emotional or physical comfort to another but he was her friend and he had to try. He may be incapable of feeling the emotions themselves but he was becoming more adept at reading the body language, facial expressions, and vocal inflections of others, especially Naseema. He knew the chance of failing to provide the correct response was present, however, Wesley had offered him valuable advice, and he was eager to prove himself. As her protector, he had indeed failed to prevent the incident that caused the earth underneath her to shift. Her reality had been altered, and it was too late to completely reverse the damage but as her companion, he was still in the position to heal her belief in herself, her faith in him, and to make her feel safe again. He was unsure if he would know exactly what he was supposed to do, and when he would be expected to do it but Naseema had always been willing to guide him before, and he was confident that she would do so now as well.
“Naseema--” he began but she stopped him before he could go any further.
“Data, please do not apologize,” she said. “I do not blame you for circumstances you could not have foreseen, and if I may be completely honest, I do not wish to hear it.” She looked down at the bed, and let out a low sigh.
He nodded. “I will never dismiss your concerns again,” he replied quietly.
“I know you are not him,” she continued, and she looked up to meet his gaze. “I do not see him when I look in your eyes, and I know I directed my anger towards you, but I am not angry with you. Not anymore.”
“I know you are not angry with me,” he replied, “you have never been in that position before, and I believe it is understandable that you would experience difficulty processing your emotional response.”
“That position?” she asked, frowning in confusion, and admittedly, a little irritation. She was not in the mood to listen to a long-winded theory about her psychological state. Frankly, if she were steady enough to hold a glass, she would be halfway to stoned drunk right now. “What position is it you are referring to?”
He searched her eyes, and the expression in his became mournful, and sympathetic. “You have never been powerless like that before,” he replied. She had no response for him. She could only look back at him with shock, her mouth open to give him a reply but there was no sound, no sharp retort, no logical counter argument. He had hit the nail square on its head.
“Data, you are the only man I have ever encountered who is capable of physically overpowering me,” she finally said, stunned by his perceptiveness. “I never in all my life...”
“You never thought you would bear the full effect of my strength,” he finished for her, and added, “That is a terrible insight to gain.”
She nodded as her eyes filled up with tears again. She couldn't keep it together enough to tell him how she'd never imagined she would be victimized by a vicious, angry man, just like so many of the women she'd tried to protect in her past. She felt arrogant, foolish, and stupid. She wasn't angry at him. She was angry at herself for believing it would never happen. She didn't need to explain it to him though. He already seemed to understand, and more significantly, he accepted.
He saw her composure crumbling, and this time he was determined not to come up short in his response. He sat up, and pulled off his Starfleet uniform jacket, leaving only the snug, long-sleeved black t-shirt he, and all the other officers, wore underneath. He put one arm around her, and pulled her into him, encircling her with his other arm once she was against him, being careful not to squeeze her too tightly. He was unsure of his actions but he didn't want to appear hesitant or insecure. He wanted her to feel safe again, and more than that, he wanted her to feel safe with him. Right now, there was nothing he wanted more than for her to believe that he would always protect her.
She rested her head on his chest, and listened to the rhythmic beat of his pulse. She knew in her heart that Data would never hurt her, just as she knew how deeply he regretted everything that had happened with Lore. He meant it when he said he would never dismiss her intuition again, and she believed him. He was really trying to help her cope with the emotional hurricane raging inside her, and even though he was incapable of truly sympathizing with how she felt or understanding the magnitude of the damage Lore had inflicted, the warmth of his body, and the honesty of his embrace was comforting. His goal had been to make her feel safe, and his efforts were not in vain.
Her tears fell but not the way they had the first time, and after a while, he could feel her heartbeat slow, and her temperature come back up to it's normal resting state. In fact, he became acutely aware that both her respiration, and her heart rate had synchronized with his own. How curious for her vital functions to unconsciously match his own based only on their physical proximity. He focused on the phenomenon momentarily, noticing how her heart would beat exactly point zero two seconds after his, and as he exhaled, so did she, causing their bodies to press together if only just slightly with each indrawn breath. He placed one hand on the top of her head, and gently ran his fingertips along her colourful feathers. He felt them rise up, and quiver in response to his touch. Another curious reaction. He'd never had cause to touch her hair or feathers before. He couldn't help but wonder if they responded accordingly to any touch, or if it was an acclamation unique to him. He logged the question away in his memory for a happier moment. Her breathing had finally become calm, and steady, making him wonder if she was asleep.
“Naseema?” he whispered.
“I am still here, Data,” she replied. “Please do not worry.”
“I am incapable of worrying,” he gently reminded her.
“Of course not,” she said.
“I do however, have concerns that you are more seriously injured than you appreciate,” he added. “I still believe you would benefit from a visit to Dr. Crusher.”
“If you no longer wish to remain, I will manage,” she told him. “I do not want to detain you if you have other matters to attend to.”
“If you would prefer to be alone, I will leave, but I do not wish to go,” he said. “Your well being is of great importance to me, and I am content to stay here with you.”
“Thank you,” she sighed, and after another few minutes of silence, she spoke again. “Data?”
“Yes, I am here.”
“Very soon I am going to enter a state of convalescence that is necessary for my injuries to heal,” she said.
“Is there anything you require me to do?” he asked.
“I will lose consciousness,” she told him. “Please do not be alarmed, and please do not take me to sick bay. As long as my temperature does not drop significantly, I am in no danger.”
“Understood,” he acknowledged. She took another long, slow breath, and relaxed against him again. He ran his fingers along her feathers once more, feeling them respond to him, and began to quietly hum. Naseema let a small sigh out as she closed her eyes, and let the gentle vibration in his chest created by his humming, calm her.
Data stayed where he was once she'd fallen asleep. It wasn't really sleep as he understood it, the way humans slept. It was more like a coma. The deep state of rest caused a change in her brainwaves. It allowed her to concentrate her enormous energy solely on mending the physical damage, which was far greater than she let on. She did indeed have several fractures but Lore's beating had also caused damage to her vital organs, and she was bleeding internally too. Like Data, she was incredibly strong, and was capable of tolerating extreme physical stress. Her bones were far denser than most humanoids, and her ability to heal herself at such an accelerated rate made her nearly indestructible but where Data was unable to feel physical pain or suffer psychological trauma, Naseema was as vulnerable as any of their human companions. He lay there with her in his arms for awhile until he was certain she would not awaken if he moved. When he finally did move, he slid his arm out from under her head, and eased her down to the pillow. He took the thin throw crumpled on the foot of the bed, and covered her with it. He was fairly certain she didn't need it but it seemed like the thing to do. Then he lay down again next to her, and pulled her close.
He watched her sleep for some time, noticing that her prismatic scales still glittered even through the heavy bruising and broken skin on her face, making it appear as though her wounds were jewel encrusted. He touched her feathers again, fascinated by how they reacted to him, arching up ever so slightly to graze the tips of his fingers. Drawn to his skin almost like static electricity. He would stay through the night, he decided. So he could properly monitor the changes in her body temperature. Her facial expression seemed peaceful now, and he noticed that the bruises on her neck were already fading from dark purple to the paler green colour associated with healing. He knew exactly how strong Lore was since his own strength was identical, and he found the image of his brother closing his hand around her throat was one he didn't care to recall. For a man incapable of emotion, thinking about her hurt and afraid was proving to be an unappealing experience. He much preferred to focus on the fact that she was here now, next to him, and safe. Her hands were against his chest, and he was in no hurry to move them. She'd made several attempts to coach him on forming intimacy with others without involving sexuality but he'd only attempted to practice what he'd learned on her. He was more familiar with her sensory inputs, and more confident in his predictions of her responses. Not to say that he never intended to attempt the techniques she'd taught him with others, he just preferred to hone his skills a little more before any extraneous attempts. Besides, he looked forward to spending time with her, and why not take advantage of all she could teach him. She was an excellent instructor, after all.
His communicator went off, and the captain's voice came through. “Mr. Data, this is the captain, please respond.”
The android tapped his comm badge, “Yes, captain. Data here,” he replied, his voice soft, and low.
“Mr. Data, why are you whispering?” Picard asked.
“The ambassador is...convalescing,” he again replied in a low voice.
“She is asleep, sir,” Data repeated.
“Ah,” Picard said, also lowering his voice. “Is she alright? Should I send Dr. Crusher down to see her?”
“I do not believe that is necessary at this juncture, sir,” Data said. “She has requested that I do not involve the medical staff unless her body temperature decreases significantly. I believe I am capable of effectively monitoring the situation unless you require me to report elsewhere, captain.”
“No, no, I think it's best if you stay where you are, Data,” Picard decided. “She may be rather upset if she awakens to find another officer in her quarters, and I do not want her left alone, just in case.”
“Yes, sir,” Data replied. “I will keep you informed of any changes to her condition.”
“Thank you, Mr. Data,” Picard told the android, “and have a good night.”
“Thank you, sir,” Data signed off. Naseema stirred next to him, and he decided he should try to remain quiet so he didn't disturb her rest. He was unsure of how her healing process would be affected if it were interrupted. He silently slid away from her, and off the bed. He went into the other room. He intended to feed her fish but he paused, and looked around. He'd been in her quarters many times before but he'd never really taken a good look around. He examined the collection of crystals, shells, and fossils she kept in a display case, and he looked through all the books she kept on the table in front of her sofa. A few were Klingon poetry, but most of them contained only pictures and photographs. He ran his hand down the smooth, polished wood of the long surfboard she kept leaning against one wall.
He found her a fascinating creature, it was a shame she didn't keep a journal or personal logs, at least not any that she cared to share with him. One thousand five hundred and seventeen years. He'd never encountered a being as old as Naseema, and she had seen and done things he could only read about. Admittedly, he was dying to know everything she could tell him about her life experiences. He always looked forward to their time together off duty. She was interesting, engaging...and fun. He was glad she had asked him to stay. He knew he would have looked for a way to do so even if she hadn't requested it. He wanted to repair the damage he knew had been done to their relationship.
He fed her fish, and watched them swim for awhile, and then for reasons he was unable to discern, he was compelled to return to her side. He reentered the dark room, and lay down again. Letting his concentration wander to other tasks, he listened to her breathing, and the slowed, rhythmic beating of her heart. Even though he wasn't actually able to lose track of time as his internal chronometers kept track of every millisecond of his life, he found when he was with her, time didn't seem to move quite the same. As he monitored her temperature, and watched her injuries heal before his eyes, he occupied himself with analysis of various collective works of literature, music, and art; a few work related projects, and several dozen tidbits of intellectual flotsam. It was several hours before Naseema awoke, but he hadn't moved again from his spot beside her. As her eyes fluttered open, and focused in on his face, she smiled.
“What time is it?” she asked him.
“It is 0700 hours,” he replied.
“Have you been here all night?” she continued.
“Yes,” he answered. “May I inquire as to how you are feeling this morning?”
“I am tired, but I believe the worst of my injuries have made significant improvement,” she told him but she couldn't quite let go of the fact that he'd not only stayed in her cabin all night but right beside her as well. “Did you really stay in that spot the entire night?”
“No,” he answered, a little confused by her disbelief that he had done what she'd asked. “I fed your fish.”
Her smile widened at his thoughtfulness. She was beginning to find herself very taken with Lt. Commander Data.
“Thank you, Data,” she said. “That was very considerate. I am sure the fish appreciate it as much as I do.”
“You are welcome, Naseema,” he replied. “I am glad that you are feeling better. I was very concerned about your well being last night, and I wished there was something more I could have done to alleviate your distress.”
“You do not need to worry, Data,” she said. “Everything is fine.”
“I do still believe it would be beneficial for you to visit sick bay, if only to ensure your injuries are healing correctly,” he added, and she raised an eyebrow at his suggestion.
“Data,” she started to argue. “I do not--”
“I really must insist,” he interjected. She let out a frustrated sigh, and refocused her eyes on him, narrowing them.
“You earned honors in exobiology at the academy, correct?” she asked, her tone leading.
“Yes,” he answered suspiciously. He had learned that when she used that tone, he was about to fall prey to a line of reasoning he would be unable to argue his way out of. She was a master negotiator, and she knew exactly how to turn him around on himself. Geordi had told him awhile ago, after Naseema had taught them a particularly silly game called Truth or Dare, that she had him 'wrapped around her little finger'. Of course he didn't know what Geordi meant, but he'd since come to understand that what Geordi was saying, was that she didn't need to manipulate him to get what she wanted as he was pretty willing to give it to her upon request. Still, she knew he appreciated a good debate, and it was becoming customary for her to engage him in a battle of wits as a roundabout way to convince him of a course of action. She seemed to gain a thrill from trouncing him at something he was designed to excel at.
“And you have taken all the requisite medical training for command officers?” she continued.
“Yes,” he confirmed. “Naseema, I do not see what this--”
“So you are technically qualified to assess the general physical health of most humanoid species?” she clipped, cutting him off quickly.
“Technically,” he replied, his own eyebrow creeping into an arch. He was absolutely about to lose this argument.
“Would it placate your need to take care of me if I allowed you to inspect my injuries?” she finally asked.
“Perhaps,” he said, tilting his head slightly. “If I am unsatisfied with the condition of your injuries, especially the internal injuries I know you are hiding, will you agree to go to sick bay?”
“And there is the counter punch,” she sighed.
“No, maybe is unacceptable,” he persisted. “You must agree to my terms or I will tell the captain that I believe it is imperative that you receive medical attention.”
“You wouldn't dare,” she replied, leaning away from him warily.
“Do you care to test that theory?” he countered.
“No, I do not,” she said, resigned to defeat. “Well played, commander.”
“Thank you,” he replied. “However, I believe you are the one who ultimately got what they wanted.”
“That remains to be seen,” she told him as she moved to lie on her back.
The android let out a low sigh. A blend of exasperation, and worry, like that of a parent and an uncooperative child. He took her hand, and raised it over her head, letting it rest on the pillow. He very carefully rolled up the hem of her shirt, stopping just beneath her breasts. He held his eyes on hers waiting for some indication that he was making her uncomfortable but she didn't give any. He pressed his fingers against her ribcage, feeling for the breaks he knew were there. He touched a tender spot, and she winced, pulling in a sharp breath. He could feel the damaged tissue, and the fissure in the bone but it was minor. He was far more concerned about the injuries to her organs. He placed his hand on her hip, and gently eased her over onto her side. The discoloration was still dark, and mottled. Something he knew indicated there was blood pooled beneath her skin. He again carefully pressed his fingers against the injury, and she reacted. Her body tensed, and she gasped.
He was appalled. Maybe he couldn't recognize or understand that he was, but he was. Lore had obviously kicked her while she lay on the floor, not once, but repeatedly. Hard enough to break bones, and rupture tissues. It appeared that his brother at least had not injured anything vital but he suspected that Naseema was very good at hiding her pain.
“Naseema, you must be examined by the medical staff,” he finally said. “You have internal lacerations that I cannot determine the extent of.”
“There is nothing they can do,” she replied. “Please do not insist.”
“I will carry you, if I have to,” he told her.
She knew he was serious, and she turned over to look at him. The thought of having him carry her to a busy medical bay, where she would have to submit to being examined, scanned, and touched by others was causing her to have unpleasant anxious feelings. She was certainly not about to engage in a wrestling match with him, and she did not want to believe he would actually physically force her against her will but the very idea of having him use any level of brute force against her was causing the unpleasant anxiety to escalate to panic. She fought it back but she wasn't able to stop the fresh flow of tears.
Data's eyes widened when she started to cry. He'd been caught off guard again, and now he was struggling to make sense of her behavior without having to ask her for clarification. “Naseema, I do not understand why you are so resistant to medical assistance. There is no shame in asking for help,” he said.
“I do not require help, Data,” she told him, attempting to wipe her tears away only to have them quickly replaced by new ones. “There is nothing any doctor can do. I am able to heal myself but I cannot do it instantaneously. The only reason for me to submit myself to the indignity of being examined, would be to make you, and the captain feel better.” Her tone grew angrier as she went on, and it became clear to the android how badly he was mishandling this situation.
He realized now that the physical injuries were minor compared to the psychological damage. She was traumatized by what had happened with Lore, and he had just issued a threat to use his own strength against her. It hadn't occurred to him that even though his intention was not malicious, and he certainly wouldn't have been violent with her, she was currently unable to make that distinction. He also realized that he was patronizing her by insisting that she let him take her to sick bay. After fifteen hundred and seventeen years, she would certainly be more familiar with her own body than he was after five months, three weeks, and two days. He didn't understand why she didn't want anyone but him to touch her as he looked identical to the man who'd caused the damage in the first place but he would respect her wishes now, and drop his argument.
“Please do not cry,” he said. “I apologize for attempting to extort cooperation from you. If going to sick bay is causing you such distress, than I retract my earlier statements, as well as my ultimatum.” His furrowed brow told her that he did indeed regret threatening her, and she took a slow, ragged breath in an attempt to calm herself down before nodding.
“Thank you,” she replied. He studied her face for a few seconds, before finally venturing forth with his question.
“Naseema, while I believe I understand most of your reasons for avoiding a visit to sick bay, I have noticed that you seem unwilling to allow anyone except me to touch you, and I do not understand why. Are you able to explain?” he asked.
She blinked several times, momentarily confused by his question. She looked away, embarrassed but he was unable to detect it, and held his gaze on her, tilting his head to indicate he wanted her to look at him.
“Because it is you, Data,” she said, her voice quiet but terse. “It is not that I do not wish to be touched at all by anyone else but if I am to be touched in an intimate fashion, you are correct, I would prefer that it be only your hands. Your hands are familiar. Is that a good enough explanation?”
He was taken aback. He had not expected her to use the word 'intimate', yet it was exactly the right word. He was not the only person on board that she was developing a close relationship with but her attachment to him was something more. They had become inseparable very quickly, as if they had known each other much longer than they actually had. He knew his immunity to her energy field was a major factor in their bond, and he knew she told him things she did not tell others, and it was only in his presence that she completely let her professional exterior fall away, and allowed her whole self to show. He suspected there was something else going on here, and not simply a preference for his reassuring familiarity. He wanted to prove to her that even though he wasn't capable of feeling fear or vulnerability himself, he could understand her desire for security, and protection, but he had to get her to open up to him first.
“Naseema,” he ventured. “Are you resisting a visit to sick bay because you are iatrophobic?”
“I do not know what that is, Data,” she frowned. “Can you please translate?”
He frowned as well. He was unsure if she was teasing him or if she was lashing out because she was in pain, and still shaken by the assault, but now he was determined to get her to tell him the truth.
“Iatrophobia is the irrational fear of doctors,” he elaborated. “Or less specifically, a fear of medical examinations.”
She opened her mouth to issue an automatic denial but changed her mind, and remained silent instead. For a man who required so much guidance interpreting, and understanding human behavior, it amazed her how he was able to read her like a book, and how effortlessly it came to him.
“Naseema?” he asked, his eyebrows now raised in anticipation of her answer but she only looked at him, not quite able to admit that he was right. “Please do not think I am judging you or that I believe you are being foolish. I do not wish to cause you any more distress. To do so would be deleterious to your healing process.”
“I do not know how you made such a determination, but I am foolish, and I am not proud of it,” she replied, her eyes cast downward.
“While phobias may be an unusual phenomena, the fear response they create is quite real,” he told her. “Naseema, you have nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.” He reached out, and rolled her shirt back down. “I am sorry I attempted to pressure you into something that causes you such anxiety.”
“Thank you,” she said, relaxing her protective posture, and finally making eye contact with him. She moved a little closer to him, and he interpreted her action as an indication that she desired physical contact. He put his arm around her, and she leaned her head against him. After a few moments of slow, steady breathing on her part, she spoke again. “Data?”
“Yes, Naseema,” he replied. “Whatever you require, I am here.”
“I cannot remember the last time I was so afraid,” she confessed. “When he came to my door, and pretended to be you, I knew he was lying but that did not matter. In fact, that only seemed to make it more fun for him. There was no where for me to run, and I did not stand a chance against him. His intention was to put me down, hard and fast, and that is exactly what he did. He enjoyed it, Data. With each blow he dealt, he never lost the smirk on his face, not even when he told me he was going to rape me.”
The android's facial expression changed as she revealed that last detail. “Naseema, did Lore sexually assault you?” he asked.
Now she could swear there was fear in his eyes. “No, he did not. I do not believe he had time but he knew it would make me afraid, so he made the threat, and he was right. It did make me afraid.”
“Naseema, if I had known what he would do once he was reassembled, I never would have--”
“I was also afraid for you,” she continued. “When you did not answer your comm badge, I was afraid Lore had killed you. I was afraid I would never see you again, and I was afraid he would get away with it because everybody except for Wesley believed he was you.”
“You were afraid for me?” he asked, confused now.
“Yes,” she said. “We may not have known each other very long, Data, but I care for you, and I would have been heartbroken if you had been severely damaged or destroyed. When Wesley beamed Lore out into space, and I saw his form disintegrate from the transporter pad, I do not believe I have ever felt more relieved in my entire life.” Then, even though he could see the pain it caused her, she put her arm around him, and pulled herself closer.
He didn't know what to say. He'd never had anyone express such a sentiment to him before. Sure, people had told him they liked him, that he had nice manners. He'd even had women tell him they found him attractive, but no one had ever told him they cared for him, and more importantly, he'd never been affected by anything anyone had ever said to him before. He wished he could feel something for her. That he could tell her he cared for her too, and that it would be the truth. He didn't realize that he was actually touched by her admission. He wanted to hold her tightly but he also didn't want to exacerbate her injuries, so instead he rested his head against the top of hers, and it seemed right. Something told him that it was what he was supposed to do. He'd never encountered a being that caused so many minor anomalies to occur in his positronic processes before. He knew he spent too much time analyzing his interactions with her, and he was beginning to allow himself to listen to what Naseema called his 'instinct'. He was used to following a course of action that seemed logical based on analysis, and statistical algorithms, but she had been attempting to train him to listen to the tiny voice inside his head that told him what to do without any analysis whatsoever. He wasn't sure the voice existed, but she insisted it did. Of course, he was totally unaware of the fact that she could hear the voice, and that was how she knew it was there, but she'd managed to convince him that it might simply take the form of an urge, or an unexplained compulsion that he wasn't used to experiencing. He was skeptical of her suggested approach at first but he was growing to accept that if an aberration in his processes was not causing any harm, he should not be too quick to address it as something to be corrected. He was experiencing such a deviation now. That little voice that told him to hold on to her, to comfort her, and continue to learn from her. That if he did, someday he might be able to feel something for her too.
“Naseema,” he said, so softly he was almost whispering. “Thank you for caring for me.”
“You are welcome, Data,” she replied.
“I wish that I could--”
“I know you do, and that is enough,” she finished for him. Then she let out a sigh, and hugged him a little tighter.