Disclaimer: Star Trek: The Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.


Diagnostics

"I have to know," she tells him, and in that moment, Datadoes know. He knows that Zoe is choosing/has chosen to take matters into her own hands, so to speak.

He does not stop her.

Ethics fault check…

No faults.

Her hands (oval-tipped, short fingernails, piney aroma of cello rosin ever lingering, left-hand fingers more calloused than the right because of their interactions with strings) rise toward his face, but land on his shoulders. She is not gripping him, just bracing herself there. A slight trembling runs through her. He believes this means she is nervous.

He does not stop her.

Ethics fault check…

Action completed less than one standard cycle ago… repeat? Y/N

Yes…

No faults.

He believes he should ask if she is certain of her course of action. He believes it would be appropriate to allow her to step back without achieving her goal. He opens his mouth to ask her, but the words do not come.

She is quick to take advantage of his brief hesitation.

Her lips (soft, warm, bearing traces of sticky-sweet lip gloss) touch his.

If she were to stop now, it would be little more than the chaste kisses - hers to his cheek, his to the top of her head – they have been trading since her return from San Francisco.

If she were to stop now, it would not happen.

It never happened.

The words come into his consciousness unbidden. But those words were spoken after a night of intoxicated sexual activity with a woman who, while a friend, had never before given any signals that she might wish more from him, and had never approached him in that way again…after.

This is…just a kiss, is it not?

Is it…not?

Technically, Data our relationship is intimate. It's just not…it's just not sexual.

Zoe's words. From Zoe's mouth.

Zoe who is kissing him right now.

Zoe who not only touches him casually, but whom he touches in response. Zoe who never complains that he is not 'human enough,' who never seems to find his attempts at support to be… lacking.

I have to know.

He must also know, he realizes, if a kiss shared with an intimate friend is different than one shared with a close colleague, or different than one shared in the context of a relationship in which he was floundering.

Kiss me… What were you thinking just then?

He remembers listing a number of things, including a calculation of the safest amount of pressure he could apply to Jenna's lips.

He remembers that Jenna was upset about not being the only thing he was thinking about.

As an android, he is always thinking more than one thought at a time. His brain is never still. His mind never rests. In the course of any given minute he can analyze and discard seventeen theories about twelve different concepts, and still play music in time with the group.

His lips part, his tongue meets Zoe's, deepening and returning her kiss.

Ethics fault check…

Action completed twice within one standard cycle… repeat? Y/N

Yes…

No faults.

His tongue meets hers again.

In that fraction of a fraction of a second, he knows – he knows – that this kiss isn't the same as the other kisses he has shared. He is not participating because he believes it to be a supportive act, or because it is accepted behavior within a relationship, but because there is – has been – a growing sense of connection between himself and this woman –

His thoughts halt.

- this young woman.

Ethics fault check…

Action completed three times within one standard cycle… repeat? Y/N

Yes…

No faults.

As his hand moves to her waist, neither to push her away, nor to pull her closer, but only to increase the connection – close the circuit, as it were – there is a pop-click that is felt more than heard.

The tongue stud that his brother had installed in her mouth has been released.

Zoe ends the kiss abruptly. She steps backward, her hands go to her mouth, and then she is pushing the stud – still warm from the heat of her mouth, still wet from her – their – saliva - into his hand. "Data, I'm sorry," she tells him, and he hears the roughness in her voice, sees the tears running down her face. "Oh, god, I'm so sorry."

She presses his fingers closed around the metal barbell, and he recalls her query from several months before, after she had seen him adjust the servo-mechanism in his arm to remove the approximation of tendonitis. When you do that, are you actually responding to me, she had asked, or are you anticipating what you think I'll do, and allowing me to move your fingers that way?

He had told her it was a little bit of both.

This kiss is also a bit of both: a solution to a problem and a satisfaction of curiosity – at least for him. Perhaps it is also a beginning – a slow beginning – of an evolution in their friendship.

He thrusts that thought aside, registering once more that Zoe is apologizing. Zoe is crying. Zoe is running from him.

"Zoe," he says, her name both a query and a plea for her to wait while he processes, because while he can analyze data (small-d) about music, propulsion efficiency, spatial engineering, probability mechanics, in fractions of seconds, interpersonal interactions take him significantly longer.

She cannot be frightened of him, can she?

Perhaps she merely did not hear.

Ethics fault check…

Action completed four times within one standard cycle… repeat? Y/N

Yes…

No faults.

He will give her one hour before going to find her - before bringing her home.

In the meantime, he will perform a self-diagnostic.

Full-system diagnostic, level one. Begin? Y/N

Yes…

No faults found.


Notes: Episode references: "The Naked Now," "The Ensigns of Command," "In Theory." Internal references: Crush, chapters 47 and 48, and Crush II: Ostinato chapters 6 and 7. (Revised, 10 November 2016)