Shall We Dance?
"In the entire history of medicine no doctor has ever made it on time to a performance. Or something like that," Beverly Crusher muttered to herself as she worked her way to the front of the room, pausing to exchange greetings with the people she bumped into, to congratulate Data after his recital.
She finally reached the android when he was putting his violin and bow in a case. "I'm sorry I was late coming in," she apologized, "but what I did hear was wonderful. Congratulations, Data." Her duty done, she intended to melt into the crowd, check one more time on the patient who had caused her to be late in the first place, finish up her casefiles for the day and then march herself off to bed.
"Thank you, Doctor." Data snapped the case shut and straightened to look at her, and Crusher suddenly realized that she and Data were the last people left in the room.
She managed a cheerful smile and said lightly, hoping to still make good her escape, "Well, I hope you plan on doing another recital soon."
"I do not know." He turned to leave and Crusher, surprised at his answer, turned to walk with him.
"But your playing sounded flawless, Data. I was particularly impressed with your playing in the presto movement, how the music so affected you that you swayed and bounced with it, as if every part of you was interpreting it."
"It is true that I am very proficient at performing in the styles of several violinists," he admitted as they walked to the turbolift, "including mimicking their physical movements while playing. But that has ceased to be satisfactory." At the question in the doctor's blue eyes he went on, "I started playing the violin in order to try to understand Human creativity, but I am no closer to that understanding despite all my efforts. I am able to recreate, but not to create. I play the violin, but I cannot compose. I am merely a technician."
Crusher smiled at him reassuringly. "Of course you can compose, Data."
"I have written several musical pieces which I have shared with Commander Riker, a person whose knowledge regarding music I trust. He has been very honest in his assessment that the pieces were technically good but there seemed no underlying feeling or expression in them."
"But your paintings—"
"—are derivative. I can replicate a style, such as Van Gogh's angled perspectives or T'Rinn's use of gray. But when I paint without replicating a style, again others find the product…lacking." He hesitated only briefly before he admitted, "Because I feel no emotions, I have no emotional depth. I cannot express 'myself,' because there is no 'me' to express."
All thoughts of Sickbay forgotten, she turned her complete attention to him, incredulous. "You don't really believe that, Data." They entered the turbolift and Data called for his quarters.
He looked at her, his yellow eyes calm as he told her, "I cannot deny the deficiency of my attempts at artistic creation."
His expression touched a memory in Crusher—was it on her son Wesley's face she'd once seen such resignation to a "deficiency"?—and she found her heart going out to him. She recalled how he had come to her for advice concerning Lal, the daughter he had created, and said slowly, "I still remember a conversation we had about raising children and, one parent to another, I know love and concern when I see it. And you couldn't call Geordi your best friend if you didn't care for him. Those are emotions. You can draw on them, use them as a base for your composing or painting."
"Doctor Soong designed me not to feel emotions," he reminded her. "I may seem to manifest them, but it is in action only, not in fact."
Of all the things for an android to be stubborn about, Crusher thought, exasperated. She knew that Data was technically correct, but she had always refused to believe that he didn't have the potential for feeling. After all, as a scientist it was Crusher's business to make the minutest of observations and draw conclusions from them and she remembered vividly how Data had held himself as he'd watched his brother Lore being revived during their first year aboard the Enterprise. She had sensed he was anxious, even a little shy and had held his shoulder in reassurance. She had seen agitation and worry in his actions when he had been searching for an answer to Geordi LaForge's possible mutation into a creature from Tarchannen IV. And tonight there was certainly no mistaking what she had heard, the hesitation in Data's voice, the change from matter-of-fact recitation to a regret that bordered on sadness just before he'd turned to look at her.
The turbolift stopped and Crusher walked silently beside the android to his quarters. When they reached his door she placed a slim hand on his arm and admitted frankly, "I don't like leaving you like this, Data. I'd like to help you somehow if I can."
"Thank you for your concern. Perhaps you would like to come in?" he offered, and she nodded, walking in after him. Data placed the violin case on a shelf. "May I offer you something to drink?"
She shook her head and Data led the way to the sofa. Crusher sat down facing him, pulling one knee to her chest and resting her chin on her knee. The action swung her hair forward, where it briefly caught the light and shone autumn red before she pushed it back absently. "You think that your attempts at composing music and painting are unsuccessful because they lack an emotional component, correct?" she asked, thinking out loud.
"Correct," he said, sitting beside her with perfect posture, his hands clasped in his lap, not a strand of muted dark brown hair out of place.
She considered. "Maybe the problem is that you're approaching painting and composing too intellectually."
"I am not sure I understand what you mean."
"Well…are you familiar with the psychological phenomenon where, if you repeat something to yourself often enough, you come to believe it, even if it's not true?"
"Yes, I am familiar with that phenomenon."
"Sometimes," she said carefully, "when you're too intellectual about something, you rationalize away the emotions you feel. It's just like…realizing that a mutation no one understands is affecting your best friend and telling yourself you don't feel love so when you do feel it, you tell yourself you're experiencing something else, like an obligation to Starfleet to save a fine officer." She hurried on, forestalling the protest she could see him starting to make to how she interpreted events, "My point is that if you tried being creative in a medium you can't rationalize in, you might get in touch with those emotions you're telling yourself you don't have."
Data waited for her to finish her sentence, then pointed out patiently, "Doctor, as I have explained, I cannot feel any—"
"All right, all right!" she said, giving in. She sat up straight and amended, "What if you worked with an art form that didn't require a connection with emotions for artistic inspiration?"
"Is there such an art form?"
"Sure there is," she asserted, racking her brains. "The opposite of emotions…of the mental aspect, is…something that requires you to be in touch with your physical nature." Wrestling? Swimming? Ballet? After a moment's more thought she asked suddenly, "Data, are you tap dancing anymore?"
"No, I am not," he said, seeming surprised at the question. Data's first and only tap dancing experience had been the consequence of a misunderstanding; he had seen tap and jazz dance awards in the doctor's service record and decided that she was the logical person to teach him how to dance for the wedding of his friends, Miles and Keiko. Only after the android had tapped an intricate, strenuous dance routine with the doctor had he explained he'd wanted to learn how to dance a partnered, ballroom dance. Subsequent to that one lesson, Data had seen no reason to revisit any kind of dancing.
Crusher leaned forward, excited by her idea. "Tap is perfect, Data. Today the dance vocabulary is based on emotional expression, but in the beginning the dancing was in response to rhythm. And the way I started choreographing was to recreate a rhythm that caught my fancy."
At Data's puzzled expression Crusher got up and went to his workdesk. "Let me see if I can find an example for you," she said, sitting down at the console and keying in parameters. Data stood behind her, leaning over her shoulder to look at the screen. "Maybe—got it."
She found the time index she wanted and a man recorded in black and white danced in 2D on the computer screen.
"This is a scene from a 20th century movie," Crusher explained, "so you get the context of the dance. See how the dancer is in the engine room of a ship and the rhythm of the engines gives him the idea for putting together certain sounds? He listens…at first he imitates that rhythm…and then he uses that rhythm as a springboard for his own invention." Crusher, triumphant, turned to Data. "You see? You could do this, too."
"So I could use the tap vocabulary to create a dance in response to a rhythmic prompt," Data said thoughtfully.
She smiled up at him. "Dancing, especially tap, isn't only about emotional content or wrenching your soul. It's also just fun, Data."
"Thank you, Doctor."
"Don't 'Doctor' me," she teased, grinning fondly at him. "It's not a prescription, just a suggestion from one friend to another."
He gave her a slight smile. "Then thank you, Beverly, for listening to me and trying to help."
"My pleasure, Data." She got up to go.
"If I might ask a question—"
She turned around. "Yes?"
"How did you become interested in tap dancing?"
Crusher amiably thought back and suddenly realized it hadn't been on Wesley's face she'd seen that expression of resignation before. It had been on her own, reflected in the mirrored wall of a dance studio, a resigned insistence that she had no talent at all. How much had changed since then!
She finally said in a soft voice, "I was ten years old, too tall and too skinny, with hair that marked me from two miles away and an impossible number of freckles. Dancing was the one thing I was any good at and when I danced I could forget, an hour at a time, that people laughed at me for how I looked, for how I talked—" Her ending thought, When I danced I was happy, she left unspoken, not sure Data would understand. Instead she went to the replicator. "Computer. Jazz oxfords, black, 2 cm heels, leather soles, teletone taps on heels and toes, size specification for Lieutenant Commander Data." The shoes materialized and Crusher pressed them into the android's hands.
"Go have fun, Data," she told him. "Good night."
"Good night, Beverly."
She walked out and started towards her own quarters, then remembered and with a sigh went back to the turbolift and Sickbay.
Data placed the shoes next to his violin and walked back to his workdesk. He began to seat himself as he always did but suddenly recollected how Crusher had seated herself on the sofa and, deciding to experiment with his physical nature, he raised his foot to rest on the chair as he sat down, pulling one knee to his chest. He raised his eyebrows as he assessed the new configuration of his limbs and weight, then recalled why he had returned to his workdesk and checked the reference for the dance he had watched. "Shall We Dance, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers," he read aloud. He rested his chin on his knee and noted with interest the different line of sight this afforded him. "Computer, access all recorded performances by Fred Astaire."
"Next, Ensign Nectida. She's the reason I was late to Data's concert last night," Crusher said, scrolling through the patient casefiles on her palmpadd until she found the right one. She handed the padd to Counselor Deanna Troi, who sat across from her in the quiet of Ten Forward just after the morning and afternoon shifts changed. "I'd like to refer her to you."
Crusher took the opportunity of the Betazoid's reviewing the report to yawn discretely behind her hand but Troi, a quick reader, soon finished with the file and looked up at Crusher, expectant. The doctor snapped-to and swallowed the rest of her yawn with some raktajino.
"Although she suffered a collapse, you're not recommending dietary supplements for her," Troi noted.
Crusher shook her head. "This is her first deep space assignment, she's being exposed to all these new food choices and she's not used to balancing her diet so she gets enough of the trace minerals native to her home world, Capensis. Supplements would be easy enough, but she's not going to be on a starship forever."
Troi nodded, "I agree. It would be best for her to learn how to balance her diet naturally." She consulted the padd again and continued, "I see that Doctor Selar originally instructed the ensign in proper nutritional practice. Do you have a sense of why Selar wasn't successful? I've found she's usually very thorough in her attention to patients."
Despite herself, a wicked grin appeared on Crusher's face. "I think it's because…oh, what's the technical term for getting a crush on your attending physician, Deanna, 'transference'?"
Troi's eyes widened as Crusher went on,
"After I made sure Nectida was out of danger last night, Selar was left to talk to her about her diet again. And as our very Vulcan doctor explained to me when I returned to Sickbay after the concert," and here Crusher straightened and became as grave as Selar, "'It is unfortunate the ensign is showing every sign of being infatuated with me. It makes it very difficult to communicate with any degree of seriousness.'"
"Oh, my." Troi grinned as she started taking notes on her own palmpadd. "I do so love a challenge." After a few moments, during which Crusher risked a larger yawn, Troi said conversationally, "You know, Beverly, Capensians usually don't declare their sexual feelings when they're as young as Ensign Nectida. This is a very big step for her."
Crusher clamped down on her yawn and managed to ask calmly, "Really?"
"Yes." Troi's eyes remained fixed on her padd, her fingers entering information as she went on, "Capensians reach physical sexual maturity at about 20 Earth years, but between that age and about 30 Earth years they don't display sexual preference or confidence. They accept another's overtures, even if they aren't particularly inclined—it's almost as if their society programs them to be accommodating. After they're 30 Earth years old, Capensians know exactly what they want and are quite willing to act on it. Before that age, they oblige a person simply because they're asked and not because they particularly want that person, or feel the same way the other person does." Troi handed Crusher's padd back to her and smiled. "If I were Selar I'd be flattered."
"So would I, but I'm not sure in what light Selar's seeing all this." Crusher sighed. "Well, if I ever find myself involved with a young Capensian, I hope I'd have the good sense not to foist myself off on him, but would find out if he really wanted me."
"Me, too. Is that it for your referrals, Beverly?"
"Yes. How about you?"
"Just one more."
Crusher stifled a yawn and looked at her palmpadd. "Go ahead."
"Commander Beverly Crusher." The doctor looked up, her blue eyes startled. "Staying up past your bedtime?" the Betazoid asked innocently, and Crusher laughed, relaxing visibly as she realized she no longer needed to pretend utter efficiency.
"Well, yes." She stretched her arms above her head and allowed herself a wide, luxurious yawn before she explained, "After I looked in on Ensign Nectida, I had to work on the pediatrics log and finish up some patient files. The samples from Cristivom II didn't incubate as expected, but we got a really great lead from the epidemiology lab and I wanted to write up the battery of tests. I tried to get a jump on the medical part of the science survey proposal for the Ostali system but I've been having trouble figuring out how to—"
"I thought that was the 'Beverly's feeling sorry for herself' look on your face," Troi observed, deadpan, and then grinned slyly as the color rose in Crusher's cheeks.
"You know, Deanna, I think we've been working together too long."
The counselor's dark eyes were warm as she gave the doctor her full attention. "Is there anything I can help with?"
Crusher resettled herself in the chair, tucking one leg underneath her. "Last night I had a conversation with Data about artistic creativity. Painting or writing music or things like that. And I've been realizing that I haven't been terribly creative of late, either."
"But you run the acting workshop. You direct plays and act in them," Troi reminded her.
"Yes, but I don't write them. I take other peoples' words and interpret them. It's a different level of creativity."
"So you want to write?" she asked, wanting to make sure she understood Crusher's thinking.
"Not necessarily. See, I suggested to Data that he get in touch with his physical side, try dancing and choreography. And right after that I spent three and a half hours sitting in my office—"
"And you're giving out the good advice when you should be taking it yourself."
"Exactly. I'm telling him to get in touch with his physical side and, between sitting in front of a computer for hours on end and standing stock still to see what some virus on a slide is thinking of doing, I've ceased being in touch with my own! I'm telling someone else how to be creative and I'm—"
"The short answer, you know, is that you could start dancing, too," the Betazoid pointed out reasonably.
Crusher became very still. "That is the short answer, of course—"
"But…" Crusher looked at Troi, one of the few people on the ship around whom she felt she could be unreserved, and suddenly she wanted to confide everything. She took a deep breath and her blue eyes suddenly became intense. "Deanna, almost no one else aboard knows this." Her voice dropped. "I used to be a dancer. I won awards. I could have been a Master but I gave it all up."
"Why?" Troi asked, fascinated.
"I was in med school and—"
"You had to choose between art and medicine!" the counselor guessed, genuine sympathy in her voice. "How terrible for you, Beverly! It must have torn you apart!"
Troi's instant commiseration for the wrong reason made the doctor realize that the real reason, the one that had caused her to swear Data to secrecy when he'd found out about her dancing awards, was truly trivial. Crusher shook her head, an embarrassed smile on her face, and tried to explain, "Actually—"
The Betazoid pursued her train of thought, "I don't know what I would have chosen in your place. I can only guess, but to a dancer, dancing isn't a job or a hobby, it's a way of life, isn't it? Just like for me, a psychologist, being a Counselor is a way of life because it's what I enjoy doing and I couldn't imagine devoting this much time to anything else, it colors the way I approach a problem, how I interact with people, even the things I notice and why I think the way I do…"
The doctor's smile had faded. "Oh, Deanna, you're a marvel," she said softly.
"You've just put everything in perspective for me. But first I have to tell you what a fool I've been." Crusher confessed, "Back in med school they called me 'The Dancing Doctor.' I was so embarrassed by it, I basically stopped dancing altogether. For years, Deanna."
"How could you stand not dancing?" she asked, incredulous.
Crusher's smile was rueful as she remembered more advice she'd dispensed the night before but not taken. "Well, if you repeat something to yourself often enough you come to believe it. And I made myself believe, as my classmates did, that dancing wasn't a 'serious' use of my time and that I had to make an all-or-nothing decision between dancing and medicine. So although both were such a part of me, I chose one and gave up the other."
"And it did tear you apart," Troi said softly.
"I've always felt torn but didn't acknowledge it until you compared being a dancer with being a Counselor. We both meet once a week to go over casefiles, 'a medic's work is never done,' etc., etc., and I'm feeling sorry for myself and you're not. And I couldn't tell myself why before but I can now. There was no need to choose. I didn't have to deny my creativity." Crusher shook her head, her voice sad but edged with anger as she said, "I can't believe I've let something as silly as a nickname hold me back all this time."
Troi searched for something she could say to comfort Crusher, and finally offered, "Beverly, you're not in school anymore, you know. You're a commander and the Chief Medical Officer on the Federation's flagship, and you even served as Chief of Starfleet Medical for a year. You don't need to prove to anyone just how seriously you approach medicine anymore." She added, her expression still serious, "If anyone called you something you didn't like, you could put them on report. Or in traction."
Crusher couldn't help a grin at the thought, which was what Troi had intended.
"Why don't we walk to Sickbay together? I can look in on Ensign Nectida," the counselor suggested.
The doctor nodded. "I can get started on those tests from epidemiology while we're at it."
When they reached Sickbay, Crusher stopped in her office first to look for the palmpadd containing the write-up of the tests. She searched the top of her desk and, not finding the padd, began touching desk drawers open. "You'd think I never walked around with a palmpadd in one hand and a tricorder in—" She stopped suddenly.
"What is it?" Troi asked, leaning over the desk to take a look.
A pair of high-heeled tap shoes lay in the very bottom drawer. Crusher mused, "I wonder how in the…wait. The last time I wore these was before Keiko and Miles' wedding, I was teaching Data to dance but was called back to Sickbay. I must have just shoved the shoes in this drawer and not had to open it again until now."
Troi grinned at Crusher. "It's a sign."
"I thought psychologists didn't believe in signs, only Freudian slips." She closed the drawer and found the palmpadd she wanted in the pocket of her lab coat, which she'd thrown over the back of her chair the night before. She started to shrug into her coat when Troi came around the desk, took it from her grasp and put it back on the chair. The Betazoid opened the drawer and picked up the dance shoes.
"Come with me, young lady," the counselor said sternly, walking out of the office.
"But the tests are—" Crusher protested, hurrying to catch up.
"I'll give your notes to Doctor Selar later. Right now there's something more important you need to be doing."
Troi refused to tell Crusher where they were going until they reached one of the holodecks. Troi called up the programs and arched an eyebrow when she located holodeck program Crusher Four. "I knew somebody had to have programmed a dance studio."
"I created it only to give Data a dance lesson," Crusher said defensively.
"So why didn't you delete it when you were done?" Troi countered. When Crusher had no good response, Troi said with a triumphant grin, "Computer, run holodeck program Crusher Four." She handed the dance shoes to Crusher, pivoted neatly and disappeared into the turbolift.
"Betazoid bully," Crusher muttered loudly after her friend, hoping Troi had heard before the doors closed.
"Program complete. Enter when ready."
She slipped inside, and stood, transfixed, at the sight of the room where she'd first learned to dance.
When she'd created the dance studio program she had been so self-conscious and secretive she hadn't really been able to appreciate what she'd done. But now that she was a dancer again...
"I'm a dancer again," she said out loud, asserting her resolve as she drank in the sight of the studio.
How right everything was! It all took her back, from the morning light streaming in the tall French doors to the dust motes settling to the parquet floor, from the silly, dear potted palms to the trace of the smell of sweat from the students in the class before. For a few minutes she simply walked the perimeter of the room, touching the barre, the mirrored wall, the curtains billowing into the room with the breeze, the oldstyle 2D pictures of famous tap dancers, remembering and smiling. Her heart felt amazingly light.
She sat down on the bench against the wall and changed into her tap shoes, then walked to the barre, stretched and started a warm-up routine. As Crusher concentrated on making each step clean and sharp and watched herself and the studio behind her in the mirror, old, familiar sensations welled up inside her. Feeling nostalgic, she impulsively had the computer replicate the loose two-piece outfit made of soft, dark green fabric and the low-heeled men's oxfords she used to wear when practicing.
She changed, tied her hair back in a ponytail and looked at herself in the mirror. Dressed in the clothes she remembered wearing as a ten-year-old but sized for her now, she felt at that moment that she really belonged in the dance studio, that she was a dancer again. She finished her warm ups and then eased into another routine, the familiar steps building her confidence and getting her in the mood for something more challenging.
As Crusher mopped her face and neck with a towel and caught her breath, she remembered how she had enjoyed the sequence of music playing in the background during the last officers' poker game and called up the musical selections from the computer. She draped the towel over the barre again and started improvising to the first piece, listening to the first few measures to gauge the rhythm, trying out a few simple steps for fit and gradually dancing in syncopation with the music.
The doors to the holodeck opened and Crusher turned, startled, but also genuinely pleased when she saw who it was. She reached for her towel and greeted, "Data, hi!"
The android stood in the archway, dressed in his uniform, his tap shoes tucked under one arm. He looked slightly apologetic as he took in her non-regulation shirt and pants, her red hair coming loose from its ribbon, her heightened respiration and perspiration. "I saw that you had activated the dance studio program, and although I realize that I could simply have programmed another dance studio—" He gave a very Human self-deprecating shrug. "—I hoped I could impose on your good will."
When Crusher realized that he was waiting for her reaction before he continued, she nodded and smiled at him. "Go on."
"I intended to follow your advice to 'go have fun,' but then realized I do not have the slightest idea how to begin."
Relaxed and sure of herself, she grinned at him, happy to be asked to help. "Sure, Data. Let's have fun."
As Data sat down on the bench and changed into his tap shoes, Crusher retied her hair back into its ponytail, commenting, "From how you performed the last time we were here, I don't think you need to work on the basics. Let's just take a piece of music and see what you can do with it. Maybe there's something in the musical selections I've been dancing to."
Crusher called for the computer to play the beginning measures of each separate selection, discarding them one by one until she heard a relatively uncomplicated rhythm. Data stood up and walked over to Crusher, facing the mirror beside her. The doctor had the computer play the selection from the beginning.
"Okay, Data. What do you hear?"
"I hear a female voice, a bass, a piano, two different kinds of drum—"
"Good. Concentrate on the bass line. You hear that beat?"
Data cocked his head slightly. "Yes."
"What steps does it suggest to you?"
He looked at her, puzzled. "The first measure consists of one beat, one beat held, two fast beats and one beat held. Any number of tap steps could be used to—"
"Really?" Crusher looked at him, challenging him. "A heel drop is one beat, the same as a brush, sure. But does a heel drop—" She demonstrated, going up on the toes of one foot and then letting her heel drop to the floor with her weight on it. "—really sound the same as a brush?" She moved her free foot forward, brushing the toe of her shoe across the floor.
"No. There is a difference in the intensity and duration of the sound."
"Does a toe tap—" She raised her whole foot and tapped the toe of her shoe on the floor. "—really sound the same as a nerve tap?" She raised her foot very slightly from the floor and with a flicking motion tapped the toe of her shoe against the floor and returned her foot to its starting position.
"No. For varying emphasis on beats, one would choose different one-beat sounds." He gave her a small smile. "The subtleties are most intriguing, Beverly."
She grinned at him. "Now listen again. What does the bass line suggests to you?"
At first the android hesitated, always looking to Crusher for approval for whatever step he wanted to try. But Crusher steadfastly reminded him that he was supposed to be having fun, and that meant nothing was written in stone, that he should try whatever he felt like.
Crusher was careful not to influence Data with her own personal preferences. She offered only encouragement and information, knowing how susceptible to suggestion he was and wanting whatever came out of this session to be his alone. And the android slowly worked out not only steps but direction, mood and style that he felt approximated the rhythm for sixteen measures of music. Then Crusher called for the computer to start the music from the beginning and told the android to look up, into the mirror, and dance what he'd just invented.
She danced his steps with him, and then Data turned to her. "Have I choreographed a dance?" he asked her with all seriousness.
She stifled a grin and answered him in kind. "Yes, you have, Data." She put a hand on his shoulder. "You know what? I'd like you to try choreographing steps to the melody line, just to get more confidence in your artistic decisions."
"What are artistic decisions?"
"When you choose to use one step instead of another, like you did in that third measure when you—"
Data said, "Faced with two equally applicable movements, I ran a random numbers program in order to choose one over the other, which is my standard procedure when I am asked to state a preference. I do not believe that is what you mean by making an artistic decision."
Crusher said in what she hoped was an encouraging tone, "Well, sometimes, it's true, one person's 'artistic decision' is another person's 'eeny meeny miney mo.'" Before he could ask her to clarify, she asked, "Do you want to try more choreography?"
The android nodded and called, "Computer, begin music."
After Data choreographed sixteen measures of the melody line, they restarted the music and danced the whole dance Data had created, Crusher taking the bass line choreography and Data the melody.
Crusher, having the simpler and more repetitive of the two routines, began to embellish on it with a pivot here, an extra shuffle there, all within the basic pattern the android had created.
Data, noting what Crusher was doing, departed from his original choreography and also tried out different steps. He turned towards her and watched her feet and, knowing that the point wasn't to imitate, contrasted her steps by emphasizing a slightly different syncopation.
Crusher turned away from the mirror to face Data and worked with and around the steps he was inventing at that moment. Between them they started to create a complex dance of counterpoint rhythm.
At first Crusher felt hyper-aware, all her senses acutely alert, as she worked off Data. But then the shifts in his movement became too rapid and detailed for her mind to react to and she couldn't think, she could only feel. In contrast to her solo improvisation, when thought had immediately translated into movement, sheer instinct took over now and her body responded directly to his without conscious thought. She had never felt anything like it.
The song ended and segued into another. Data stepped closer to Crusher and, just as he had seen in the old movies he'd studied the night before, placed one hand below her left shoulder blade, held her other hand high, and whirled her away in a partnered ballroom dance.
Crusher laughed, delighted. She felt giddy as a little girl after the intensity of their improvisation, not caring that her hair had come completely loose from its ribbon or that she hadn't had a chance to towel off again, and rested her left arm on his right, placing her free hand on his shoulder and letting him lead.
She realized as they danced just how far the android had come since his very first dance lesson. Unlike the tap dancing, which he'd been able to copy by merely looking, when ballroom dancing he'd been unsure and hesitant when he not only couldn't watch her feet to imitate her movements but had to guide her movements as well as his. She'd had trouble just keeping him off her feet. But he knew how to lead now, the little cues to give her so she'd know when to turn, how fast or slow to move. And he didn't look at her feet or over her shoulder as he danced, but into her eyes.
Her grin faded as she suddenly realized she'd never really stared into Data's eyes before. She knew that they were uncanny yellow but found that they had flecks of darker gold, intensity and concentration—on her.
With the next beat of music Data abruptly pressed her close, breaking their eye contact and taking the doctor's breath away as her mind went from contemplating his eyes to the feel of his body against hers. Then she realized that he was leading her in a series of tight, rapid half-turns, their feet stepping precisely between each other's as they spun, and he'd pulled her towards the axis of their spin in order to make their turns more precise.
His hold loosened as they finished the measure of music and he started the next measure with a repeat of their original dance pattern. Although they were no longer pressing against each other, the android still seemed too close. Trying not to remember how she'd sensed through two layers of clothing—hers and his—his even body temperature and breathing and how it had made her feel hotter and more breathless by contrast, she determinedly focused on their dancing.
And couldn't recall a single time when she had done such quick half-turns with a brand-new partner without stepped-on toes. Yet she had done them with Data effortlessly, without even thinking, just as she was dancing now, her mind elsewhere but her body absolutely in tune with his. In the back of her mind she knew it had something to do with android reflexes, but all she could think was that she had never moved so well, and never danced with a partner more perfectly matched to her. The thought scared Crusher.
It also exhilarated her.
She consciously let herself relax in his arms, accepting the gift of the way they danced together, and the fear melted away, replaced by an incredible, complete enjoyment. She looked confidently at Data but gulped as she realized that his gaze, just as intent on her as before, made her feel like she was drowning. She squeezed her eyes shut just as the android, preparatory to the next part of the dance, pulled her close against him.
Data instantly recognized the moment they found themselves in as the opportunity the movies had over and over again provided for two dancers. He tilted his head and pressed his lips lightly against the doctor's.
Crusher's body responded before she had time to think, she was so startled. Her left hand tightened on Data's shoulder, drawing him closer. Her suddenly nerveless right hand slipped from his, struck his thigh and settled there. And her mouth eagerly leaned into his.
One hand went from his shoulder to the back of his neck, while her other kneaded his thigh. Data's left arm tightened around her and his free hand smoothed back the strands of hair clinging to her cheek before he cupped her jawline, holding her face steady as several pleasuring programs activated in response to the intensity of Crusher's actions.
For long oblivious moments the doctor clung to Data as he went to work on her, and her hand was just reaching to unseal his uniform at the neck when she suddenly broke off the kiss.
Data's yellow eyes were solicitous. "Beverly. Are you all right?"
She blinked hard, as if trying to wake up. "Data!" was all she could think to say, not sure why only moments before she'd wanted to make desperate love to the android and why she'd stopped. Then she realized that the music had ended. The abrupt silence must have broken her concentration on—
"In the movies I reviewed last night, a dance well performed was often an indication of the dancers' compatibility as well as a prelude to romantic intimacy," Data was telling her. "I was fulfilling that sequence of events by kissing you."
The android's matter-of-fact tone penetrated the haze in Crusher's mind. She nodded, acknowledging his statement, took a deep breath and tried to steady her sense of reality. If it had only been what he'd said, though, then what about their bodies practically sharing the same clothes, her tingling mouth, his hand on her face, her hand down by his—what about everything else?
Data heard her unasked question and admitted, "It began as only that. The rest was not planned."
She laughed a short, breathless laugh; it seemed the only sensible thing to do. And she removed her errant hand.
Then her eyes widened, suddenly seeing all too clearly. It began as only that. He hadn't meant for it to go any farther. He hadn't planned on her response at all. His response had only been because he was an android, infinitely susceptible to suggestion, programmed to please and oblige. And only that morning Troi had told her, They accept another's overtures, even if they aren't particularly inclined—it's almost as if their society programs them to be accommodating.
Data was a Capensian!
Crusher tried to lock down her libido. "I should go," she said in a choked voice.
Data let Crusher step out of his arms.
She started to beat a hasty retreat but remembered, just before she crossed the computer arch, that the clothes she wore were holodeck-generated. Crusher sighed impatiently and went back to the bench and her crumpled uniform, tugging her green practice shirt over her head as she walked. She sat down and threw the shirt on the floor, then bent to take off her shoes and reach for her blue sleeveless undertunic. She spread the tunic on her lap and straightened, pulling her hair away from her sweat-shiny neck and shoulders before she put the tunic on. Then she noticed that Data was staring at her with frank curiosity.
"What is it, Data?"
"I was attempting to visualize you at ten years old," he said.
She stared back at him, nonplussed. And then abruptly she thought of what the android's exacting scrutiny must be seeing at that moment and she put her arms down self-consciously. Talk about trying to influence a potential lover—she had struck the same exact pose for Jack once and he'd immediately been all over her. She wouldn't influence Data that way! Not that she was looking her best in any case, she thought ruefully, looking down at her breasts, which were sweat-streaked and blotchy red with exertion.
With deliberate motions and studiously avoiding Data's gaze she pulled her undertunic on, changed her practice pants for her uniform pants, pulled on her boots and finally grabbed her uniform jacket and stood up, her back to him. The android, his shoes tapping a precise heel-toe as he walked, came up behind her, took the jacket from her and held it open. She eased her arms into it and sealed the front and bottom, then turned to find him bent down, collecting her fallen outfit.
She touched his shoulder and told him, "That's okay. It'll disappear when you end the program."
Data straightened and nodded in understanding.
Crusher tried to do the noble thing. "Please stay—" and was hit with a sudden inspiration. "—and practice, Data. You might want to view other performances—" She turned to indicate the 2D photos on the wall. "—like Sandman Sims and 'soft shoe' or—" She looked back at Data and stopped. His yellow eyes, bright with sincerity and gratitude, sent a sudden stab of longing through her.
The android said, "I enjoyed dancing with you today, Beverly. Thank you."
She passed it off lightly, knowing she had to leave now or give in. "Thank me? I should be congratulating you. You not only choreographed a dance, you improvised one as well!"
"Neither would have been possible without your attitude of openness and encouragement," he told her quietly.
She found it hard to swallow and said in a small voice, "You're welcome, Data." Then she thought of something, and she prayed that the feeling behind the thought was strong enough to get her to her quarters without mishap. "I hope we'll dance again soon."
"As do I, Beverly."
Crusher stepped forward quickly and pressed her lips against his in a brief, chaste kiss, not sure whether she did it for herself, or him. Then she walked off the holodeck and headed straight for her quarters and a shower. No sonics today. Only a water shower, cold, would do.
Well, Beverly, you wanted to get in touch with your physical side and you did it in spades. Congratulations.
"Oh, shut up," she told herself as she got up, restless, the booktape unable to hold her attention, and began to pace. She heard again Troi's words, which refused to stop echoing in her head, They oblige a person simply because they're asked and not because they particularly want that person, or feel the same way the other person does.
The doctor deliberately recalled her many conversations with Troi and Chief Engineer LaForge about what constituted Data's mental health. She knew that if she asked Data if he wanted to make love he would construe it as a suggestion, if not an outright mandate, and acquiesce. It would be just as easy for Crusher to convince him to stop having sex when it suited her. But she would feel morally reprehensible for using him. As LaForge had once noted wryly, unless it specifically countered Starfleet regulations or his self-preservation programs, Data would do just about anything.
Data really was a Capensian.
And she wasn't a teenager, she thought as she brought her empty glass back to the replicator. She knew the difference between falling in love and hormones on overdrive. The only remedy she knew for coming down with a serious case of lust for someone she shouldn't be lusting after was an ice cold water shower, followed by making herself feel as unattractive as possible and avoiding the object of her lust until the feeling mercifully passed. She pulled her bulky orange bathrobe tighter and caught sight of herself in the shiny control panel above the replicating alcove. She decided she looked terrible and smiled.
She knew what happened when hormones and dancing mixed, since she'd done just that with her first ballet partner. Once the hormones had run their course, they'd been left with three things: a set pattern of dancing, then having sex; immaturity and undying embarrassment; and, when they found they were disinclined to have sex anymore, they had by default been disinclined to dance. Crusher didn't want to lose Data as a dancing partner. What had happened that afternoon was too special, too wonderful to forfeit to her libido.
She grinned as the memory of that afternoon came back to her. Dancing with Data had made her feel as if she had found another plane of creativity, beyond conscious thought and in a physical harmony that brought her body so in sync with his...
Which led her back to why she was holed up in her quarters.
"Deep breath." She filled her lungs slowly and released the air in the same slow manner, deliberately letting go of the memory of necking with the android. "Glass of wine, good music tape, go to sleep." She nodded at her reflection.
The door buzzed. "Come in," she called.
Data walked in, and Crusher froze. "I hope I am not disturbing you," he said politely.
Oh gods, yes!
"Not at all, Data," she said aloud, astonished at how normal she sounded when all her resolve was crumbling into particulate matter at the sight of him. Her manners on automatic, she offered, "Would you care to have a drink with me?" and then immediately wanted to kick herself. She was supposed to be avoiding the android!
"Thank you. I will have whatever you are having," he said. Although she hadn't wanted Data to linger over drinks, Crusher felt vindicated by his response, which proved conclusively how few preferences he had.
She turned to the replicator. Wine was totally inappropriate. Instead, she ordered, "Computer, two hot fruit ciders." The drinks materialized and Crusher, a mug in each hand, indicated that Data should lead the way to the sitting area.
The android sat down, leaning sideways into the sofa and resting his elbow on the sofa back in an awkward imitation of casualness. Crusher started to smile, stifled the reaction as inappropriate, and then reminded herself that before that afternoon she had found Data's attempts at Human behavior endearing. Indeed, she was genuinely fond of him, and there was no reason that should change now. Act normally, Beverly. Just don't touch him!
She felt like she had made some sort of momentous decision with that thought and breathed a little easier.
"You might be more comfortable sitting that way if you crossed one leg over the other," she offered. He did so, and seemed fascinated by the result. Crusher shook her head and smiled affectionately at him as she handed him a mug.
"Thank you, Beverly," he said, taking a sip.
She sat down but felt too self-conscious to curl up as she normally did. She managed to sit back, away from him, and cradled her own mug in her cold hands before she took a sip. "So," she said, "is there any particular reason you came by?"
"Yes. These did not disappear when I ended the program on the holodeck," Data said, and for the first time Crusher noticed that Data had set down her tap shoes on the table in front of the sofa. Crusher laughed genuinely, and it felt good.
At Data's puzzled expression Crusher asked him, "Are you familiar with the Earth story about Cinderella?"
"Accessing. A woman is brought up in mean circumstances while her sisters by a second marriage are given preferential treatment—"
"Locate the reference to shoes."
Data paused. "Ah! Cinderella must leave the prince's ball, but before all her magical finery disappears she leaves behind a shoe, through which the prince finds her once again."
"And today's holodeck technology makes possible what once was thought of as a 'magic spell.'"
Data took another sip of his drink, then pointed out, "However, I am not a prince."
His seriousness made her want to tease him. "What do you mean, you're not a prince?"
"Are you referring to a figure of speech? Accessing. A 'prince.' As in 'tops,' a 'swell guy,' a—"
"You're a prince, Data," she confirmed with a grin, and sipped her drink. When she looked up and saw Data regarding her thoughtfully, she discovered his gaze was still potent enough to affect her. She gripped her mug tighter with both hands and looked down again. She saw her red hair looking garish against the fuzzy folds of her orange bathrobe and, instead of the sight reminding her she was actively fighting her desire for Data, she only remembered that beneath her bathrobe she wore absolutely nothing. Say something, Data, she thought desperately, anything!
"I believe," Data declared, "that I have just experienced an intuitive leap, an instinctive knowing without reference to the rational process."
Her head jerked up. Thank you, Data. I think. She seized onto his statement and concentrated on talking to him. "An intuitive leap with respect to what?"
"With respect to you." She nodded, and he continued, "After you left me this afternoon I tried to understand my reactions to our dancing together. However, when I recalled your telling me not to rationalize what I experience, I determined not to analyze my thoughts, but rather wait for meaning to occur. I believe your mention of the story of Cinderella has helped me to interpret my reactions and thoughts."
She raised a finely etched eyebrow. "What conclusions have you come to?"
"I visualized you at ten years old, and tried to reconcile the child I imagined to the person I have seen every day performing her duties, and those two people with the person I danced with today. You may not have been abused as a child the way Cinderella was, but you did say that dance was an escape from the children who teased you because of your appearance and speech patterns. For Cinderella, the prince's ball was a transformative experience, enabling her to be beautiful and graceful when in her everyday life she appeared a drudge. In a sense, dancing was a transformative experience for you as well, so that even if the young Beverly Crusher were as outside the norm as you described her to me, that appearance would be negated by the event of her dancing."
She nodded, trying to follow him.
He went on, "I found myself wondering, at what point does 'too tall' become tall enough? When does 'skinny' become slender? When does red hair cease to be an oddity and become an attractive physical attribute—"
"Attractive?" she asked, suddenly feeling her face go hot.
"As in, when Fred Astaire danced with a woman, it seemed as if the dance itself made the woman 'attractive' to him. As in, you are widely considered an 'attractive' woman. But 'attractive' has been a difficult concept for me to understand because it is a subjective judgment. There is no single reference point that defines the term. But I now believe I know, after observing you as we danced and pondering your physical appearance for the better part of this afternoon, where my thoughts have been leading."
She continued to fix her blue eyes on him, wanting him to know she was listening although her feelings were utterly confused. She tried to divorce herself from what he said about her and looked for the meaning behind his words.
"Dancing is still transformative for you, which is why you appear differently when you dance as opposed to when you function as a chief medical officer," the android explained. "Just as the prince discovered that Cinderella was attractive when he danced with her, as Astaire found his partner attractive when he danced with her, I have discovered that when dancing with you, since your appearance is transformed, as is my response to you, this must mean that I find you attractive."
Crusher's cheeks flushed redder but she saw the import of his words clearly. "You've made a subjective judgment?" she asked. "Data, do you know what that means?"
The android's gaze became distant as he thought. "Intriguing. I began by trying to experience Human creativity, and have instead experienced a Human thought pattern."
She leaned forward and grinned at him. "You see? I knew you could do it!"
"I have made a subjective judgment," he said, wonder in his voice. "Beverly—"
Crusher put down her mug and touched his arm, excited for him, and immediately froze. As a friend, I would have touched him, she thought, but the gesture suddenly seemed unnatural, strange. Data looked down at her hand as he continued in a slightly different tone, "—you are attractive to me." He looked from her hand to her face.
Did he see her utter panic at her inability to move her hand? What sort of smile had she managed to paste on her face, and did it inspire any confidence? Why couldn't she read the android's expression?
Data said slowly, "I wondered this afternoon why, when I though of you, I also thought of someone with whom I had once been intimate. Previous to her, my sexual partners were only interested in how I as an android performed, and my own pleasure was not their concern. But this person shared mutual pleasure with me."
Crusher didn't dare breathe.
Data put his mug down and in the process leaned closer to her. "The prince and Cinderella fall in love and live happily ever after. But the story of Cinderella is not a strict metaphor for our circumstances." His voice became surprisingly gentle as he stated, "I cannot fall in love," and Crusher guessed he was remembering his brief romantic relationship with Ensign D'Sora.
The android continued, "But when you touched me, I realized that I feel physical desire for you. I have never initiated a sexual encounter before. I find, however, that I would like to initiate one now." He looked at her intently, made his meaning plainer. "I enjoyed kissing you and holding you this afternoon. I would like to make love with you."
The scientist part of her crowed that her young Capensian had achieved sexual confidence, but the scientist quickly submerged as, abandoning all pretense of being objective, she whispered, "That's one of the sweetest things anyone's ever said to me."
"I will take no offense if you say 'no,'" he assured her. "Or if you wish to think about it."
"I haven't been able to think of anything else ever since I left the holodeck! Data—" She touched the corner of his mouth lightly in memory. "—you're one hell of a kisser!"
"You are no slouch yourself," he stated solemnly, making her laugh.
If he actually wanted to make love as much as she did, that made everything—almost—all right. She just had to make one thing clear and said honestly, "It's been a long time since I've danced seriously, Data, but I think I discovered today that I wouldn't mind being called 'The Dancing Doctor' again. Things happened, ideas clicked." She looked deep into his glowing yellow eyes. "You're the best partner I've ever danced with. I want to keep dancing with you, Data. That's what's most important to me."
"And me as well," he said.
"Not that I'm adverse to making love with you," she assured him. "I just wouldn't want to make it a habit every time we danced together. I mean, on occasion—"
"—just not every time."
"Is that, then, an affirmative response to my query?"
She reached up to touch his hair, wondering if it was possible to muss it up. "Yes. That's a 'yes,' Data. I'd like to make love with you, too."
The android gave her a small but genuine smile. He moved his hand under her autumn-bright hair, feeling its weight and dampness before he brushed it back from her shoulder and lightly caressed the side of her neck with his finger. Her pulse leapt at his touch. She ran her fingers through his thick, dark, regulation-perfect hair and grinned when it stood up on end.
He traced the contours of her face with sensitive fingers. When she closed her eyes, the better to feel, he stroked her eyelids and lashes with a feather touch. He said softly, "It occurs to me that I have the bridge night watch in one hour, forty-two point seven minutes."
"I think we can get a lot done by then," she murmured. His cheek was slightly cool and incredibly smooth under her hand, and then against her lips. She tilted his head down slightly and her mouth traveled to his temple, his forehead, briefly visited his long, straight nose before his mouth found hers.
Several short but fervent kisses later, Data said into her ear, "I believe our erotic energy is a byproduct of our working together so closely for the first time." He nuzzled against her throat and his voice was muffled as he went on, "Our lovemaking will familiarize ourselves with each other's bodies and our need for lovemaking should lessen, freeing us to concentrate on our dance—" He felt Crusher's vocal cords jump in laughter and he moved away, a question in his expression.
Crusher paused to catch her breath before she said, "Data, this is one of those times when you shouldn't overanalyze."
"I should merely perceive the experience?"
"For now. We can talk later about anything you want to, including old musicals and fairy tales," she assured him, grinning. Data seemed about to ask her something further, then visibly thought better of it, nodded amiably, and leaned forward to kiss her.