Note: I had a hard time trying to decide how to end this story. I had two endings in mind but could not choose between them. My friend and editor, Takara, advised me that I did not need to choose between them. Why not just use them both. So I did. So here they are...hope you enjoy.... LS
It took months of work with the counselor and several successful missions before Data felt anywhere near recovered from losing his wife. There were poker nights, plays, recitals and holodeck adventures with Geordi to keep Data busy. Harper was right about the historians wanting some of his time and detailed reports from him. When the details about how in Harper's world, all of them were characters in an entertainment recorded and transmitted on magnetic medium, was revealed, many were very insulted. Data recalled Brent Spiner drinking down his second beer to cope with the flip side of this information and wondered if any of his crewmates had also needed help to accept this knowledge.
Once the historians released him, Data began thinking about Harper's stories. When Data's traveling kept him separated from her, she returned to her writing to keep her company. She finally finished her stories and put them on the Internet. She was shocked at how well most were received, but still had only let Data read two of them.
Sitting behind his computer console in his quarters, Data removed Spot from the display screen for the fifth time this evening. Feeling whimsical, Data linked into the StarFleet Database and punched in a search for Lessa Barrows. This was the maiden name of the first girl Harper had linked Data with. The search came up empty seconds later. He proceeded to go through some of the other names his late wife had used, but all came up the same. Finally he decided to try the name from the story Harper had never allowed him to read, Teagan Shayza.
Data stared at the search results blinking at him a few seconds later. Teagan Shayza was studying to be a biochemist having graduated from StarFleet Academy a year ago. Data pulled up her file to see the young redheaded woman's image. She was quite pretty.
While Data had not been allowed to read the story, and had honored his wife's restriction, he did know that he was not supposed to meet Miss Shayza until after the events in the movie 'Nemesis' played out. All he had to do now was keep his promise and survive that day. Data made a mental note to have a second talk with Geordi about the personal transporter unit. He also decided it was time to learn as much about the Romulans as possible.
Many years ago Harper had been lamenting that she was useless to Data and wished she were Lessa. His soon-to-be-wife at the time had believed all she could do was write Data happy. Data had never given that claim another thought since in his eyes; Harper was all he needed to be happy. Now, looking at the history file of Teagan Shayza, Data wondered if his late wife did indeed write him happy. He had over a decade to wait before he found out, but as he thought of the arms that had once held him, Data knew he needed that time. He was not ready to love someone else. But the lesson he had taken from Harper Talenger Soong was that he was loveable and one day, he would love again.
It was not easy for Data to function with his crew again after so much had happened to him, but after some healing time, Data felt back in the groove. He was still seeing the counselor at least twice a month, however, six months later.
"Data, if you don't mind, I'd like to have my new assistant meet with you next time. I think I have helped you as much as I can with your grieving and a fresh opinion could be helpful to you." Deanna crossed to him, handing him a cup of tea.
Data accepted the tea and took a sip. Over the years he'd developed a fondness for it. "She is due to join the Enterprise when we reach Starbase forty-eight, correct?"
Deanna grinned. After all, how often was Data not correct? "I'll be training her for a few weeks, but after that I'll just be reviewing her reports and assisting if she feels she needs it." Deanna knew that Data was aware of Lt. Talen Leigh's record and the counselor filled in many blanks. She told Data how Talen was a friend of the family. "Seeing her again is going to make me feel old. She was a kid the last time I saw her."
Data looked confused, but realized what she meant only a second later. "You are not old, Counselor. You are a beautiful woman with many vital years ahead of you. Regardless of this woman's age, you should not allow it to influence your self-image."
Deanna sat back and gaped at him. Slowly a smiled curved her lips. "You had changed, Data. You've gained a certain wisdom about you." She felt her cheeks grow warm. "Now you're counseling the counselor."
"I only spoke the truth. I do not understand the female propensity for self-degradation, but I have learned some ways to combat it." Coming to a stand, Data held out his hand to Deanna. When she took it, he led her to a wall mirror. She looked at her image and his as Data stood behind her. "That..." He pointed to her reflection. "is a beautiful, intelligent and gifted woman. She is greatly valued by her captain and crewmembers, including myself. Should she doubt this again, I will supply her with a long list of others who will concur with my assessment." With that, Data turned a stunned counselor to face him and kissed her on the forehead. He released her and left her office with his sure strides.
Deanna stared at the door for several minutes, still shocked. Data had changed so much, yet in some ways not at all. He was still sweet and thoughtful. He was still the most dependable and had more integrity than most people she knew, but he was no longer so lost in the ways he used to be. Data was centered. Love had found him and brought him peace. The loss of that love had shaken Data to his foundation, but Data was slowly rebuilding it. Glancing back at her reflection, Deanna saw the flush still in her cheeks.
"I believe in you too, Data and my list would be even longer than yours."
While the new counselor came board three weeks ago, Data had not felt the need of her services. His duties and friends kept Data very busy. He was so busy he had not even met the woman. It was not until a late evening when he visited the lounge for a change of scenery that he came in contact with her.
Data went to one of the large windows and watched the stars fly by. After decades without this sight, it was a novelty again.
"You're Commander Data, aren't you?" asked a voice from behind him. She stood far enough to his left that her reflection couldn't be seen in the window.
"Yes," Data replied, taking a final look at the stars.
"I'm beginning to think you're avoiding me, Commander. Should I be insulted?"
Data turned to face the woman calmly, but at the sight of her, he felt as though he'd been hit with the force of a phaser beam. The face that smiled up at him looked so much like Harper; this young woman could have been her twin.
Doing his best to recover and not fall backwards, Data shook his head at her. "I assure you, I have not been avoiding you. Are you the Counselor's assistant?" he asked. There had not been a picture attached to her file.
"Yes. Talen Leigh. Oh! I forgot about the mess up with my records. Somehow mine got linked with a picture of my Andorain classmate, Krip. They forwarded a new set. If you look now, my picture's there." Leigh explained.
Data did not want to look now. Just this one sighting of her was more than enough. Her hair was shorter than Data had ever seen Harper wear hers, but the resemblance everywhere else was eerie. The burning hunger for the touch he missed so much overwhelmed Data.
"I see. I will check it at my first opportunity. I must bid you goodnight, Lieutenant. I have the night watch." The night watch did not begin for two more hours, but Data did not mention that as he made good his escape.
The android made sure he was even busier than before following that evening. He was careful to avoid the assistant counselor at all costs. He maintained a high degree of success until the young woman caught on.
Talen spoke to Deanna, but her friend was unable to offer any reason for Data's avoidance. Not one to be thwarted, Lt. Leigh came up with a plan.
Data had retired for the evening and was contemplating his bed. He had not activates his dream program in three weeks. Each time he had before, he dreamt of Harper and woke up crying. He decided against dreams tonight and headed back out of his bedroom. He was walking towards his computer with the door chime signaled.
"Come," Data called, wondering what Geordi was doing up so late.
The door opened and Talen Leigh walked in. She looked slightly miffed, but no matter how she looked she still resembled Harper so closely it unnerved him.
"Since you have been avoiding me, Commander, I decided to come to you and find out why. If you don't want me to handle your counseling, I have no objections, but I'd like to know why first." The woman's voice was half way between angry and confused, dipping into both.
Feeling cornered and abandoned by his voice simulator, Data just stared at her for a painful moment. Reaching a decision, he took her by the shoulders and guided her towards his bedroom door.
"Hey? Wait a minute! I'm not interested in—" she stopped her objecting once Data maneuvered her into his private sanctuary.
Over his bed was a portrait. It was one that Data had painted years ago. It portrayed Harper Soong leaning over from behind her seated husband. With her arms wrapped around his neck she smiled, rubbing her cheek against his. There was the light of love in her blue eyes. It also shone brightly in Data's gold ones.
"Oh my! She...was she your wife?" Leigh asked. She moved in for a closer look.
"Yes. Harper Talenger. Harper Talenger Soong."
Leigh looked from the painting to its creator. "You've been avoiding me because I look like her." It was not a question.
"I was unprepared for this." Data could not help the grief that crept into his voice. "A passing resemblance, I could have tolerated... You...I thought you were Harper for a fraction of a second." His gaze lingered on the woman standing beside his bed.
"You still do, don't you?" she asked, running her fingers through her hair and tucking it behind her ears. Her hair only came down to her chin, so it did not stay there for long.
"Theoretically, it is possible that you are this timeline's representation to that person," Data replied. He watched as the lieutenant walked passed him and back into the main room.
"Come on, that was hundreds of years ago! Just because I look like her, you think I AM her?" she looked disappointed in him, but unnerved as well.
"You are correct, but it is still possible. I do not know enough about you to dismiss the possibility." Data followed her and when she sat down on his couch, he sat there as well, but on the opposite side.
"I can't believe that a person...forgive me, Commander, but an android, who is designed for logical reasoning would be even partially convinced with only one tiny fact to support this conclusion. I have to believe you have something else." She stared back at him challengingly.
"Her last name when I first met her was TALENger. Also her middle name was Leigh."
Talen paled slightly. "Mine is Marie."
"Her mother's name was Marie." Looking determined, she moved to face Data more directly. "Was she a counselor?"
"No," he admitted. She looked triumphant until he told her how Harper had helped him through many emotional traumas in their years together causing him to believe she could have been a wonderful counselor. "Have you ever been married?" he asked.
"No, but I was engaged. Robert was killed in a mining accident." She looked sad for a moment.
"Then you had no children, I assume."
The woman paled before answering slowly. "Well...a few weeks after Robert was killed, I found out I was pregnant, but I lost her too. I miscarried...it was how I found out I was pregnant."
"I am very sorry. I did not intend to upset you with these questions," Data told her gently.
"Have I convinced you?" she asked, trying to put aside the pain.
Data shook his head meaningfully. Leigh sighed and grimaced. "What are some of your likes and dislikes? Perhaps there will be a discrepancy there," he suggested.
"I like to help people, to see them happy. That's one of the reasons why your avoiding me upset me so much. You need counseling," she stressed.
Data smiled. "Agreed. Continue."
"I don't like parrises squares. Actually, I don't like most sports, but watching some is all right. I like plants, but I can't grow them. I love all kinds of music and I can play a little piano, but not much. I love to cook and I like things neat." She looked around Data's quarters. "We seem to have that in common, Commander," she noted.
"Yes, you have that in common with me...as well."
Leigh sighed. Frustrated she got up and headed towards his door. She could feel Data moving to follow. She turned to look at him. "I think under the circumstances, you should have Deanna see to your emotional healthcare."
"I concur," Data replied calmly.
She turned away, but did not move towards the door. Exhaling sharply, she turned back to face Data. "What was her favorite colour?"
"HA! That's not mine! Mine is gold!" she announced, triumphantly.
Data's eyebrows went up for a brief moment and then he just smiled at her.
Realizing the cause for his smile, Leigh flushed. She looked at her feet and sighed.
"I believe you and I need some time to digest what we have learned today," Data suggested.
Talen nodded, but did not look up. "I think so too."
"Will you have dinner with me next week, Talen?" Data asked gently.
Talen still did not look at him. "I...I... How about Thursday?"
"Agreed. I will come to your quarters at 1800 hours." Neither of them moved for several seconds.
Finally Talen looked at him and smiled, hesitantly. "See you then, Commander...Data."
"I look forward to it," Data told her. She blushed slightly as she finally tuned to go. Once alone, Data released a sigh. He did not know if this woman was really his late wife reborn in this time, but it really did not matter. The key was that he wanted to get to know her better and she seemed open to learning more about him.
Sitting on his couch, Spot came to join the android. He stroked his cat and sighed. Q's intent had been to teach Data that being human was not so pleasing a thing, but the omnipotent being was wrong. Data learned that being human was a great joy, but like any joy, it was a million times better if shared.