Title: Touch Not, Burn Not
Category: TV Shows » Star Trek: The Next Generation
Author: Lessa Soong
Language: English, Rating: Rated: K+
Genre: Romance/Drama
Published: 01-27-05, Updated: 01-27-05
Chapters: 1, Words: 23,861

Chapter 1: Default Chapter

Touch Not, Burn Not


Lessa Soong

Star Trek is the property of Paramount Pictures. This story belongs to me, just the story. Please, do not use in whole or in part without permission. Thanks.

This one comes after a story I wrote, but never finished so it's never been published/distributed.

Just for the info... Data marries a female telepath (Lessa Barrows) from a then hidden and xenophobic race called Kalestrians. She is a cyberneticist who had wanted to work with him for years and once they meet it is magic...blah blah, mushy, corny...etc... Lots of kids ensue.

This begins three hundred years after TNG and of course with a few changes to the timeline. As Lessa is long lived, she only died a few years back, but Data has not yet really moved on...until someone decides he needs a good swift kick in the backside to get him going again. Please read and review, Thanks

Lieutenant Commander Data had advanced through the ranks of Commander, Captain and Admiral, to finally being promoted to the title of Commandant, placing him in charge of Starfleet Academy. For each of these promotions, Data's wife, Lessa Soong, had been by his side. Data only took the assignments where his wife was allowed to accompany him and rejected all those that would require her to stay behind. Even after the birth of their first children (whose conception, Q played a part in) and the discovery that Lessa was a native of the highly xenophobic Kalestrian people, Data remained with her. He followed her to Kalestra to assist his wife in trying to stop the civil war the birth of their twins had fueled. Kalestrians did not give birth; they genetically engineered and grew their children.

Years after their marriage, the couple discovered Lessa had been engineered as was normal for Kalestrians, then transferred to her mother's womb for gestation. The disclosure of Lessa's impregnation with Human DNA and the birth to two 'natural' children caused a movement to begin on Kalestra. It took a long time before acceptance of 'Born Kalestrians' was the norm and the death sentences stopped. The naturally born gave Lessa and Data a great deal of credit for making that possible.

The couple went on to have three more biological children before Lessa informed her husband that if he came to her again with that tube of genetic material, she would toss him and the tube out the closest air lock. After fifteen 'positronic' or built children, she told him it was time to stop and let one of their many offspring carry on the work. Because of her genetic enhancements, Lessa was expected to live over 300 years. While it was painful for Data to lose all of his friends from the Enterprise and then friends from each of his later assignments, it was always a relief that Lessa lived on.

While Data, of course, knew that one day his beloved wife would die, he half hoped he would not live long enough to see it. Each death did not make the next easier but Data did have warning of Lessa's. Kalestrians retained their youthful appearance until roughly a year before they were to die. When Lessa's lovely dark tresses turned gray, almost overnight, they both knew what it meant.

All twenty of their children and most of the grandchildren were there as Lessa Barrows Soong slipped from this life as her devoted husband held her. It took over an hour for his children to convince Data to let go of their mother's lifeless form. For the next year, at least one of Data's children was there to see to their father's needs.

Data convinced Lessa to cover him in her bio-synthetic skin long ago. This meant he now required food regularly, but he would 'forget' to eat unless told. He would not do much of anything unless told. He would not change clothes, bathe, eat, or even speak unless spoken to. After a year Alaeda, his oldest child, told him that they were all leaving and he would have to do for himself. They loved him, she said, but they all had their own lives and needed to return to them. Data had to come out of this funk on his own or not at all. After kissing her father on the forehead, she left.

Data cried for two days straight.

Grace Chambers arrived the next day and informed Commandant Soong that his personal leave from his post was now over and if he did not return to service, he would be replaced. With her gentle but firm nurturing, Data slowly returned to life. His duties filled his hours and for the next several years he did not stop for fear the crushing anguish and pain would return. Grace had never met Mrs. Soong, but she did learn much about Lessa in her coming years of serving as Data's housemistress. Grace saw to his health, his schedules, his meals and anything else he asked of her. She found that she was fond of her android master. His eyes never lost the sad shadow, but he was always kind and polite to her and made her feel valued in her service to him. After the twelfth anniversary of his wife's death a visiting captain asked Data to be her escort for an affair that would involve dancing, and Grace decided to talk him into accepting.

"I am sure your wife would have wanted you to move on, sir. You've mourned her longer than most, if not all. Please go," Grace pleaded, gently.

In the end, Data did go. After that one outing, it was like a floodgate opened. Women came out of the woodwork to ask him out. He declined many, but Grace would not let him decline them all. He found if he accepted at least two invitations a month, she was happy. So twice a month, Data went out on a date, but none of the women ever piqued his interest. After two years, he cut back to one outing a month and after five more years he cut back to every other month. Now, he was down to one outing every six months or none at all, which he liked better.

His duties were much more interesting than any date he could have. The students were enjoyable to teach in the few classes he taught and the tutoring he did some evenings was rewarding. At the end of each year, Data also acted as chaperone for the annual wilderness survival trip that came at the end of every cadet's curriculum. Data was to chaperon the second years this time around.

This year's trip was scheduled for the week after the twenty-year anniversary of Lessa's death. Determined not to let this event come in the way of the happier one, he focused on spending time outside and getting to know some of the students. He visited Lessa's grave on the day and then attempted to concentrate on the upcoming trip.

Teslyn Anala and her boyfriend had passed all their classes with little trouble. While she was looking forward to this field trip, Ly Kent was not. Ly was not an outdoors type, but his chosen field, security, required he get over that. Teslyn loved the outdoors and the only problem she foresaw was finding something to do on the nights Ly and her other friends slept and she would remain awake. Being a Born Kalestrian had its good and its bad sides. She was a strong telepath. She had well developed and mostly controlled pyrokinesis. She also did not require sleep but every third day. The bad side was her temper, and that she was often bored on two of those three nights.

After three months of dating Ly, Teslyn found disrupting Ly's sleep could be fun, but only to a point and then he got grumpy. He had already made it clear that during this trip, she would have to let him sleep, since he needed to pass this course. As a result, she expected to be alone and bored several nights of the week-long outing.

The first three days were to be spent in a jungle area to test heat endurance and knowledge of the flora and fauna indigenous to this region and the proper scanning and testing for those unfamiliar. The last four would be in the cold mountains. In each area, the cadets would be responsible for finding and checking the food and water for toxins and nutritional compatibility. They must also be aware of the needs of each race that made up their party. Only the essentials were provided to assist the cadets. They had tents now and would receive coats for the cold, but they would have little else beside some standard food rations. In each case they had only the allotted time to make it to the pick up point. For this year's survival trip they had three chaperones. Next year there would be one and the year after that, the full four-year cadets, would receive no help at all. Teslyn felt confident she could endure anything this trip could throw at her, if she could just get past the boredom.

Teslyn and Ly held hands for the hike through the muck, trees and vines chatting about stupid things they would rather be doing.

"We can arrange that for you both," Professor Munkin warned as he passed them. His nose was imperialistically in the air as he passed them, looking straight ahead. They laughed once he was out of earshot, but were much more careful in their wording from that point on.

Munkin was the first of the chaperones for this group of sixty cadets. He was in his late fifties, but still a bear and enjoyed reminding you of it. He was only medium height, with a rather large bald spot on the back of his head. His dark hair, eyes and skin made him stand out almost as much as his indomitable will. Second was Professor Jet, an Amazon of a woman. Sleek and tall with short cropped black hair and a sharp but enjoyable wit. She was as fierce as she was exotically beautiful. But she had a charm about her. Few cadets skipped her Federation history classes. Teslyn knew Jet was well liked and respected by everyone, but did not know her first hand. She had yet to take the classes. Lastly, was Commandant Soong, the dark haired, medium height and build android who oversaw...well, everything. He was also well liked and respected, but few knew him well.

It was said that after the death of his wife, twenty years ago, he'd became somewhat of a recluse. He did anything and everything his duty required, but he rarely socialized. There was always the hint of pain in his yellow eyes. Teslyn pushed a straying lock of her blazing red hair behind her ear to clear her vision so she could study his back. Yep, just a normal looking back and his thoughts were also very normal.

He was thinking about the terrain, the students, and how much he hated being hot. Teslyn grinned at this. She knew his wife had given him human-like skin over two hundred and seventy years ago, but it seemed he still remembered what it was like to be impervious to heat or cold. The bugs did not like his blood, but they did bite once in awhile and that too disturbed him. Damn these bugs! She heard him think clearly. Funny, she would never have expected him to swear. Grinning, she pulled her 'ear' away from the mysterious man and began to chat quietly with Ly again.

Dinner consisted of snake and rabbit meat, tubers, wild greens and water. Yum! The cadets erected their tents after the meal, as instructed. Ly and several of Teslyn's friends persuaded her to sing after the tents were up. None of the chaperones objected, so Teslyn stood and lifted her strong soprano voice, giving her rendition of a popular song going around today. One song led to another as others joined in. After just over an hour, Teslyn encouraged someone else to take the lead, and begged off. The singing went on for a while before shifting into story telling or playing games before people started retiring to their tents.

"Sure you want to be a doctor, babe? You could be a hell of a singer," Ly said only half teasing as he took her hand. They strolled together around the camps end.

"No, I figure if I get mad and set someone on fire I'd better be able to patch them up after," she teased back. But it did not escape her how uncomfortable her boyfriend's smile was in response.

Ly had so far not riled her to that point, so he didn't believe Teslyn could call flames to start when and where she wanted them. Ly did not even notice when Teslyn tired of him trying to start his own fire tonight and 'helped' him. He kissed her pleasantly a few minutes later at the entrance to his tent, giving her hands a squeeze.

"Enjoy your evening, Tez. I guess you could get the Commandant to keep you company. He doesn't sleep like most of us lowly humanoids either." At her boyfriend's words, Teslyn looked back to see if the Commandant remained by the fire.

"I think that's a good idea, Ly. Night," she said and gave him a parting peck on the cheek. He entered his tent as Teslyn made her way back to the fire where everyone had been congregating only moments before.

Teslyn peeked at the lonely looking man's thoughts as she approached. The evening had been filled with song, games and much laughter. She wondered why he still looked so forlorn. She saw images of a lovely dark haired young woman walking in the moonlight and holding his hand. Goodnight, Lessa.

Lessa? That was the name of his late wife, Teslyn knew this, having studied the woman's life. He was still pining for her after all this time? Teslyn could not decide if this was sweet or just pathetic. He was sitting quietly and staring into the fire as she came up beside him.

"Nice night to be in a swamp, huh, Commandant? Do the bug bites make you itch too?" Teslyn asked, not wanting to just sneak up on him. He did not startle, but he did look just slightly ill at ease. Maybe she should have just left him alone, but something about this just seemed wrong!

"It is not the same sensation you feel, but is it annoying nonetheless. Should you not be attempting to sleep, Cadet Anala?" he asked, watching as she sat on a log about a meter to his left.

"Won't need sleep until the third night," she stated. She was sure he would be familiar with the records of everyone on this trip.

"Kalestrian. A Born Kalestrian," he said nodding. She grinned. She was curious…had he wait until now to check her record, or had he hoped her sleep pattern would not be relevant until she told him different. Kalestra, her planet of origin, had a slower revolution. A single day there was equal to three on Earth. Most Kalestrians never converted to Earth sleep patterns. Few needed to.

"You're almost one of my relatives, you know," she said brightly. He looked her full in the face for the first time.

"Indeed?" His reaction was not enough to truly be considered one.

"Yes. One of my cousin married one of your sons, I think." She looked as though she were straining to recall names.

"Built or born?" the commandant asked.

"Built, if I remember right. Geordi is his name. He married my cousin Fles about a month ago."

The Commandant nodded at this. "Yes, I attended the wedding. Your cousin is a delightful young woman. Geordi looked very happy. However, that marriage does not make us relatives," he noted.

"No, but sort of. There are two even closer. Your grandson, Jimmis is seeing my older sister. I know that still doesn't make us related, but he would be my brother-in-law if they marry." Teslyn smiled at Data and he considered her.

"It seems you wish to be related to me," he commented, just a hair from amused.

She shrugged. "It would be nice. After all I do owe my very existence to you, in a way. The birth of your children allowed for my birth and millions of others-"

"And in the view of some, it led to a civil war on Kalestra," Data interrupted. His tone made it plain he still felt some responsibility for a war that took place two hundred and eighty-nine years ago but only lasted six days. The Kalestrians were too peaceful for the war to last any longer and only fifty people had died as a result. The whole reason for this group of people to have developed into a race was that they had hidden from long dead genocidal pursuers and formed a xenophobic society that abhorred violence. They erased the genetic tendencies for violence out of all their people while also giving them abilities that allowed them to protect themselves. The priority being fear of invasion by violent neighbors caused them to erect barriers to hide their planet. Teslyn knew Mr. Data and his wife had gone to Kalestra looking for Lessa's home world. They had no way of knowing that because Lessa was obvious pregnant with their twins, their very presence would cause a conflict. A large portion of the populous wanted to abandon the taboo of only procreating by scientific means. They wanted to just have them naturally! But the rest wanted to keep the status quo. War had been the results of the two sides being unable to come to a meeting of the minds. Data and Lessa done all they could to stop the war and end the conflict. Neither side blamed him nor his wife since others on the planet had already been secretly procreating. Their appearance was just the last straw. Teslyn told the android sitting next to her of this fact and he gave her a weak smile.

"My people abhor violence and conflict. We honor you and Mrs. Soong for reminding us of that fact. You have no reason to blame yourself for anything, sir," she said, standing and looking over to where there was a small lake. Data looked over at her when she stood and followed her gaze.

"I believe we have to blame some the increased insect population in this area to that body of water, though most is still due to the stagnant water to the west. Still, your tent should provide you with increased protection," he told her.

Teslyn turned back and looked at him. "They don't bother me. I think I must have some natural immunity or something in my blood they don't like. They don't bite me."

This confused him. "They used to bite Lessa. Why would they not bother you?" he wondered aloud.

"I'm not Lessa," Teslyn stated flatly and this gave him pause. "Why don't you just go to your tent? Surely it will also provide you with some relief from their bite," she suggested evenly. The commandant shook his head.

"I decided against bringing a tent."

Teslyn laughed out loud, but not loud enough to wake anyone. Moving back to sit near him again, she asked, "Do you want to borrow mine? I'm not going to use it tonight."

Data finally gave her a genuine smile, but shook his head again. "Thank you, Cadet, but I will survive. I also feel I should supervise you since you will not be sleeping this evening. Allow me to say I too enjoyed your singing this evening." Here his smile was indeed genuine and not forced.

This caused her to grin brightly. "Thanks, Ly teased me that I should pursue a music career instead of medical, but singing is just a hobby. I understand you have musical talent as well?" she questioned and he nodded.

"I am not certain you can call it talent, but I enjoy playing the violin, piano, guitar, oboe and singing as well. I prefer the violin," Data commented.

Teslyn shrugged. "Too bad you didn't bring it, could have been something to do. Let's take a walk." She stood and indicated he should follow. Not having any reason to refuse, and since she was his responsibility until the others awoke, Data rose to follow. He brought along a device that would reactivate the proximity alarm once they were far enough away.

As they walked beside the small lake, Teslyn took note of his sad eyes again. "Why haven't you married again, Commandant? Maybe that would take the mournful look from your eyes." She knew her words would sting some, but this man needed a good shake. Twenty years of mourning was ridiculous. No woman, even Lessa Barrows Soong, could be that good. He looked shocked and angry for a moment before clearing his features and mind.

"One does not marry for something to do, Cadet. One marries for love. You are too young to understand." His tone was as dismissive as the slicing motion he made with one hand.

Teslyn snorted. "Please, I've heard the stories and rumors just like everyone else! You've been mourning her for as long as I've been alive. You work and do all that's expected of you to perform your duties, but you rarely, if ever, are seen in social settings, parties or even having fun with friends. It's common knowledge. While I understand you're considered by many of the female population to be one of the planet's most eligible bachelors, you almost never date. I don't understand this, do you think my ancestress would have wanted you to torture yourself over her death for all this time?" Teslyn turned to face him and Data stopped walking, as he could not listen to these shockingly painful words and keep moving.

How could this child say this to him? What could she know of the great loss he had suffered? Lessa had been his life. Now he was alone and in quiet moments the pain was immeasurable. Twenty years or a century, it made no difference!

"You have no right to say that. You know nothing of me, my life or-" he was rambling now and near tears. She reached out and touched his arm.

"I know enough. I've studied her. She was a woman full of life, love and adventure. She stated you were her reason for living and she wouldn't have known love if it hadn't been for you. She'd be devastated to know her death caused you to plunge into darkness for decades. Did Lessa say she wanted you to stay alone for the rest of your life, sir?" Teslyn challenged, but not as harshly.

"No, she wanted me to...go on." What Lessa had told him was she hoped to come back in another life to find him again. He wanted this to be true. He had waited with this in mind. But how long was he to wait alone?

He had been so alone and lonely before meeting Lessa. Now he knew what it was to be in love and happy. The loneliness was a hundred times harder to bear. Data dated various women but he knew he was looking for Lessa in each of them.

"You're not going to find her again, so you need to resolve yourself to that and look for someone else, or forget about being happy ever again."

Data stared at Teslyn in disbelief. "I fail to understand why you would feel you can speak this way to me. I could write you up for insubordination, cadet. Why would you risk that?" He was getting angry now, but he could see her determination was also growing.

"I don't think you want what I said repeated, but as to why I'd say it, I'm training to be a healer, Commandant. I see someone who is in great need of healing when I look at you. Unfortunately, you're causing your own pain and you are the only one who can stop it. From what I read in you, people are afraid to tell you the truth about what you're doing to yourself. Sometimes it takes a stranger to show us the obvious." She crossed her arms, leaning back on her heels, every inch of her defiant.

This girl had the gall to sound angry with him and this made Data want to shake her. To insure that he did not, he kept his arms firmly at his sides.

"If this is what you consider a good bedside manner, Cadet Anala, perhaps you should consider following your boyfriend's advice and follow a different career path!" He almost spat the words at her, but she just snorted again.

"Changing the subject won't help change the facts, sir," Teslyn retorted.

"And what do you, in your twenty years of wisdom, see as being a help?" Data had not argued with a woman in many years, but the feel for it was quickly coming back to him. There was a certain jolt to his neural pathways that a good argument inevitably provided. He just wished this was not the subject for this rousing debate!

"You could stop saying goodnight to her, for one," she threw back. His jaw dropped.

"You were listening to my thoughts!" he said, his tone full of violated accusation.

"Yes, I'm a telepath. We do that on occasion," she said, ridiculously.

While most of the other telepathic races Data had encountered over his long life could not read him, all the telepathic Kalestrians he knew of, could read him and all the other Soong-type androids in existence today. Although Betazoids could sense their emotions.

"My Lessa would never have done that!"

"And as I said before, Commandant, I am not Lessa. I read she didn't like to use her gifts at times, but I have no such hesitation. I have a gift, and I use it. Oh, I have my own ethical code that I go by, but I don't feel bad about using my innate skill or gifts. I overheard you complain about the bugs biting you and I picked up an image of you and Lessa walking in the moonlight when you said goodnight to her earlier."

"You invaded my privacy!" he accused, furious.

"And you have defamed her memory by using her as an excuse to be miserable for twenty years! For a man who is hundreds of years older than me, you are shockingly blind and immature!" Teslyn was a good four inches shorter than Data was, so she stood on her toes and did her best to shout at him, nose to nose. "Fine, if you love your pain so much, be unhappy. What do I care!" She turned and walked evenly away from him and gave her attention back to the moon and its reflection on the water.

How could this man, who was one of the most celebrated beings alive today, be so stubbornly stupid? Lessa Soong was dead and all his pouting was not going to change that. For an android, supposed to be so brilliant; whose career in Starfleet was unparalleled, he was very foolish. Lessa was dead! Deal with it and move on! Teslyn hated to see people waste time on things they couldn't change. Her own mother had done the same after an explosion from a failed research project killed Teslyn's father, but that had nothing to do with Teslyn's reaction to the commandant!

It had taken Shinton Anala five years to even consider dating again, but once she had, it only took Teslyn's stepfather one year to woo and win her mother's heart. The sad part was that Philip Zan had been there, trying for over four years, but Shinton refused to even notice him, preferring to keep company with her anguish.

Teslyn loved her father and would always love him, but she felt it did not honor his memory by refusing to live. Teslyn Anala was proud to be Maurice Anala's daughter, but his death meant she missed him, not that she stopped living or even changed anything in her life. Nothing changed except she did not see him anymore.

Commandant Soong's reaction reminded Teslyn of her mother's reaction and it made her very angry. He too probably had someone who cared for him right under his nose, but was too blinded by pointless misery to ever notice her. What a waste of time!

Data felt frozen in place. Too stunned and shocked to move or speak. Part of him was shouting that this girl-woman was correct, but how could it be wrong to miss Lessa? No one understood. He had seen so many of his loved ones die. Jean-Luc and Beverly Picard, Will and Deanna Riker, Geordi and his wife, Leah Brahms, even Guinan, losing each one had been awful. Friends from the Enterprise then, and later when he had his own command. Later, friends he and Lessa made here on Earth, one by one lost the fight with death, but through it all, Lessa was there.

Lessa was there to take care of Data. She loved him and kept him going. Losing his mother, the captain and Geordi had been the hardest, but Lessa and his children had been there for him. They were a team for three hundred years! Lessa had once joked that between born and built they would have so many children; the Soongs would be considered a small race of their own. Now he had twenty children and each of them had built or bore children of their own and some of his grandchildren had children...it was a growing race. But one of the founders of that race was gone and his heart had died with her. How could Data be expected to just forget about Lessa?

"No one said you forget her! Just stop the damn mourning and try to remember the good stuff for a change and let yourself heal!" Teslyn apparently had not stopped listening and was not able to resist commenting on what she'd heard. "If you can't move on, you might as well go bury yourself next to her!" she called from her spot by the water.

Data hated yelling across distances so to continue this argument, he was forced to move closer to this infuriating young woman. Walking stiffly over, his irritation growing with each step, he almost growled at her when he reached a reasonable distance.

"I have had quite enough of your opinion on this matter, Cadet Anala. I would ask that you not invade my private life any further," brow furrowed with anger, he dared her to challenge him now.

Teslyn snorted yet again. "You would have to have a private life for someone to invade it! You haven't had one in two decades. I have much more of a private life than you do. You just have a past!" she sneered.

Data was beyond being able to deal with this any more. "Regardless of your feelings on the matter, it is my life and I do not care to have you insult me over it. If you cannot think of something else to speak of, then we shall just not speak at all. I forbid you to continue badgering me. That was an order!"

Data's tone spoke of control, but Teslyn knew he was close to breaking. Time to back off. Let him think about it and maybe when he talks about it with his friends or family next week, when he was back home, he will choose to heal.

Teslyn plopped down on the sand to take off her boots. Standing barefooted,she leisurely walked into the water. To the rhythm of the waves hitting the shore, she began to sing. Not able to leave her alone, lest she drown, Data stood in the sand well away from the waves. Her song was not one he had heard before. It was of a man's plea to a woman he knew well to see him as a suitor. Data could not know the reason he had never heard the song was because Teslyn had written it about her mother and her stepfather. The song's story ended with the couple happily together but the woman regretting ignoring him after the death of her husband.

Teslyn went so far out, the water almost reached her knees and this made the commandant nervous. "Come back, Anala. You are out too far," he called, move closer to the water. She turned to face him, but made no move to return to shore. The waves were higher now, splashing against her, she was rocked by their force.

"I'm a strong swimmer and surely you'd rescue me if I did get into trouble," she called back. He shook his head, but was not sure if she could see him.

"No, I cannot swim at all. I have no buoyancy and I just sink. Please return to shore at once," he commanded. He believed for a moment she would challenge his statement, but after only fifteen seconds of staring at him, she ambled back to shore. He waited. Once her feet were out of the water, she turned back and sat in the wet sand, allowing the waves to wash over her feet. Data hated deep water. He had a pool at home, but that was for his children. He could activate his personal flotation device if needed, but he felt sure if she had known about it, she would not have returned to shore at all.

He found a large rock and moved it, preferring to sit on it instead of the wet sand. Why did women like to sit on floors, grass, in dirt and sand so much? It was not dignified and he was certain his seat was now dirty from this rock. Sand was everywhere, even the rock. Grace would be put out with him for ruining his clothing.

"Who's Grace?" Teslyn asked, softly.

"Is there any way to block you?" Data asked, irked she was still being nosy.

"Nope, who is Grace?" she repeated.

"She is my housemistress. How long have you been dating Mr. Kent?" He did not really want to know, but he hoped to get Teslyn's mind off him for a while.

"Three months," she said with a laugh. She did not look at him and from his perch on the rock, he could not see her expression, but he felt certain she knew what he was attempting. He just hoped she would comply. "I tutored him in Starfleet medical history and we hit it off. He doesn't like the outdoors though, so we clash there. But he's sweet and fun and doesn't make me want to set him on fire." She turned to face the commandant for the last remark, grinning at him.

"Yet you did start the fire he was told to light and did not tell him," Data said simply. Teslyn looked startled for a moment.

"You saw?"

"I have superior visual acuity. Does he know of your abilities?"

Teslyn looked back at the water and nodded. "Sure, but I don't think he believes I have pyrokinesis. I think it's the fact that, if nothing untoward happens to me, I'll outlive him by at least two hundred years that upsets him, so I don't rub his nose in it. You men get so insecure if your women can do something better than you," she teased.

"I married a woman capable of pinning me to the ground or throwing me across the room with a thought. I was not intimidated," Data defended.

"Yet she was also a telepath and you're totally unnerved by my sensing your thoughts. Surely she could do that too?"

Data made his distinctive little sniff of surprise. "As you are so fond of reminding me, Cadet Anala, you are not my wife. I shared a bond with her that I will never share in again. I have no wish to have-"

"Your mourning interrupted," she finished for him.

"I was not going to say that."

"I know," she said standing and walking back towards the camp. Data followed, turning off the proximity detector and reinitializing it once they were back within the perimeter. He joined her at the waning campfire.

She picked up right where she had left off. "You do seem rather protective of your relationship with your suffering, Commandant. Why did you come on this trip if all you were going to do was sit sadly in the dark?" She sat back where he had been sitting before, so he decided to sit on the other side of the fire from her.

"I had hoped to get better acquainted with this year's class, as I enjoy working with the youth and I enjoy the outside, despite the insect life. I did not wish to fixate on my wife-"

"Your late wife, sir. You are no longer married to her."

"I am aware of that," Data snapped.

He was getting upset again. She needed to let it go, but was having trouble doing so. "You said goodnight to her. I heard you! Do you say it every night?" Teslyn looked confused and alarmed at his behavior.

"No, one week ago today was the anniversary of Lessa's death. She has been on my mind of late." Data stared into the fire and could see the woman he so often thought of as fiery. Her long hair down to her knees and pulled back by the barrette he had made for her. Her eyes lifted to look into his. His heart filled with anguish, he missed those eyes.

"Stop it. Stop it!" Teslyn said firmly, wanting to yell, but she would wake others if she did. She held her head and tried to block out the images he was forcing on her. "How can you still feel this way after this long? Have you even tried to find someone else? If you're this lonely, you need to look for someone. You just said your son married again so my cousin is not his first wife. What happened to his first wife?"

"She was human and died of a fatal fall on a mission. Your cousin is his fourth wife." Data told her. Geordi was as adaptable as his namesake and had dealt well with the passing of wife one and two and the divorce from wife three. His son had never disclosed the reason for the divorce, but had assured his father that he had a good one.

"I'm sorry, I didn't know. How did he deal with the sudden loss?" Teslyn asked, her tone momentarily more respectful.

Data was expecting a biting tone, but it was just a question. "He was stunned, but she died doing what she loved and he healed. He was only married to her for ten year." Data knew this was an attempt at qualifying his lengthy period of mourning, and Anala would see through it, but he did feel it was different for him.

"Yes, I agree. Three hundred years of happiness is a far cry from ten. I'm not heartless, Commandant. I have a reason for pushing you on this. When I was ten years old my father died in an accident. I watched my mother spiral downward in her depression for years before she allowed a man who cared for her to be heard. He's now my stepfather and he is a wonderful man. He loves my mother with all his heart, is a good husband and helped her to raise her children and even gave her one more. The point of this, Commandant is he waited four years for her to even notice him! Four years of wasted time for both of them."

Data thought back to when he was waiting for Lessa to realize he had feelings for her. He had only waited days and it had seemed like forever. Would he have been able to wait for years as her stepfather had?

"Isn't it possible you also have someone who is waiting, right under your nose for you to notice her?" Now her tone was almost pleading.

"I do not date often and I am sure I was clear I am not looking for a long-term relationship." He recalled the dates Grace had forced him to go on. No, the women may have been interested, but none had been right for him. He made sure he did not give the wrong idea to any of them.

Teslyn gave him an astounded look. "And why would you tell them that? What I can sense of you doesn't speak of a one-nighter type guy."

Now he looked shocked. "No, I am not!" he proclaimed, vehemently

"Then why not try to pursue something?" she asked with an odd laugh.

"I did not...feel anything for them."


"Friendship with some."

"And not even that with most?" she laughed again. "Maybe you're looking in the wrong place," she surmised.

He sighed. "I am not looking at all."

Teslyn covered her face with her hands and sighed heavily before looking back at him. "You think maybe that is the biggest part of the problem? And please don't even try to convince me you don't ever want to marry again. I can sense too much from you not to know that if she walked by right now you would be looking for someone to perform the ceremony in seconds. How long did it take you before you knew you wanted to marry Lessa?" Data looked away, chagrined. Teslyn laughed. "I knew it, how long?"

"Three days," Data admitted and tried to resist the smile that was tickling the corners of his mouth. Teslyn laughed loudly and covered her mouth when she remembered all were sleeping around her.

"Why are you wasting your time with sadness when if you just looked, you would find her and be happy again?" she asked with a compassionate smile.

"It is hardly that easy. And I did not find Lessa. She found me," he informed her, relaxing a little.

Teslyn shrugged. "But isn't it worth a little effort? If your next wife was human you could have a hundred years or so with her and smile once in awhile. You can do that can't you? Smile?" She stood now and walked closer to him. He sighed again.

"Yes, Cadet Anala. I can smile," he assured her with a slow sigh. She leaned over to study his features.

"I don't believe you. I want to see it." She was grinning at him brightly. He rose and came to his full height and slowly smiled at her. She grinned wider.

"Ah, the sides of your mouth do go up that way. I thought maybe you'd cut those connections or whatever..." she teased.

"I did smile earlier." Data sighed and retook his seat.

"It was dark, I didn't see it. I must have blinked and missed it. I thought it was a strange animal and ignored it..." He looked insulted. "Okay, maybe the last one went too far." She sat back down on the ground and leaned against the log Data was now sitting on. His weight kept it from moving. "Why did we have to start a fire anyway? It's not cold." She asked absently as she stared into the flames.

"Practice for the second half of the trip," Data reminded her.

"Oh, yeah, the trip to the mountains. I don't want to swim in those waters," she muttered, shivering at the very thought. He studied the side of her face. The fire reflecting in her golden eyes had an intriguing effect. As he watched she lifted a finger and the flames rose higher. "Maybe you should let me start the fires if we can't find dry kindling." She had the flames dancing at her command.

"You will not be on missions with all the other cadets, Anala. They must learn and you should too. Something could interfere with your gifts at the worst possible moment," he warned her.

She waved a finger at the flames again and they rose to twice their normal height. "Interfere with me? I'd be barbecuing them before they came close enough to see what colour my hair is." She turned her head just enough to see the expression on his face. It was one of disapproval.

"It could happen even to you, young lady." He stood up and walked away for a moment, but returned holding two pieces of flint. He handed these to her, instructing her to gather more kindling. He bent to gather handfuls of dirt to extinguish the fire. When she returned, he gave his order, "Restart the fire, Teslyn." She looked up at him and shook her head irritation, not refusal. "And I remind you that I will be able to see it if you use your pyrokinesis."

"Are you this stuffy with the women you date? I can see why you haven't had a date in over six months," she grumbled as she began to comply with his order.

"I have not had a date in that time because I have been avoiding it and Grace has not mentioned it. Try striking the flint together like this," he said, demonstrating.

She did so, but looked up at him. "How long has Grace worked for you?"

"Nineteen years." He sat back down behind her but to her left so he could see her progress. She tilted her head to the side.

"What does she look like?" he could not imagine why this mattered.

"She is-"

"No, picture her in your mind. It's much faster."

"I did not want to invite you to read my thoughts."

"Like that will make a difference," Teslyn said with a short laugh. "She looks motherly," Teslyn commented after a moment. Data did not want to picture Grace, but his fondness for the kindly woman compelled him to mentally summon her image. Grace was one of the few comforting resources in his life, and much of this conversation left Data in need of comforting.

Teslyn worked for eleven minutes before she managed to get a spark. Data helped her bring it to a flame with some of the surrounding grasses. After she smiled with accomplishment at him, he threw more dirt on the small fire and told her to do it again. She grumbled, but his authority forced her to comply. This kept her too busy to harass him much for the next hour and a half and he found it quite an accomplishment to keep her quiet. Once she could start the fire in fewer than five minutes, he agreed she could stop. She stood and dusted her hands off. Without a word, she began walking towards the water again.

"Where are you going?" he called, alerted.

"To wash off. Mean old Commandant just made me start fires a hundred times and my fingers hurt."

Data did not want to follow, but had to let her out of the detector field. He waited just out of range, telling Anala to return once she had washed off. After waiting seven minutes for her return, he went to check on her. It took a moment to find her once he arrived at the shore, as her head was all that was above the water.

There was no way she would hear him if he called to her and a good chance his call would awaken others. He decided to think irritated thoughts at her and hope she was again 'listening'. Within seconds her head stopped bobbing in the water and he was sure she was looking at him. Slowly she swam back to shore.

"I did not agree to your swimming and I told you not to earlier. If this is the attitude you are going to bring to Starfleet, I may recommend you do indeed make another career choice."

"You do have your britches in a twist, don't you...sir?" she replied, walking past him back towards the fire. She sat before it, allowing her clothes to dry and looking at the stars. For now, she ignored him. Relieved, he let her.

As he settled in for some star watching of his own, he had to make sure whatever filled his thoughts did not involve Lessa. He wondered if this girl could hear the lower levels of his mind, or if she would try. He and Lessa had had an agreement that she would never go deeper than three levels into his consciousness as the time she had probed deeper, Data suffered cognitive failures.

He decided to test this after an hour of her stargazing. Teslyn got to her feet and said one word. "Walking." As she was the telepath and he was not, he could not keep track of her unless he followed, so he did.

He started with his deepest levels of consciousness. He thought about Lessa's hair...and waited...leveling up, he thought of Lessa's eyes...nothing. This went on for sixteen minutes before Teslyn turned around, tilted her head to the side with hands on her hips and studied him.

"You want to know how much I can hear," she asked, not really asking. Data did not want to answer this question. "Go back two," How could she know what he was doing? She already could sense the difference in levels?

Hair, eyes, temper, smile.

"You are so obsessed. Braid, no braid...crystal eyes, hot tempered...how did I do?" Teslyn asked tilting her head the other way and swinging her hips to the left.

She had done better than Data was comfortable acknowledging. Lessa had never admitted to more than three...Teslyn had heard down five.

This could be troublesome. The mosquitoes were not nearly as vexing as this girl!

"I would ask you to not listen to the last two. I have a right to privacy, as do you. As a commandant, I also must keep classified information confidential. Will you grant me this?" He tried not to look like he was asking, but rather ordering.

"I can do enough damage with three, and I do understand about classified information...I agree." Teslyn bounced once on her toes, turned back around and was walking again. Her pace was steady and relaxed. Data felt anything but.

He could not believe the time he had hoped would be enjoyable, relaxing and distracting was instead only going to be distracting. Ironically, Teslyn's harping on his obsession with Lessa had caused him to think about his late wife more than he intended.

"Hey, you can't go blaming all this on me!" Teslyn shot this as she turned back to face him.

"You just promised to not go further than three!" he reminded her.

"Well then, quit thinking about me so loudly in the lower levels! I'm not deaf, you know. I know Lessa liked to pretend she was mind blind, but I exercise this muscle a lot and it's strong. I don't have her range, but I have her strength."

Or more, Data thought...deeply. Perhaps there was someone who the word 'fiery' fit even more than his late wife. Even Teslyn's hair looked fiery. Hair, temperament and even a fire gift...not an easy combination to combat.

The morning finally came and with an inner groan, Data put aside the thought that he would have to repeat this again tonight.

Once the group broke camp, hiking, tree climbing and target practice filled the day. The inevitable falls allowed the class to practice first aid on their comrades, to the trepidation of those who were the unfortunate guinea pigs.

Mr. Kent turned out to be one of the victims of a bad slide. He lost his footing on the way down from his tree climb and sliced his calf deeply as well as suffering numerous laceration on hands, arms and even his face. His wounds were so deep, Jet decided to attend to him with the emergency medical kit. Teslyn interrupted, asking to try something first. Jet gave her permission.

First, the wound was cleaned and sterilized, though Teslyn believe her idea would make the last redundant. Telling Cadet Kent and everyone else to be quiet so she could concentrate, she placed her fingertip over the wound and ever so slowly began to move her finger across the wound. As she progressed, it seemed as though she were pushing her finger into the cut, but the part of the torn flesh her finger past over knitted together. She used her other hand to hold the sides of the ripped flesh closed as her other finger cauterized and...melted the wound together.

The process took seven minutes, but it was impressive. The wound was closed, not without a mark, but closed. The way it looked now, there would be a disagreeable scar, but if this had been an emergency, Cadet Kent would have been able to walk and that was what counted. While using her gift to start the fire was one thing, this was using her ability in the area she had chosen to pursue. To object would be improper.

No one objected, except Mr. Kent.

"I thought you were going to burn my leg off, Tez! That hurt!"

"I think bleeding to death would have been worse. This profession is not for the timid, Mr. Kent. If you can't take the...heat, transport home can be arranged." Professor Jet stood over him with hands on her hips. She was not impressed by his attitude. Looking around, Ly found there were a few who looked stunned by Teslyn's choice of treatment, but none looked inclined to jump to his defense. Not even Teslyn...of course.

"No, Ma'am. I can take it." Ly said with an ashen colour becoming the tone of his whole body. He got to his feet, shocked to find the sharp pain replaced by a deadened ache. Teslyn glared at him for a moment and Ly was sure the humid jungle air got drier and hotter for a moment. With her golden eyes glowing with anger, Teslyn tossed her hair out of her face and passed him by as everyone gathered their packs to resume the trek through the woods. Ly called to her, but the icy gaze he received when she turned back briefly told him clearly he was up shit's creek without a paddle as far as Teslyn Anala was concerned.

Data observed all of what occurred without comment, but, of course, remembered every detail. He felt inclined to give his sympathy to Mr. Kent, but doing so may cause some of Teslyn's wrath to come Data's way as well and that was not his first choice. He had not remained married for three hundred years without learning something about how to handle pissed off women.

He also had several daughters to learn this from.

In the first five years of their marriage, Data and Lessa had three children. One built, Alaeda, and two born. Pel and Isaji. The born were a result of Q turning Data human for one week, as a wedding gift. It was a blessing and a curse, as the couple would later discover. Their children being the final straw that caused a war, inflicted much inner turmoil in both Lessa and Data. The fact it had been what Q was going for all along and they had fallen for it did not help matters.

Still, the twins were well-loved and loving children. Gifted with strength and brilliance from their father and an assortment of enhanced gifts from their mother. Isaji was a fairly strong telepath and gifted with the ability to lower temperatures in just about anything. Pel had no telepathic ability except with his twin. He did have an ability to teleport himself, and anyone he was in physical contact with, to anywhere within a hundred and fifty kilometer radius. He could also create a shield that surrounded his body and could protect him, or others he touched, from even a phaser set to kill at point-blank range. However, since in his adult life Pel chose a planet bound and 'white-collar' profession, he rarely used this gift.

The twins and dealing with them had not been too much for the newlyweds...but Alaeda was another story.

Lessa was pregnant with the twins when Alaeda came online for the first time. The fact the child had a humanoid mother and an android father confused her from the beginning. Data did not understand Alaeda's confusion, but Lessa, who could, of course, 'hear' her daughter's thoughts, had a clearer picture of the problem.

Alaeda had a mistrust of organic beings from the moment she passed into sentience, she felt herself above organics, so having an organic mother stuck in her craw. As the family grew, Alaeda continued to distance herself from all of her born kin. She was hard, cynical and trusted few.

Data's brother, Lore had also been a bone of contention between Alaeda and Lessa. Lessa had wanted to try to repair Lore and help him to be free to function in society, but as soon as Lessa scanned Lore telepathically, she learned the truth. Lore was evil and this evil had corrupted much of his programming. To save him, Lessa and Data had no choice but to delete most of his memories. They also had to delete thirty percent of his base programming, due to corruption. They used transfers from Data to fill in the blanks.

Lore was just like a child again when he was brought back online. Data gave custody of Lore to the Daystrom Institute and Bruce Maddox. There he was 'raised' in isolation and a very controlled atmosphere. When Alaeda found out about this, she went ballistic. For the first time, Lessa was forced to use her telekinesis in defense against one of her own children.

Alaeda blamed Lessa for talking Data into selectively wiping her uncle, even though the reverse was true. The fragile trust between mother and daughter shattered. Years later, Alaeda was to ask her father for custody of Lore and it was granted. The two had formed an odd alliance and were rarely apart from that day forward. Lore still had a bit of his harsh sense of humor, but the cruelty was gone. Together, Lore and Alaeda involved themselves in different ventures through the years. Some were fruitful, some were not, but through it all they stuck together. Fifty years ago, the two had announced themselves linked. Alaeda would not call it marriage since that was too human and her mistrust was not going to fade, it seemed.

When Lessa died, Alaeda and Lore were at Data's side with all of his nineteen other children, and many grandchildren. However, the fact that it had been Alaeda who pulled the troops from Data's camp of mourning was something her father still had trouble forgiving.

Alaeda had run his house, seen to his needs and rotated the others who helped with his care. She had done much, but there had never been any feeling behind it. Duty...it had felt like she considered it duty and nothing more. Data never saw love in his eldest daughter's eyes, except when she looked at Lore. None of her brothers or sisters received this look and some even received glances half-full of contempt.

Corin was always at the bottom of Alaeda's list, just above their mother. Her parents brought Corin online the same day his sister, Kessa, was born. Since Alaeda was rarely in evidence, and Pel and Isaji were, Corin took to the belief that Kessa was his twin as Pel was Isaji's. When it came to choosing his appearance, Corin projected what Kessa would look like as an adult as best he could and used this composite to formulate his own features. He did fairly well. In adulthood, Kessa was Data's only blonde haired born child. Her skin and eyes were also fair. The first word that always came to mind when he looked at his third daughter from Lessa was serenity.

Kessa was calm, gentle, and thoughtful. She never raised her voice, never said a cruel word and always had something nice to say about everyone...even Alaeda. But the most pronounced characteristic about Kessa, was her devotion to Corin. The two were rarely far from each other, just like any other set of twins. The same was true of Pel and Isaji. But since one was born and one was built, there was always something...different about their relationship...or so it seemed to both Data and Lessa, but they never mentioned this to their children.

Data's family had its ups and downs, fights and disagreements just like any other family, but still none of his children's temper could ever match that of their mother's.

Even android strength could not help you to win an argument against Lessa Barrows Soong!

One look at the fire in Lessa's eyes and Data's breath would catch. Her anger always had an unusual effect on him. Sometimes he just had to fight back, other times he knew she was right and...would fight less...but it always caused him to feel a surge of love and desire for her. He tried to keep this fact from his children, but after a very short time when he and Lessa would fight, Alaeda or later Corin would lead the other children out of earshot of the row. Somehow Lessa must have kept a private telepathic line to Corin open and would tell him it was safe to return...but it was usually after Data had made passionate love to his wife.

Passion was never in short supply in the Soong household...but now-

Data felt a hand on his arm.

"Commandant, would you show me the way you bind a wound again, please." Teslyn looked up at him impatiently. "Have to distract you. Sounded like you needed it..." she rolled her eyes at him, making sure no one else could see her. It wasn't a great challenge, as he had fallen behind the rest of the troop during his fall into the past.

"I calculate a point zero two one chance you are not already proficient at the method I was demonstrating earlier," Data said, knowingly.

"Had to get you to stop your descent, you were depressing me!" Teslyn told him with a grin.

"No one forces you to listen, Teslyn," he reminded her.

"That face does. You need your head examined whether you believe it or not. Why were you thinking about...all of your kids and Alaeda specifically?" she asked following him, as he realized they were being left behind.

"Your reaction to Cadet Kent reminded me of the female tempers I have encountered. Temper is a prevalent trait amongst my...daughters."

"I heard that...and your wife...your late wife, sir. Do you think I was too sharp with Ly?" Teslyn asked, but she did not sound repentant.

"Perhaps...but perhaps not. Accepting differences in others is a requirement in this career. I agree with Professor Jet's assessment. This it is not for the timid. I do not think he was concerned over the pain, however."

"It was seeing me in action. I wasn't reading him...I was too focused on what I was doing. I wanted no distractions. I raised my barriers." She sounded deep in thought.

"I was not aware you had them. I have not heard prior evidence," Data said with a sideways glance. She rolled her eyes and shook her head.

"Quit pouting and I won't be so tempted to shake you from the inside out."

"How do I convince you to speak to me with the proper respect?" he asked calmly.

"Oh, I have enormous respect for you and your family. I just don't respect...pouting."

"I do not pout. I have been told it does not suit me." He grimaced.

"I have to agree with her, it doesn't."

Data sighed. Anala had heard who had told him that time and again.

"Everything in your life reminds you of Lessa, doesn't it?" the redhead asked.

"I did spend three hundred years with her," Data sniped.

"So there is basically nothing that doesn't remind you of her. Does Grace remind you of Lessa?" she asked searchingly.

"No, not very often. Her gentleness is more like my daughter Kessa than Lessa. Grace is...well named. If you met her, you would understand. I do not believe I would have survived without her. I know I would not still be commandant." Data jerked himself to a stop. Why was he telling this girl these things? "Are you providing stimuli to...loosen my tongue?" Data asked, suddenly irritated.

Teslyn laughed at his accusation. "Beyond asking you questions? No. I told you, I think everyone has grown used to dancing around or skirting this subject with you. You did cry over her, didn't you?" she asked, not without compassion.

"Yes. I assure you that I progressed through all the phases of mourning. I even considered the transfer of Lessa's mind into an android body...but she refused...stating she had been given more than her share of life."

"You were just slightly insulted by this," Teslyn noted. "She didn't want to be an android and that made you question her love for an android." She pushed a branch out of her way to keep up with him.

"No, I did not doubt her love! I...I... I had better consult with the other guides. You will excuse me, Cadet." And with that, Data marched forward at a rapid pace, leaving behind a stunned Teslyn.

Data was fairly certain he received a parting thought from her. Comparing him to a certain, yellow feathered, frequently fried bird.

That night after dinner, the whole group sang songs before retiring to their tents. Teslyn had even put up hers, not to sleep, but to study. She went over information she would need regarding the terrain ahead and the cold mountain area they would head for the day after tomorrow. She studied the maps, the surveys, and the reports from past expeditions.

Teslyn lay down on the ground and closing her eyes she reached out to Ly. She was still angry with him and hadn't spoken to him for the rest of the day, but she was curious as to what he was doing. Finding him among the other minds in the camp took only a little time. He was still up and talking to someone...and unless she was losing her touch, it was the commandant!

Teslyn was tempted to listen in on their conversation, but that went against even her moral standard. Before she pulled her awareness back, she did get the sense they were laughing...

She rolled over on her side and thought over the day. Her experiment of using her gift to fuse flesh was successful for a first try. Regardless of Ly's reaction, she intended to try it again.

Since she did not wish to speak to Ly today, she remained in her tent until he went to bed.

Ly Kent sat by the commandant and laughed at the android's comment that all females were dangerous in their own way.

"As far as Teslyn is concerned, you don't know the half of it, sir. She can start fires with a thought! I've seen her doing it!" Kent exclaimed, in a hush.

"I am aware of this, of course, it is in her record. I spent last evening supervising her. It was a strained evening, to say the least. Her gifts are quite impressive, but her restraint leaves something to be desired." Data commented, knowing this may be less than professional, but gaining this man's insight into dealing with Cadet Anala could be useful.

"She's impossible. I can't win an argument with her. She'll argue until you forget what started the argument in the first place." Kent sighed. "She's going to give me hell...sorry, a hard time over what I said today. She'll make me pay for my reaction until she thinks I've suffered enough." Kent sighed again and kicked at a stone in front of him.

Data wondered at the young man. He seemed almost afraid of Anala, but also strongly attracted to her. What a strange combination of feelings to have for one person.

"How do you intend to gain her forgiveness?" Data asked. Kent looked at him for a moment and then looked away. The young man got to his feet and began to pace, casually. He seemed to be trying not to look as though he was pacing. He threw glances back at the tent Anala now occupied.

"I...I'll have to play by her rules." Kent was now facing the girl's tent, though several meters from it. "Will you excuse me, Commandant? Best to face the music now." Without looking at the android again, Ly Kent headed for Teslyn Anala's tent, with a determined step.

As Data watched, Kent called to Anala at the flap of her tent and he crawled inside.

Data wrenched his eyes away from the tent once the young man disappeared inside. Best to give the couple their privacy. He stood and walked out of earshot.

Teslyn decided to be magnanimous. She only made Ly plead with her for six minutes before forgiving him. While coupling on these trips was not unheard of, it most likely was not wise now since she knew that the commandant knew where Ly was and how long he had been here. The couple fooled around a little, but smoothed out their clothes and then exited the tent together.

It was getting late and Ly needed his sleep. Ly was rather worked up from their making up, but Teslyn would wait until he was in his tent and send him calming thoughts to assist him into slumber. It was the least she could do. The redhead walked her handsome boyfriend to his tent and kissed him goodnight.

The commandant was just walking over to the campfire when Teslyn approached from the opposite direction. He looked strangely serene tonight. She grinned knowingly at him as she took a seat on a smoothed over rock. There were no logs tonight, so the older android remained standing when he joined her by the fire.

"The ground too scary a proposition for you, Commandant?" Teslyn teased him with a soft smile. She was relieved when he didn't meet her gaze with a frown.

"I have never seen the need to soil my clothing by sitting on an unclean surface."

Teslyn giggled at this without reservation. "I take it you think a dirty patch on your back side would just be too undignified?"

She was treated to a glimmer of amusement in his amber eyes. "Not to mention Grace would be irate were I to return from this trip with my clothing in such an untidy state. Laundry is the least favorite of her duties. I do my best not to try her patience." The android smiled pleasantly and Teslyn could not help but return it.

He was almost nice when he allowed himself to climb out of his sorrowful acid filled abyss. Perhaps if she kept the subject lighter tonight, he wouldn't...sink again.

Her efforts were successful. As evening gave way to morning, they were having an interesting, if not heated, discussion about a recent decision intended to end the border wars between the Romulans and Federation.

"The president made too many concessions. We should not have given them the rights to Kelso 6. The planet is full of Quyllithuim and they will use it in their new battle cruisers and then they'll start the wars all over!" Teslyn declared, exasperated.

"The president had to make some concessions and that was the lesser of the two evils. The other planets they wanted was Ripsolin 9 and 8. Ripsolin 9 has Kiltinite and 8 has Tycko's Ore." Data waited as the meaning of this sunk in. The weapon that could be created by combining these two components along with just a few others easily obtained substances was dangerous enough to destroy a whole sector in one shot.

"You're kidding!" Teslyn almost looked like she was begging him to say that he was exaggerating. Slowly, Data shook his head.

"It was posted in the final announcements just prior to our departure from the Academy grounds. Perhaps you did not have the opportunity to view the post." He said this gently. There was terror in her golden eyes.

"No, I was busy pack and...necking." Teslyn gave Data an apologetic grin as soon as the last word tumbled out of her mouth. "Who's loosening whose tongue?" She shrugged and Data grinned, chuckling at her discomfort.

"You are fortunate I am not also gifted with your ability. I believe I would now be seeing much more than either one of us would wish to exchange between us." Data raised his eyebrows slightly at her.

"I've never claimed to be virginal. You're curious about Ly and me. Why?" she asked.

"You sense my curiosity, but not the reason?" he asked, disbelieving.

Teslyn gave him a halfhearted glare. "I'm trying to mend my evil ways and not piss you off. No, really! I've been trying to not actively scan you. You're sending the curiosity. What about?"

"I may insult you with my question," Data admitted, reluctantly.

"I'll try to not get upset and set fire to your boots. What is it?"

Data realized she was being sarcastic and let it pass. "I sense neither you nor Cadet Kent are...vested in this relationship. Why do you continue it?"

Teslyn shrugged again. "He's a nice guy and the small amount of terror my pyrokinesis evokes in him helps to keep him from trying to push me too far."

Data studied her expression for a moment. "No, that is actually one of the qualities you do not like," he corrected. "You would wish for him to stand up to you. You would wish for him to defy you regardless of the danger involved." Data was 84.25% sure his supposition was correct.

Teslyn got to her feet slowly and went to throw a branch into the fire. "Who would risk my 'fiery' temper?" she asked, shaking her head, but not looking at Data. "I can bet you found telekinesis intimidating, but what would you think of having a woman who could set you on fire if she lost her emotional control?"

"Have you ever injured anyone with this ability?" Data asked. There was no mention of such an incident in her record.

Teslyn finally looked at him. She nodded slowly, guilt written all over her pretty face.

"How serious were the burns?" Data asked, gently.

"Serious enough. I didn't kill anyone, but I've done enough that the smell of charred flesh still haunts my dreams. A counselor tried to helped me to learn control, but it's far from perfect. Well, Commandant, you should be pleased. You found a subject I like discussing as little as you do your late wife." Teslyn looked as though she was battling the very emotional control she had just been talking about.

"It was not my intention to upset you, Cadet Anala," Data assured her.

"No, I'm sure it wasn't. Well, it's almost dawn...I'm going to study for a bit until everyone gets up. See you later, Commandant." Her shoulders were slumped as she made her way back to her tent. Data watched her go. He decided there were no two people who were more incompatible. Forcing them to spend time together was akin to torture. It was odd, though...until Teslyn had mentioned her, Data had not thought of Lessa all night long.

When everyone else did finally awaken, Data noted Anala did not appear. He unobtrusively made his way to Cadet Kent and suggested he check on her. She returned with the young man fourteen minutes later looking perfectly normal. Still today the commandant was the person whom she avoided as much as possible. Curiously, Data was unsure how he felt about this fact.

When evening approached, the commandant wondered if he would be spending the evening with a certain cadet or if she would indeed sleep tonight. After the evening meal, Professor Jet reminded the students that first thing in the morning they would be meeting the shuttle that would be taking them to the next phase of the survival test...the snow topped mountains. The chaperones warned everyone to be packed and as ready as they could be before they went to bed.

The commandant watched Teslyn during the nightly games and singing and wondered if she would ever allow him the opportunity to apologize for upsetting her. He decided she must have heard this thought, as she looked his way for just a second when he thought it. She was smiling as she sang, but the eyes that met his looked haunted.

"Are you having difficulties with Cadet Anala, Commandant?" The voice of Professor Jet pulled Data from his musings. The dark haired woman sat down next to Data and looked concerned. "I know you've been forced to supervise her at night. Has she been giving you trouble? Is there something you feel should go into her record, sir?"

"No, Professor. I have had many interesting debates with the young lady during our evenings together. She is quite intriguing. However, our conversation last evening touched on a sensitive subject for her and I believe I may have inadvertently offended her. She has not given me the opportunity to apologize to her. I believe she will sleep tonight if she follows the typical Kalestrian sleep pattern. I do not wish her to remain uneasy in my presence." Data did nothing to hide his own unease.

Jet smiled, reassuringly. "You know how young people are, sir. They're mad as hell one minute and forget what they were worked up about the next. I can point her in your direction if you wish?"

Data considered this for a moment. "Thank you Professor, but I believe I will wait and see if an opportunity presents itself. Did the shuttle pilot check in with you on schedule?" he asked, turning the subject to a less troublesome one.

"Yes, right on time. We'll meet him at 0800 tomorrow. The site is just over that ridge. We should make it with no trouble," Jet assured him. Data knew the site well, but just nodded politely at this. He turned the conversation to the events planned for the next four days and listened to the singing, stories and games. Teslyn was again avoiding his eyes.

Teslyn tired of the singing and bowed out. The others kept it going for a while longer tonight, so she and Ly just sat and enjoyed it. The commandant was talking to Jet still, but only part of his mind was on his conversation with the Amazon. A big part of his thoughts were directed towards Teslyn. He regretted their conversation early this morning, but Teslyn really didn't want to think about it. One of the people she had hurt had been her younger brother. He had been in a regenerative bath for two days getting the skin on his legs and lower torso regrown. The screams of her beloved brother still came to her in nightmares.

Teslyn knew she should let the commandant know she wasn't angry with him, just upset with herself, but she couldn't face him just yet. Teslyn wanted to just reach out and connect with him and mentally tell him it was okay...but if she did that, he would know it wasn't alright. It was interesting that he seemed to be thinking of his late wife less right now, but he was still upset and feeling down. Was that man ever happy? What the hell had Lessa ever seen in him? All he ever did was mope around and bemoan his widowed state.

Teslyn sighed. He was depressing her again and he wasn't even talking to her or even doing the things she despised! Ly sensed her distress and pulled her closer. Teslyn purged the images of her brother, the commandant and her late ancestress from her mind and relaxed into her boyfriend's embrace. Ly was a good guy. He knew how to smile.

The singing, playing, cleaning up and foolishness were ending and everyone was saying goodnight and heading for their tents. Before Teslyn and Ly could make their way to her tent for a private conclusion to their evening, the commandant called her over.

"I believe we should speak for a moment, Cadet Anala," the perpetually sad looking man began. Teslyn held up her hand and shook her head it him.

"I disagree, Commandant. I'll sleep tonight, so I won't trouble you with my company. I'm tired, sir. I need my rest so I can prepare for the temperature change tomorrow. Goodnight, sir." Teslyn inclined her head at him politely, giving him the proper respect for his position, but not leaving any room for him to debate her. She pulled Ly around and led her confused boyfriend back towards her tent. Once they reached it, she pulled him inside.

"Am I missing something? What was all that back there?" Ly asked her.

Teslyn shrugged. "The commandant has this bizarre need for things to be in chaos. He's just upset they're not. Just ignore him." She waved away his concerns, but Ly was not falling for it.

"You make him sound half crazy, Teslyn. I've talked with him before, he's okay. You don't like him?" Ly asked. He looked as though it would be outside the norm to dislike the android.

"I guess I can't say it's dislike, but I guess I was hoping for more. His family and mine are related in a couple of ways. I guess you could say he could be counted as a skeleton in the closet one day." Ly looked doubtful. "Okay, he's just fine, but we don't connect. Better?"

"I'm not trying for an intergalactic war, Tez. I just think you're judging the guy unfairly. Now where's my goodnight kiss?"

Teslyn's tent, like all the others, was small, so they had not been able to stand upon entering. They were sitting next to each other for this conversation and with it completed, Ly turned and quickly overtook her. Teslyn put up no resistance.

Data sighed. He had no idea why this frustrating young woman, no girl, would not just let him apologize and be done with it! He was going to find a way to see it done. No second year cadet was going to get the best of the commandant of Starfleet Academy! Finding a PADD, Data decided there would be a seating arrangement on the shuttle tomorrow. He wanted to inform the other chaperones of his plan, so he recorded his arrangements to the PADD to give to them in the morning.

Data had lived with a telepath of three hundred years. Several of his born children were had also inherited the gift. He knew what it felt like to have his mind probed. He had not thought it even possible Cadet Anala would probe him at first, so he had not paid any attention to the strange pushing sensation he had experienced the first time she actively probed him.

This time was different. The commandant was dreaming. He had implemented inner commands that would instantly awaken him if something happened, requiring his response. The odd mental pushing awakened him instead. He had been dreaming about Alaeda and Kessa. It was a strange dream about the two of them competing for his attention. This was out of character for both of his daughters. Suddenly the dream took a drastic turn and he was here in the wilderness and looking at a fire. A circle of stones approximately a meter in diameter kept the blaze from spreading. Still, it was almost as tall as he was.

"I burned him," said a voice. Data looked over from the dancing flames to see Teslyn Anala. Her crimson locks blew in a breeze as hot as molten lava. She turned to leave as soon as their eyes met.

"You should not wander the area unattended," Data called to her.

"I'm more dangerous than you can ever imagine, Commandant." Her voice drifted back to him, but she was increasing her lead on him, even as he pursued.

"Of that I have no doubt," he muttered. Out loud he called, "That was in the past, young woman. You have learned more control now. Employ it now and stop running from me!" He was running after her at his full speed, but incredibly she was still evading him. This was not possible! No human could outrun him. No Kalestrian could either.

"I am not the expert at running from people, that would be you, Commandant. I would need to take lessons." She stopped suddenly and he almost passed her by. The scene changed and they were back at the fire.

"I burned him," she said again. Her expression was blank and the air still heavy with more heat than this simple fire could yield, no matter how high.

Data straightened. He had borrowed a blanket and was sitting on it, but had leaned forward in his dreaming. The pushing was still present.

~Why are you invading my privacy and my dreams?~ Data aimed this thought towards the impudent girl. Her tent was close enough that he could hear the gasp that escaped her as Teslyn awakened. She withdrew from his mind with a quick apologetic sending. Data shook his head, absently and sighed. He had to find a way to convince her that his mind was not a playground!

The dawn brought the first signs of life from the camp. As soon as Jet appeared, she made as much noise as possible and this got Munkin and several others out of their tent. After that, Jet just started calling out for everyone to wake up. The commandant handed Jet the PADD he had prepared as soon as possible. She greeted it with a nod.

"Message received, Commandant. I will see it implemented." Jet grinned at him and shook her head, walking away to share the PADD with Munkin.

The camp ate, packed and hiked to the clearing where they were to meet with the transport shuttle. Everything was running like clockwork. As they made it over the ridge, the transport shuttle appeared from behind a cloud and made its descent to the clearing.

Once the group made it to the shuttle, they stowed their warm weather packs and clothing away in the bottom storage compartment. They would be returned to each of the cadet's dorm rooms since they were no longer needed. It was mass confusion as hot weather clothing had to be traded for the cold weather variety. Parkas and larger tents with heaters were needed now. Data was not wild about cold, but it was better than the biting bugs. Names were called from his list and as Jet ordered, the cadets filed into the shuttle. Munkin sat in front, Jet in the middle and the Commandant sat in back...next to Teslyn Anala.

The red headed cadet staunchly avoided his eyes even after they settled into their seats. But when the shuttle lifted off, Data handed her a PADD. He knew she would not be able to resist reading it.

It was not my intention to upset you during our discussion the other evening. I should not have asked you such a personal question. Please accept my apology. Once she read the words, Data heard Teslyn sigh. She typed something on the PADD and handed it back to him, but did not look his way as she did.

I'm sorry I invaded your dreams. I usually fill the moat around my thoughts before I sleep better than that. I didn't intend to do it. Data found her unusual reference to her mental barriers amusing. He typed in his response and handed the unit back.

Perhaps the old Earth saying "to forgive and forget" would serve us well here.

Except that as an android, you can't forget, can you? I agree. I guess this means you want me to stop picking on you about your love affair with your pit of depression?

When the Commandant read this, he turned to look at her and this time she met his eyes. Perhaps he had not thought this situation through as well as he believed. She stared back at him challengingly.

It hardly seems fair that my personal life would be fair game, but yours would not, Cadet Anala, he retorted in text.

Oh, I will promise not to speak of Lessa, if you want, but I don't agree not to pick on you for your determination to be such a depressing man.

From the expression on her face, Data almost did not need to look at the PADD to tell what was on it. I am not a depressing man! he argued in text.

Ly would agree with you, but he obviously didn't talk to you as long as I did.

You spoke with him about me? Data typed back.

Briefly...don't go getting a big head or anything. He can't read your morbid mind so he misses a good bit of the 'big picture'. I'm not so fortunate.

You could just not enter my thoughts. It would be polite to allow me to keep my thoughts to myself. Data glared at her as he handed the PADD back. Absently, he noticed the girl on the other side of Teslyn was watching them, curiously.

You project! I bet there isn't a telepath that can get within a hundred yards of you and not hear you loud and clear. Nice, neat organized thoughts filled with images so depressing I get nauseated just looking at you sometimes. You've been better lately, but I think I've been distracting you.

Now who is getting a big head? he teased. She began laughing as soon as she saw the PADD. Several people turned to look at her.

"Perhaps there is something you would care to share with the rest of us, Cadet Anala?" asked Professor Munkin, brusquely.

Teslyn flushed and the commandant's eyes went wide. "No sir. I'm sorry sir. I'll be quiet now."

"See that you do, Cadet!" Munkin snipped.

After several minutes of silence, Teslyn passed the PADD back to her right. How much of this did you set up? I know you made it so you would sit next to me to force me to forgive you. Did you plan that too? She gave him a lopsided grin, inclining her head towards Munkin when he looked at her.

The first part I admit to, the second was just an unplanned...bonus.

The transport shuttle pilot announced they were about to land and the cold weather packs would be handed out once they had. This ended the written conversation between the two people in the rear of the shuttle. Everyone, including the commandant, donned warming suits. Teslyn could not help but steal glances at the man. His mental tone was truly more upbeat since their agreement to forgive each other. He seemed almost happy. Maybe he wasn't completely hopeless, but he sure did need work.

Everyone had their packs strapped across their backs as Professor Munkin gave finally warnings about dealing with the new terrain. They had four days to make it to the final pick-up point and he did not intend to be late.

Ly made his way to Teslyn's side as soon as they exited the shuttle and kissed her quickly before the group headed off. Teslyn expected to see the commandant right behind them, but he had suddenly disappeared.

The area where the shuttle dropped them was relatively flat and clear, but after only a few yards, it became thickly wooded. The commandant pulled up the rear as the group trudged through the six inches of snow-covered ground. Teslyn decided to do a quick check and noted he was just thinking about what he was doing and about his plans for next week. She suspected if he was thinking something more interesting, it was in the levels she could not reach.

The cadets were able to test their knowledge of safe travel over frozen water and questioned on how to treat hypothermia. They talked about frostbite and how to avoid causing an avalanche.

"And don't forget the most important rule...never eat yellow snow!" Ly teased, poking Teslyn in the ribs.

"That one is older than the commandant!" Teslyn quipped. Ly just grinned and nodded.

"Imagine that! How old is he anyway?"

"Three hundred and seventy-two years, three months, fifteen days...do you wish the hours, minutes and seconds?"

Teslyn began to giggle as the commandant passed them by and made this inquiry. Ly flushed and shook his head.

"Well, you did ask," Teslyn reminded him, still chuckling.

Just before lunch, the path they followed started going up hill. The three hours that followed this break were hell. Ly was moaning and complaining about every muscle in his body hurting, but Teslyn's superior genetic enhancements meant she was only just beginning to fatigue. Ly was getting on her nerves when they finally stopped moving for the day.

Since the snow would need melting where they intended to place the tents, everyone was ordered to find their assigned tent partners and to help prepare the tents as soon as they stopped. The cold climate meant each person sleeping alone was not a good idea, so each tent was large enough to hold four or five people. Body heat and small air heaters would be used to make everyone more comfortable at night. The tents were in pieces so everyone had to find the other members of their group and put those pieces together.

Teslyn pulled off her pack and looked inside for the first time, since Professor Munkin had provided their lunch from his pack. She found nothing that resembled tent makings.

"Are you having difficulties, Cadet?" asked the Professor, gruffly.

Teslyn looked up to see the man standing over her. "I don't have many tent parts in my pack, Professor." She had the feeling no matter how she answered him, he would be displeased. She was right.

"Of course you don't. The Commandant has your tent. See him." As expected, the man looked like she had just made the most inane comment possible. He all but rolled his eyes at her.

"The Commandant...of course...why didn't I think of that?" she muttered, sarcastically. "Why the hell would he have my tent?"

The Commandant was using one of the three phasers the chaperones carried, to clear a patch of snow away from the ground. The small square he cleared would fit the size of the tent exactly, so as soon as Cadet Anala arrived with the spikes, he could put it together. He heard her footsteps a moment later.

"Ah, you have arrived. I am ready for your assistance," he told her, trying to indicate that she should hand over the spikes.

"First, would you mind telling me why you would have my tent, Commandant?" Teslyn said, sounding confused and a bit irritated.

Data looked up from his work and met her questioning eyes. "I do not have your tent. I have our tent or rather, most of it. I need the spikes you carry." Data reached out for them, hoping that she would get the hint.

She pulled open her pack and began digging. "Our tent? Would you mind explaining that, sir?"

"What do you not understand?" he asked, confused.

"Why everyone else has four or five people per tent and you say this one is "ours". Just ours? No one else is invited?" She found the spikes and handed them to him.

Data furrowed his eyebrows. "Not unless they do not wish to sleep. It seemed the logical solution. Only you and I do not require rest nightly. I will just work quietly or activate my dream program on the night you sleep." He moved to drive the spikes into the ground. They were self-digging, so Data just activated the small digging unit and allowed it to do its job.

"Okay, I guess that makes some sense. You're not thrilled about this though, I bet."

Data came to a stand and walked back over to her. "If you would show me the proper respect and stay out of my thoughts, perhaps I would be more eager, however I am not disconcerted by this arrangement. I intend to see you behave." He looked firmly into her golden eyes and allowed this to sink in. Unfortunately, it did not have the desired effect.

"You must like a challenge. Really sir, you don't play fair. Everyone else around here takes off their rank at night and is just a person. Don't you?"

"I am who I am, day or night." He went back to work.

"I think while you're working on making me be a good girl, I'll see if I can dig up your less serious side." She followed him and held up whatever he told her to.

"Just do not dig too deeply," he cautioned, giving her a meaningful glance.

She laughed. "Why? You afraid I'll find something?" she goaded him.

His head came up sharply. "That is enough, Cadet Anala. I wish you to leave my thoughts to myself."

"And I wish I were taller. We can't all have what we wish for," Teslyn replied, shortly.

Data sighed and kept working. He was not going to let her get the best of him tonight. She was just warming up for this evening and if he allowed this to continue, his temper would get out of control minutes after the others had gone to sleep. Data reminded himself that he had not let his temper get away from him in over twenty years and he was not going to let it go now.

"Fasten that rope to that pole, Cadet," he ordered, ignoring her last comment. She complied. They worked in blessed silence for the rest of the process. It was all too short.

Once they finished the work, Data nodded at the young woman and headed for the area where Professor Munkin was handing out the food packets. Data tried not to watch Teslyn as she met Cadet Kent, but he found his eyes kept finding their way back to the couple.

Night would come soon enough and then he would be stuck in one tent with that female for at least eight hours...alone! Too bad he could not employ the method he used to use on Lessa to get her to sleep...He would make love to her until she was half asleep. Data grinned at the memory. But fraternization of that nature was strictly forbidden. Even if Data could find a way to work it out, he would be without a tent while Anala and Kent were...getting tired.

He would just have to find a way to keep the pesky girl busy. Data had a plan, but was not sure how well it would work. The girl was determined to be unthwartable. Data laughed. That was not a word...he had been without Lessa for years and was still making up words, just like she used to.

Data pulled his coat tighter around himself. The wind was picking up and his nose felt half frozen. This was one of the problems with having a big nose.

He wandered the camp, insuring the proper erection of the tents and the proximity alarms.

Teslyn walked Ly to his tent, kissed him and walked to hers...hers and the commandant's. "The universe must be punishing me for some transgression!" she decided just before stepping into the tent. The commandant stepped in just a moment later.

"I have the heater in my pack. I will retrieve it," he said and moved to sit and open the pack he had brought in with him. The unit was about six inches tall, cylindrical and three inches in diameter. It had a stand at the base to keep it from falling over and it worked very well. The tent was nice and warm in just seconds.

Teslyn sighed and unzipped her parka, but did not take it off. "Gods, that feels better!"

"I thought we could play a card game tonight," the commandant announced.

Teslyn laughed, she knew why he wanted to play cards, but how would they do that? "Where are we going to get cards? They don't come standard in a survival pack. Speaking of which, why did I have such a little pack and yours was full of the tent?"

He reached into his pack again and produced a deck of cards. "I replicated them on the shuttle before I exited. As far as your pack, I saw no reason to burden you with half of the tent. The added weight is nominal. I doubt it would have much effect on you, but it has no effect on me. I did have yours include the spikes," he reminded her as he opened the deck of cards and began shuffling, expertly.

"Why doesn't anyone else get cards?" she asked, impish grin on her face.

"Rank hath its privilege. I have more rank than anyone here." He was just stating a fact, but she laughed anyway.

"After all this time, you likely have more rank than anyone at all! And you like to use it! Don't think for a minute I don't know you're hoping this will get me to lay off you. You have needed a good kick in the-"

"Miss Anala!" he interrupted.

"I was just going to say "rear"...and you have needed a kick there for years. I think it's my mission in life to get you on the road to good mental health." She looked rather pleased with herself.

"No one has ever told me that I was mentally unstable," he defended. Not since Lessa...

"They must have been afraid to. I have no such fear or hesitation. You're nuts...or how do they say it here...nutty as a fruit cake?"

He grimaced at her. "Not all fruit cakes have nuts."

She raised her brow at him and shook her head. "Yours does! You've shuffled the crowns off the kings...enough already, what are we playing?"

This was still going to be a long night...

The second evening they were playing cards and arguing about the incompatibilities the commandant had found in the last woman he had dated, when a voice asked for admittance. It was Professor Jet.

"I heard arguing. Is everything alright in here?" the Amazon asked once she zipped up the tent again.

Teslyn and Data exchanged accusing looks.

"Cadet Anala is of the opinion I have no life and I was trying to dissuade her of the notion," the commandant explained, giving the cadet a grimace.

"You'll never accomplish that until you actually have one." Teslyn stared him right back in the eye and picked up the card he had just discarded. They were playing Gin.

"I am here, am I not? I do this every year. I will do it next year." He disregarded her discard and drew a fresh card.

"You think getting bit by bugs and then freezing your...feet off once a year constitutes having a life? I think that goes a long way towards proving my point. You don't even know what it means to have a life anymore!" Teslyn was shouting again.

"I am perfectly cognizant of what qualifies as having a life and I can assure you that I do indeed have one!" The commandant was getting red faced and it had nothing to do with the weather outside the tent.

"Excuse me, but do you two argue like this every night?" Jet interjected.

"Yes!" replied both Data and Teslyn, perhaps a bit more vehemently than they intended. They had both turned their attention to Jet for that moment, but turned to face each other once again after hearing the other's response. They seemed to be trying to stare each other down. Jet just watched them in silence, dismayed.

"Okay, I admit I may...MAY have gone too far," Teslyn said, relenting. "But you have to admit, you have been hiding from life and only doing enough to convince people you're fine. You're not fine!" She shook her finger at him at the last.

The commandant sighed. "I have a very busy calendar almost every day, thank you. I have quite a full life. I fail to understand why I should be concerned with the views of a twenty-year-old cadet. I have far more life experience than you can imagine." The irritation was rising in his voice again.

Jet tried to get in a word, but Teslyn again beat her too it. "True, but I bet very little has been added to that life experience in years! Name me one thing you've done in the last year that had nothing to do with your role as Commandant," she challenged.

Data opened his mouth to respond, but caught himself and closed it again. Teslyn leaned back, looking satisfied. "I visit my children or they visit me. I see some of my grandchildren as well. I will be a great, great, great grandfather next month. I intend to meet my new descendent after her birth." The Commandant nodded and stared pointedly back at Teslyn.

"Ha! I didn't hear anything about a date or meetings with an old friend, making new ones...you're still living in the past and not as involved in making the future, as you would believe. The closest you come is that your progeny are reproducing, but you are not anymore. I have never met a man more in need of a woman!"

Jet finally moved to grab the girl's arm. "That is beyond enough, Cadet!" The Amazon had to restrain herself to keep from shaking the girl. "I don't know why the commandant has allowed you to speak to him in this manner, but I intend to see you are sanctioned to the full extent-"

"Professor Jet, may I speak with you outside, please?" The commandant's voice was suddenly controlled and quite urgent. He reached for his long abandoned parka and motioned towards the entrance of the tent. Jet followed, completely clueless as to why.

Once they had walked a suitable distance from the tent, the commandant turned to face the black haired woman. "I regret you witnessed this exchange between the cadet and I. While I do admit that under normal circumstances, her behavior would be considered wholly out of line, it is...it has become the norm during our forced isolation. We have developed a rather adversarial relationship. It may be upsetting and shocking to witness, but it is...not unexpected between the two of us."

Jet looked shocked. "Surely you can't expect me to believe you don't mind her speaking to you that way? It was vicious, what she said." Jet said, incredulously.

"Yes," Data agreed.

"She talks like that to you all the time?"

"87.6% of the time, yes."

"And this doesn't bother you?"

"Yes, it does." He could not lie and say he enjoyed it.

"Then why allow her to continue?"

Data remained silent for several minutes. He turned away and looked towards the horizon.

"There is some truth to what she says?" Jet asked, coming to the only conclusion that made any sense.

"Perhaps we could play poker. We do not have any chips, but I can keep track of imaginary chips if you wish to play."

Jet stared at this conundrum of a man for a moment before following him back towards and into the tent. When they returned, they found the cadet had gathered the cards from the unfinished game of Gin and was shuffling. It was almost as though she had been in silent communication with the commandant. By the solemn expression that now graced the girl's face, Jet wondered if Anala had indeed been in telepathic contact with her nemesis.

Everyone seated themselves on the ground in a makeshift circle. The commandant was handed the cards without a word of exchange. He shuffled once and began to deal. "The game is five card stud, nothing wild, we each have five hundred credits. The ante is two credits. Limit is fifty."

Teslyn grinned and mimed throwing two chips on the "table". Jet looked uncertainly from the girl to the commandant and with a roll of her eyes, did the same. Data nodded. "Your antes are noted, I also ante two."

They played for fifty-eight minutes and ten seconds before sounds of morning risers began to emanate from the tents around them. Data told the women he would keep tally of the chip count and if they played again, he would inform them of their standings. At present, Jet was winning.

As the three emerged from the tent, Teslyn caught sight of Ly waving at her. As she left his side, the commandant sighed with blessed release. Another night over. She should sleep tonight and then there would be only one more torturous night he must spend trapped in an eight by five tent with her.

"What was going on in there?" Ly asked Teslyn after she had grabbed him and wrapped her coated arm around his neck.

"In where? The tent? We were playing poker. It was Mr. Despair's idea. He was trying to keep me quiet since the professor heard us arguing." Teslyn snuggled up to Ly, planting kisses on what of his neck she could reach.

"Why were you arguing with him again, Teslyn? He's just gonna write you up or do something that will mar your permanent record." The young man was considering pulling her off to emphasize his words by looking her in the eyes, but he liked the kisses and Teslyn suppressed a chuckle as he submitted to her embrace and amorous attention.

"Forget about him. Let me help you forget about him." She gave him a grin that spoke of evil intent and Ly just sighed.

Why did the night have to come? Why could it not just stay light longer...or forever? Why could they have not hiked longer? Why was the obstacle course the cadets had to overcome not harder? After all it had to wear her out. She had to sleep tonight, because if she did not sleep it was quite possible that she was going to drive a commandant out of his positronic mind!

They put the tent up in silence and Data said a prayer to the gods of his children when she yawned. It was a prayer of thanks.

"Stop worrying. I'm gonna sleep tonight, sir." Data could tell she had swallowed a harsher form of address in favor of 'sir' since Professor Jet had just passed by. Watchfully...

Data handed Teslyn the final rope to tie to the stake and "humphed" at her. "I see I should have relegated that thought to a deeper level," he noted.

"Please. You wanted me to hear it. You've been screaming at me all day about it. 'She sleeps tonight, she sleeps tonight!' You'd think you wanted the whole camp to hear." Teslyn waved her hands around as she mocked his thoughts. "Remember, it was you who was mentally calling to me this morning. You who told me that we were playing poker and I was going to hush or the Professor was going to get us both into trouble. I behaved then, didn't I?" The annoying redhead put her gloved hand on her hips and glared defiantly at him.

"Yes, you listened...that time. It has been the only time you have listened."

"Well, maybe if you've been listening to me, you'll go home to that great big empty mansion of yours and decide it's about time it had more people in it!" With this, Teslyn stomped off to rejoin the others for dinner. Data had to stop himself from grabbing her arm in order to continue their latest argument. He would get the chance soon enough.

When the time did come, every other person in the camp practically raced for their tents. After a goodnight kiss, Ly Kent left Teslyn by the fire and headed for the tent he shared with two females and another male. If one could not be in close quarters with someone of the opposite sex and remain in control, Starfleet was not for them.

From six yards away, the commandant eyed Teslyn. She looked his way once Kent moved off. Every other soul left, but they still stood standing. After several moments of staring at him, Teslyn shook her head and pointed at their tent. She made her way towards it as the commandant followed her in.

"Are you going to sleep too?" Teslyn asked as she dug in her pack for the heater. He had tried to put it in his pack this morning, but she had just snatched it away, saying she could carry that much weight.

"It is not, technically speaking, sleep-"


"- But I will activate my dream program...yes. I will awaken should you try to leave or if there is a threat to our lives. You need not worry."

"I'm not worried. And I wasn't planning on sneaking off either. I need this grade and I don't intend to do anything to jeopardize it." She turned on the heater.

"Except to harass me in every way possible about your impressions of my life choices." The commandant realized these words came out harsher than he had meant them. He sighed, unzipped his parka and sat down. Teslyn was on her knees, again digging into her pack.

"You're right, Commandant! It's your life and if you wish to waste it by mourning the loss of it, that's your call. The fact that you're a nice looking man who can be interesting if you try means nothing." She pulled out her bedroll and looked at him. "The fact that if you just took two minutes to seek out a new life, it would probably fall into your lap is also irrelevant. It's meaningless to try and tell you life is too precious to spend it as you do, since you will outlive most of us. But you won't allow yourself to enjoy that life again, so why bother? All those brains and you can't even work your way past this one stumbling block." She shook her head in disgust.

Data reared in rage. "Stumbling block? You refer to my wife of 300 years as a stumbling block? How dare you!" he seethed.

Teslyn eyed him fiercely as the temperature in the tent rose, but not due to the small heater. "I dare because you have reduced her to that! You hide behind her shadow like a frightened rabbit. Quit running from your life."

"What you see as running, I see as surviving. I am not interested in your views on this subject and I have lost any tolerance I had previously. You will-"

"You really think that's going to work now? It hasn't before and nothing's changed. Rank aside, mister, you're floundering and it's sickening. Makes me wonder what your late wife saw in you in the first place."

That was the last straw. Data was across the small tent and grabbed Teslyn by the shoulders before he could stop himself. Rage ran through his neural nets. No one ever spoke to him this way. He was not one to start arguments. Lessa had been the arguer, but that was irrelevant here. He was the argument ender.

Teslyn gasped as he clutched her shoulders and drew her up against his chest. For the first time, the cheeky confidence faded from her deep gold eyes.

"You will be silent! You will desist in this behavior at once!" Data used a tone he had not used in years. It was one he used to end arguments. A tone he rarely used and not in recent memory. Flashes of memory invaded his thought. Snippets of raised voices, small hands waving in the air, furious words. Passion. Heated passion.

"And if I don't?" Teslyn asked, not able to stop herself, having gone this far.

Data resorted to the only method that had ever worked in the past. He kissed her. He had not meant to do it, but suddenly his mouth was on hers and his eyes were closed. Teslyn tensed as this action, but only for an instant. That passed, she relaxed in his hold and even brought her arms up to run them around his sides as well as she could, considering he still had a hold on to her shoulders. Data released them and pulled her into his arms. Her lips parted and her tongue reached for his. A moan of rising desire escaped him. There was another feeling that came with this one.

Horror! What was he doing?

He broke the deep kiss, releasing her from his arms. He knew she could sense his dismay at his own actions. Teslyn opened her eyes slowly to stare blankly at him. She took a deep breath and tilted her head to the side, still staring.

"Okay, point to you. That method worked," she said plainly, a little out of breath.

"I am deeply sorry. I do not know why I took that action. If you wish to report my inappropriate actions, I will not deny-"

"No, Commandant." Teslyn put a hand on his elbow, trying to calm him. "I have no intention of trying to get you into trouble. I'll just pretend nothing hap-"

"But something did occur! I cannot-"

"Yes, you can. You covered for me with Professor Jet and I can cover for you now. Nothing happened. It was your desperate attempt to get me to shut up that caused you to do that. I pissed you off and you reached your limit. Just pretend nothing happened. I want you to have a life, I don't want to destroy your career!" Her tone changed. She was actually trying to convince him into a deception. How could she believe he would participate in a deception of this nature?

"Because if you don't I'll kiss you right in front of everyone in the morning and that will get me kicked out too!" she shouted at him.

"Lower your voice or everyone will hear you threatening to kiss me," he warned her. "I do not approve of a deception of this type as you know since you obviously are reading my thoughts again." Teslyn drew in a breath, preparing to object. "However, in the interest of...saving both of our careers...I apologize for kissing you." Data looked mournfully at her.

"And I forgive you," she assured him. "It was a good kiss. Kiss any woman you date that way and she'll be willing to fall into bed with you." Teslyn gave him a knowing grin.

The commandant realized that he was blushing. "I-I do not simply wish a sexual relationship with a woman!" he argued, grimacing.

Teslyn chuckled at him, poking him in the chest. "Believe me, from what you were broadcasting, I know exactly what you wanted. Let's go to bed, Commandant."

"What!?" he roared, recoiling.

Teslyn grinned and giggled at him. "Boy, you fell for that one like a ton of neutronium. To sleep, Data, let's sleep!" She went to her bedroll, still chuckling. Data sighed and moved to retrieve his own. Teslyn lay on hers as Data placed his beside hers. The small tent left very little choice in the matter. She gave another yawn as she slid into the sleeping bag. Data followed suit, noting she watched him.

"Am I doing this incorrectly?" he asked, annoyed.

"No, I was just wondering what we were going to talk about before bed." She grinned at him as he settled down into his own sleeping bag.

"Talk is not conducive to sleep."

"I need something to relax me. Kissing me was not exactly what I would call relaxing," she teased. Data opened his mouth to apologize, but she cut him off before he could utter a sound. "I was wondering, don't you have any friends? You know, male friends you can go out with to...hunt for women?"

The commandant sighed. He was not sure if it was a sigh of relief or resignation. "I have two close male friends. I am not interested in 'hunting for women' as you so eloquently phrased it. If I were to pursue a relationship with a woman, it would be with the intent of marriage. I have no interest in an affair or fling."

"If you're going to try to convince me that you have no interest in sex, you aren't going to succeed. You were thinking about it just a few minutes ago." Data's expression changed to one of astonishment. "It's normal, Commandant. Kissing turns men on. Women are aroused by it too, it's not a sin."

"But as commandant, having that relationship with a student is against several rules, Teslyn. I ask your forgiveness for my inappropriate actions. I will confess to my misdeed should you ask me too and I will step down as-"

Teslyn sat up to grab his shoulders this time. "Stop it. While I heard the desire you felt I also knew you didn't mean to do what you did. You wanted me to stop and somehow that solution seemed the logical one at the time. It worked too, but since you and I are in a situation where pursuing a relationship would ruin us both, we can't do that again...after this." She leaned down and pressed her lips to his.

Data was stunned by her action. He had no idea she would try to kiss him. His quick automatic response also came as a surprise. He opened his mouth to her and pulled her down against him with his arms. He could feel her mind opening to his and her own thoughts of desire mingling with his own.

"Do you want to make love?" she asked him in a passion-touched whisper. She brought her mouth back to his before he could answer. He wanted very much to keep kissing her. He did not want to stop...he did want to make love to her, but his ethical program began screaming. He slowly broke their kiss and pulled her off of his body.

"We cannot do that!" he all but cried out. He sat up, staring at her in utter shock. She looked completely unabashed.

"Why? You want to and so do I. No one will know."

"There are very strong rules against that happening, Cadet! Were I to become involved with you in this manner, I could be persuaded into changing your grades or causing things to be easier for you. My judgment could be skewed where you were concerned."

Teslyn lay down just beside him and stared suggestively up at him. "You know my grade point average, what is it?" she asked.

"Near perfect," he stated.

"I don't need your help. I'm doing just fine on my own." She sat up again and brought her face just an inch from his. "If you want me, take me. I liked your kiss and maybe it will remind you of what you're missing," she challenged.

Data grit his teeth and with deliberate movements rolled over to lie on his side, facing away from her. "Goodnight, Cadet Anala." He was determined this would be the last thing he said to her tonight. He prayed she did push him on this topic.

"Don't ask tomorrow, Commandant. It will be me refusing you if you let this evening pass without taking me up on it." She put a hand on his back rubbing through the fabric of his shirt. "I bet you'd be a good lover."

"You will never know," he said, instantly berating himself for allowing her to draw him back into this. She laughed, but it was the last sound she made. She lie down next to him and her breathing quickly slowed. Data allowed himself to relax when her breath took on the pattern of slumber. Closing his eyes, Data took his cognitive functions off-line and allowed himself to dream.

Darkness surrounded him. His optical sensors perceived no light at all. Data moved forward for two kilometers before detecting any trace of light. He saw what looked like a spotlight in the air. It shined down towards the ground. Data followed the path of the light downward as he moved closer. There were barren, dead looking trees as the light turned into a gloomy haze. When Data's eyes found the ground ahead, he was stunned. Standing motionless between two trees was Lessa. She was dressed in a flowing white gown that blew in a wind Data could not feel. He quickened his pace, but when he came within a distance where she should have been able to see him, he slammed into an invisible barrier. Confused, Data ran his hands over the force, looking for an opening. Before he had finished his inspection, the light inside the barrier began to fade. Data called to Lessa, but before the light went out, she vanished. Data screamed out her name, but this had no effect on the dimming light.

Traumatized, Data sunk to the ground. He did not cry, but he was close to it. Because of his depression, he did not know when the second light came into being. When he stood up, it was simply there, in the distance. Data cautiously ran to this one, only to hit the barrier seconds after Teslyn became visible. Her dress was the same, but for the colour. It was a vibrant blue. Data called to her just as Teslyn lifted her hand and flames shot out, setting the nearest tree ablaze. Frightened for her safety, Data began to frantically search for an opening in the barrier as he had done with the previous one. Teslyn seemed furious at her captivity. She was shouting, but he could not understand her words. Over and over she lifted her hand and incinerated another tree. Surely, she would be overcome by the fire or smoke any minute now. Unable to find an opening, Data began to bash at the nearest wall of the force, hoping to break through. He was finally successful, and charged through the hole he had created, only to run headlong into a second one not a minute later.

This was insane. He had to get to her. Only he could save her. He shouted for her again. Screaming for her to stop the burning and try to stifle the flames before she was injured. He began an assault on this second barrier while continuing to shout to her. A shaking of his shoulders stopped him.

"Commandant! Data! Wake up!"

Data sat up suddenly, almost knocking Teslyn out of the way in the process. "What is it?" he asked, confused about what was happening.

"You were shouting. Something about a force keeping you away, can't get to it...something like that," she told him, sitting back on her feet from her kneel.

Data thought back to the traces of dream he could remember. Even his dreams were hard to remember upon waking, just like a human's were. Data found this fact annoying, but had not been able to find a way to circumvent his father's original programming in this area.

"I am sure I did not use a contraction, Cadet," he said, as though he were scolding her.

"Actually, you did. You said "can't" as clear as day."

Data gave her an incredulous look. She just sighed at him. "Fine, don't believe me. But you did." She turned angrily from him before grimacing and turning back suddenly. She pressed a hand to his temple and closed her eyes. Images of what Teslyn had seen him do and say flooded his mind. She pulled her hand away, but the transfer continued. Data saw images of an attractive woman that resembled Teslyn but was older. She was crying and sad in the first scenes until a handsome man entered the picture. The woman dated the charming man until finally she agreed to marry him.

"Your mother, I take it?" Data asked Teslyn.

"Yes, and my stepfather. They're happy now, Commandant. You could have that too if you tried." Her tone was compassionate as she looked at him, with a rare amiable expression on her face.

"You believe all I will need to do is announce I wish to marry and a suitable woman will appear before me." He gave her an amused smile.

She rolled her eyes at him, reaching over to push on his arm, in an attempt to express her frustration. "You're a hard headed man, Commandant. You'll need to actually try a little, but it's not like you're ugly, just annoying as hell."

Data chuckled. "So, I should show them my face, but not speak?" he asked with amusement. Teslyn lay back down on top of her sleeping bag with her hand behind her head.

"It's a start. You have any other charming qualities other than your handsome smile and knock your socks off kiss?" she asked with a straight face.

"I can sing and play several different types of instruments, as I have mentioned previously, and I can dance." The commandant also lay back down, but rolled over on his side so he could look at her. Noting this, Teslyn also turned to her side.

"You? Dance? Somehow I can't quite picture that." She grinned, teasingly at him.

Data raised his eyebrows at her challengingly. "It was something my...late wife enjoyed. We danced often. She learned to dance for me."

Teslyn smiled brightly. "She was a remarkable woman to...keep up and put up with you. I admire her patience. Surely in all the universe there has to be another woman who would not want to kick your ass every time she came near you." Teslyn said ribbing him verbally. She reached over to do it physically too. Data glared at her mildly and gently pushed her hand away.

"Is that your way of telling me that you have envisioned kicking me thus since our first meeting?" He asked, believing that was exactly what she was saying.

"Well, once or twice...but not this evening." She chuckled. "I've envisioned a significantly different activity with you this evening." She gave him a meaningful smile.

"Stop envisioning that one!" he instructed her, firmly.

She moved her hand back towards him slowly. Data saw this and took hold of it, blocking her intended target, whatever that may have been.

"The evening isn't over, Commandant. You still have time to take me up on my offer."

"It is a wholly inappropriate offer," he admonished her.

"Why? You're not asking for sex in return for a good grade or blackmailing me with the threat of a bad grade. I could understand if I were trying to blackmail you in some way, then the rule would make sense. Right here and now, I want you and you want me. After tomorrow, we will likely have very little contact. I want nothing from you as commandant. Do you have plans of blackmail?" She slipped her hand from his and moved it to his chest.

"That is immaterial. We are not going to engage in sexual contact. I cannot deny my desire, but I can resist the impulse to act on that feeling. Go back to sleep, Teslyn. Remove your hand from my person and go back to sleep."

Teslyn sighed, but complied, albeit slowly. Data did not sleep, but she did. The morning finally dawned and Data left go of a sigh. Only one more night.

They packed the tents, once again, consumed the survival rations and the word was given to begin the trek through the snow.

"We are not going to breathe a word about the silly things that happened last night to anyone, right?" Teslyn prodded him and they started their journey.

"If you wish me to, I will. I am not sure I should not confess now."

"DON'T YOU DARE!" she stressed between tight lips. I'll claim it was me who kissed you and since I did kiss you the second time, you can't deny that."

Data stared at her for a moment. "I cannot deny that fact. We will both be ruined," he noted.

"Don't ruin both of our lives over one...okay, two little mistakes. The moment has passed and we did not go through with the dirty deed and I can't see it happening tonight either. Let it go, Commandant. Let's agree to let it go," Teslyn pleaded.

While his ethical program was still having trouble with the events of last night, he did know Teslyn was correct about both of their lives being destroyed should he admit to what he- they had done last night. Since they had both agreed it would not happen again, he had almost decided silence on that matter would be acceptable.

"Is there another problem here, Commandant?" Professor Jet asked, having noted that he and Teslyn had been lagging behind of the group.

"We were just wondering what we were going to do on our final evening of forced confinement together, since we won't be doing the same thing we did last night," Teslyn told her. She was giving the Commandant an opening to confess if he had to.

Data met Teslyn's eyes with a black expression. He could see the pleading in her eyes. "Agreed, I think it would be best if we played cards tonight." He could not manage a smile, so he simply kept his expression as blank as Teslyn's. Professor Jet did not look completely assured by this, but she walked away, leaving Teslyn with a mistrustful glare.

Teslyn let go of an audible sigh once the Amazon moved away. "I know that wasn't easy for you, Commandant. I'm relieved you didn't tell. I'll be on my best behavior tonight, I swear to you."

The commandant turned to look at her in utter shock. Twelve sarcastic retorts came to mind instantaneously, but he bit them all back when he saw the sincere expression on her face. She meant what she said. "I have learned some interesting card games over my lifetime, Cadet Anala. I believe I will endeavor to teach you one or two of them tonight, if you are willing?"

Teslyn gave him a soft smile. "I'm not gonna give up picking on you, sir...but I think I would enjoy that."

Data gave her a mock sigh and watched her turn away from him with an amused and knowing smile.

The day was bitter cold, but Data did not mind it too much. He looked forward to making camp that night and being in a warm tent, but he also found himself looking forward to playing cards with Teslyn. Once he realized how his perception of her had changed, he became distressed. He became concerned it was because of the two kisses they had shared, but when lunchtime came, Teslyn invited him to sit with her and Ly. The commandant accepted, but Teslyn noted his distraction.

While Ly had been able to engage the commandant in conversation about what they could expect from the expedition next year, Teslyn could tell the android was bothered by something. But it would look strange if she pulled him away from Ly to talk to him. But she didn't want to wait until later. Finally, the end of the lunch break was approaching and she still had no idea what to do and the troubled expression on the commandant's face was even becoming apparent to Ly. Left with no other option, she lowered her barriers enough to push a question into his mind.

~ What's wrong with you? I can tell you're upset about something, even if you're burying what it is! ~

Data's head jerked up suddenly and he met her worried eyes. She knew he felt invaded and she did not want to fight with him just now.

~ I know you're upset I'm poking around your brain, but I didn't think you'd like it if I pulled you aside to talk to you. I know that even Ly is catching on that you're unsettled about something. What's wrong? ~

While verbally recounting some of the events he had experienced on past first year survival trips to Ly, Data responded to Teslyn's query as well.

~ I am not sure I am comfortable communicating with you regarding this matter, ~ he told her.

~ Because it's me or because of the subject? ~ she asked.

~ Both, ~ he admitted.

Teslyn picked up a trace of shame in his thoughts and could also detect a hint of the ethical conflict he was enduring.

~ You're still stressing about the kiss. ~

~ Kisses, ~ he corrected.

~ Listen, you kissed me and I kissed you. Your bad action was canceled out by mine. We're even...or evenly bad if you want to look at it that way. ~

Data turned from Mr. Kent to give Teslyn a droll expression. ~ I am well over three hundred years older than you. I am accountable for my actions. I not only kissed you, I...responded to your kiss. ~

~ I take it you expect me to be all broken up about that. Sorry, but this does not upset me. And you need to get over this, and...well, you know! If you were a scumbag, you wouldn't be upset about this in the slightest. You would've taking me up on my offer without thinking twice about either! You are upset! You thought more than twice and you didn't go for it! ~

~ I still should not have kissed you, ~ he thought back.

~ Okay, why did you kiss me? I got the impression at the time it was a tactic, but you think weirdly sometimes, so I'm not clear on what that meant. ~ She could hear a mental sigh from him.

Lunch break ended, so everyone prepared to move on. Since he was near them anyway, the commandant walked with Ly and Teslyn when the group returned to their hike.

Giving her a look that contained some embarrassment, the commandant thought back, ~ Lessa and I used to argue frequently. She was a very stubborn woman. At times I would tire of arguing. Distraction worked well. Intimate distraction was the most efficient form. ~

Teslyn grinned brightly. She looked over at him and making sure no one was looking, she winked at him. ~ So, somehow our arguing reminded you of arguing with Lessa and...you employed the same method to stop our arguing you would have used with her...the idea does have a certain logic to it, Commandant...and it did work! ~ Teslyn could hear his mental sigh of exasperation, loud and clear.

The group reached a higher elevation before evening came, causing the temperature to plummet. Everyone was to eat dinner inside his or her tents tonight, so no one froze while eating. Teslyn helped the commandant clear away the snow from their proposed spot by using her gift, while he cleared a spot for others using his phaser. Everyone was eager to pitch their tent and get inside, so this normally slow process was rapid this evening.

As soon as their tent was erected, Teslyn dived into it. The commandant followed with alacrity. Teslyn pulled the heater out of her pack and set it up as he retrieved their dinner from his pack. He handed her one of the food packets and sat down to eat his own.

"Joining me for dinner, tonight, huh?" she asked.

"My organic flesh does require the occasional consumption of sustenance. It has also caused me to occasionally require rest."

"Really? You actually need rest? Interesting! Is that the same with your children? The built ones, I mean," she asked.

"Yes, however since they were built incorporating the components that were needed to support the upgraded bio-synthetic flesh, they require less sustenance or sleep than I do."

"I guess that makes you a little more like us feeble organics, huh?" Teslyn said with a twinkle in her eye.

"I suppose one could look at it that way." Data knew she was teasing, so he did not take offense, but Teslyn could still taste his unease in his thoughts.

Leaning forward, towards him she laid a hand lightly on his knee. Her expression was one of gentle concern. "Commandant, you have to get to the other side of this. You explained why you did what you did. Now stop-"

"But you have yet to explain why you reacted later as you did," he interrupted.

"I did too tell you. I- Okay, I admit it, you turned me on last night. I knew you were horrified by the implication of what you'd done, but I was hoping to convince you since neither of us had evil intent, it would be okay to go through with it. I guess I just wanted to see you with an expression other than sadness on your face."

Teslyn let her fingertips brush his cheek as Data closed his eyes. He hung his head with remorse as soon as her fingers left his skin. Why in all the galaxy and after all these year, did he have to find himself attracted to a woman who was absolutely forbidden to him?

~Make love with me. I can feel your desire. Give in to it!~ she pleaded.

~ I cannot. ~

"If things were different and this regulation did not stand between us...?" she whispered.

Data did not move or respond for a long time. Finally, he lifted his head and allowed his eyes to meet hers. Desire burned in those eyes.

They did play cards. The night seemed to take forever to let go and give in to morning. Teslyn found she could not muster any enthusiasm for this day. The commandant was still brooding, but now staunchly refused to discuss it with her. Maybe she shouldn't have asked him to go to bed with her a second time, but he wanted it so badly. He needed it. Teslyn recognized that this man was looking for love, not sex, but maybe for one night, she could have given him that.

Now, she would never know.

Dawn arrived and with it came an uncomfortable silence between them. Their last card game was finished, the cards put away and even without a shared thought, they moved as one to leave the tent. Teslyn stopped him just before Data opened the flap. She motioned for him to face her, and when he did, she wrapped her arms tightly around him.

In his ear, she whispered, "Find love again, Data. Don't wait anymore. Find love." With this said, she released him and proceeded him out of the tent. Once outside, it came to both of them that they had just left their last solitary moment behind. Their forced confinement together was at an end.

As if this thought confused them both, they worked together in taking down their tent, exchanging uncertain glances. Data helped her on with her backpack and she in turn helped him, although not as much. Blank face stared at blank face until Mr. Kent's calling to Teslyn broke their trance.

"Well, I see you two didn't kill each other. And since today we go home, there's good news all around. I passed this damn test and I don't have to worry about it again for a whole year!" Ly proclaimed. Teslyn gave him a halfhearted grin and caught sight that the commandant was failing at his attempt as well.

Teslyn turned to Data and gave him an almost shy smile. She extended her gloved hand to him formally. Data took a moment to realize that she wanted him to shake it.

"I want to thank you for putting up with the hell I gave you, Commandant, and for not using your phaser on me or just killing me with your bare hands. You have remarkable...restraint. I wish you well." It took incredible restraint on her part to just shake his hand and not hug him again, but she managed to hold that back, but just barely.

Mr. Kent stood by in silent approval. He even grinned when Data mumbled some corresponding phrase to wish them both success and an enjoyable summer. He then turned away to begin calling everyone together so he could inform them where and when they would find their grades for this expedition.

The sound of the transport shuttle landing in the nearby clearing caused everyone to cheer. The three chaperones gave final orders to the cadets to insure an orderly boarding, following with sighs of relief themselves. Data watched Teslyn and Mr. Kent chat happily while holding each other close. Teslyn was right, he had to find someone with whom he could share this kind of relationship. He needed it, missed it and wanted it. But she was not the one for him, regardless of how much his feelings told him otherwise.