That had been a few convivial hours ago. Even Worf had gotten over his affront at her perceived challenge to his poker playing prowess. Several of the others had reported for duty – god bless synthehol, Leo figured. She managed to remember her security code and keyed it into her door lock panel, stumbling over the non-existent threshold, suddenly shattered by exhaustion. Once inside she pried the lid off her 35-kilo container and rooted around for her pj's, wanting nothing more than to fall on her face in bed until 0800, when she was due for a more official orientation in engineering. She was also starving, but first things first. Strange, she knew she'd put her pajamas in the box with her books, but they weren't there. Had someone taken them to be cleaned? She wasn't sure if or how they'd do it. At the Academy they had these sort of magic closets you'd hang your stuff in, and when it was time to clean it you'd just hit a button and they'd be done all at once. She pulled the books out one by one and dropped them around her on the floor. Nothing. Now she looked in various drawers, all of them empty, in the bedroom where the bed was freshly made, nothing. No closets to be found, either. Swell. Leo's head was beginning to pound, and she realized she hadn't eaten since… when? She couldn't remember eating anything at all since leaving the Academy at the crack of stellar dawn. Shit.
Grudgingly Leo approached the food replicator and stared at it as if expecting it to speak first. What did she want that it couldn't screw up? "Tomato cheese soup and crackers," she announced. The predicable sparkly glimmer (that was beginning to annoy her, frankly) and there appeared a tomato, a block of who knows what kind of cheese, a bowl of nasty-looking crackers, and nothing else. "Variety of soup?" the replicator's computerized voice finally asked. "Tomato cheese, I said tomato cheese soup." Another sparkle, another tomato, another block of cheese. "Variety of soup?"
Did they give her a messed up replicator, or what? Too pissed off and tired to continue arguing with this piece of obviously defective junk she said in exasperation, "Jasmine tea with honey." Sparkle, and a sprig of jasmine flowers appeared. No tea, no honey. "Variety of tea with honey?" She picked up one of the unwanted tomatoes and flung it across the room in a rage, then followed with the other. As the first one bounced off the far wall – hah, of course it didn't explode with a satisfying splat, that would be too imperfect – her door chime sounded simultaneously with the impact. Leo jumped a mile. Did she break something? Great. As she stood immobile, the door chimed again.
"Leo? It is Data. Did you drop something?"
He'd been unable to join her and the others in Ten Forward, having to return to duty immediately after the meeting.
"Leo, is everything all right?"
"NO!" she wailed, then added, "it's open for christsake, just come in!"
When Data entered the room he took in the scene with an expression of amazement. For him, anyway. He saw a litter of books on the floor, open drawers visible here and through the bedroom doorway, a replicator tray jammed with what appeared to be blocks of cheese, a bowl of protein biscuits, and a sprig of jasmine. Two tomatoes lay where they had respectively rolled to a stop on the floor.
"Leo, what has happened?"
She wanted to scream, to throw furniture instead of food. "I can't find my pj's. I can't make the food come out." She sounded like a six year old.
Data's eyebrows raised slightly as he took a few steps toward her. "Are you all right, Leo?"
"NO." It almost was a scream, the precursor to a tantrum. "I'm tired. I'm hungry." She looked at the mess surrounding her. "I'm stupid."
It didn't take human insight for Data to recognize someone at the end of her dangerously frayed rope. Leo's previously neatly-arranged hair was flying loose and her uniform in disarray, eyes bloodshot and desperate-looking. Leaving aside the logical questions for the moment, he opted for something Deanna frequently suggested as a source of comfort when one's friends are upset.
"Do you require… a hug?" Though he phrased it as a question he knew it was a certainty.
"Yes, please." It was a miserable whimper just short of tears. Since she didn't move Data went to her and put his arms around her. Leo leaned against him and reached around his waist; he held her just exactly tight enough, but somehow she didn't mind him being perfectly perfect. She laid her face in his shoulder and whimpered again.
"I too had difficulty adjusting in the first days of my assignment aboard the Enterprise," he assured her.
He was answered by a despondent sigh. "But you didn't suffer a complete attack of stupid."
"You are not 'stupid'. You are overwhelmed and exhausted. You are unable to absorb the enormous amount of information given to you in a short time."
It occurred to Data that humans driven to emotional extremes sometimes regressed to childlike behavior. Leo's demeanor at present was quite uncharacteristic and likely regressive. He accessed a behavior known to calm small children, and began to rock slightly from side to side as he held Leo a bit closer. His inspiration was rewarded by an immediate drop in her heart rate and blood pressure and an evenness in her previously ragged respiration. After several moments he inquired (god how she loved that tone in his voice, quietly logical, and not patronizing at all) "Where do you remember having put your 'pj's'?"
When she stepped back he was looking in her eyes with that "how can I help?" expression.
"In the box with my books," she indicated the disarray on the floor. Data picked them up and replaced them in the empty container, replaced the lid and put the whole thing to one side. "You have looked in all the drawers and cabinets."
"Yes." The whine was returning, but was defused by a tilt of Data's head. "Yes. Out here and in the bedroom."
"Did you look in the closets?"
"Did Ensign Whitney not explain their location and function?" He sounded vaguely disapproving, as if he intended to have a word with the Ensign regarding his lapse.
"I dunno, maybe he did, but we were in kind of a hurry and I was a little nerved up over my meeting with the captain…" she paused. "I guess I didn't pay good enough attention, I'm sorry."
His expression was warm with reassurance. "There is no need to apologize. It is understandable that you were preoccupied. Here, let me show you." Data stepped around the tomatoes as if they didn't exist and led her into the bedroom, indicating what appeared to be a decorative molding surrounding a rectangular area roughly three feet in width. It reached from the floor nearly to the ceiling. He pressed on the left-hand side and a panel whooshed open, revealing several identical uniforms. And one set of tiger stripe pajamas neatly arrayed on a hanger. "Perhaps the crew member who delivered your possessions believed you would want them here. There are two more similar closets in the outer room," he explained as if giving a casual tour. "To open or to close it, simply apply pressure on either side.
Leo reached out and gave the right side of the molding an experimental push. It slid shut with a whoosh. "Oh. Okay." She squinted her eyes shut for a moment. Her head felt ready to explode.
"What is wrong?"
"My head hurts something awful. I haven't eaten since I left Earth."
Without comment and as if it were part of a preplanned agenda Data led the way back to the main room and scooped up the two tomatoes, placing them with the jasmine flowers and cheese in the replicator tray. "Discard," he instructed, and they glimmered away. He deactivated the voice recognition mechanism before asking Leo, "What did you request?"
Her brow knit with frustration. "Tomato cheese soup. Twice. What I got was a tomato, a piece of cheese, and a bowl of cardboard-y stuff. Second time I just got the tomato and cheese. It kept asking me 'what variety of soup'. Then I asked for jasmine tea with honey, all I got was the flowers and it asked 'what variety of tea with honey'?"
"Ah. There is a problem with your syntax." She was completely confused. "The replicator is programmed to execute from the general to the specific. In that syntax, the request it would recognize would be spoken as 'Soup. Tomato with cheese. Hot.' Substance, followed by variety, followed by temperature where that is appropriate. Each term is expressed separately. Because of the order of your request the replicator interpreted that you required a tomato, a piece of cheese, and an undisclosed variety of soup. It would also require you to specify the variety of cheese and crackers."
"What if it piles it up with a mountain of cheddar?"
"The programming will recognize certain terms in conjunction with others, and default to a baseline. 'Tomato with cheddar cheese' would include only as much cheese as would be contained in a single-serving bowl with the hot soup. Serving size defaults to single. Multiple servings or large containers must be specified."
"But what were those nasty things in the bowl?"
"Some terms, when offered without a modifier, default to a baseline as well. 'Crackers' without a modifier would be replicated as simple protein wafers of the type issued for survival rations."
"Blechh. It was so much easier to learn to cook."
Data steered Leo to the table and chairs arranged near the replicator, the "dining area". "Tell me what you would like. Will soup be sufficient?"
"I'm too tired to eat anything else. And make the crackers saltines. Do you have saltines in the 24th century?"
"The computer will find the analog in its historical data files." He returned to the replicator and switched on the voice recognition mechanism. "Soup. Tomato and cheddar cheese. Hot. Saltine crackers." Glimmer, and the tray was filled with a steaming bowl of soup, accompanied by a saucer of saltines, a soup spoon, and napkin. Data removed the tray and added, "Tea. Jasmine. Hot. Pot of honey." A black-handled glass of tea and glass honey pot with dipper, identical to what she'd gotten in the captain's ready room, appeared. Data arranged the things on the table in front of Leo. She looked utterly dazed.
"Please, eat. You will feel better." More knowledge of human needs that didn't require any special insight. Though Leo hated to admit it, the soup was very good and the crackers virtually indistinguishable from 'back in the day'. And the tea as well. By the time she'd finished it all, her head was no longer pounding.
"Has your headache improved?" Data asked solicitously.
"Gone, thanks. Really, thank you, you rescued me again."
"I do not require thanks. You simply required additional guidance because of your physically diminished state." Before she could respond he added, "The effects of hunger and fatigue may sometimes be misinterpreted by humans as a 'complete attack of stupid'."
"Your humor subroutine has definitely been refined."
"I have requested guidance in developing beyond puns to wit."
"Yes, I believe Geordi used that word as well." He regarded her for a moment. "It is gratifying to see you smile."
"I guess I haven't been doing much of that today, have I? I promise I won't always be like this."
"It did not occur to me to consider that you would be." Data stood and gathered her dishes, but she stopped him.
"No, let me." She stacked them on the tray and replaced it in the replicator, with one eye on Data. "Discard." She was delighted to see the tray disappear. "Now that part of perfectly perfect I can probably live with," she told him.
"You should go to bed. It is not late, but you are very tired."
"Thanks, Dr. Data." He approximated a smile to show he understood the humor. "Data, I know it probably is all against ship's protocol and makes me seem like a big imposing baby, but could you stay a while?" Unable to explain in any other terms, she told him, "I feel a little less lost when you're around."
"I do not wish for you to feel 'lost'. Yes, I will stay as long as you require. There is no Starfleet code regulating with whom I spend time when not on duty." He watched her disappear into the bedroom, knowing she would return dressed in the tiger stripe pajamas of which she was so fond. He didn't know how he knew, exactly, he just did. And because he knew exactly what she meant when she said "stay a while", he anticipated experiencing the changes in temperature and movement in her as she slept, the quiet sleep-sounds he'd heard the first time he'd stayed with her. He wondered momentarily if such thoughts were analogous to the human male imperative to "get laid". Somehow it didn't seem to him as shallow a goal. He wanted the knowledge and understanding of Leo as well as the sensory input of experiencing her tactile variations. Already the concepts seemed inseparable.
"Don't worry, I won't be like this for too long." She stood in the bedroom doorway in her tiger stripe pajamas.
"I am not 'worried'," he told her, rising to follow her to the bed without inquiry or invitation. He waited for her to lie down as he removed his boots then, as he did that night at the Academy, lay on top of the covers close by her side. She shook her head. "It's okay, Data, you can come in. Anyway, I need another hug." When he'd slid into bed and hugged her she laid her head on his shoulder as if this were the most natural arrangement in the world.
"Leo," he ventured, "you will tell me if you wish to initiate a sexual aspect to our relationship? I am not certain I will be able to correctly interpret subtle non-verbal cues, and I do not wish to make assumptions that may be inappropriate . On the other hand, I do not wish to disappoint you if you desire a more physical connection."
"We've got a whole lifetime for that, D. I prize hearts over hormones, anyway."
"Very well." After a second he asked, "Who is 'D'?"
"It's you. I mean there's nothing wrong with your name, but it's your whole formal name even if it's just one word. I'm 'Leo' to my friends. I figured maybe D might work as a nickname for you."
"I have only one initial," he observed.
"That's okay, it's all you need. But can I ask you a favor?"
"I will attempt to comply."
"Is it okay if I'm the only one who calls you that?"
"Yeah. I kind of think of it as a name for the Data only I know."
"That would be agreeable. And I believe that it may be an accurate assessment, as well. Sleep, now."
The word faded into a whisper, and very shortly the change in her respiration and heartbeat told Data that Leo was asleep. Carefully, lightly, he trailed his fingers sideways against the silk of her hair and to the softness of the join of her neck and shoulder, traveling on then to measure her warmth through the smooth surface of tiger stripe pajamas.
At 0645 Data released Leo from his embrace and withdrew from the bed, tucking the bedclothes around her. She stirred and mumbled something unintelligible.
"I must return to duty," he told her.
"Mmf, 'kay," she burrowed into the pillow without ever waking fully. Data stood for a long moment looking down at her. Then he bent and gently kissed her head.
"Welcome aboard," he whispered, then straightened and departed for the bridge.