Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything from canon; I own the rest. This takes place along-side and in-between “Crush” and “Strawberry”.
Auld Lang Syne
Part I: (22-31 December, 2367)
22 December 2367 (Earth equivalent date) – Centaurus Central Spaceport
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
“You really don’t have to wait with me,” I told my companion as I fidgeted in my too-uncomfortable chair. It was bolted to the floor, one of a row of several similarly uncomfortable chairs. “I mean, I’m almost seventeen. I really don’t need a babysitter.”
He ignored my snarky tone, and reminded me mildly, “I promised your mother I would escort you safely into your father’s care.”
I rolled my eyes at that. “Just because some girl from the back of beyond managed to get herself sent to New Tierra instead of Earth doesn’t mean I’m that clueless,” I grumped. “I’m surprised she didn’t give you one of those kid-leashes to attach to my wrist.”
He blinked his yellow eyes at me several times, then tilted his head slightly, the way he always did when something quite literally did not compute. “Query,” he asked. “Kid…leash?”
“It’s a thing exasperated parents use with hyperactive children. You put one end around your wrist and another around the kid’s so they can be mobile but not able to go too far.”
“That would seem a simple, yet effective solution to a common problem,” he said. “But if you are too old for a babysitter,” he pointed out, “you are certainly too old for a kid-leash.”
“That was sort of the point, Data.” It came out more sharply than I’d intended. I waited a beat then added a soft. “Sorry.”
“There is no need to apologize, Zoe. I am aware that you are annoyed with your mother, and merely directing your annoyance toward me.”
“Have I mentioned lately that your habit of being right all the time is kind of frustrating?”
Data’s response was as calm and measured as ever, but it still changed the entire tenor of our conversation. “In the last five weeks, four days, and seventeen point six hours you have not ‘mentioned’ anything of import to me at all.”
“That’s not true,” I started to argue, but I had to admit, it kind of was. I’d picked a fight with him almost six weeks ago, just before I’d quit his class and killed my cello. “I’ve talked to you.”
“Shall I repeat every word that you have spoken to me since we left the Enterprise?” he asked, and I swear it sounded as if he was hurt – or even a little angry – at my recent behavior. “It will not take long.”
There were any number of responses I could have made, but the dirtside waiting area of a major spaceport wasn’t the appropriate venue, so I opted to excuse myself to the restroom. “I’ll be right back,” I said.
It’s really wrong when the toilets in a spaceport bathroom are more comfortable than the chairs in the waiting area. It was equally wrong that the only words I’d spoken on our shuttle trip – the seventeen point whatever hours in his list – to a man who had never been anything but kind to me – who even counted me as a friend and not just his student – were polite greetings and monosyllabic confirmations that I was comfortable.
I stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror and resolved to apologize to him and explain, but I still lingered for the space of three holiday played over the sound system. One was a classic Christmas Carol, one was about seasons in the sand on Risa, and the last one was an instrumental piece that I’m pretty sure my father had composed.
When I got back to our seats my father had arrived, and that he and Data were standing and chatting.
“Hey, Dad,” I greeted. “Love the jacket.” It was red, and suede, and swirled like a cape. “Very seasonal.”
“Ho, ho, merry, merry,” he replied, and pulled me into a one-armed hug. His other hand was holding my flight-bag. “Sorry for the delay; Gia was napping and I didn’t want to leave til she was awake.”
“Is she doing okay?” I asked. “I thought she was ready to pop.” I saw a confused expression cross Data’s face and explained before he could ask, “Gia is very, very pregnant.”
“Congratulations on the impending arrival of your son or daughter,” Data said.
“Thank you,” my father answered. “She’s got another month or so, and she’s tired a lot, but she’s fine.” He went on, then, continuing a conversation that had obviously begun before I’d returned. “So, Commander, you’ll join us at the house after your conference? You know the address?”
“I will be there,” Data agreed just before he turned away. “Merry Christmas, Maestro, Zoe.”
“Merry Christmas,” I murmured by way of a farewell, forgetting to add, “And thank you for the lift,” until my father nudged me.
My father waited as I watched Data walk back through the security checkpoint. I waited for him to be out of sight – and out of hearing range – before I asked, “Why would he need our address?”
“His conference ends before your vacation. I invited him to spend the last few days at the house.”
“Is that a problem?” He turned toward the doors and I followed, listening as he said, “For the last year and a half, you’ve spoken almost constantly of this man: ‘He’s the most awesome teacher, Dad. He makes theory so easy. My playing has improved so much…'”
“Then I hear that you threw a cello at him while your mother was on an away mission. That’s not like you, Zo’.”
“Stuff happened,” I said. “He sent her on that mission. And she was hurt. And then she was late. And then I got pissed.”
“You know he didn’t mean for her to be injured.”
“You know he’s given up hours of his time for you.”
I sighed. My father’s new relationship had turned him from a best friend with slight authority-figure overtones to a full-on parent. “It’s more complicated than that.”
“Is it? Because I’d hate to think that my beautiful, talented daughter was unleashing her inner bitch for no good reason.”
“Zoe!” He mimicked my shocked tone. “We’ve never had a typical father-daughter relationship, kiddo. We’ve always been honest with each other, yes?”
“Mostly,” I conceded.
“Your mom is worried. She says you’ve been withdrawn and sullen, and even a little mean since you broke up with that boy.”
“T’vek, Dad. His name is T’vek.”
I could see my father’s obnoxious green flitter ahead of us in the parking bay, and considered stalling until we were inside, but if he was going to yell at me, I’d rather not be in close quarters. “He left.”
“His parents were transferred. You know that’s part of the job of a Starfleet officer. Your mother’s been through it enough times.”
“I know, but – ”
“But what? Did Commander Data send them away?”
“Well, he cut the orders, but – ”
This was apparently going to be a conversation where I never got to finish a sentence. “But, what?” my father interrupted. “You can’t seriously be blaming the man for doing his job?”
“Yeah, Dad. That’s exactly the problem,” I snarked.
“Would you mind just telling me what’s going on? Zoe, I can’t help if you don’t talk to me.” He opened the boot of the flitter and tossed in my bag, leaving me to slide into the passenger seat. Once he was behind the controls, he softened his tone, trying another tack: “If you tell me, I’ll let you drive once we’re out of the port authority zone.”
“Wow, Dad, I’m only with you for fifteen minutes, and already the bribery begins.”
“Did it work?” he asked, the trace of a smile peeking through his otherwise-stern expression. We lifted off and headed away from the parking area.
I sighed. “It’s like this. I get dragged to this starship when I was perfectly happy at the arts academy here. Then I meet the one boy there who isn’t a hopeless mess or an officer wannabe, and things are really good – I mean really good. And then we had sex, and then he left.” I felt tears welling up in my eyes as I spoke, and my speech got faster and faster.
If the flitter had been in ground mode, there would have been a screeching stop. As it was, my father merely choked out, “Autopilot: engage.”
“You and mom had a long distance relationship for years, Dad. I thought…I really thought T’vek and I would last longer…”
“At sixteen, you thought you’d find the love of your life?” I couldn’t tell if he was angry or concerned. Probably, he was both. “And what are you doing having sex with anyone at your age? Does your mother know? Did he force you? You’re not pregnant are you?”
I waited, forcing a few calming breaths before I responded. “No, Dad. I just thought it would last longer than the week after my birthday, you know.” I tried to keep my voice controlled, but I could hear the shakiness of it. “And no, he didn’t force me. And, God, Dad, I’m not stupid. We used protection.”
He, too, needed to breathe before he could speak again. I looked away from him, out the viewport. The day was deepening into twilight and the twinkle of holiday lights was visible on a lot of the houses.
“Does your mother know?” he asked again.
“No. Yes. I don’t know.”
“I really don’t. I mean, I think she might suspect, but I haven’t come out and told her, or anything.” I didn’t tell him about the time she’d caught us making out, half-undressed.
“No, you save that for me.”
I shrugged. “You’re less likely to march me down to a counselor for professional help,” I pointed out. “And when you yell at me, it’s louder, but it blows over faster.”
He rolled his eyes at me, and shook his head. “Crazy,” he said. “You are so delightfully crazy.”
I perked up. “Delightfully?” I asked.
“Deliciously,” he responded.
“Defiantly,” I said, and for the first time in what felt like forever, I allowed a real smile to emerge on my own face.
“About Data, though…?”
“Oh. That.” But it wasn’t hard to talk about it now. “So, we’ve been doing these Saturday morning sessions almost every week, and I guess for a guy with no emotions he’s gotten pretty good at recognizing when someone he spends a lot of time with is having a bad time. Did you know that android patience goes beyond forever?”
“Does it?” my father smirked. “Wonder if he could bottle it?”
“Dad…!” But I wasn’t really protesting. “Maybe you could ask him. Anyway, he kept ‘reminding me’ that he was ‘willing to listen’ if I needed ‘an ear.'” I could hear myself falling into my tutor/friend/confidante’s speech patterns.
“And you blew up at him.” He stated it; he didn’t ask.
“Kind of, yeah. But…Dad, he was being so frustratingly, awesomely, nice.”
My father gave me a look that telegraphed both amusement and unconditional love.
“I guess I owe him a major apology,” I said. “And about a month and a half of back homework.”
“Will he let you back into his class?”
“I honestly don’t know,” I admitted. “But I think he’ll appreciate the gesture.”
For as long as I could remember, my father had thrown a major blow-out party on the last night of the year. The calendar on Centaurus doesn’t always match up exactly with the one from Earth, but most years it was close enough. This year, it was New Year’s Eve on both planets, which meant an even bigger party than usual. Or maybe it was that my father was anxious about his second child being born and needed to channel that energy into something creative.
Either way, anyone around the house risked getting pressed into service and I was no exception. Neither, apparently, was Commander Data, who – true to his word – had arrived at the Harris house the morning before the big day.
“Data! You’re here!” I bounced on my toes when I met him at the door, his arrival finding me both on my way out, and unable to contain my own nervous energy. “I’m really glad you came,” I said, and I met his eyes when I said it.
“Greetings, Zoe,” he said, the way he typically did. “Are you well?”
“I’m fine,” I said. “Better than that, even. But right now I have to run into town to pick up the sparklers for tomorrow night. Wanna come?” I dangled the starter fob for my new flitter, my Christmas gift from Dad, in front of him. “I’ll show you your room first, and stuff.”
“Your father has already tasked me with the arrangement of the tables,” Data said. “Or I would accompany you. May I offer belated congratulations on passing the test?”
“Thanks,” I said, turning around. “Follow me, and you can leave your bag. I can’t believe he gave you a job before you even got here.”
“Your father is remarkably efficient,” Data observed.
I led him up the two flights of stairs to the guest wing – it was a very large, very old (well, old for a colony world) house – and showed him the room we’d chosen for him. “It shares a bath with the room next door,” I explained. “But no one’s using it this year…at least not tonight. Sometimes people crash here if the party gets too intense, or goes too late.”
“I am certain it is adequate,” he said.
“Towels are in the closet, extra bathrobes and stuff, too.” My father often rented the house to vacationers when he was away on tour. “Kitchen’s on the ground floor in the east wing, below the family quarters. Tonight’s pretty casual – we usually do pizza and movies in the living room for whoever’s here.”
“Noted,” he said.
I was babbling because it was weird having him here. Good-weird, but still weird. A chime on my pocket communicator reminded me of my appointment in town. “Gotta book,” I breezed. I turned to go, and then paused and turned back. “Data,” I said. “I know I’ve been kind of a bitch for the last four months, and I don’t know why you didn’t throw me out an airlock or something, but I really am glad you’re here.” Then I left, without waiting for a response.
I didn’t see him again until late that evening, long after the pizza had been consumed and we’d watched remastered-for-tri-d versions of both Casablanca – my father’s favorite – and Clue, which had been my choice. Of course, Data had merely sampled the different flavors – pineapple and sausage, mushroom and olive, fried gagh worms and spam, though the last was a hormone-induced combination invented by Gia.
It was long past midnight, and I’d all but given up on sleep. I’d been thinking, for over a week, about the apology I had to make, and I wanted to get it over with before my father’s party. Still wearing the t-shirt and jeans I’d put on that morning, but barefoot, I grabbed my padd, left my room and headed down the hall to the guest wing. There were three bedrooms on that side of the hall, and only one was currently in use, light shining from the crack beneath the door.
I knocked softly, knowing Data would hear, and he came to the door. “Zoe,” he said. “Is everything alright?”
“Yes,” I said. “And no.”
“I do not understand.”
“Can you come to the kitchen with me? I need to talk to you and that requires tea, and a neutral setting.”
“One moment.” He disappeared into the bedroom, and returned wearing a bathrobe – more a dressing gown really, and holding a small, square package.
“Basil Rathbone, much?” I asked, referring to his attire.
“Ah! You recognize the garb of the Great Detective!” One of Data’s rare ‘natural’ smiles lit up his features. “I was not aware you were a fan.”
“I like the stories,” I said, as I led him down the back stairs, through the butler’s pantry, and into the kitchen. “Not so much a fan of Basil Rathbone’s portrayal. If you’re into old-school, I think Jeremy Brett was much better. More recently, G’mer the Elder’s interpretation is pretty compelling. Dad took me to see him perform Holmes as a one-man show a couple years ago.”
We continued the light conversation as I busied myself in the kitchen, boiling water in an antique kettle that my grandmother loved, and spooning loose tea into a tea press. “Do you mind spearmint?” I asked. “It’s softer than peppermint, great for before-bed sipping.”
“I will be happy to sample it.”
I brought the teapot, honey, cups and spoons to the kitchen table, and sat in my usual spot, facing out into the back yard. Our house was on a bluff overlooking the ocean, and even though I couldn’t see the waves in the dark, I could catch the sound of the surf if I strained. “Join me?” I invited. And he did.
For a time, we sat in silence, just sipping the tea. Mint always made me feel better – more focused, more confident – and I let this blend work its magic, but then came Data’s gentle reminder, “You said that you wished to talk.”
“I wanted to apologize for the way I’ve been acting, and the way I treated you,” I said. “I could give you the whole explanation for it, but it’s easier to just say that I was childish and stupid, and I took advantage of who and what you are, and it would mean a lot if you would forgive me.”
“I have observed that humans, especially those in their adolescent stages, are often irrational. Research suggests that this is due to a combination of hormone imbalance and literal ‘growing pains.'”
“So, is that a yes or a no?” I asked.
“There is nothing for me to forgive, Zoe. I cannot empathize with your situation, but I believe I can understand the reason you directed your anger toward me. I believe the appropriate response would be ‘that is what friends are for.'”
His hand was resting on the surface of the table, and I darted my own out to squeeze it quickly. “Thank you,” I said. “I can’t honestly say I missed your math class, but I’ve missed spending Saturday mornings with you.”
“I had grown to anticipate our ‘Saturday sessions’ as well,” he said, using a phrase I’d coined. “Do you wish to resume them?”
“Yes and no,” I said, but I added before he could claim non-comprehension. “I wish to propose an alternate plan.”
His head tilt, this time, meant that his curiosity had been piqued. “Please explain?”
I slid my padd toward him. “My mother will insist that I complete the year in your tutorial, if you’ll have me back,” I said. “I spent a good chunk of my vacation catching up on assignments – Dana and Josh gave me their notes – so, there’s that.”
“I will have to review your work,” he said, keying in the sequence of commands that would send my files to his account. “However, I see no reason to deny your return.” He paused, catching my gaze and holding it with his own. “I am available if you require assistance.”
I nodded. “Okay,” I said. “That’s part one.”
“There is a part two?”
“And a three. And maybe a four, but that’s down the road a ways.”
“I’ve been studying all the music theory stuff we were working on before I blew up at you. I think I’m ready for the final exam. Can I have my padd back?” He nodded and returned it to me. “I want you to give me the final, and then, if you’re willing I want you to help me with this.” I entered a couple of commands, then slid the padd back to him again.
“This is an open audition for the all-Federation youth orchestra,” he said after scanning the document I’d shared.
“It’s five weeks from now,” I said. “Which is likely forever for you, but not so much for me. Will you coach me?”
“I would be honored to assist you in any way I can,” he said, “though I am not certain what ‘coaching’ you require.”
“I have to pick two pieces to play. One has to be technical, one has to convey emotion. I have to have them memorized.” I looked down at the table a bit sheepishly. “We both know I only practice if I have someone to be accountable to.”
“That does seem to be so,” he agreed.
I grinned. “Two down. Okay, part three…a belated Christmas present. That’s on the padd, as well.” I turned it back toward me one more time, and brought up the file in question. “You don’t have very many photos – flat or holo. I guess maybe you don’t need them to remember, but Wes sent me this when he sent the notes, and I hoped you might like a copy.”
“This is from your recital. Thank you, Zoe.”
“It is. It’s us. I tweaked the background a little, enhanced the contrast, but…it’s us. I was so nervous that night. I didn’t want to disappoint you.”
“You did not,” he assured. “I didn’t have time to wonder if he meant that he couldn’t be disappointed or something else, because he presented me with the small box I’d seen him carrying earlier. “I also have a gift for you.”
“You don’t even celebrate Christmas,” I said. “You spent the holiday at a conference on a world where Christmas isn’t even a thing.”
“But as we have established, we are friends, and friends honor each other’s traditions, do they not?”
“There was a vintage clothing store across the street from the conference center. This was in the window, and I recalled your growing collection of similar items. Please open it.”
I did as I was told, removing the lid and parting the lime green tissue paper to reveal a bundle of white cotton. “You bought me a t-shirt?” I asked. “Seriously.”
“I was assured it was not ‘just any’ t-shirt,” he said.
I unfolded it, and turned it so I could see the logo and writing on it. ” ‘Hard Rock Café – Shi’Kahr,'” I read. “They were only open for two years. This is rare in the extreme!” Impulsively, I rose from my chair to hug him. “Data, thank you! I can’t wait to wear it!”
His arms were stiff and awkward at first, and he stayed seated, but he returned my hug. “I am pleased that you approve,” he said.
He caught me yawning not long after I’d returned to my chair and quietly suggested that I go get some sleep. Wisely, I chose not to argue.
The party was as spectacular as I expected, and then some. It started with nibbles and mingling, but almost all of my father and Gia’s friends are musicians, so it was inevitable that a jam session would break out.
At one point, someone gave Data a clarinet, and he did a credible job on a jazz piece, despite the fact that improvised syncopation is really not his area of expertise. He gave the instrument back to its rightful owner just in time for me to corner him.
“Having fun?” I asked.
“It is an interesting confluence of events,” he observed. “I am afraid I have much to learn about jazz, however.”
“You have to let go a little, to play it right,” I said. “Dad’s all about classical, but jazz is his playtime.” Someone bumped into me, and I realized it was Gia, dancing very delicately with one of the flautists from the music school. I grinned at her, then turned back to Data. “Once the dancing’s started all is right with the world.”
“My daughter is right, Mr. Data,” my father said, coming to join us. “May I borrow her from you – it’s likely one of the last times she’ll be willing to dance with her old man.”
“You’re not that old,” I told my father, as he whirled me onto the dance floor, which was really the living room with all the furniture pushed back.
“No? Then why is my daughter practically a young woman.”
“Magic?” I suggested. “Or time travel. Personally, I wish I were older.”
“Because of a certain Starfleet officer whose circuits might just melt if he understood what you really feel for him?” The question was uttered in a teasing tone.
“Dad!” I protested. “He’s my…” but I couldn’t finish that sentence with ‘tutor’ the way I usually did. “…friend.”
He kissed my forehead. “Don’t be in such a rush to grow up, my Zoetrope. If he’s half the man he seems to be, he’ll wait til the time is right.” I blushed, but he just laughed his musical laugh at me. “Of course, he’s probably not quite ready either.”
“He’s a billion years older than me. And an officer. And…” I didn’t finish the thought. “And I’m just some girl who forgets he’s in charge, a lot, and kind of thinks he’s amazing.”
“As amazing as your dad?”
I laughed. “Sometimes,” I said.
The song ended, and the band switched to a slower tempo. Dad went off to find Gia, and I found myself watching Data dance with one of my second cousins. He’d worn his dress uniform, and if he wasn’t exactly the handsomest man at this party, he was certainly the most striking.
I snagged a glass of laced eggnog from a serving tray, and took a healthy swallow, feeling the alcohol make warmth flow all through me. Dad never served the fake stuff. I threaded my way back toward Data just as the song was ending.
“Zoe! Your math tutor is an excellent dancer,” my cousin informed me.
I grinned at her. “Preaching to the choir ‘Nessa.” To Data, I simply said, “My turn.” I passed my glass to Vanessa, who walked away smiling. “I mean, if you don’t mind?” I backpedaled.
I’d danced with him before, on the Enterprise, and now, as then, he simply guided me into the proper position, leading me in time to the tune that wasn’t quite slow enough to be romantic, but wasn’t exactly fast, either. “You are unusually quiet tonight,” he observed, applying enough pressure to my waist to indicate the direction of our next turn.
“Stayed up too late chatting with a really good friend,” I teased. “And…I don’t know, it’s weird being home without Mom, with Gia here, with you here. My father likes you, by the way.”
“He is an excellent musician and a gracious host,” Data said.
“He also has excellent taste in houseguests. Dressed the way you are, how have you not been fending every woman here off with a stick?”
He indicated another turn, this time under his arm. I’d had years of ballet and tap, but ballroom was still very new to me. “Step, step, change,” he whispered very softly, before raising his voice ever so slightly to answer me. “When your father initially proposed that I join your family for this celebration, he issued the invitation on your behalf.”
It was my turn to tilt my head in confusion. “So…you’re here as my guest? I didn’t realize. But then…he didn’t know I’d been such a bitch.”
“Language, Zoe,” he said, but he’d managed to soften it into a sort of teasing tone.
“I’m so spending the shuttle ride home swabbing decks aren’t I?”
But Data didn’t revert to our usual game of ‘playing pirates.’ He simply observed, “I have never known you to refer to the Enterprise as home.”
“I’ve had a lot of time to think, what with not-talking to you for a month, and being here for two weeks and all. I guess I decided that home isn’t so much a place as a state of mind.” I shrugged. “I’m incredibly lucky, you know. Some people don’t have any home. I have two.”
The song ended, but we didn’t move very far apart because it was almost midnight, and the servers were passing out sparklers. The band went silent, and my father gestured to the keyboard player for a chingaring.
“Beloved family and friends,” he said. “Shall we count down?”
“Do you know this tradition?” I asked Data very quietly. “Ten seconds out, they light the first sparkler. You pass the flame around the room, and exchange a kiss with whoever you’re close to.”
“Fifteen…” my father began, joined by more voices with every passing second. “Thirteen…eleven…ten…”
Someone clicked the lights off, but I heard the sizzle as the first sparkler caught fire, and watched as the tiny flickers of light began to traverse the room, from person to person.
It was Gia, who passed the flame to me, kissing me on the cheek, and whispering that she was glad I’d come to spend the holidays.
I turned to Data who bent his sparkler to mine. He was the end of the circuit. I stared at him, at the way his eyes seemed to glow in the heat of the flame, and I hesitated, realizing that the way I wanted to kiss him and the way I could kiss him were vastly different. Standing on tiptoe, I brushed a kiss across his cheek. “Happy New Year, Data,” I whispered in his ear. “Welcome to our family.”
The lights came back on as my father started singing “Auld Lang Syne,” and we all joined in on the first chorus.
And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give me a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.
Notes: “Auld Lang Syne” comes in many versions. The version we’re most familiar with was ‘collected’ by Robert Burns.