Chapter One: Speaking at Cross Purposes
Disclaimer: I do not own nor profit from these characters. I just follow them around and jot down what I see and hear—so don't blame me!
They almost never talk about the future.
It wasn't always this way. When she had first become Spock's teaching assistant, Nyota Uhura had spoken of little else. More than once she had told him over tea in the break room about her trip as a first-year cadet to the Riverside Shipyard and her instant, abiding love for the Enterprise, skeletal and incomplete then but scheduled for launch at almost the same time that Nyota will be graduating from the Academy—both ready for assignment. Karma, she had declared to Spock's upturned, amused brow.
Coincidence, he had replied.
Just as recently as a few months ago she had told him that the scuttlebutt on campus had named Christopher Pike the captain of the flagship—and she bemoaned the fact that she had not had an opportunity on that long-ago recruiting trip to speak to him personally—to make herself stand out in the crowd of cadets who had given up their winter break to barnstorm across the Midwest as Academy representatives.
But that was before. Now she cannot bear to talk about the future. Not that her goal has changed—the Enterprise and a position as a communications officer is like an unwavering star…but looking toward that star, and feeling herself moving inexorably towards it, is these days as much about what she will lose.
Even now Nyota cannot articulate what she will lose because she cannot say what it is that she and Spock have, what they are becoming. Lovers, certainly, though lovers who have never uttered the word love. Friends, of course, though friends who must present themselves as something less in public—constantly reining in the impulse for playfulness or affection.
For all her gifts with language—for all the languages that she knows so well—she cannot put into words what this relationship means.
For now she lives in limbo, certain that at some point in the future it will have to end—that she will leave or he will—and beyond that she cannot think.
So when he tells her that he is applying for the position of first officer on the Enterprise, Nyota is stunned.
"But your project here-" she says, referring to Spock's most recent program that he is writing in conjunction with both the phonology and computer science departments.
They are sitting in one of their regular eating spots, a small market near the faculty housing on campus. The market keeps a large cooler stocked with assorted fruit and various vegetarian sandwiches—and it stays open all night. The owner, a dark middle-aged man from the Indian sub-continent, has become used to Spock's odd hours and has recently included a Vulcan fruit drink as part of his inventory. Spock has never bought it—it is far too sweet for his taste—and though Nyota does not like it either, she always buys a container, careful to broadcast a smile that she hopes the owner interprets as their corporate gratitude.
On warmer days the owner pulls a couple of the small round tables outside, but the wet San Francisco weather means that most of the time Spock and Nyota take seats at the tables shoved against the wall in the back past the crowded food aisles. They don't mind sitting inside—the privacy is welcomed—but on this particular afternoon they are outside watching the foot traffic as they snack on yogurt and dried mango.
"The project should be finished within two months," Spock says, and Nyota feels her heart beating faster.
"I never thought you might want to leave teaching," she says, and Spock gives her an odd look. "What?" she says, and a shadow passes over his features.
"I am…uncertain…about my future at the Academy," he says, and Nyota swallows hard. Is this is a comment about their relationship—about what might happen if they are discovered? But he continues. "The work has become routine…and I do not wish to stay here if…"
His voice trails off and his gaze drifts to the distance. So. They do not speak of the future, but then they do. They've made no assurances to each other—indeed, she doesn't want that—but Spock's words—the ones spoken and the ones unsaid—are a promise of sorts. Nyota reaches across the table and runs her fingers along Spock's hand.
Her touch pulls him back.
"What all do you have to do to apply?" she asks, lowering her hand as a young couple and their toddler walk past on the sidewalk.
Spock places his spoon into his empty bowl and says, "I sent my paperwork to Captain Pike's attaché last week—"
"Oh!" Nyota says, truly surprised. Why hasn't he mentioned this before? She feels strangely slighted, though if she is honest with herself, Spock has no reason to consult her about his plans. They are, after all, his plans—and there again she bumps up against the uneasy recognition that the future may send them in different directions.
If Spock is aware of her momentary unease, he says nothing about it. Instead, he picks up their bowls and leans over to place them on the clean-up table by the door.
"The interview is next—" he says, and Nyota looks up.
"You have an interview? Already? That's a good sign, isn't it?"
"Perhaps," Spock says, standing up. Nyota gathers up her computer tablet and several student folders and joins him as they make their way across the street back towards the faculty apartments.
"When is it?" she says over the noise of the oncoming traffic, and Spock replies, "1800 hours."
"Today? You mean you have the interview today?"
But Spock is busy keying in the building code and doesn't answer. Nyota has to bite her lip to keep from asking again—she waits impatiently while he opens the building and then the door to his apartment.
They are still such new lovers that every private moment is an invitation to intimacy, and as soon as Spock closes the door behind him, they drift to each other, their fingers entwining, their lips brushing.
Nyota is the first to break away, her eyes crinkled in delight.
"Do you know what this means?" she says. She watches Spock closely—she knows him well enough to see that he is considering his answer carefully—indeed, she knows him so well that she can almost hear him mildly scolding her for speaking in apparent non sequiturs…but his expression changes from playful to serious and he says, "Yes. I know what it means."
He pulls her back to him with his left arm and lets his right hand caress the back of her neck. She feels herself flush and she rocks against him.
"No," he says quietly, tightening his grip around her waist so that she cannot move. She feels both his heat and her own enveloping her, and she hears herself moan. At once he places his index finger across her lips, silencing her, and she opens her eyes to see his own, almost black, dilated and hooded, and looking at her with such intensity that she cannot look away.
They stand there unmoving for a long moment, her heartbeat thrumming in her ears, and she slips her hand to Spock's side where his heart is beating so much faster than her own. She smiles in wonder at their two hearts beating so differently—and Spock tilts his head just enough to tell her that he shares the pleasure of the discovery.
Again she starts to move, and again Spock pulls her so closely that she is forced to remain still. She feels his shallow, hot breaths on her cheek and she closes her eyes, waiting, though she isn't sure what they are waiting for.
Spock's fingertips on the back of her neck prickle and buzz but she cannot feel him in her mind. Where are you? she calls in her thoughts, and from a great distance she senses him coming toward her, slowly, hesitantly, drawing her forward instead of rushing to her as he has in the past….
She can still feel his heartbeat under her palm but the rest of her body seems to have disappeared. She knows that Spock is standing beside her but it is his mind that is closer now—the peculiar bright and dark patterns that define how he sees the world, the careful way he holds certain memories near the surface while keeping others at bay—and now Nyota feels herself surrendering her own thoughts—her ambition and desire, and her perfectionism that annoys some of her friends—she shows him these things and feels him taking up each offering with genuine curiosity.
This is what I want, she thinks, and she adds, this is what I do not want to lose, and she knows that the words are not just her own. From far away she senses a wave undulating toward them, like a storm cloud rushing across the plains or a tsunami hurtling toward the shore—and at the moment of final surrender, when she can no longer feel even her feet touching the floor—her sensations rush back so hard and with such sexual force that she cries out and grabs Spock around his waist, juddering with a crescendo that threatens to knock her over.
She has no idea how long they stand and hold each other, but when she opens her eyes at last, she is startled to see sunlight still streaming through the window.
"Fascinating," she says, and Spock answers, "Indeed."
By the afternoon Christopher Pike has had enough. Natalie Jolsen recognizes the twitchy shoulder rolls that are the hallmark of Pike before he explodes. Not that he has an anger problem—far from it. But Natalie has been Pike's attaché long enough to know when his focus is shot, when he needs to walk away and regroup with a glass of bourbon and some uncensored conversation.
Unfortunately, he can have neither for a while longer. One more candidate for first officer is scheduled for an interview today.
Almost as if he can read her mind, Pike says, "Don't tell me how many more. It's better if I don't know."
"You sure?" she says, placing her hands on the remaining folders. "Forewarned is usually better."
"Not to me," Pike says, standing up from behind his desk and stretching his arms over his head. "Whatever happened to surprise as a strategy? Just spring them on me."
Natalie rolls her eyes and opens the top folder.
"You want to take a break?" she says. "I can ask the next candidate to reschedule for later."
Pike rubs his hand through his afternoon beard and says, "No, no, let's get this over with. But afterwards you and I are going out for some serious drinking."
"Not tonight, old man," she quips. "My hubby is making supper. Do you know how rare that is? I wouldn't dare be late."
Pike scrunches his face and snorts.
"What happened to that really good attaché named Natalie I had one time? The one I want to be my XO?"
Pike's comment shouldn't sting—it is, after all, something of a compliment—but Natalie feels miffed in spite of herself.
"Remember our deal," she says, "and stop harassing me."
Pike sits back down and says, "I know, I know—you're ready for babies. So go have them. Why you think that means you have to leave the service is beyond me."
"Are you ready yet?" she says with some asperity. Pike nods, and Natalie hands him the open folder.
"The next candidate—"
"Stop! Don't tell me anything else," Pike says, holding up a hand in Natalie's direction. "After ten candidates I can't tell any apart. All of them are academically gifted. All have stellar recommendations. All say the same goddamn things about why they want to go into space….From now on I'm not reading anyone's dossier until I get a feel for how I like him—if nothing else, that ought to save me some trouble."
"No but's," Pike says, and Natalie can tell that this time he isn't joking. He really is at the end of his patience.
"Fine," she says, getting up from her chair in the corner of the office and opening the door.
"Come in, Commander," she says, motioning to Spock to take a seat in front of the desk.
No one else would have noticed, but Natalie sees Pike react—a miniscule squint to his eye that means he is surprised. Serves him right, she thinks. He should have read the dossier.
Then Pike does look down at the folder and back up again too quickly to have gotten much useful from it.
"Spock," Spock says, tilting his head slightly.
From her place in the corner Natalie can see his face in profile—and she studies him without being observed. His features are sharp and striking—and in the early evening light, his skin has an odd cast to it that seems to highlight his alienness. Natalie shifts her attention to Pike. He looks more discomfited than she has seen him in a long time.
With a sudden gesture, Pike closes Spock's file and says, "So, Commander, tell me about yourself."
Natalie sighs. Surely Chris knows better than to ask such an open-ended question of a Vulcan. Or maybe not.
"Specify," Spock says, and Pike stops shifting in his chair and stares.
"Yourself," Pike says. "Anything you want to tell me."
Spock says nothing. Natalie stifles a snicker and Pike shoots her a warning glance.
"Let's try that again," Pike says. "Why are you here—in Starfleet?"
Spock doesn't move but Natalie senses that he is…annoyed, perhaps…but Vulcans don't get annoyed, do they? She tries to remember what she has heard about them. Not much—she's only met a few in her entire career, and none well enough to say she knows them.
"I am in Starfleet because I am not somewhere else," he says, and now it is Pike's turn to look annoyed.
"But you are teaching at the Academy? I did get that right, didn't I?" Pike asks, a definite prickliness creeping into his tone.
"Affirmative," Spock says, and Pike lifts his hands and says, "And?"
When Spock doesn't respond right away, Pike adds, "What are you teaching?"
For a few minutes Natalie sits back and listens as Spock explains his dual responsibilities to two departments, Pike jotting down a few notes and asking for a couple of points of clarification.
At last the two men seem to have found a rhythm to the interview, and Natalie relaxes and looks at her watch. Unlike Chris, she has looked through Spock's file—and she knows that on paper his qualifications top everyone else's. But Chris Pike runs his ships like family—and he trusts his intuition to help him put compatible crew in place, regardless of what someone's paper credentials might say.
"Let's talk about the summary I sent over," Pike says, and Natalie looks at her watch again. She's hungry, and this part of the interview is so routine that she can recite it in her sleep.
"I did not read it," Spock says, and Natalie sits up. What a stupid omission, she thinks. Pike's face flushes bright red—he's more than annoyed.
"You didn't have time?" Pike says in clipped words.
"I had time," Spock says, "but I did not deem it necessary."
Despite herself, Natalie lets out a snort. Pike looks up at her with wide eyes.
"Mister," he says, "if I tell you that something is necessary, then it is. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," Spock answers immediately, and Natalie holds her breath to see what Pike will do next. Dismiss him? Chasten him?
But before Pike can do either, Spock begins to speak.
"Sir," he says, "I apologize for the breach of protocol, but when I saw that the summary concerned the automatic subroutine program for the library computer archive, I realized that reading it would be an inefficient use of my time."
For a moment Pike sits and simply looks at Spock. Then he seems to gather himself and he says, "And you thought that-why?"
Something in Spock's posture catches Natalie's attention—some slight motion in his shoulders that she knows should mean something—and then he says, "Sir, I wrote that program. The summary would not add to my understanding of it."
Pike takes a deep breath and says, "I see." He waits for another beat and then adds, "Well, Commander, thank you for your interest. I'll be getting in touch with you."
Just like that, and Spock is dismissed. Natalie is surprised—usually Pike likes to have candidates ask questions about the ship, or about their duties—or he invites them to ask questions about his own travels—more, as he says, to get a feel for their personalities than anything else.
As soon as Spock shuts the door behind him, Pike blusters loudly.
"Of all the crazy-ass…what was Jenny Erickson thinking when she recommended this guy?"
Natalie moves to the chair Spock has vacated and sits down.
"Admiral Erickson's sent you lots of good people before," Natalie says, but Pike shushes her.
"Can you imagine having more than two words with this guy? How in the world he teaches in the language department beats me."
"His department chairs say he's brilliant—"
"What good is brilliant if he can't relate to anyone! Or can't follow orders? Or worse, is a liar!"
"A liar, sir?"
"You heard him. He said he wrote the computer program we are installing on the ship-"
"So-" Natalie begins, but Pike is too worked up to listen.
"So, I happen to know who wrote that program, and it isn't anyone named Spock. Here, look at that footnote," he says, pulling the summary paper from his desk and handing it to Natalie.
"Chris, you need to look—"
"So much for Vulcan honesty," Pike says, still simmering.
"Chris," Natalie says more loudly, "he wrote the program."
"Give me that," Pike says, pulling the paper out of Natalie's hand.
"At the bottom," she says.
"See," Pike says triumphantly, "this says…S'chn T'gai….Spock…does that mean what I think it means?"
Natalie stands and crosses her arms.
"Yep. Feel stupid?"
Pike lets out a breath and says, "Not yet. He's still not on my short list."
"That's your choice, of course," Natalie says, "but maybe that leaping without looking thing isn't such a good idea for you after all. Why don't you take his folder home and read it before you decide."
"Just to shut you up," Pike says, "but I'm not changing my mind."
A/N: This story stands alone, though in my time line it follows a trilogy of stories about how Spock and Nyota discover each other—"Slips of the Tongue," "The Visitor," and "The Word You Mean."
Thanks to StarTrekFanWriter for her suggestions!