Crossing the Equator
Chapter One: Maiden Voyages
Disclaimer: Even the characters I made up aren't mine. They demanded their liberty at birth.
"If you don't have anything good to report," Chris Pike says, "don't come in here."
Natalie Jolsen pauses midstride and leans into the doorframe of Chris' office. Immediately Chris shifts in his chair behind his desk, his shoulders squared as if he is prepared to block an attacker.
So he is worried. All that talk last night about being confident that Spock's disciplinary hearing would be a cakewalk...
Bluster. Natalie narrows her eyes and crosses her arms.
"Suit yourself," she says, watching Chris watch her. A slight crease between his brows signals his genuine concern. With a sigh, Natalie gives up the pretense and walks on into the room.
"I have to work on my poker face," she complains, and Chris relaxes visibly into his chair.
"Stop trying," he says, nodding in her direction—a familiar mannerism he falls into when he's feeling magnanimous.
"It went like you said it would," Natalie says, slipping into the chair facing the desk. "Cogley dismantled their argument, they had to admit the charges weren't proven, and they slapped Spock on the wrist anyway, just because they could."
This morning Natalie had sat quietly in the back of the small auditorium in Starfleet's administrative building watching Samuel T. Cogley, long time friend and lawyer from Starbase 11, convince nine judges that Commander Spock's admitted relationship with his student aide did not rise to the level of fraternization. To do so, Spock would have had to show some favoritism or coerce his aide into an unwanted liaison.
Admiral Komack, in particular, had been relentless in his questioning, but in the end, the judgment went in Spock's favor.
"What'd I tell you? So everything's good."
"Don't start that," Chris says, tapping his stylus on the desk. "You sound like a goddam Vulcan."
"They told him to cease and desist his relationship with the cadet," Natalie says. She darts a glance at Chris.
"Like I said, everything's good. That little fling is over. We go back to getting ready for the launch."
Natalie says nothing and waits. Patience is not one of Chris' virtues, and as she expects, he jumps into her silence.
"Right?" he says, and this time she shrugs.
"I don't know," she says. "I think the Commander would object to your calling it a fling. It looks more serious to me."
"You think everyone is more serious than they are," Chris says quickly, tipping back his chair.
Natalie looks down at her hands and swallows.
They've had that conversation before.
"It's just that they were really…familiar…with each other in Leiden," she says, keeping her voice steady. "When we saw them at dinner—before the explosion. And then later—"
Spock had been invited to present his language acquisition program at the Feynman Conference in Leiden and found himself in the middle of a violent protest by anti-alien xenophobes calling themselves Earth United. When one detonated a sonic grenade, Spock rushed it from the crowded ballroom and was mildly injured.
Natalie had seen his aide bullying her way past the security detail when Spock was being attended to by the medics. Something was there—some…tenderness…that was more than simple concern, something more entrenched, more permanent than a mere sexual dalliance.
In frustration, Natalie gives up trying to put words to what she thinks she saw. Chris is clearly skeptical anyway. Nothing she says will change his mind. He has to see things for himself to really believe them, a trait that is both endearing and exasperating.
"Well," Chris says, letting his chair bang forward, slapping his hands on his desktop, "whether they're serious or not, he's been warned. He'd be stupid to continue."
That's true, of course. Natalie doesn't disagree, but Chris' easy dismissal makes her pause.
Stupid to continue.
Easy for Chris to say.
No, not really. She knows him better than that. Easier, maybe, than it is for her. But not easy.
Chris pulls his PADD across his desk and taps it with his stylus. He's ready to move forward. If she brings up any more of her doubts—her observation, for instance, made accidentally as she was leaving the hearing, that Cadet Uhura and Spock left the grounds in the same flitter—he will get irritated.
At some level she knows she withholds that information to protect Chris, to let him bask in his relief that he hasn't lost his first officer after all—but she also realizes that she is protecting Spock as well. And from what? She isn't sure.
"Cogley already leave?" Chris asks, and Natalie shakes her head.
"I told him you'd want to at least have a drink first," she says. She darts a glance at Chris as he fidgets with his PADD and says, "For old times' sake."
If she thought Chris wasn't paying her much attention, she's immediately surprised. He flicks his eyes straight at her and gives her the look, the one that says he can see through her.
I know what you are up to.
It's what makes working with him such a rush.
Among other things.
"Call him," Chris says. "Let's take him to dinner before he gets away."
"Can't," Natalie says, shifting in her chair, looking down at one shoe, bending her ankle back and forth, consigning Chris to the edge of her attention. "Eric invited some people over tonight. I've got to get home early."
"Your friends or his?"
She looks up then and meets Chris' gaze.
"Then you don't need to be there. Call him and tell him we are celebrating tonight. Hell, I'll call him if you want me to."
"Forget that," Natalie says with a small smile. "I can take care of myself, thank you very much."
"I never said you couldn't," Chris says, pushing his PADD to the side on the desktop and leaning forward. His sudden intensity startles Natalie and she pulls away.
For a moment they are both still, and then Chris sits back. Natalie recognizes this for what it is—his way of giving her room, of acknowledging the space—physical and emotional—that they've erected between them.
In the distance Natalie hears a door slam and someone start down the hall. An air filter rattles a staccato tattoo in the ceiling. If she listens closely, she can hear her wrist chronometer ticking like an old-fashioned clock, the sound programmed in as a bit of anachronistic whimsy.
She could call Eric and tell him she'll be late. He's good that way, accepting her odd hours and rarely getting upset with changes in her schedule.
Still, the couple coming over are Eric's best friend and his pregnant wife, and bailing out on them feels inconsiderate.
And it's not like she doesn't enjoy their company. Both are visual artists who have the rare ability to articulate what they do to someone like Natalie, a number cruncher at heart, someone who understands aesthetics in theory but finds art galleries an odd place to spend an afternoon.
Focusing on colors, on texture, on shape—well, it feels so inconsequential on a piece of canvas.
As details about a starship, on the other hand—
Natalie turns her wrist so she can see the face of her chronometer. 1523—a bit early for a drink. On the other hand, they are celebrating. At least now she won't have to start back at square one looking for someone to keep an eye on Chris when the Enterprise launches.
For that's what Spock will do, she's certain—call out Chris when he needs calling out, the way she's always been fearless about doing.
"I might be able to get away for a little while," she says, and Chris' face erupts into smiles and lines.
"That's my Nat," he says, starting to stand up.
"But only for a drink," she amends quickly, and Chris' smile dims briefly.
"Well, if that's all I can have—"
He lets his words drift off and Natalie feels the familiar flush—the heat rushing to her face when she lets her thoughts stray into what can't be.
Not that she doesn't love her husband.
And she really does want to start a family with him.
But her feelings for Chris are like bedrock, forged by the crucible of all they've endured, solid, so that everything since has been sand.
Most of the time she doesn't think about it—at least not consciously.
But Spock's hearing has unsettled her and left her bereft in some way, almost as if she has lost something dear, which, she thinks later, she supposes she has.
"Let me see if he's even available," she says too loudly, standing up and moving toward the door of the office. "Otherwise I'll head on home."
Before Chris can say anything else she pulls out her comm. Samuel Cogley answers right away and agrees to meet them at a bar near headquarters.
"Just one drink," she says as they make their way down the hall. "I bet Cogley is antsy to catch a flight home anyway. You remember how he is about traveling."
Chris hums his assent—and Natalie can't help but laugh. Of all the people she knows, Samuel Cogley is the biggest homebody. That he came all the way from Starbase 11 to help with Spock's defense is a testament to their history.
Like many of her friendships, this one harks back to her earliest days in Starfleet. She and Chris met Cogley when their ship, the USS Tiberius, lay over Starbase 11 for repairs after the warp core went critical and Captain April was fatally wounded trying to rescue the trapped crewmen on deck five—
Better not to dredge up those memories, not when she's poised to leave Starfleet, not when Chris is busy getting the Enterprise ready. He can't afford the distraction, and she is afraid that her resolve will waver—she, the lover of routine, the steadiest person she knows, Polaris.
X X X X X X X
If Natalie believed in omens, she would have transferred off the USS Tiberius the first day.
A computer glitch kept the quartermaster from being able to find her in the ship's complement, leading to a humiliating 20 minutes of standing awkwardly in the shuttle hangar deck, her duffel in hand, while other arriving crew members dodged around her.
When her name was finally located, she was sent off rather abruptly with few directions to her quarters. Although she had studied the technical layouts of the Tiberius before boarding, actually walking the corridors was quite another matter. Not for the only time that day she found herself completely turned around, coming up suddenly to a dead end or ending up on a different deck than she intended.
As a lieutenant she expected to share quarters but she was surprised when she opened her cabin door and found half of the room full of stacked boxes. When she finally spoke to the deck officer, he told her that she was, in fact, sleeping in one of the supply closets.
"We're pressed for space," he said, looking past her shoulder, "but don't worry. Most of the stuff stored in there is for medical. The docs are good about giving a heads up when they need to come get something."
And then there was the first officer.
She ran into him—literally—as she made her way back to her cabin after picking up an armload of uniforms and bedding. Her vision partially blocked and her sense of direction completely wonky, she turned a corner and plowed into him, dropping everything onto the floor.
He was not amused.
"I hope you aren't our new navigator," he said as Natalie scrambled to gather up her things. The officer, she noted, did not offer to help.
"Lieutenant Natalie Jolsen," she said, standing up and getting a good look at him for the first time. Tall and broad-shouldered, the officer wore his dark hair a shade beyond regulation length. His hazel eyes bored into her. "Records officer," she added.
"Be more careful in the future," the first officer said, more gruffly than was necessary, Natalie thought. She narrowed her eyes enough in irritation that he noticed.
"You have a problem with that?" he said, and she blushed furiously.
"No, Commander," she said, looking intently at the metal plating on the floor that oddly enough didn't open up and swallow her whole.
"Commander Pike," he said, and Natalie felt herself flush again at the rebuke.
"Commander Pike," she said, darting a glance up at his face.
His eyes flicked quickly to hers and then he was gone, brushing past her and down the corridor. Taking a deep breath, Natalie stumbled forward until she found the door to her cabin.
The next two days were a blur—settling in, an opening assembly led by Captain April, and the scramble to sort out her work schedule and balance it with the required physical training.
"I chose this," she often said aloud when the door to her cabin slid shut behind her at the end of her shift and she sank exhausted into her bunk.
Her work as records officer wasn't that different from what she had been doing at headquarters in the personnel department, a job she had taken immediately upon graduation from the Academy. It was interesting enough, but six months in she knew she would eventually get bored and she had applied for a starship post.
The Tiberius was a Nebula class ship with a complement of 240, though it had been designed to carry 200. The scheduled decommissioning of two different types of ageing science vessels and heavy cruisers meant that the newer ships such as the Tiberius were running above capacity—something Natalie thought about every day as she dickered with Starfleet in her communiqués.
Yes, of course she realized that requesting 14 metric tons of foodstuffs was a ton over the allotment for a Nebula class ship. Yes, she knew that the payroll showed an excessive disbursement of shore leave days. Why didn't the Earth-bound accountants understand that the ship was over capacity at Starfleet's direction?
The red tape was maddening.
She saw the captain rarely—two staff meetings in the first week and a half—but she saw Commander Pike so often that she began to think he was seeking her out.
"Jolsen," he might say, bringing his tray to the table and sitting across from her in the mess hall. "See if you can requisition us something better than this reconstituted protein."
Or he might drop into her office off the engineering section and ask her to run some numbers for him—the total number of sick days taken by the maintenance crew since the launch, for example.
"You know you can get that information yourself through your access to the records link," she told him one day, and he frowned and rubbed his hand along his jaw.
"What's your point?"
"I mean," she said, "you don't have to run down here when you need something. You can call it up on your own PADD. Your clearance is higher than mine."
For a moment he stood in place, his hazel eyes unmoving, until she was forced to look away.
"I could," he said at last, "but this is faster. I don't have time to deal with a damfool computer."
He stood up straighter as if his completely illogical—and frankly mystifying—comments settled the matter. Natalie decided not to say anything and in another moment he pivoted around and left.
Somehow when she had envisioned traveling among the stars, she had something more exotic in mind than the steady distant rumble of the ship's engines underscoring everything. The gentle shiver was there all the time—like the pulse of the ship. After a few days Natalie was no longer consciously aware of it, but once during delta shift she had woken from a deep sleep in a panic, her hand flying to her chest. The ship, she realized, had stopped—the engines throttled back until the heartbeat of the Tiberius was almost imperceptible.
As soon as the official shakedown was over, Captain April announced the date for the crossing the line ceremony. Shrouded in rituals handed down from the days of sailing ships, the ceremony had at one time been a way of christening novice sailors when they sailed over the equator.
Now it was reserved for crew members on their first space faring voyage, and while Natalie knew that the hazing prevalent in the seagoing days was discouraged, she understood the subliminal sexual overtones associated with it—and the temporary blurring of the lines of rank and privilege.
These days instead of walking a gauntlet of abuse, a pollywog—still the name given newbies- might disappear for an hour or two with an experienced crew member of his choosing—a shellback—returning looking either inebriated or sated.
She dreaded the ceremony on principle.
It was a disruption in routine—and she liked routine. Things ran better when they were organized—and the revelry associated with turning wogs into shellbacks was not only silly but unproductive.
She made the mistake of mentioning her concern to the only other person in the records office, a woman who had graduated a year earlier than Natalie and joined the Tiberius after getting an advanced degree in computer repair.
"What a grouch!" Jenna said, and Natalie bristled.
"If it weren't mandatory I wouldn't care," she said, and Jenna laughed.
"No one's forcing you to attend," she said. "But you'll miss all the fun."
The ceremony wasn't mandatory? That was news. Natalie felt her mood lift.
The night before the crossing the line ceremony, Natalie noticed a flagged message when she turned on her PADD.
Your presence is requested at the Pollywog Mutiny, the note said. Ship's Lounge, 2200.
With a sigh she deleted the message and continued making preparations for bed.
At 2220 her door chime sounded.
"Lights," she said, shuffling the thin blanket from her legs and hurrying to open the door.
There stood Commander Pike, his arms crossed.
"You're late," he said.
"I'm off duty," Natalie said, not bothering to hide her annoyance. "Sir."
"Don't tell me what I already know," the commander said, a frown creasing his brow.
Before she could stop herself, Natalie blurted out, "Likewise."
Commander Pike's face turned red.
"I'm sorry," Natalie said quickly. "It's just that I understood that the…frivolity…was optional."
For a moment the commander said nothing but Natalie could see the muscles of his jaw twitching. He was clearly angry—and she felt her own anger rise in response. After all, she was the one whose rest was being interrupted, who was being badgered to participate in something that didn't interest her at all—on her own time.
He had no right to be angry. She had every reason to be.
"Perhaps no one explained to you," Commander Pike said, each word punctuated, "the importance of camaraderie on a starship."
"Permission to speak freely, sir."
"By all means."
His eyes were still narrowed, his voice low. Natalie chose her words carefully.
"While I appreciate the importance of camaraderie," she said, "I was unaware that the crossing the line ceremony was the only opportunity I would ever have for fellowship with my crewmates."
"Are you being sarcastic, Lieutenant?"
She was almost as surprised as he was to hear the words slip out. His mouth dropped open and he expelled his breath in a loud huh.
A minute passed, then two.
Natalie shifted from one foot to the other, growing chilled and wishing she had put the blanket around her shoulders before opening the door. Here she stood in her regulation pajamas…
"Let's start over," Commander Pike said at last. "You do know that the crossing the line ceremony is of great historical significance."
"And it involves two days of …what did you call it? Frivolity?"
"Your fellow wogs are busy at this moment executing their friendly mutiny of the ship—when they tap the officers and relieve them of duty for the rest of the evening. You know you were expected to help with that, right?"
"As I said, I thought I would have other opportunities for fun and games," Natalie said, but for the first time she began to have some doubts. The officers were to be relieved of duty for the evening during a mock mutiny? No one told her that. That explained why Pike came to fetch her. The officers were looking for the night off.
"And I suppose you intend to miss the fun and games tomorrow as well," Pike said, and Natalie hesitated.
"I wasn't aware—"
"Jolsen," Pike said, his voice signaling the end of the conversation, "sometimes you get only one chance at something. I think you just blew yours."
Only later, after he swung away hard, his footfalls echoing down the corridor, after she resettled herself in her bunk, her blanket pulled to her chin, had she wondered if he meant something else, some other sort of crossing the line.
X X X X X X X
The first thing Nyota wants to do when she enters Chris Thomasson's apartment is take a hot bath.
She doesn't, however. Spock's cousin has set out a canister of teas and a note on how to work the temperamental kettle—an invitation that she feels compelled to accept.
While she fills the kettle, Spock brings in their bags from the flitter and adjusts the temperature of the sitting room. By the time the water boils, the room is warm and a cup of tea on the sofa is more appealing.
For long moments neither speaks. Instead, they sit close but not touching, each cradling a tea mug, both lost in their thoughts.
Humans take this sort of privacy for granted, but Nyota finds it unsettling when she is with Spock. When they are together, they almost always move swiftly to touch the other, physically and mentally. Sitting alone with her own thoughts this way—even in companionable silence—is lonely.
She finishes her tea first and gets up to return her mug to the kitchen. When she returns, from the corner of her eye she feels Spock watching her as she moves slowly about the living area, looking closely at the scattered objects Chris has on display.
"Who's this?" she says, lifting up a one-dimensional photograph in an old-fashioned frame for his inspection.
"Grandmother Grayson," he says, taking a sip of his tea.
"The one who was so hard on you?"
Both Spock and Chris have told stories that featured their grandmother—a formidable woman whose disapproval of her grandchildren is what they recall of her years after her death. Why Chris would have her picture on his sideboard is a mystery. Nyota makes a mental note to ask him when she sees him—Sunday, she thinks, when they take the flitter back to San Francisco.
Chris' plan in coming to San Francisco today was always to turn over his flitter and his apartment in Seattle to Spock and Nyota for the weekend, regardless of the outcome of the hearing. The not guilty verdict means that the weekend will be joyful—can, in fact, be a welcome respite from the tension of the past few weeks since Spock received the summons.
Yet as she circles around the room, leaning closer to a large piece of obviously hand-crafted pottery and running her fingers along the ridges, sidling up to the single oil painting in the room, Rachel's work, apparently, her signature prominent in the corner, Nyota feels a ghost of concern, and turning suddenly, she catches Spock unaware, an uncharacteristic look of exhaustion on his face.
Instantly she is abashed.
She almost never sees him tired or even visibly distressed, at least not so most people can tell, and she realizes that she's done what she despises in others—fallen into the assumption that because he is a Vulcan he is sturdy, invincible—instead of seeing him as the individual he is.
Moving quickly to the sofa, she takes his empty mug from his hand and sets it on the little side table. Then she perches beside him, slipping off her boots and tucking her feet under her. She leans forward to kiss him and senses his reticence at once—not that he pulls away or resists her, but he does not sway into her as he usually does, his fingers slipping to the back of her neck.
More often than not she's the one who initiates their intimacies, and he's always been willing to follow her lead—enthusiastic, even, drawing out their lovemaking at times almost beyond her endurance.
It occurs to her now that he might need that sense of control after the humiliations of the day—standing before the judges on public display, helpless to do anything but answer their insistent questions.
She stretches back and waits, his eyes still on her.
In the late afternoon light filtering through the window she sees how sallow he is, and without warning she remembers the time he lay unconscious in the hospital after the hover bus crash, too sedated to slip into a healing trance until she had slid her hand in his and sensed him struggling to recover.
Perhaps she can help him now?
Holding out her hand, palm up, she beckons him. He glances down and rests his hand in hers.
Instead of the familiar snap and tingle of his mind racing towards hers, she feels…nothing.
No, not nothing, for he is there—but distant and hazy, like trying to sort out someone's features across a foggy commons.
What do you want, she calls, but the same misty fog rolls in and she struggles to understand what he is feeling.
What do you want, she asks again, and this time he shows her his confusion, how discovering, how articulating what he wants requires more energy than he can muster.
"Do you want some dinner?" she says aloud, but Spock closes his eyes briefly and she knows he isn't hungry, that the idea of eating tires him.
His exhaustion begins to weary her as well—the jumble of his memories from earlier that afternoon when he walked with her through the Enterprise, the cease and desist notice from the hearing board still rankling him.
If we continue, he told her, you could lose the ship, and she sees now the immense relief he felt when she shook her head.
Of course they would not cease and desist.
She had never taken that possibility seriously.
Under the jumble of his thoughts she sees what weighs on him now, the very real possibility that the months stretching ahead of them before she graduates will be so constrained as to be almost unbearable—now that they have been warned, now that there is no question that they will be watched.
Not just watched, he amends. Scrutinized.
Yes, she thinks, and her heart sinks. His apartment and the privacy it seemed to afford will certainly be off limits. Communication of any kind will be problematic.
Her shoulders slump as she begins to feel what he feels—that they have set sail across an unfriendly ocean with no place to hull in a storm, the land on the horizon so far away as to be beyond imagining.
It is, she realizes, as if they have sailed into another hemisphere.
She shivers then—and realizes that it is his chill she feels. With a start she hops up and walks down the short hallway to Chris' bedroom. What she sees there makes her smile.
At the foot of his bed are five or six thick blankets and quilts folded neatly, piled high, an unmistakable gesture of love and care.
She takes a moment to run her hand across each one. Some are almost furry, the nap so thick that it tickles her fingers. One of the quilts is an obvious machine-sewn knock off, but the other one is clearly handmade, the batting inside nobby and buckled, the seams of the pinwheel design appealingly uneven.
Nyota picks it up and walks to the window, holding it to the light to better see the intricate stitches. Who made it? Surely not Grandmother Grayson. She doesn't seem like the type of woman who would have had enough patience to cut and sew a quilt.
She adds the question to her growing list of things she wants to talk to Chris about when she sees him.
For now she gathers up the quilt in her arms and walks back to the living area.
Even from this angle she can tell that Spock is asleep. Anyone else would have been sprawled across the couch, snoring perhaps, but Spock asleep is as self-contained, as restrained, as Spock awake. His arms are crossed over his torso, his head turned slightly to the side, his eyelashes fanned darkly against his pale cheeks.
The view is a rare one and she stands for a moment, unwilling to risk waking him. Finally, however, she slides the quilt over him and holds her breath.
He doesn't stir.
On one hand she knows that she could run her hand across his ear until he wakes, aroused and ready to follow her to the bedroom. The idea is tempting—she's certainly spent time imaging just that since they left San Francisco.
But what she wants is not what he needs—or even what she needs right now.
That old division between wants and needs—at the end of the day, needs always win.
She shouldn't have confused him by asking what he wants. He's too tired to know, too shamed by the admission he's had to make before an audience that he's let his emotions determine his actions.
When he wakes she'll ask him what he needs instead. She won't make that mistake again.
A/N: This story picks up where "People Will Say" left off, immediately after Spock's disciplinary hearing. I think I've given enough background in this story so that you don't have to read PWS first to understand "Crossing the Equator"—at least, that was my intent!
This story actually is very scary and may represent what my students call an "epic fail"—two very different stories and 'ships yoked together. My plan is to tell what Chris Pike and Natalie Jolsen are doing in the current ongoing timeline—as well as how Spock and Uhura's relationship is evolving during that same time. The stories are connected by the backstory for Chris and Natalie—my voyeuristic peak at their own "maiden voyage."
Embarking on a new fiction is always both thrilling and frightening….so thanks for letting me know how this one strikes you so far. Letting an OC have a major part of a chapter is always risky!
As always, thanks for taking the time to read and especially to leave a review, and thanks to StarTrekFanWriter for her ongoing support.