Chapter 1: -1-
Jim exited the hover taxi and slung his pack over his back. The air was crisp and cool even though it was almost midday. He heard the taxi leave but he didn’t turn, his attention was on the large iron wrought gate in front of him. There was no comm panel in sight. Carefully he opened the gate and made sure to close it behind him again. So here he was. At Spock’s house on Earth.
After Vulcan's destruction he and Spock had spent five years together in space, four of them as lovers. But then they had also spent a year apart. Spock had spent most of it here on Earth (or so Uhura had told him), while he’d been light years away on a special mission.
As he set out up the long grit path towards the house—a large cottage situated in the rolling British countryside. Spock's choice? Or someone else's?—the crunching under his feet and the rustle of the tree leaves overhead the only noises, he wondered what kind of reception he would receive when he reached his destination.
The cottage was old and weather worn, moisture glistening off every roof tile. Jim disliked it instantly. It was morose and sad. It couldn't have been Spock's choice, could it? He felt his chest tighten.
When he'd left to take on the undercover assignment with Starfleet Intelligence he hadn't known it would be a year. He hadn’t been able to share any of the details with Spock, but Spock had told him he understood. In Starfleet you had to go where you were sent; that was simply the way things were sometimes. All he’d told Spock was that the safety of the Federation was at stake. Then he’d left.
He'd shared his bed with another for a year, not sent a word to Spock and he couldn't even entertain sharing any details about that year with Spock--not in words, not in a mindmeld. If there was any chance in saving this relationship he would learn to keep those memories tucked away during a mindmeld. He'd felt stupid asking SI whether that would be possible and whether they would train him. Jumping the gun much? There might be no relationship here to save and therefore no mindmeld training needed.
Jim had come to a stop in front of the door. Why not Libya? Egypt? South Africa? England was nothing like Vulcan.
Maybe that was why he'd chosen England.
He took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
There was loud bark and Jim jumped backwards involuntarily. Growling, barking, and scuffling... the door shuddered as some almighty beast lunged at it from the other side.
For a moment Jim felt himself flush hot. He had the wrong address. That was followed by a small smile. Spock wasn't here. He was probably enjoying Death Valley's climate, sipping tea from a thermos.
The door opened and Spock stepped out. The barking stopped. Something big, heavy, and furry was panting behind his former first officer, just out of sight. It was almost like one of those screwy away missions, except Jim got the feeling there was no need to shout out There’s a monster behind you! Run!
All Jim could see was its heavy breath misting up the cold outside air and its slobber dribbling out of its mouth, pouring onto the carpet like a waterfall of slime. Even though his eyes should have been on Spock they were glued to the dark muzzle of the beast inside until it retreated back inside and out of view with a short grunt.
"Jim, it is good to see you again, if unexpected."
Jim's eyes snapped up to meet Spock's. His expression was unreadable. Jim felt stupid. Stupider than ever. Clearly Spock had found someone else and this was his new partner's dog.
Jim cleared his throat. "Hi Spock."
For so long he'd pictured this moment. Never had he imagined it like this. A year was no time at all, why did things have to change so much?
"The mission is over," he continued. "So I thought I'd come and say hello. I got the address from Uhura."
"Yes, she visited us here recently."
Jim pulled himself together.
"I'm sorry about not being in contact. I would have been if it had been allowed."
Spock nodded. "I surmised as much." He tapped his head lightly once. "And I knew you were alive."
Jim swallowed. The thought that Spock still had some kind of telepathic awareness of him was not surprising after all they had shared, but considering their current non-relationship Jim couldn't help feeling a bit embarrassed about that, no matter how illogical it was to feel that way.
"It is cold outside." The corner of Spock's mouth quirked up mischievously. "Did you come all the way here to stand outside or will you come in and join me and Hector for some lunch?"
Jim smiled in return. It was a genuine smile and he did feel warm inside at Spock's almost sunny disposition even if his legs felt like jelly at the same time. He didn’t look forward to meeting Hector, but if their friendship could be saved then not everything was lost.
The minute Jim stepped through the door he took in the sight of the torn carpet, chewed up furniture, and scratched walls. His jaw dropped.
"Jesus, Spock! What the hell happened here?"
The answer came in the form of a sharp, powerful bark. A huge black beast jumped into view. It looked a bit like a dog, an Irish Wolfhound of sorts maybe, but for the long, sharp talons, and the three rows of razor sharp teeth it flashed at Jim. Its eyes were black as the void. The massive creature had a thick and messy coat that was clearly well looked after none-the less.
"Damn, that thing is the size of a small pony! What on Earth is it?"
Jim took a step back--entirely of his own volition this time.
"Jim, this is Hector. He's a cross between an Earth dog and an Andorian forest hunter."
"I thought he looked a bit like that monster that had it in for me on Andor Prime."
So Hector wasn’t the name of a new lover, Jim thought, but at the same time he didn’t feel as much elation at that revelation as he probably should have. And when he thought about, maybe this was Spock’s special brand of humor, his way of telling Jim to get lost.
A Kirk-hunting pet. Fantastic.
"He's... quite large." That was a safe thing to say since it was evidently true. “I just never had you down as a dog person, I thought you would be more of a cat person.”
“Then it would appear you ‘had me down’ incorrectly,” Spock said flatly.
Jim winced. Way to get off on the wrong foot with Spock so quickly. He reached out gingerly towards Hector to pat his head.
“There, there,” he mumbled as he awkwardly patted the beast.
In return it gave him an ‘I will murder you later when my master isn’t looking’ glare.
Spock raised an eyebrow. “I see you have lost none of your famed bravery.”
"So, was that a joke," Jim asked as he followed Spock into the kitchen, the dog gone again; it seemed to have free range of the whole property, "or is he really dangerous?"
Spock switched on two electric rings on an old fashioned stove—although it was probably still the most modern piece of equipment he'd seen in the house so far—and placed some lidded pots on there.
"I just need to reheat this," Spock said. "And as for Hector... ."
He motioned nonchalantly with his hand, inviting Jim to take a good look around the kitchen. There were deep gash marks on most of the wooden cupboards. One cupboard was missing a door. Jim discovered it in one of the large room's corners. It had clearly been ripped off its hinges before being chewed extensively.
"I see," Jim replied as he looked over his shoulder; good, the Kirk-eating dog was nowhere to be seen—for now. He could hear some thuds from somewhere else in the house.
"Only if you have something strong to put in it," he replied weakly.
"Dr. McCoy did present me with a bottle of whisky last year."
Spock walked across the kitchen to another cupboard and pulled out an unopened bottle of the good doctor's favorite liquor.
"I was actually joking when I said that, Spock."
At that moment Hector bounded into the room and jumped up onto the narrow kitchen counter, which groaned under his weight.
"Get back down," Spock said firmly, as he put the bottle on the kitchen worktop. The dog did as commanded but then he placed himself firmly between Jim and Spock. He didn't growl, but he did give the human a look.
"You know what," Jim said, "it might be early, but, yeah, I'll have some whiskey in my tea after all."
Hector continued to look at him.
It turned out one of the pots contained food for Hector while the a vegetable stew was reheating in the other. Spock dished out a portion of stew for each of them and placed the bowls on a tray along with some slices of bread and cutlery.
"Could you carry this tray through to the other room, Jim?"
"Sure," he replied with a smile that faded when Spock picked up Hector's pot. "He won't be eating in the kitchen?"
An eyebrow went up. "Of course not."
In a sense Jim was just glad Hector would be fed though. He'd decided that the dog was disappointed that Kirk-stew wasn't on offer, so anything was fine that kept Hector's belly full.
As Jim was balancing the tray and squeezing sideways through a low doorway, Hector barraged against him, his tongue lolling out of his mouth.
"Get back," Jim told him. "Don't push me."
When Hector barred his teeth at him in response, Jim quickly stepped out of the dog's way to let him pass into another relatively large room that he guessed had to be the living room. There were some items of furniture that may once have been sofas.
Spock put the pot down in the middle of the room and Hector's head was already buried inside it the minute he lifted the lid.
"Where should I put this?" Jim asked, lifting the tray a bit higher.
Spock motioned toward a lumpy pile of debris that had been covered with a thick, dog hair covered throw. "I'll pull up a couple of small tables."
When he'd done that and they'd seated themselves with their steaming lunch half on their laps, half on side-tables, Jim studied Spock.
He looked good.
Immediately he felt a knot form in his throat and looked away again, his eyes catching on Hector, who'd finished dinner and was clearly plotting on having Jim for desert. Was Spock happy? He couldn't tell. It felt odd to sit next to Spock and not touch him. He was so used to reaching out to run his fingers through this man's hair that not doing so while sitting next to him, sharing a warm meal in private,... it felt wrong. His body itched to hug the Vulcan.
He didn't know if Hector or Spock would be more annoyed with him if he did that.
"So who looks after Hector when you're instructing cadets in San Francisco?"
"I take him with me. He enjoys the shuttle journeys."
Hector nudged himself between their knees and put his slobbering head in Spock's lap. He put one of his heavy, clawed paws on one of Jim's feet.
Damnit, there were so many things he wanted to tell Spock, so much they had to talk about... and yet—that dog. He couldn't think of any logical explanation why Spock would live with that creature around. And that left only illogical emotion—was bitterness at Jim leaving behind all this? Anger?
"So how did you... what made you decide to get a dog? And move to England?"
"Admiral Wade, who I am now working with closely at headquarters, acquired Hector as a young cub on Andor, but now that he is fully grown he found that he did not have the energy to look after such a large creature, although he is still very fond of him."
"So you offered to take him in?"
Spock stroked the dog's head. "I had already grown fond of him so it seemed natural."
Jim sat up straight, his eyes wide.
"You're fond of that dog! And you admitted it!"
"To you," Spock said softly, the corners of this lips turning up slightly. "We have shared so much, it would be illogical of me to believe I could hide from you the affection I feel for Hector."
The instinct to put his hand of top of Spock's and squeeze it was near overwhelming; almost more so than the urge to kiss his ex-partner's lips. But even the first gesture might be too intimate considering this was Spock, so instead he placed his hand on Spock's shoulder awkwardly and gave it a gentle squeeze.
Jim swallowed past the knot forming in his throat. Right, well, maybe now was the time to breach the topic of their relationship—specifically, starting it up again. His heart beat hard in his chest and his stomach felt light, despite the heavy stew. Jim Kirk was not a fan of opening himself up to potential hurt or rejection. He took a deep breath and put thoughts of how Spock might react out of his mind. Leap without looking, that was the maxim to live by.
"Spock, I've missed you. Haven't you felt the loneliness—"
"I haven't been alone."
"Um, yes, well, I'm glad Hector's good company for you."
"He is. You asked about why I chose England. This is the Admiral's summer house where Hector spent a lot of his time growing up. Hector did not like living San Francisco much, so the Admiral offered the use of this house to me for as long as I take care of Hector."
Jim found himself nodding on automatic. I want to talk about us, not that damned dog, he thought. But his brain's gearbox was completely messed up now, and so he found himself asking about Hector further to fill the silence.
"What drew you to Hector? Not that—, I mean obviously he's a great dog." Jim watch the slobber soak into Spock's pants. Hector's breath didn't smell great either and his billion teeth were far too black, sharp and long. "I mean, I guess he's companionable... ."
Spock patted Hector's. "He is also fiercely loyal."
Jim swallowed. Ah. Quickly he looked down at the stew in his bowl. He wasn't hungry anymore, just the thought of eating more made him slightly nauseous.
Could he thank Spock for lunch and leave now? Should he?
The sound of the huge beast next to him panting happily at having his head stroked by Spock mocked him and his feelings. No, damnit, what was he even thinking? No way was he going to give up now, that was a ridiculous thought. He just needed time. Time and a plan.
"So, Spock, what did you have planned for today? Mind if I hang around with you?"
Spock didn't mind and also didn't appear to have much planned other than to get out of the house so Hector could stretch his legs. So after lunch they went for a long walk that took them along country lanes, across fields, over moors, finally along the coast and then because it started raining and the wind had picked up too, to the shelter of a pub.
"Jim, can you hold Hector's lead while I check how many other dogs are inside?"
Spock wasn't gone for long, but the minute he closed the door on the cheery sounds from inside, and it was just Jim and the monster alone in the rain, Jim found his mood sinking once more. Evil eyes looked up at him.
Spock stuck his head out of the door again and nodded for them to come in. As he took the leash from Jim their fingers brushed briefly.
It was like being hit a bolt of high frequency electricity. Not because of anything telepathic, he was sure. Just plain old human feelings. He looked up and saw Spock look at him out of the corner of his eye. His expression may have been neutral, but yet Jim felt that behind the mask was a question. The touch had been accidental, but 'what about us now?' had been a question forming in the space that separated their bodies ever since they'd left the house. The walk had been nice and he'd done his best to flatter Spock in the way he smugly felt only he knew how.
Jim followed Spock into the pub with not a small amount of trepidation. In fact, he felt the same instincts taking over that he made so much use of when breaking into high security Klingon prisons. How fast could he get back out this door? Two, three seconds. How many people? Ten, including the bar man. No Klingons. No other dogs.
The noise briefly seemed to die down, with people craning their necks to look at who'd entered, but then everyone got back to their conversations and drinks.
"You come here often then?" Jim asked. Maybe there was more to Spock liking England than he'd let on.
Spock nodded. "I do not enjoy walking in torrential rain. They also have a very good nut mix."
They took a table in the corner.
"I wish I hadn't had to go on this mission, but as you know, there was no alternative. I don't expect us to simply pick up our relationship where we left off, I mean, I completely understand if you've moved on. I haven't though and I want us to be back together. So, yeah, I just thought I should say that."
Spock was interrupted by a loud bark from Hector. The dog stood and they both had to jump up to steady the table so it wouldn't topple over. Hector barred his teeth, just for a second, before putting his head on Spock's knee as they sat back down again.
"He's quite intelligent, isn't he?" Jim remarked.
"Indeed he is. For a canine."
The hair on the back of Jim's neck was standing up though. Andor Prime flashed in front of his mind's eye and all he could think of was the row of razor sharp teeth and that he should get the hell out of this pub and away from that beast. He held onto the table firmly to ground himself back in the reality of the here and now. He was in some quaint old country pub in England.
Spock reached out across the table and put a hand on his.
"I understand you had no choice, Jim." His words were soft and he nodded. "And I have no wish to be parted from you again so soon after returning to me. Please stay the night with me… and maybe longer?"
Jim laughed quietly, he couldn't help it. He let go of the table and squeezed Spock's hand in return.
"You don't know how happy it makes me to hear that, you really don't, Spock."
The warmth that was rapidly replacing the cold he'd felt inside just moments earlier had a wet dishcloth thrown over it by a sharp bark. It seemed to by-pass the parts of his brain that dealt with higher functions and instinctively Jim pulled away from Spock.
"But he'll have to sleep outside."
Spock's face went blank.
Jim clenched his teeth. "I'm serious. That monster has to go."
He swore Spock's eyes narrowed slightly. "How do you feel about sleeping outdoors, Jim? I'm sure I can find you a tent."
It took until nightfall for Jim to salvage the situation somewhat. He'd apologized to Spock for telling him to get rid of Hector, but… that was as far as they'd gotten.
"Spock, I love you and I want to be with you. You can't ask me to live with that dog though!"
"Then there is nothing else to discuss. Hector stays."
Jim crossed his arms and clenched his jaw. This could not be happening. Of all the difficulties he thought he was going to encounter, a pet monster had not been one of them.
"It is getting late," Spock announced.
Time and a plan, huh? Jim locked his eyes on Hector. This was not over. Well, it was if he left now. He didn't actually have to sleep tonight, then it would be okay, having Hector in the house.
"I hope that offer to put me up for the night still stands? It has been a long day and I don't particularly fancy travelling back to San Francisco tired."
Spock nodded and led Jim upstairs. "I would offer you one of the beds in the house," he said, "but in truth I feel even my own bed is not fit for guests. The best I can offer is the use of a Starfleet issue sleeping mat on the living room floor."
They were now standing in Spock's room. Large chunks of his mattress littered the floor and a thick layer of dog hair covered the hole-y remains.
"You really sleep in that… on that… um, bed?" he asked in disbelief. In all the years they had spent together, Spock had been nothing but meticulously tidy and clean. That he would live in such squalor now appalled Jim. He tried to see past the locked doors that were his former lover's eyes. What was he hiding there?
"It is merely somewhat hairy." They both stared at the mess in front of them. "I will not suffer any medical problems from these sleeping arrangements." Spock continued slowly. "Here is your mat, Jim."
Hector bounded into the room and curled up on the bed, eyes fixed on Jim, the intruder.
"Um, could I sleep here? I mean,… I'll be honest. Sleeping alone in a room in a house in which Hector—"
"Yes," Spock said shortly.
They both settled down for the night in silence. There wasn't much time left to sort this mess out, Jim thought. Right, plan: he would keep Spock talking during the night to find out what it was the Hector apparently gave him that Jim couldn't. Apart from loyalty, obviously. He simply had to make sure he could offer Spock the better package. And maybe explain a bit more tactfully this time that his refusal to put up with Hector wasn't because he was unwilling to make compromises, but because he didn't much fancy being eaten alive. That wasn't too much to ask for, surely?
"Hey, Spock, you're not asleep yet are you? I mean, I know I can't talk about the last year, but you can tell me more about what you've been up to."
Jim was lying on the floor next to Spock's bed and they'd lit a small fire in the old fireplace to keep them warm, so there was a soft, flickering glow lighting up the room, while the crackling of the burning wood and Hector's panting provided the background noise as Spock started to talk about the training he was putting the cadets through.
All the time though Hector was cuddling with Spock. There was no other way to describe it.
I'm jealous of a dog, Jim thought. I really need help.
And then Spock started talking about his life. His private life. It involved a lot of dog walking. And a lot of brushing of fur. Also, occasionally cleaning Hector's teeth with the sonic toothbrush.
Jim's eyelids felt as heavy as tritanium, but when he caught sight of Hector's wide-open, vigilant eyes, he shook himself and sat upright.
"So, Hector's well trained? He listens to every word you say?"
"He listens closely, and then does as he pleases."
Jim pulled the cover up over his neck. This information did not help him feel any safer. "It's almost one in the morning, doesn't Hector ever sleep?"
"He will eventually, but his sleep is always very light. He's very protective of me and wakes at the slightest disturbance."
"And… is that important to you? That he protects you?" Jim asked.
"Spock?" His friend had been silent for longer than usual.
"Hector reminds me a lot of Ee-chiya, an old, domesticated sehlat my family kept."
"What are sehlat's like?"
"My mother always used to describe them as 'huge teddy bears'. That was not completely correct though, as teddy bears do not normally have nine inch long fangs."
Despite all the years they'd spent together, Jim could count the number of times Spock had brought up his mother or his life on Vulcan using only the fingers on his left hand. He didn't reply, hoping Spock would go on and reveal more about his childhood pet.
"On the harsh desert world that was Vulcan strength of both the mind and the body were culturally of utmost importance. I had a lot to prove to… myself."
Jim caught the slight pause, but didn't comment, intrigued where this tale was going.
"After yet another 'disagreement' with my classmates I let my emotions overcome me and recklessly embarked on a Vulcan test of stamina a month early. I was ill prepared to face the desert on my own and Ee-chiya sensed that and tried to followed. I told him to stay back, but in a similar fashion to Hector, he had his own mind.
"It was good that he didn't listen to me, because I was attacked by a wild animal and only saved from an early death by Ee-chiya… who was badly wounded. When we were able to take him to a healer I was given the choice to keep him alive a little longer, so I would have more time with him, but he would be in agony, or to have him put down, as there was no way he could survive the wounds inflicted. That time I did not let my emotions rule me, they had already done enough damage."
Jim was silent has he stared into the shadows. Although the fire had almost completely died down now he could still easily observe Spock, who was stroking his fingers reverently through Hector's hair.
"Now I feel like a right heel for telling you to get rid of a pet for me," Jim mumbled.
"So you would live with me and Hector?"
Jim chewed on his lip. "What if he, I dunno, mistakenly somehow thinks I'm a threat to you and decides to attack me though? Or if he gets hungry and thinks I'll make a nice after-dinner snack?" Because that was the only thing left to say here really. For Spock's sake he would put up with Hector, but not if it would cost him his own life.
"This dog would never harm you."
"Why not? He has a mind of his own, you said that."
The corners of Spock's lips quirked up. "Well, I have at least been able to train him not to eat anyone I love, Jim."