After all these years, rain was still an alien sound.
The soft patter of droplets on the surface of the tent wasn’t the only thing keeping Spock awake tonight, but it certainly wasn’t helping. He was so focused on his own thoughts that he failed to notice that Jim had stopped snoring where he lay on the pallet next to him.
“Look,” the captain said with a huff as he rolled over onto his side, “You might be able to go a few days on one-night’s sleep, but the rest of us mere mortals need to get some rest.”
Spock turned his head to see Jim glaring at him in the dim light; the good natured smirk let Spock know he was speaking in jest, mostly.
“Seriously, Spock. What’s your deal? We hiked ten miles today, aren’t you tired?”
“My apologies. Pay me no mind, Ashayam. You should rest.”
“Yes, I should,” Jim replied. “And believe me, I’d love to – but you are… very distracting.”
“Distracting?” Spock raised an eyebrow in surprise.
“Yes, distracting, and don’t play dumb with me. You’re all over the place – the rain, the slight glimmer of moonlight peeking through the tent roof, that hoot owl off in the distance that you can hear, though god knows I can’t – I might as well. It’s apparently going to keep me awake either way.”
Spock rolled onto his side to face Jim, furrowing his brows in amazement. “Do you mean to say that you are capable of detecting all of that through simple proximity to me, through our bond?”
Now it was Jim’s turn to frown. He was half asleep, though not half as asleep as he’d like to be. “Yes, Spock – I’m not a psychic genius, but when you’re laying right there and thinking so… so loudly, I can’t help but hear some of it. You’re so damn noisy.”
Spock could not help but quirk a smile at that comment. “Noisy thinking, Jim?”
“Yes, you pointy-eared philosopher – you’re the noisiest thinker I know. Now will you please quiet down and go to sleep?”
Spock got up and began to pull on his raincoat.
“Spock!” Jim sat up, throwing back the covers. “Where are you going? It’s pouring outside.”
“Please do not be concerned, Jim,” Spock said, shoving his stocking feet into black hiking boots. “Go back to sleep.”
“Are you nuts? I can’t sleep with you running off outside in the rain somewhere. Spock, what’s wrong?”
But Spock was already tugging the self-sealing tent door aside, and stepping out into the night.
He half-expected his bondmate to follow him, so he made quick work of getting off the trail, ducking between trees and shuffling down a hillside to get out of sight. The full moon, though mostly hidden by rainclouds, shone through enough here and there for Spock to see where he was going. The memory of the trail leading north was fresh in his mind from this afternoon, and he quickly made the climb to the trailhead.
His father was still waiting for an answer, and Spock knew him well enough to know that his patience would be wearing thin by now. He needed to make a decision, and quickly. He recalled their last conversation with the vivid clarity of perfect Vulcan memory.
“Spock, it is left to you to continue the work I have begun. You will take my place as ambassador to Earth after my time is over. It is expected.”
His father’s voice had been as firm and even as ever, without a hint of reproach or anger. But Spock knew better, of course.
Spock sighed before replying, “And when have I ever done what was expected of me?”
That was enough to bring a little fire to Sarek’s eyes, and Spock mentally chided himself for the very human thrill of triumph it gave him. He should not take pleasure in angering his father, but he could not deny his own rebellious nature. It was still there, after all these years. In fact, it seemed to have increased with time. Perhaps Jim was finally rubbing off on him.
“Not often enough,” Sarek said in a clipped tone, “As I recall. Perhaps it is time you began.”
And there it was, the same old shame. In spite of everything; decades of coming to terms with who and what he was inside, finally accepting himself as he was, even growing to like who he was, somehow Sarek’s disappointment could still bring all of Spock’s confidence crashing down. That deep-seated need to please his father would never fully go away.
“Spock, for once, you will fulfill your role. It is your father’s wish.”
Spock mentally shook himself and squared his shoulders. He was no longer a frightened child to be ordered about and intimidated. He was a grown man, with goals of his own. His father’s obligations were not his to bear.
Finally, he looked Sarek in the eye. “Father, as always you have my utmost respect and consideration. I will consider this. However—”
“You will consider nothing,” Sarek’s voice rose a notch, and Spock’s eyes widened in surprise. It was a rare thing to see his father lose his temper.
Sarek closed his eyes, taking a breath before he spoke again. “You will, for once Spock, you will do as you are told. This is the role for you – an honorable one, and not one to be refused without reasonable explanation.”
Spock’s gaze narrowed as he felt his own anger rise within. How dare you, he thought. How dare you command me like a disobedient child?
“I will consider it,” he said in his most even tone. “Now I will bid you a good evening, Father.”
They had not spoken after that, and Spock had left the next morning to return to Earth. That was two weeks past.
Now, Spock made the climb to the edge of the mountainside, coming to a stop in a small clearing. His memory told him that, were there light to see by, the reflective lakes would be visible where they lay hundreds of feet below, framed by the mountain’s snow-covered cap in the distance. He and Jim had marveled at the view together only hours ago. But that all seemed very far away now, with the rain pelting down and the sky cloaked in darkness.
Fascinating, how the same place could look so different in the span of only a few short hours. How quickly things changed.
A rustling of bushes startled him out of his thoughts, and a heavily bundled figure appeared in the shadows at the edge of the trail.
“Spock?” Jim said, pushing the hood from his face. “What the hell are you doing up here? It’s freezing.”
“I did advise you to go back to sleep, t’hy’la. There was no need for you to follow me.”
“Cut the bullshit, Spock,” his bondmate scoffed, settling down next to him on the boulder where Spock was sitting. “We’re too old for that nonsense. What’s going on?”
Spock sighed, crossing his arms against the cold. “My father…” he began, trailing off.
“Oh,” said Jim. “I see.”
Spock turned to face Jim, blinking the rain from his eyes. “What do you see? I have not yet begun to explain.”
“You don’t need to, Spock. I know how it is with you two. He expects one thing, you do the opposite – it’s always been that way.”
Spock turned to face the dark expanse before them again, huddling into his coat. Now that he had ceased moving, he was beginning to shiver. “Not always,” he muttered.
“So, what is it this time?” Jim tugged a small towel from his coat pocket and began patting it over Spock’s wet hair, rubbing away some of the damp in little circles and causing it to stick up every which way, like some kind of frightened furry creature.
“Geez, Spock,” he remarked. “You didn’t even wear a hood. You’re soaked. Let’s get back to the tent and then we can talk.”
Spock allowed himself to be led back to the tent where Jim immediately began to undress him. The sopping coat was hung in a corner to dry.
The muddy boots were removed. Jim stuck his head out the tent opening, clunking the boots together in an attempt to shake loose the dirt and brambles that were now stuck to them, but it was mostly a wasted effort.
He sighed, seeing the fruitlessness of the endeavor, and gave Spock a pointed look before setting the boots next to the dripping coat. He switched on the little space heater in the corner before returning to Spock, eagerly rubbing his hands together for warmth.
“I’ll tell you what, Mr. Thoreau – you sure are a piece of work.”
Spock quirked one confused eyebrow. “Mr. Thoreau?”
“Henry David,” Jim replied. “I can only assume you went out there to contemplate the magnificence of the wilderness or something. It’s the only explanation that makes any remote amount of sense.”
“Ah,” said Spock, grasping the reference. “Henry David Thoreau. 19th century American Transcendentalist. Author of Walden, and other writings on civil disobedience. Close friend to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Contemporaries include Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Theodore Parker.“
Jim stared at him for a moment, as if waiting to see if he was quite finished. “Yes, Spock. Yes. You get it. So what’s this about your dad?”
Spock looked pointedly at his now bare feet.
“Ah hah,” said Jim. “I see. Trying to keep secrets from me again?”
Spock’s head popped up in surprise. “Again?”
Kirk returned to where Spock was sitting, legs straight out in front of him, and straddled the Vulcan’s lap, settling down in front of Spock on his knees.
“Uh huh; don’t act like it’s the first time you’ve tried to pull the wool over my eyes in regard to some disagreement with your father.” As he spoke, he began to unbutton Spock’s shirt.
“I know you don’t like to think about it, or let on when things are bad. But you can’t keep things like that from me, Spock. Your family business is now my family business. That sort of comes with the territory of… making me family.”
He tossed Spock’s shirt into the laundry corner along with the coat and boots. When he turned back to face Spock, his bondmate was blushing from ear tips to nipples. “Got it, mister?”
“Jim,” Spock said, his voice a trembling whisper. “He still does not know.”
Kirk leaned forward, pressing his hands against Spock’s bare chest, compelling his mate to lie down in the soft blankets of their makeshift bed. Already the heater was bathing the room in toasty warmth.
“And whose idea was that?” Jim said in a tone that Spock decoded as rhetorical. He had mostly let the issue go by without comment, though Jim had made it quite clear that he wasn’t comfortable with the idea.
“We agreed,” Spock muttered.
Jim leaned in to nibble Spock’s ear, blowing warm breath along his neck. The Vulcan trembled in response as a shiver ran down his spine.
“Whose?” Jim repeated, moving along to tease Spock’s bare nipple with his teeth, only to lick away the sharp prick of the bite with a warm lave of his tongue.
“Ah, Jim!” Spock couldn’t help but cry out.
“Hmm, no,” Jim said chidingly. “I’m pretty sure it was your idea…”
“Jiiim—“ Spock absolutely did not whine, and most certainly did not whimper.
Kirk stopped short in his slow descent down Spock’s torso, puffing out little ticklish breaths against Spock’s skin as he chuckled in response to his mate’s protest. When he finally looked up to catch his eye, Spock had turned serious.
“Jim, I recognize that—“
“Spock, I was just picking on you. I know, we agreed to keep quiet about it for now. And that’s fine.”
Spock shook his head. “No, it is not. That is what I have been attempting to say.”
Jim’s eyebrows went up in surprise, inviting Spock to elaborate further.
“You were uncomfortable with the idea from the beginning, and I should have listened to you then. Perhaps if we had been more public regarding the evolving nature of our relationship from the onset, we would not be in this situation now.
“My father is growing older. He wishes to retire. And I am to take his place as ambassador to Earth. It is… expected of me, as his son.”
Jim frowned, sitting up to tug one of the blankets over his shoulders. “He’s asked you?”
“Yes,” Spock said. “And he wants an answer quickly. Otherwise an alternative will have to be found. There must be an election, and he will require time to prepare.”
Jim turned to face his husband again. “Then you’ve discussed the possibility of not succeeding him?”
Spock sighed, pulling his knees to his chest against the cold. “I have been contemplating the various possibilities. My father refuses to consider any alternative. In his mind, this is required of me and there is no logical reason to refuse.”
Jim inched closer, pulling the blankets with him and covering them both in the heavy comforter.
“But he doesn’t know about us,” he said quietly.
“No, and my obligation to you would naturally take precedent. But he is of course ignorant of this.”
“Do you think it’s time to tell him?”
Spock contemplated the possibilities, not for the first time. In the pause, the sound of the rain outside pelted around them, further reinforcing their isolation. He liked being alone with Jim, and he had to admit there was something comforting in knowing that they were likely the only two people alive for a hundred miles in any direction. Illogically, part of him wished it could always be so.
“Yes. Though I fear that knowledge will only anger him further.”
Jim looked pointedly at the floor. Spock immediately saw his error and winced internally. “Ashayam, his opinion is not relevant in this matter. I made my choice long ago, and he has no right to dispute me.”
He raised one long-fingered hand, stroking Jim’s cheek with loving tenderness. “He has no right to dispute us.”
Jim smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. He’d always hated the thought that Sarek would not approve of him as an acceptable mate for his son. It wasn’t that the Vulcan didn’t like him per se, but for Spock? It had been made perfectly clear to Spock in the past that only a full-blooded Vulcan female from a high house would ever make an acceptable mate.
Spock had once, painfully, and only after a great amount of prodding and persuasion on Jim’s part, replayed a conversation between father and son for him within one of their many mind melds – in which Sarek presented yet another potential wife for Spock’s approval, only to be refused again.
“My son, why will you not accept the wife I have chosen for you? Is she not acceptable? Is she not of a noble family?”
“Father, I have no need of a wife.”
“Perhaps not, now. But a time will come when you will have need, and one must prepare. In any case, it would be wise to make a good match now. What better way to reinforce your role in the community but to take a good wife?”
Anger flared within Spock’s memory, though it did not show as he turned to face his father.
“And what makes a wife ‘good,’ Father?” he had said. “An exemplary bloodline? Wealth?”
Sarek had only stood silent, and the memory faded away.
Spock had spent his entire life proving himself worthy of Vulcan over and over again. It infuriated Jim to know that despite all his efforts, in many ways, they would never truly consider him one of their own. They’d set the bar so damn high that he could never hope to reach it. He was liable to kill himself trying.
Jim grew somber at the knowledge that he very nearly had. Spock had resembled a skeleton, thinly covered in skin, after returning from Gol. The hollow, empty look in his eyes at that time still made Jim shiver to remember. Immediately after the end of that mission, Jim had set right to work, fattening Spock back up on homemade plomeek soup and vegetarian lasagna.
Well, screw them, he thought. Who cares what they think? Maybe he’ll never be good enough for them, with their stuffy old traditions and rituals.
“Such thoughts are unbecoming of your beautiful mind, t’hy’la,” Spock whispered, pulling him close.
Jim chuckled, sinking into Spock’s shoulder with ease. “I know,” he sighed. “I just don’t understand how such… ass-backwards ways of thinking can be considered, in any way, logical!”
“Vulcan is not without its faults,” Spock admitted. “But such thinking often stems only from a desire to protect one’s own, for the good of the clan, and for the good of the species. Though it can lead to bigotry, the underlying intentions are good.”
“You’re better than all of them combined. That you can defend them like that... Give them the benefit of the doubt,” Jim said.
“Perhaps I do have the makings of a diplomat,” Spock said, kissing Jim’s neck. “I have had a great amount of practice in inter-species negotiation, after all.”
Jim frowned, digesting the implication, and turned to look at Spock with an overly dramatic gasp. “Excuse you, sir. Are you calling me difficult?”
“Indeed not, Captain. I am only emphasizing that all relationships require a certain level of compromise.”
Jim laughed. “All right. But you better watch it, mister.”
He sighed, growing serious again. “Well, you’ve talked about taking on the job someday. Is it something you still want to do?”
“Yes, perhaps,” Spock admitted. “One day.”
One day, Jim thought. After I’m not around to hold you back anymore.
Spock’s arm went around him, pulling him close in a warm hug. “Do not think of such things, Jim. You know that I dread that day above all others.”
“I know, Spock,” he sighed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“I will speak to my father, and he will find someone else. This is his burden to bear, not mine.”
“Why, Mister Spock. We’ll make a rebellious human teenager out of you, yet.”
“Illogical. I am far past the age of adolescence, Captain.”
Jim rolled over, tucking the blanket around them, and burrowed deep into his husband’s chest, projecting love and laughter silently through their bond. He wasn’t worried. Sarek would understand, after everything was explained to him.
Jim still had a job to do within Starfleet – he couldn’t just drop everything and run off to Vulcan to play shadow to his diplomat husband. And likewise, Spock couldn’t be expected to ignore his duties to Jim and go off to do the, albeit important, job of negotiating on behalf of Vulcan.
“Jim,” Spock whispered in his ear. “Perhaps we should arrange an in-person visit. I believe it would be only respectful to share this news with my father face-to-face.”
Jim smiled, shifting to curl one arm around Spock’s shoulder. “I think that’s a fine idea. Maybe next week? After I get back from the ceremony?”
“Ceremony?” Spock quirked an eyebrow.
“Remember, they want me to oversee the maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B. She ships out next week.”
“Ah,” Spock nodded. “Yes, t’hy’la, I recall you mentioned that.”
He pulled Jim impossibly close, tucking the man’s head under his chin. “After your return then. I am sure my father will be willing to see reason, and will undoubtedly see the logic in our bonding.”
“I’m sure you’re right. Good night, Spock.”
“Good night, Jim.”
Pattering rain enveloped the tent, wrapping them in a warm cocoon where the rest of the universe could not touch, and Jim smiled.
“Spock?” he said.
“You’ve always been good enough for me. More than enough. You know that, right?”
They kissed. And finally, they slept.