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"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.

"Tea?"

"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."

"Jim, I—"

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."

to be continued...

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