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Catching a Weasel Asleep

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Six Months Ago

The stench of death hangs in the air, the bodies lying where they fell amongst the debris of what used to be a picturesque homestead.  The sheriff takes his hat off and bows his head in a silent prayer for the blood spilled.  It’s another example of frontier violence that plagues the outlying homes.  While Federation City isn’t a pinnacle of safety, bloody massacres like this are unusual. 

The hairs stand on the back of his neck as a foreboding presence stops behind him.  He turns to find one of his deputies escorting a tall man dressed in a well tailored black suit walking with purpose and an assessing eye.

 “Sheriff,” greets the deputy.

“Any leads on who did this?” demands the man before the deputy can finish his sentence.  His voice is clipped and authoritative leaving no room for pleasantries.

The sheriff scowls; he’s seen the type before, hired guns or government agents that sweep in on assignment believing they are better than the people who have chosen to build their lives in the ‘uncivilized’ west.  The harshness of the frontier confuses them and he is glad they don’t stay long as a result.  There are no rules out here and well put together men like the one standing before him fail to embrace the brutal nature of the region, trying to apply their civilized standards to situations they can’t possibly fit in.

“Savages probably got restless.  There’s a wagon trail to the north, mebbe a raiding party,” offers the sheriff.  It’s just another day.  Until the army finishes eradicating the natives, there will be more days like this. 

“And did you do any investigating before you came to that conclusion?” asks the man.  His bland even tone is intimidating without being forceful.  He glares at the sheriff like a child pulling apart a bug.

He doesn’t need someone telling him how to do his job, especially some city boy who doesn’t even have any dirt on his boots.  “It’s a common problem in these parts.  Most of the land is still unclaimed and lawless.  This is the old Kirk homestead; it’s been abandoned for almost twenty years so it’s not like we come to check on the place.  If Mr Nero and his men were staying here, it would make them an easy target for any roaming tribe to take advantage of.  The bucks would count it an easy coup.”

“Yes and do these savages often have medical degrees?” the man asks, his irritation just simmering below the surface.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” spits the sheriff, puffing himself up just a little.

“Your deputy said your doctor is missing.  And his office was vandalized.”

“He could have just taken hisself off.  Happens a lot around here.”  There was no reason to think someone would harm the doctor.  They had been hoping the vandalism was just a coincidence to the doctor leaving because there were no leads as to where he had gone.  He refuses to consider that the doctor was taken against his will.

 “I would say your doctor has defected, Sheriff Taylor.”

“McCoy?” stammers the sheriff in disbelief.  He’s seen people do things not within their nature but he highly doubts the doctor slaughtered all these people.  “He’s a dandy from down south.  Wouldn’t know which end of a gun the bullet comes out of.  Certainly can’t see him turnin’ Indian anytime soon.”  The sheriff and the deputy share a mutual shaking of heads, the deputy adding a chuckle at the sheriff’s declaration.

The man stares them both down.  “I’ve already been inside.  There’s a medical bag in the house with high quality tools, not something someone other than a professional would own or afford.  They’re also all covered in blood and since your deputies haven’t identified the doctor among the dead, I would wager he was an accomplice to the raiding party.  You are right about one thing.  No one has turned Indian here.”

The sheriff has heard some wild theories in his time but this is bordering on the fantastical.  “It doesn’t mean that Dr McCoy was a party to this.  You’re sure coming up with some crazy ideas for a stranger.“  Just another example of fancy city folk coming to the underbelly of the world and being lost at sea.  “What did you say your name was?”

The man’s maniacal smile widens.  “Harrison, Agent John Harrison with the railway.  And I’m going to track your raiders down and make them pay for killing one of my employer’s business associates.”


 

Two Months Later

Kirk steps around the corner and comes to an abrupt halt.  His eyes narrow slightly as he stares down the barrel of the gun pointed at his head.  “Reach for the sky,” demands the voice behind the gun and Jim slowly complies with the demand.  His trigger finger itches to make a move, to draw and hope for the best, but he knows he doesn’t stand a chance of pulling his weapon before his adversary gets his shot off.

McCoy practically walks into the back of the Captain as he turns the corner.  He takes a cautious step to Jim’s left as Spock, a little swifter on his feet, takes his position at Jim’s right without the fumbling collision.  He has to admit he’s a little dumbfounded by this turn of events and not sure what to do.  Following Kirk’s example, he raises his hands in the air. 

Spock looks at the scene with curiosity, tilting his head to the side.  “Captain?”

“Bang, bang!” shouts the gun wielding menace.  Jim’s hand flies to his chest, his eyes screwing shut as he staggers backwards.  It’s McCoy’s fast hands that keep Jim on his feet as he slumps against the doctor.  The gun quickly turns on the doctor and sends him collapsing down on a nearby bench with a gasp, Kirk on top of him.  Without wasting a beat the gunman turns on the Vulcan and repeats his earlier declaration. 

Spock stands perfectly still, eyebrow raised.

“I said bang, bang, mister.  You’re dead,” argues the small disgruntled voice behind the gun.  His overly large ‘ten gallon’ hat slides to the back of his head as his eyes travel up and up.  Spock remains standing looking down at the slumped heap of McCoy and Kirk.

Jim cracks an eye open and smiles at the muted lost look on Spock’s face.  He contorts his way to his feet, elbowing McCoy for the sheer satisfaction of hearing the man groan and ruffles the kid’s hair.  “Sorry bucko, he’s not from around here.”  He leans in close and stage whispers into the small boy’s ear, eyes on Spock. “He never played any games as a child.”

The boy’s eyes widen comically before looking at the Vulcan with almost pity.  “You never played cowboys and Indians before, mister?”

“No,” is Spock’s curt response before lifting his cowboy hat just high enough to expose the point of his ears.  He doesn’t consider his experience with ‘cowboys and Indians’ to be any sort of game, nor can he fathom children’s need to romanticize and trivialize the slaughtering of his people and the tribes that had once dominated the land.  The boy gulps before beating a hasty retreat from the three men standing on the board walk.

The doctor’s frown becomes more pronounced as he straightens his shirt.  “Did you have to scare the kid, Spock?” he snaps.  “Where’s your imagination, man?”

Spock looks dispassionately at McCoy, refusing to be intimidated by yet another of the doctor’s rants.  “I fail to see the point in fearing a wooden gun, doctor, and I do not understand your people’s penchant for turning violence into a game for children.”

McCoy waves his hand in the direction the boy scampered off in.  “Now he’s going to alert the whole town that we’re here.  Not very logical when trying to rob a bank,” continues McCoy, looking equal parts exasperated and flighty.  The whole idea was bad enough that Jim practically had to drag him along, but now there is building pressure on an already combustible situation.  He knows exactly the same thing about robbing banks as he does trains and look at how the latter turned out.  He’s a doctor not a train robber, as was evident by the forced participation, shaky legs, poor aim and oh yes, getting shot. “This is a good reason to call the whole thing off, Jim.”

Kirk rolls his eyes and puts on his most placating smile before clapping McCoy on the shoulder.  “Relax, Bones, I’m sure he lives by the cowboy code of honor and if that won’t stop him from alerting people to Spock’s presence, the fact that he’s a scary Vulcan who will sneak into his room at night and eat him, starting with his toes, will keep the kid from blabbing.  Besides, who’s going to believe the wild imagination of a child?”

“Well, you would know,” snarks McCoy, ignoring his own personal point to stop undermining the gang’s own man-child while engaged in highly dubious activities.

“Captain, must you continue to perpetuate such blatant lies about my people?” 

If either man didn’t know better, they’d say there was desperate frustration in Spock’s plea. Kirk finds his voice first.  “Spock if your pointed ears strike fear in the hearts of settlers than it’s only to our advantage.  Loosen up and get a sense of humor.”

“Like that’s going to happen,” McCoy mutters, earning him a sharp Vulcan stare.

                Jim’s sharp eyes scan the town, watching the ebb and flow of people as they bustle about their day.  Sigma Iotia isn’t a large town but it’s at a major junction for travel by boat, train and wagon.  It’s also home to the last bank holding Nero’s blood money, paid to him by the railway for his ‘help’ in displacing the Vulcans from their land.  Jim resumes his journey towards the bank and their mission before they were interrupted by the pintsized cowboy. 

Spock and McCoy share an irritated look with one another before catching up to their captain.  Gesturing wildly with his hands, McCoy asks, “That explains why you brought Spock along but why the hell am I here?  Hell, you know I’m no good with a gun, that I don’t like them, don’t want to use one, and certainly I’m not comfortable with hostage situations... or any harebrained idea you come up with!  I’m a doctor, goddammit, not a stick-up artist.”

“All you have to do, Doctor,” explains Spock with his own special brand of condescension, “is point the weapon at your intended target.”

McCoy crosses his arms, his lips pressing in a thin line.  “How about I point it at you!”

Spock tips his head to the side in consideration and raises an eyebrow.  “Indeed, Dr McCoy.  Directly in front of your gun would be the place one is least likely to sustain injury.”

“Why you, green blooded...” starts the doctor, taking a threatening step forward.

Jim raises both arms and steps between the two men to maintain the space between them.  He’s almost certain it would never come to blows between them, although he’d never believed he would have been on the receiving end of McCoy’s fist either and found he had misjudged that one. He has to admit it would be an interesting showdown, given their verbal sparring is so entertaining, but they don’t have time for either option at the moment.  “You may not like guns but no one else knows that.  As far as they’re concerned, you’re a gun wielding outlaw like the rest of us,” explains Jim, nice and slow as if speaking to a child.  “Your sheer presence will be enough to help dissuade the good townsfolk from being heroes.”  What he’s unwilling to voice is the part where he’s more comfortable having McCoy within arm’s reach as they enter the fray.  Sure, it would be safer to leave him with the horses instead of Chekov or even on the roof with Uhura and her rifle than inside with him and Spock, but the last time the doctor had been alone there had been no one there to protect him from Nero.  He’s not going to let that happen again.

McCoy scowls but keeps pace.  “Won’t my mama be so proud,” he deadpans.  It’s times like these he’s glad she’s not here to see just how far he’s fallen from the bright future she saw for him.  On the scale of evil, he’s barely cracked the meter but the road to hell is surely paved with good intentions and all the good reasons in the book doesn’t detract from the armed robbery they’re about to commit.  Still, he wouldn’t feel good about letting the gang throw themselves into danger without him around and like a sea wrecked ship, he’ll follow his anchor to the bottom of the ocean.

Sulu’s leaning against one of the posts supporting the overhanging roof of the bank by the time the trio’s in front of the bank.  He gives them a casual nod as they pass by and enter the door.  It’s the final go ahead in their plan before there’s no turning back.  He’s been keeping tabs on the number of people entering the bank in the fifteen minutes since it opened and it’s still empty enough that the numbers are manageable.  He tips his hat in the direction of the rooftop Uhura is perched on to signal her to be ready in case the town sheriff gets wind of things going down at the bank and tries to interfere.  He’s tense, trying to keep the bottle on the nervous energy that wants him to pace in front of the bank like a tiger but that will only draw attention and his job now is to persuade people to come and do their banking later if they try to enter now.

As Kirk steps into the bank he pulls the kerchief tucked around his neck up over his face; behind him Spock and McCoy do the same.  The vaguer the wanted posters the safer they are to live their lives and come and go as they please without trouble from the law. 

There are two tellers, each dealing with a customer, the bank manager and one customer waiting in line.  Spock automatically takes position in the far corner while McCoy begrudgingly takes a few steps to the right.

“Attention ladies and gentlemen,” shouts Kirk, “if you’d kindly raise your hands in the air, we can take what we’ve came for and be out of your way in no time at all.”  He waves his guns around to make his intentions clear and the townspeople raise their hands with a few startled gasps but no real protest.  The element of surprise comes in handy. Jim knows he has a way with words, a confident smile and a seductive swagger which it comes in handy when trying to convince people to do things even if they’re not exactly in their best interests.  It’s saved a few bullets being tossed in their direction over the years. 

He looks at the well dressed prissy man behind the counter who looks like he’s never seen a day of hard work in his life and knows it has to be the bank manager.  It’s never hard to tell the ruffians from the law or the poor farmers from the pillars of industry.  “If you’d be so kind as to open the safe for us sir,” asks Kirk, the menace in his voice casual but unmistakeable. 

The bank manager sneers at them like they’re lower than the horse shit he accidently stepped in on his way to work, but like most dandies from back south doesn’t have the spine or the stomach to deny the gang anything.  Jim just flashes an even bigger smile to try and sooth away the sting of the man having to capitulate to a deadbeat thief.  The high and mighty always act like they’re taking money or goods out of their own pocket.  Mostly Jim thinks it’s the fear that a month from now, the likes of the gang will come walking back in dressed to the nines in expensive finery and parade around like respectable businessmen and make believe they’re equal to the likes of the inherited rich.  Personally he can’t imagine a worse fate.

The bank manager gives up his token protest and capitulates to Kirk’s request, but that doesn’t stop him from putting on a show of how long it takes to open the safe which somehow must translate into how amazing and expensive the bank’s safety measures are.  In Jim’s experience guns and ingenuity trumps fancy lock mechanism every time. 

While Spock maintains his intense scrutiny of the manager’s every move as he stands beside the man waiting for the vault to open, Kirk spares a moment to offer a reassuring smile to the rest of the hostages, whose only misfortune was walking into the bank this morning (if all goes well, it won’t escalate to anymore than that).  They can’t see his mouth, obscured by the kerchief, but his mother always told him his power was in his eyes anyways.  Naturally his eyes settle on the lovely young lady who’s second in line and he can’t help but sway towards her.  “Hi,” he drawls, “nice day isn’t it?”

The lady smiles tipping her head down to conceal the blush and a melodic giggle.

McCoy rolls his eyes at the scene and groans loudly.  “Good lord.”  He shakes his head in disapproval for good measure, not that he thinks it will do any good, especially when Kirk’s only response is to shrug his shoulders and take a step closer to the lady to comment on how nice she smells. 

It does nothing to set the doctor at ease; his mind already cataloging all the ways this is going to end horribly when Jim actually has his head in the game.  The level of doom increases tenfold when Kirk has his head all twisted around some girl.  It’s times like these he misses home, where at least the ladies had enough self-respect and control to ignore the advances of shameless flirts like Jim.  Apparently Leonard isn’t the only one whose morals have gone slightly eschewed out in the untamed lands to the west.

Spock takes the satchel of money from the safe, giving a confirming nod to the captain that they’re now in possession of what they came for.  He quickly makes his way back around the counter and out into the larger room of the bank.

McCoy picks up the bag Kirk kicks towards him and pulls out the lengths of rope.  With Jim as a looming gun toting threat behind him, he begins to tie the hostages’ hands together.  It’s not tight, and he leaves their hands in front because he can’t bring himself to be cruel enough to make the situation any worse for people whose position he understands all too well.  Despite his recent foray into a life of crime, he’s still a doctor and knows this experience is traumatic enough without chaffing rope and being left completely helpless. 

He offers an apologetic smile to the lady as he holds out a length of rope for her, he was raised to be a gentleman after all.  Jim clears his throat and shakes his head, declaring, “I think we can forgo the bindings in this case.”  Leonard just huffs and drops the rope on the ground.  If there’s any justice in this world, if he can’t be the one to shoot Kirk for all his bullshit, he hopes it’s an unassuming sweet lady that gets the honor.  That’ll teach the kid to think with his anatomy and not the sense the good lord gave him. 

Jim stands at attention, his eyes focused on the bank manager, two tellers and the rather unimpressed looking gentlemen still standing in line.  “It’s been an absolute pleasure, gentlemen and lady,” he declares giving a wink to the lady in question.  He tips his head toward the door, for Spock to take his leave.  McCoy follows, switching his attention to what awaits outside the door than those still in the bank.  Sulu’s been minding the street but there’s always the possibility they’re walking out into an ambush.  Jim walks backwards slowly, guns trained on the bank hostages, making sure they don’t have any late blossoming heroes in their midst. 

Across the street Uhura watches Spock exit the bank.  She leans over the side of the building she’s perched on and gives the all clear nod to Scotty on the ground.  Like the well-oiled machine they are, he gives the signal to Chekov to bring in the horses for Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Sulu.  Uhura shifts her attention back to watching the street from on high.  It goes smoothly, everyone mounting their horses calmly and casually, not drawing any unwanted attention, intending to ride out of town at a brisk pace.

That illusion is shattered abruptly by a woman running out of the bank screaming like a banshee about the place having been robbed.  It doesn’t take a lot for Uhura to figure out the catalyst for this turn of events, letting out a long and measured breath. Kirk always has a soft spot from pretty ladies.  After riding with her for so long, she’d hoped Kirk would break himself of the idea that pretty in a dress doesn’t mean the girl always ends up enthralled in his charm.  She stares down the barrel of her rifle following the growing action in the street below.

“Trouble?” asks Scotty from below, gripping the reigns of his and Uhura’s horses a little tighter.  He’s safely tucked behind a building but he’s pretty sure the rest of the gang hasn’t had enough time to clear out of town yet.

Uhura keeps a firm grip on her gun and makes her way to the side of the roof to climb down. “Plan B,” she says as she mounts her horse.

The sheriff’s storming towards the bank with a handful of people in tow and a posse is quickly forming. 

“You bet your ass,” agrees Scotty, spurring his horse forward.  They ride as fast as they can to the opposite edge of town and light the sticks of dynamite the engineer has prepared.  With any luck the explosion will divide the sheriff’s men and keep most of the townspeople busy controlling the fire in the abandoned cabin.  Once the fuse is lit, they ride like wind away from town, praying the rest of the gang makes it back to camp unharmed.

Kirk and company kick their horses into a full on gallop when they hear the woman’s cries.  The explosion at the other end of town only confirms the fear that they’ve been made.  They ride on, the sheriff and several of his deputies hot on their heels.  The canyon’s not far from town with its twists and turns and multitude of trails carved into its stony earth; they can lose any pursuers in there.

Chapter Text

It doesn’t take long for the added pressure of being chased to bubble over into being shot at.  They can all hear the deceive cracks of gun fire and the zip of bullets as they pass too close for comfort.  It echoes off the jagged and weather worn rocks that tower above them reaching for the sky.  Jim starts to pull his horse back slightly, forcing McCoy ahead of him.  The danger is coming from behind and out of all of them, the doctor can barely shoot a gun to start with, let alone on horseback turning to shoot behind him.  Jim however, excels at this part.  He’s had a lot of practice.  He pulls his faithful sidearm, turns and takes two well placed shots eliminating their pursuers by one.

Spock, Sulu and Chekov take their shots in turn, laying down an impressive wall of cover fire for their escape.  Ideally, they’d rather not kill any of the deputies or the sheriff, they’re just doing their job, but when it comes down to them or the gang, the gang’s not going to go down without a fight.  They aim to injure and dissuade pursuit but sometimes a shot doesn’t go as planned or they have no choice.  The posse on their tail has a completely different objective in mind.  It’s yet another thing Jim wants to keep from McCoy as he drags the doctor into the thick of a life the man never asked to be a part of.

Every member of the gang would kill to protect one another.  Jim has little doubt that back against the wall, Leonard would too, despite his oath to do no harm.  The doctor wouldn’t raise a gun to save himself but, Kirk’s scene the lengths McCoy will to to protect other people.  The least he can do is try and make sure McCoy doesn’t have to live with the fallout of going against his oath.

“Ё моё,” cries Chekov, desperately clinging tight to the reigns as his horse rears and topples over.  He lands hard, the heavy weight of the now dead horse pinning him down.  Quickly he pulls his gun with the hand not pinned to the ground from his holster and continues to fire at the rapidly closing lynch mob.  He wiggles and squirms his hardest to slip his leg free from the confines of his horse between desperate shots that aren’t holding pack the posse as much as he needs.

Kirk catches Chekov going down out of the corner of his eye amongst the chaos and quickly turns his horse around.  “Keep going,” he yells at McCoy and Spock; Sulu’s already heading back towards their downed man.  They were almost at the start of the canyon trails, but one good shot has left one of them out in the open.  Jim positions himself between Chekov and the approaching party, laying down enough fire to get their pursuers to slow and dive for cover.  It’s not enough of a deterrent as he’d like, some of the riders finding their way around them to continue after Spock and McCoy.  They’re greatly outnumbered and splitting up isn’t doing them any favors but he can’t ask McCoy to stick around and take extra fire and he can’t send the doctor ahead alone either.  He could really use Uhura’s aim right about now.

Jim yells to be heard over the gunfire, “Get him out of here, Sulu.”  The kid’s manages to free himself and get shaking feet under him.  There’s no blood on Chekov that the Captain can see, removing that potential complication from an already hairy situation.  They’re down a horse now putting two targets together.  He’ll make sure Chekov and Sulu get the best head start he can give them by being their last line of defense.

Sulu extends his hand and Chekov grabs it in a fierce grip pulling himself up and on the back of Sulu’s horse.  “Got him,” shouts Sulu before spurring the horse towards the canyon.  Chekov keeps firing to ease the tension off of the Captain who waits for them to get enough of a head start.  Riding with two in this circumstance is a necessary but added burden and Jim will give the pair any advantage he can.

The riders are growing more daring in their shots, realizing the number of outlaws standing against them has dwindled.  Once the pair is safely out of sight, Jim takes his chance to make the relative safety of the canyon.  The trails are winding and maze like, making shots difficult and ‘disappearing’ easer.  It’s their best chance to get away from a posse they probably won’t be able to outrun.  As soon as the riders realize Kirk’s given up his stand against them they begin their pursuit again with even more determination and vigor. 


 

“Left up here, Doctor,” calls Spock, entirely calm and collected which irritates McCoy all the more. 

The Vulcan could at least have the decency to be ruffled by the situation.  Normal people shouldn’t be calm in the face of being shot at.  If there was ever question as to why Kirk and Spock were such a formidable and unified pair, McCoy believes the answer lies somewhere in the depth of their mutual insanity.  In the end all it means is there are two people in his life that are going to actively work to get him killed.

Spock’s behind McCoy, as per Kirk’s instructions and the most tactical approach to the situation at hand.  They had gained a little ground by continuing on when Chekov went down but it appears several riders managed to get around the Captain and Lieutenant.  Spock pushes the concern for this turn of events out of his mind to focus on getting himself and the doctor through the canyon.  Uhura would tell him his statistical analysis of the likelihood of their survival would not be beneficial at the moment.

He can hear the shots by the riders pinging off of the canyon walls making it hard to determine how close they are by sound alone.  So far they have been what Jim would refer to as ‘lucky’ that the rider’s aim isn’t better but the odds are in favor of them hitting their targets sooner or later, just as there’s a chance, however slim, that the doctor will hit a target one day.  The constant twists and turns makes getting a visual on their pursuers difficult.  It’s easy to get lost and turned around in the canyon and in all the chaos he’s concerned he’ll lose the doctor along the way before the riders.

They’re almost at the next fork when Spock feels the biting burn of something slicing through his arm, just as they’re coming up to a fork in the trail.  He jerks instinctively and in doing so pulls the horse to the right and the opposite trail he intended.  McCoy, ahead of him, is galloping down the left trail as intended, unaware that Spock is no longer behind him.  The riders are too close and Spock is riding too fast to take the time to turn around and retrace his path to follow McCoy.  He clamps his other hand down hard on the gushing wound and grips the reigns tightly with the hand on his injured arm.  All he can do now is make as much noise as possible and hope all if not most of the riders follow him and not the doctor, and that Leonard can find his way back to camp on his own.


 

McCoy spares a glance behind him and quickly wishes he hadn’t.  It’s like looking down when standing on the edge of a cliff, there’s nothing helpful to see from that vantage.  Spock isn’t behind him but five large angry men with their guns pointed in his general direction are.  “Well isn’t this typical,” he mutters to himself.  The one person that wanted absolutely no part in this bonehead scheme is the only one here now.  It’s like they can tell which one of them has next to no experience with a gun.  “Your sheer presence will be enough to help dissuade the good townsfolk from being heroes.”  He’s going to make Jim eat those words, if he lives through this.  This is where he kind of regrets staying with the gang instead of going back to Federation City after surviving Nero.  It’s another check mark on the list to commit him to an asylum.

A bullet whizzes uncomfortably close to his ear and he shrinks in on himself as much as possible as he can on a horse to try and make himself a smaller target.  He makes the next turn and another one right after that but is pretty sure now that he’s made the decision, the last one wasn’t correct.  He looks back again and only sees three riders, but isn’t sure if that’s a good sign or not.

It’s definitely not.  He topples out of his saddle as his horse comes to an abrupt and complete stop without his permission.  There’s nowhere else to go, this trail comes to a dead end, high rock walls on three sides with the only way out being the way he came; not an option.  Pulling himself into a sitting position he spits dirt from his mouth before getting to his feet.  The impact was jarring and his knees and elbows sting like they might be missing flesh.  His horse is spooked, bucking and rearing, knowing full well the danger quickly coming up behind them.  He raises his hands in a placating manner to try and sooth the horse, cooing softly as he gets closer.  It won’t help matters if he gets trampled.

He’s almost has the horse calmed down when a bang echoes through the canyon like thunder from god and the horse crumples to the ground.  McCoy goes ridged but spares a harsh glare for the three riders that block the only exit out of the alcove he’s trapped himself in.  He can’t stand unnecessary bloodshed, and there was no point to killing the horse; where was he going to go exactly?  He raises his hands in surrender with a look of utter distain.  He’s got that plummeting feeling in his gut that he gets when his world is about to end.  Someone better inscribe ‘damn it Jim, I was right; I told you this was a bad’ idea on his epitaph. 

The riders just laugh, looking down on him with malicious smiles, because apparently the gun at the doctor’s head wasn’t enough of fuck you in this moment.  They move in closer making Leonard feel claustrophobic.  The lead rider cocks his gun and levels it right at the doctor’s head.  There are mere inches from McCoy’s forehead and the cold steal that will deliver his demise.  The rider shrugs.  “Why waste the rope?” he asks, no one in particular but the message is clear. 

There’s no justice here today, but that’s the reason McCoy came out west in the first place.  He had been searching for this exact moment and now that it’s here, it’s not as satisfying as it seemed a few years ago.  Light has finally managed to shine through the cracks of his dark world and Jim Kirk was the first to chip through his prison.  He finally found the strength to hope again and now the universe has decided to knock his teeth in again; though this time it might succeed in finishing what it never saw fit to end before.

McCoy swallows hard, his chest hitching as his vision tunnels to nothing more than the barrel of the gun.  No this, this right here, is the moment he regrets his decision to throw his lot in with Jim Kirk.  He closes his eyes and braces himself for the ending that can only come from the life he’s chosen.


 

Kirk edges closer to the jagged edge of the boulder he’s climbed.  His view is perfect of the scene below but what’s about to play out is anything but.  The lead rider is taking it upon himself to dole out his own kind of justice, which Jim could relate to but the swift execution of his friend, would not only be inconvenient to his friendship and social calendar, but makes implementing a rescue all the more fly by the seat of his pants.   There’s nothing to do but jump into the fray.  He coils himself up ready to leap.

McCoy flinches at the sound of the gun going off.  He waits for an agonizing second for the pain that’s sure to come, but nothing.  He waits some more before finally cracking an eye open.  Kirk is rolling around on the ground with his would be murder.  It takes a moment for Leonard’s brain to kick start and he doesn’t hesitate to jump into the tussle.  McCoy maybe shit with a gun, but he knows how to use his two fists to great success.  Despite what Jim may think, and what he likes to tell people, he can’t do it all on his own. 

The two other riders are trying to kick, punch and whatever they can to get Kirk off of their companion.  McCoy pulls back and let’s his fist fly.  He may not be handy with a gun, and his reputation as a doctor detracts from any necessity for violence, but let it never be said that McCoy men were never taught how to hold their liquor or throw a punch.  It takes three to bring the first man down and by that time, Jim’s managed to take out the lead rider and pick himself up off the ground.

They share a smile and a look before they both aim punches at the last rider.  The poor schmuck goes down like a tree.  Bending over, Jim places his hands on his knees as he catches his breath.  “Thanks, Bones.”

“Likewise,” concurs McCoy.  He winces at the blood dribbling down the side of Kirk’s head and down his chin from a split lip.  Tipping Kirk’s head from side to side he gets a good look at the split in his scalp.  It’s nothing major, but it’ll be sore for a few days.  “You’ll live,” he scoffs.

“Good, we have to go drinking tonight.”  Jim slaps Leonard on the shoulder for good measure, his smile growing with McCoy’s rising irritation.  The chipper tone grates on McCoy’s last nerve.  Only Jim smiles and waves like a lunatic to death like they’re old friends.

“You haven’t had enough excitement today?” he asks, following Kirk out of the alcove and down the trail to Kirk’s waiting horse.  Exhaustion is tainting his voice and it’s not from the activities of the day; Jim Kirk doesn’t have an off-setting and it’s exhausting, physically, mentally and spiritually.

Jim stops walking and looks seriously at the doctor.  “We have to celebrate a successful job.”  He says it like it’s some law chiselled into stone somewhere and Leonard’s risking damnation by suggesting anything else.

“And was it?”  The likelihood is he’s the only one that had a problem that required rescuing and that everyone else had a relatively easy time of the chase all things considered; that’s just how much the world seems to personally hate Leonard.  He’s glad this rag tag group has an abundance of luck on their side, but one day that luck’s going to run out.  Heaven help them all on that day.

Jim does this weird screwy thing with his face as though he’s weighing where on the scale things have fallen.  “Chekov’s going to be sore but he and Sulu got away.  I didn’t see Spock anywhere so he’s still ahead of anyone chasing him if there was anyone.  I saw a bunch of riders heading back to town.  Guess a nest of rattle snakes proved to be too much for them.”

McCoy pinches the bridge of his nose as he pictures death by snake.  “Can we just get out of here?”

Jim’s about to make some comment about McCoy being afraid of snakes when they’re the supposed companions of witch doctor’s the world over when a shadow catches his eye.  He glances up past McCoy to the tops of the canyon cliffs, a flicker of dread running through him.  He’d recognize the bone ridges of the skull made headdress anywhere.  They’re being watched, silently and thoroughly by a Klingon scout.  The canyon trails run along the outskirts of their territory which is vast and largely unexplored but the boarders are firmly established; often with the gruesome display of dismembered fools that dared to challenge Klingon raiding parties.  The Klingon’s have done their fair share to contribute to the blood thirsty savage image that plagues most of the indigenous people.

There’s only one, but there will be others, probably soon.  Jim has no desire to be a dismembered warning to future travelers and he can’t begin to imagine what they’d do to Leonard if they found out he practiced medicine but it wouldn’t be any prettier.  If they leave, the shadow watching over them will have no cause for concern.  Careful so as not to worry the doctor or draw unwanted attention to their spy, he pulls himself up on his horse and guides it to turn around so when McCoy climbs up, he won’t have a view of their guest. “Sure thing, Bones,” says the Captain as he helps Leonard get on the back of his horse.  “We’re getting out of here right now.”


 

 “It’s been awhile, Doc,” purrs Gaila, sitting next to McCoy as her hands slide from his shoulders down his chest.  “A girl gets mighty cold and lonely at night.” 

Her mouth is right next to Leonard’s ear and he can feel the warmth of her breath.  She’s the best in the business and it shows. He’s not sure if she’s persistent because she knows McCoy’s resolve isn’t likely to die or she’s in love with the challenge.  He carefully lifts her hands off his chest and sets them in her lap, ignoring the put-upon pout she sports as a result.  He rather enjoys their little game.  There are never any hard feelings that he never pays for a night and of all the people in Federation City, Gaila has never been discouraged by his general grump demeanour; hell, she’s probably the closest thing he’s ever had to friend in this town.  “Jim will be right along,” he promises, moving his hands from hers to the glass of bourbon Scotty got for him.

Gaila shrugs and shifts her gaze to Chekov who it tactfully looking everywhere but at her.  “Can’t blame a girl for trying.”  She and Jim are two peas in a pod, the incarnation of each other in a different sex.  The town will probably burn because McCoy introduced them.

Chekov is the latest game she likes to play.  The boy blushes and bumbles like it’s the first woman he’s ever seen, which is ridiculous because McCoy’s seen him smooth as silk while chatting up the young daughter of the owner of the general store.  He can only imagine the things she whispers in Chekov’s ear to make him that shy.

Gaila stealthily wedges her chair between Chekov and Scotty, throwing her arm around the boy.  Scotty spares them a bemused smirk and sideways glance as he buries his nose in his mug.  As Chekov’s looking dumbfound at her hand that’s wrapping his curly locks around her finger, she casually throws her leg over his so she’s almost straddling him.  Looking over her shoulder at the doctor she says, “Sheriff’s bin askin after ya.  He’s almost concerned something happened to ya and you didn’t just head back home.”

Gaila wasn’t privy to exactly what McCoy had gotten himself involved in or why he literally couldn’t show his face in town for weeks after Scotty had told her he was alright.  Showing up to town bloodied and broken or in the days that followed, black, blue and broken was only going to raise more questions than answers for the doctor and the gang.  Gaila had been instrumental in spreading the idea that McCoy had just moved on to another town.

“Yeah, well the new doctor should be here by the end of the week, then people’ll forget all about me,” says McCoy.  He wasn’t cold hearted enough to leave the town without help.  A quick telegraph to an old friend had Dr Jabilo M'Benga on his way to Federation City to take over McCoy’s practice.  In the interim, Leonard saw to those in desperate need, swearing them to secrecy about his presence in the area.  The one good thing about the dark and dank saloon was the liquor was always in abundance to dull people’s memory and make Leonard seem like a dream.

“You’re a hard man to forget, Leonard McCoy,” promises Gaila, turning her attention back to Chekov.  “But I’ll do my best to make sure the sheriff and his deputies have something more important to think about.”

It’s a typical night at said saloon, people of all walks of life drinking in merriment together until the liquor gets the best of them brings out their anger or making them sloppy at cheating at cards and then the brawls will begin.  It’s easy for the gang to fit right in and disappear at the same time.  And it’s a good place to blow off steam and calm nerves; except for Spock who’s always rigid but seems to get something out of joining them because he comes out with them more often than not these days.  The doctor suspects it’s mostly Uhura’s doing.

“We’re not going to wait for Kirk and Uhura?” asks Sulu.

“A good ale waits for no man,” proclaims Scotty, taking a large gulp from his glass.

“They should be here in approximately seven minutes and four five seconds,” assures Spock, nursing his water.


 

Uhura and Jim are walking down the boardwalk towards the saloon from the gunsmith shop.  He’s so warped up in discussing the curves and details of the colt he saw in the show case and his immediate love for the beauty that he misjudges how far over he needs to step to avoid bumping the person walking towards them.  Their shoulders bump causing both to stumble slightly and Kirk’s quick with his apology.   “I’m so sorry.”

“I’m fine.”

It’s the famine tone of the voice that has Kirk’s head snapping up.  His trademark smile stretches across his face like he has no control over it and his eyes sparkle with a hint of mischief.  “Yes, you are,” he agrees wholeheartedly.

Uhura rolls her eyes and bites down on her lip to avoid saying anything either to Kirk or by virtue of association the woman standing before them.

The woman smiles and extends her hand.  “Carol Wallace.”

“Jim Kirk.” He accepts her hand and shakes it.  “Care to join me for a drink?”

“I would, but I have to catch the stagecoach first thing in the morning and I need to get to my room,” apologizes Carol, sounding sincere about it.

Not to be deterred so quickly, Jim says, “Dangerous town for such a lovely lady to be walking unescorted.  Let me accompany you.”  He offers his arm as a show of his sincerity to the task before him.  Carol accepts with a small smile.

“Kirk,” snaps Uhura, failing to conceal her irritation.  They have places to be and people waiting on them.  It’s too early to seat around while Kirk’s led astray by some skirt.

Jim waves off her protest with his other hand.  “Go on without me.”

“What should I tell the boys, Captain?”  Uhura demands, unimpressed, though not surprised to be abandoned by Kirk to chase after a pretty face in a dress.  She’s intimately familiar with his ridiculousness, having seen it from all angles and even directed at herself at one point.   

“Tell them I’ll be along shortly,” he replies with a little too much enthusiasm.

Kirk barely notices Uhura leave as he strolls alongside Carol back the way he came.  “What brings you to these parts?”

She hesitates a moment before asking, “What makes you think I’m not from around here?”

“The accent for one,” starts Jim, and he’s kind of intrigued by it.  “Class for another.”  There’s two types of people that come from back east; those coming from money, that look and sound the part despite finding themselves in the barren wasteland of the unsettled west, and those who have absolutely nothing left to lose when fleeing to the promised opportunity of the brave new frontier.  Carol is definitely the former, there isn’t a hint of desperation or hardship on her.

Her head drops down to hide both the sly smile and the embarrassed blush that creeps up her cheeks.  “I accepted a teaching position.  Felt like I needed a fresh start.”

“I can understand that.”  Jim spent the majority of his youth running away, running from his father’s legacy, his father’s death, his mother’s heartache and his failure to prevent any of it.  He ran himself off a cliff, literally and figuratively and only found his way again when Pike grabbed hold and refused to let go.  When the pressure of avenging his father and bringing Nero down got to be too much, he often wondered what it would be like to just walk away to some place where his last name meant nothing and he could find out just who Jim was.  If he’s being honest, he has moments now where he wonders if walking away will fill the hole he thought Nero’s death would fill.  The appeal of starting over is something he can relate to.

“Well, this is me,” says Carol, startling Jim out of his reverie.  “Thank you Captain.”

“Take care of yourself Miss Wallace.”

Carol leans in and places a gentle kiss on Jim’s cheek. “You too Captain Kirk.”

Kirk watches until Carol is safely inside and begins his slow meander back towards the saloon, looking every bit the love sick fool.  He allows himself the momentary distraction and the thought that he might be a little smitten with the lady until he reaches the doors of the saloon.  The second he crosses the threshold his carefree game face slips back in place and he signals the bartender to bring their table a round of shots.

No one says anything about his tardiness as he joins the gang and wraps his arms around Gaila as she shifts from her chair onto his lap.  Everyone picks up a shot and raises it in a toast.  “To a job well done and finally finished,” declares Kirk.  They all toss their drinks back, the world feeling a little lighter when they’re done.

 

Chapter Text

Present

McCoy can feel the wobble of the wood giving into gravity; eternity passing between each heart beat as the slow rush of breath from his lungs sounds like a rapid river licking the edge of a cliff.  The look on Jim’s face says it all: sorrow, despair, failure, Leonard’s impending death.  It’s the doctor and the friend in him that wants to take that pain away, to place a reassuring hand on Jim’s shoulder and tell him it will all be okay; he’ll survive this, Jim Kirk is a survivor.  McCoy would, if his hands weren’t bound behind his back.

The chair collapses and nothing in this world has prepared him for the pain and the fear that follows.  The noose pulls taught, stopping his decent mere inches from the floor.  His feet flail desperately to find something solid, something lifesaving, to step on and take the weight off his neck, to allow him to breath once more.  There’s nothing, just empty space and a rope that’s wrapping itself tighter and tighter around his neck. 

The world is reduced to stars and encroaching darkness.  It’s getting harder and harder to move his legs, to fight the bonds holding his hands back from trying to pry the rope from around his neck.  Over the thunder of his pounding heart, the crack of gunfire echoes across the expanse of the barn and McCoy can do nothing but look at the shocked and lifeless look on Jim’s face as he clutches his chest.  Bright red spreads out from under Kirk’s hand like ink soaking into fresh table linens.  A trail of blood dribbles down the captain’s chin as his legs finally buckle and he collapses to the ground dead, a half formed apology to Leonard on his lips.

Nero looms in McCoy’s fading vision.  “I told you you’d live just long enough to see that look of defeat in his eyes,” whispers Nero in his ear.  Leonard’s vision tunnels before he can’t move anymore and then there’s just nothing.

“Rise and shine, Bones!” shouts Kirk. 

McCoy flinches into a sitting position, the bed sheets pooling around his waist as he frantically looks around the tent.  His heart is hammering so hard it might fly out of his chest and his hands automatically go to his throat feeling for any trace of the noose.  He sags with relief when he finds nothing.

“Another nightmare?” Jim asks, looking concerned as he sits on the foot of the doctor’s bed.  If he was keeping track, which he tells himself he’s not, McCoy would be averaging one every other night for the last few month.  Sometimes it’s something other than the barn, but Leonard’s raggedy breaths and habitual rubbing of his neck upon waking suggests it’s his run in with Nero more often than not.

McCoy closes his eyes and focuses on getting his breathing back under control.  He’s tired of the nightmares.  Experiencing being hung was traumatic enough, having to relive it every night is wreaking havoc on his nerves.  It’s rather depressing that he has developed a ranking system for how bad the dreams are, where the best case scenario is just relieving it until he passed out.  Having to watch Jim die too, makes it harder.  At his worst, it’s him standing there watching the rope tighten around his daughter Joanna’s throat.  Those are the days he viciously abuses Scotty’s stash of moonshine.  He clears his throat.  “I’m fine.”

Jim takes stock and knows his friend is anything but fine but if there’s anything McCoy hates more than pity, it’s calling attention to his deflection.  “You almost slept the morning away.  Sulu left steaks for breakfast this morning and I’ll have you know I took my life in my hands to save you a piece.”  Jim points to the plate he placed on Leonard’s table when he had walked in to find the doctor in the throes of his nightmare.

“Your near sacrifice is appreciated.”  McCoy throws his blankets aside and takes his seat at the table.  His stomach rumbles with desire as he begins to shovel the delicious food in his mouth.  He’s got to give Sulu credit, the guy can cook almost as good as his mamma.

Kirk sits across from him, coffee in hand with an amused smile on his face.  It’s usually him that attacks his plate like a ravenous dog.  “You have anything pressing happening today?”

“No.  Just the usual of having to keep you from doing something stupid,” he says around bites, barely sparing Kirk a glance.

“Good, cause Spock said Chief Sarek is coming to see us today.”

McCoy stops mid bite, his fork hovering in mid air as his face contorts with curiosity. “Oh?”  He’s heard about Spock’s father in passing, mostly from Jim and Uhura but never had the privilege of meeting the Vulcan in person.  Any communication the Chief has with the gang at large is usually passed through his son and since Chief Sarek is mostly occupied with rebuilding his people’s settlement, he has little need for anything involving the gang.  “I can’t imagine it’s a social call.”

“I’m as curious as you are, Bones.  It’s a shame Chekov and Sulu left for Iotia this morning, they’re going to miss this rather historic occasion.”  Any further discussion is halted by the sound of riders entering the camp.  “Show time,” says Kirk, running his hand through his hair before straightening his shirt.  There’s something about Spock’s father that makes them all want to stand at attention like children before the headmaster awaiting discipline. 

McCoy looks longingly at his half eaten breakfast before following the Captain out of his tent.  All the spit and polish they put into meeting with the chief, is comparable to the lengths he would go to impress his in-laws, not that it ever did him any good.  Anything that has Jim squirming under scrutiny might be worth all the ado. 

Seven riders make their way into the camp, dressed for ceremony and in perfect formation.  Spock and Uhura are standing in the middle of camp as Sarek dismounts, two of his escorts do the same but the others stay on their horses, sharp eyes keeping visual of the horizon.  The camp is pretty secluded and unknown but they can all appreciate the hyper vigilance by the Chief’s entourage.  To become complacent is to die out on the frontier.

Spock salutes his father, as cold and impersonal as he is with everyone, and if McCoy didn’t know they were related, he’d assume they were strangers meeting for the first time.  “You honor us with your presence.”  Uhura stands silently behind Spock giving a small nod in greeting when Sarek returns the salute to both of them. 

Sarek’s attention immediately turns to Kirk as he steps up beside Spock.  “Greetings, Captain.”

Jim bows his head slightly having been apprised multiple times by Uhura that Vulcans do not shake hands.  “Chief,” he greets warmly, “this is Doctor Leonard McCoy.”  He waves his hand towards Leonard whose taken place a step behind his shoulder.  Everyone else has had the pleasure but being the newest addition to Kirk’s motley crew, the doctor is an outsider.

McCoy glances at his hand briefly, watching as his normally deft fingers fail to copy the salute offered by the Vulcans.  Opting not to insult them, he decides for a bubbly verbal salutation. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Chief Sarek.”

Sarek tips his head in acknowledgement but again turns his attention back to Kirk.  The frivolous chitchat of settlers serves nothing but postponing the purpose of his trip to meet with his son’s acquaintances.  “I have need to speak to you Captain Kirk of a most pressing matter.”

The abruptness throws Jim but he recovers quickly.  “Right this way,” he offers leading Sarek and two of his escorts to their main tent.  Spock and the others silently fall in step behind.  They quickly assemble around the table, their attention on their guest who commands the room with all the poise and grace his legend dictates. 

Sarek looks solemn, even for a Vulcan.  “Our lands are facing a drought that will force not only our tribe but several others to abandon the area in search of more hospitable lands.”  An unappealing prospect in the shadow of the destruction of their home and a land that’s real-estate is quickly filling with settlers who refuse to share and devastate the natural resources of the land.

“That’s terrible,” offers Kirk.  He knows how hard it was for Spock’s people to start over, to give up their traditional lands and resettle.  Doing it again will probably break them.  It will also put further distance between Spock and his people who he rarely gets to associate with as it is.  The railway is also moving in, making the west more accessible, allowing settlers to move in and take much of the usable land.  With land at a premium, the Vulcans and others are going to run out of places to go sooner rather than later.  The world is quickly becoming a smaller place and he’s not sure how much room there will be left for any of them.

“Indeed,” agrees the chief.  “The river that nourishes the land has been dammed by the railway to both make the construction of the newest line easier and force anyone living on the land to leave.  That is where we require your help, Captain.”

Jim sits a little straighter in is seat.  “What can we do?”  He can deny them nothing; his hands dirty with his involvement in the army’s massacre and his personal failure to not act fast enough to stop it.

“You can destroy the dam.”  Everyone looks intrigued as they mull over the possibilities and options available.  “After you evacuate the Nibirans from the floodplain,” adds Sarek.

“Has the situation been explained to the Nibirans?” asks Spock, a small frown creasing his forehead.  Mass destruction such as this carries its fair share of risks and challenges but dealing with other people’s superstitions and idiosyncrasies is something they want to avoid.

“Of course,” states his father.  “The Nibirans are well known for their fear of outsiders.  They refuse to take counsel or discuss the destruction of the dam.  They have settled there and believe others will steal their land if they vacate, even for a short period until the flood waters recede.”

“If they won’t listen to reason and don’t trust outsiders, how are we supposed to get them out of the way to blow the damn?” asks Jim.  Wanton destruction has just turned into a huge undertaking and the task seems daunting given a lack of options.

“That is why I have sought you out.  Your reputation suggests you have a talent for finding unique solutions to unique problems.  It will not only be our tribe that benefits but four others as well.”

If Jim didn’t know better, he’d swear there was an amused glint in the chief’s eye.  The chief is a hard man to say no to on a good day.  Kirk has watched them lose their lands before and still feels his share of the responsibility for it keenly and can’t bear to be weighed down by further responsibility for the Vulcan people’s continued plight.


 

McCoy can’t even say he’s surprised anymore, let alone imagine a scenario that he would have to speculate over how Kirk could get himself into this mess; it’s safe to say Jim has expanded the depths of Leonard’s imagination.  His shoulders slump and his eyes roll in resignation but the frantic mob of a tribe chasing Kirk towards him is not a shock.  It takes his brain a minute to process exactly what he’s seeing before Jim’s frantic shouts and wild waving for McCoy to run actually forces his body to start moving.

“Run, Bones!”

He turns, taking his first step when a spear whizzes past his head.  It’s an excellent motivator to move faster.  It doesn’t take Jim long to catch up which means that the Nibirans are closing the distance too and they seem even more determined at catching them then McCoy is at running away; he’s pretty damn determined.  Between the war cries and near misses with arrows, he manages to spare a moment to wonder where it all went wrong.

It sounded simple coming out of Chief Sarek’s mouth but the mission had been wide open and vague at that point.  Scotty had been adamant that he could blow the dam and Spock supported the method and execution of that portion of the operation.  It’s Kirk’s portion of things that seems to have him running for his life, again, and now he’s seriously regretting not getting himself assigned to the explosive team.  When McCoy finds a moment, assuming they survive, he’s going to really reconsider his choice to stay with the gang.

His legs are starting to burn with effort but they can’t slow down.  Not only will they be slaughtered if they slow, but if they haven’t cleared the projected washout area, they’ll be waterlogged and bloated corpses. It didn’t seem like it was this far from the safe point when he walked it earlier. 

The Nibirans’ aim seems to be improving the longer the chase continues; McCoy can feel the spears and arrows fly by him and the prospect of becoming a pincushion is becoming more likely.  He seriously needs to carve out time in his day to re-evaluate his life decisions.  McCoy looks at Jim to make sure the fool idiot hasn’t taken a hit and notices something in Jim’s hand.  “What the hell did you take?”

Jim glances down at his hand like he almost forgot he was still clutching the scroll.  It seems his improvising has worked in spades, which sans sharp arrows being shot at their persons, is a relief because he had no real clue how to convince a whole tribe that’s weary and untrusting of outsiders to follow him out of the floodplain.  This reaction, he as to admit, is slightly more than he was aiming for.  “I don’t know,” he shouts so McCoy can hear him over the sound of the mob behind them and the blood throbbing in their veins, “but they were bowing to it.”

Kirk feels a second of relief as they pass the floodplain marker they set up earlier.  They and the Nibiran aren’t going to be crushed by a giant wall of water.  That’s one problem taken care of but certainly not the end of their concerns.  Another arrow skims past him and he glances back to judge the distance between them and the tribe screaming for their heads.  They have a bit of a lead, not as much as he’s comfortable with, but it will have to do.  “Send the signal,” he orders.

McCoy slows to a stop pulling open his satchel and removing the device Scotty gave him.  Despite his looming fear at the fast approaching flood of angry people, his hands are steady and true as he jams the self proclaimed rocket into the ground and strikes his flint.  The fuse lights up counting down the seconds before it reaches the explosive component.  “Let’s go,” shouts McCoy grabbing Jim by the arm to pull him along.

“What the hell is that?” asks Jim as he follows behind the doctor, eyes still firmly glued to the device McCoy just lit.  It ignites, shooting the device straight up where it explodes like a muted firework.  There’s no way Scotty and Spock can miss it, even against the bright blue sky.

“Some bastardized version of a flare Scotty created,” answers McCoy.  Trust Scotty to be able to rig something to get the job done but Leonard had tactfully stopped listening to what the mechanism comprised of after the Scotsman had listed gunpowder, and dynamite in the list components.  He’d rather not know what kind of premature death he’s carrying around thank you.

If it wasn’t for the impending death chasing them down, McCoy would have to say Scotty’s contraption was a sight to behold, like a shooting star tearing up the sky leaving a rainbow of color in its wake.  Some of the Nibiran must feel the same way because they stop their chase to stare at the sky and point.  Jim takes the opportunity to wedge the scroll he stole in a nearby tree, halting even more pursuers as they stop to worship their sacred object.  They still have Nibirans on their tail, probably the most dangerous of the tribe, but they stand a better chance of outrunning a dozen then the whole hoard.  A couple are more likely to run out of spears and arrows sooner rather than later.

“Shit,” hisses Kirk, grabbing his arm but not losing his stride.  Blood seeps over his fingers as he presses tightly against the wound.  It’s nothing more than a graze by a passing arrow but the Nibiran are getting closer and closer to their intended mark and he doesn’t think they’re going to make it to the horses before someone lands a lucky shot.  The loud rumble of the dam breaking makes the ground tremble slightly before the roar of water plows through the canyon. 

A small smile tugs at his lips as an idea begins to form.  He grabs a fist full of McCoy’s sleeve and drags him along.  “The horses are that way Jim,” protests McCoy, looking forlorn in the direction they should be running.  Kirk tactfully ignores the doctor’s protests, instead encouraging them to run faster.  He knows the moment the ledge comes into view and Leonard figures out just what their getaway entails.  

“No,” says McCoy slowing his pace.

“Yes,” replies Kirk, pulling harder at McCoy’s sleeve as he feels the doctor begin to slow down.  They don’t have time to lose any momentum and allow the Nibiran to gain ground on them.

“No!” shouts the doctor, like Jim clearly didn’t hear his protest.  The kid has to be out of his god damn mind.  There’s nothing ahead of them but a cliff overlooking what used to be a small lake before the river was dammed.

“Yes!” insists Jim.  No one would be stupid enough to follow them and he’s positive that the lake will be filled to a safe depth now that Spock and Scotty have blown the dam.  He’s like ninety, no seventy percent sure they’ll make it.  It’s better that then what awaits them if the Nibiran catch them.

“No!” screams McCoy forcefully, like he has any chance of stopping this runaway train.  There might be a note of pleading attached to his demand for Kirk to reconsider their suicide attempt.

“Yes!”  There’s no turning back now, they’ve run out of dirt beneath their feet.  Jim leaps off the edge, hand still firmly wrapped around McCoy’s arm and hopes they have enough momentum to push them away from the shallow edge of the lake.

“Damn it, Jim,” yells McCoy, finding himself in freefall.  His heart’s taken up residence in his throat and he only has a second of relief to see that there is water beneath them and not a dried out and rocky grave before they breach the water’s surface.  Between the force of the impact and the coldness of the water, his lungs seize, expelling any breath he had taken before becoming submerged.

Jim hits the water, shocked at the chill that seems to instantly freeze his bones.  The pressure from the current still carrying the water rips his hand from around McCoy’s arm.  He pries his eyes open but there’s nothing but watery darkness before him.  His hands flail around for Leonard but come up empty.  Soon he has no choice but to kick his way to the surface and appease his starved lungs. 

He breaches the surface coughing and sputtering.  Shaking the water out of his eyes he frantically looks around for any sign of the doctor.  “Bones!” he shouts, desperately turning in circles to find him.  There is no sign of the doctor.  A horrible queasy feeling starts in his stomach and works its way up his throat; a thousand and one scenarios that could have befallen his friend working their way through his brain.  Taking a large gasp of air, Jim dives back down expanding his search area further but still comes up with nothing. 

Again he surfaces just as his vision starts to go gray around the edges.  The surface of the lake is smooth except for the ripples emanating from Kirk’s movements.  “Bones!” he tries again.  The shore line is equally as empty and the foreboding feeling rippling through Jim is turning to sheer panic.  He doesn’t know what he’s going to do if he can’t find McCoy or worse, does find him only to discover his fool hearty plan got his reluctant friend killed.  “God damn it, Bones!”

McCoy can feel his limbs growing heavy, his coordination failing him as he frantically saws away at the strap of his satchel with the pocket knife Sulu had insisted he carry.  The strap finally sees reason, freeing his arm from the tangled mess and the log he had been chained to when the current pulled him away from Kirk.  He’s out of air and despite knowing the danger, his brain can’t keep his lungs from forcing him to take a breath.  With the last of his strength, he pushes towards the surface but the mouthful of water he’s sucked in is no substitute for desperately needed oxygen.  He’s choking as his head breaches the surface, unable to take advantage of all the air just sitting there for the taking.  He’s slipping back under, powerless to do anything about it.

Time freezes, locked in a moment that throws every emotion possible at Jim.  His anger shifts to relief as McCoy’s head reaches the surface.  It doesn’t last long as the doctor begins to slip under again and Jim is swimming as hard as he can to make up the distance between them.  His desperation melts into assurance as he wraps his arms around Leonard’s chest and heaves him out of the watery clutches of death.  “I got you, Bones.  Just hang on, I’ll get us back to shore.”  He pounds on McCoy’s back, trying to aid his friend in his quest to dispel the water that’s occupying the precious real-estate where air should reside.

It’s awkward but Jim manages to get them both to shore.  As his feet finally touch bottom, McCoy seems to be actually engaging in the all important activity of breathing.  He pulls the doctor along until the cold water is no longer able to lap at their heels.  They both collapse in a weary worn out heap and take time to enjoy the simple act of drawing breath.

Jim rolls onto his back, his chest heaving as the adrenaline works its way out of his system.  “Well, that was fun.”  A gleam comes to his eye.  It was dangerous, foolhardy, reckless... and exciting.  There’s nothing to compare to the feeling of coming so close to death and knowing you won.

McCoy pries his face off the ground, ignoring the dirt and sand that clings to his face.  He glares at Kirk, fantasising all the ways he could kill the kid and make it look like an accident.  Even though his throat hurts from coughing up a lung, he snarls, “I hate you.”

“Oh, where’s your sense of adventure, Bones?” he asks casually.  He knows how close they came to dying, is aware of it every time he does something and drags someone else along for the ride, but if he stopped and dwelled on it he’d spend the rest of his life paralyzed by fear.

McCoy just glares harder.  “I really hate you.”  He lets his head flop back to the ground.  He’s too thankful to be alive to let his suicidal friend ruin it for him.

Kirk lets out a laugh that starts out small but builds as the full weight of the last few minutes settles in his mind.  The ease of the moment is brought to a grinding halt as the clomping of hooves echoes off the rock walls running along the north shore of the lake.  Both men tense, as thoughts of purusing Nibiran wreak havoc on their nerves.  Jim rolls over to get his hands and feet under him, ready to launch an attack to defend not only himself but the doctor.

“Decided to take a wee swim did ya?” asks Scotty as his horse rounds the corner of the trail and he get a good look at the drown rats he calls friends.

Jim relaxes as he realizes it’s just Spock and Scotty.  He offers his hand to McCoy to help pull the doctor to his feet. 

“I see your portion of the operation did not go as planned, Captain,” observes Spock, looking curiously at the doctor and captain.  The arrangement had been for them to ignite the flare, get back to their horses and meet himself and Scotty at the secondary rendezvous point.  When Kirk and McCoy did not show up, Spock decided their efforts would be best directed retracing their steps.

“Whatever gave you that idea, Spock?”  snarls McCoy, every bit as irritated as he is wet.  It’s bad enough he has to put up with Kirk’s stupid shit, he really can’t handle it from all sides.

Kirk just lets out a maniacal laugh.

Spock raises his left eyebrow.  “Are you alright, Captain?”

“Do we look alright to you, Spock?” rants McCoy.  He points at the captain.  “Look at him, he’s gone insane.  What the hell is wrong with you Jim, that you would want to make a jump like that?”

“Relax, Bones, we’re fine.  It worked out.”  It’s time for damage control, easing Spock’s irritation at Jim’s fly by the seat of his pants altering of best laid plans and smoothing McCoy’s ruffled feathers.

Leonard crosses his arms.  “Did you know that before we jumped?”  He knows damn well Jim didn’t.  Jim’s the kid that can’t help but poke the bear just to see if the warning is true.  He supposes, there can be no advancement and discovery in the world without people like Jim to push the boundaries, but one day the kid is going to push too far and death only needs to stick once.

Jim just smiles like he personally beat the devil at his own game.   And yes, he had a split second of doubt that this might be the blaze of glory he goes down in, but he wasn’t alone; McCoy was with him.  If he’s ever been surer about something in this world, it’s the fact that he’s going to die alone.  As long as Spock or McCoy are with him, he’ll be fine, because he has to make sure they’re fine.

It’s all the answer McCoy needs.  “You two could drive a man to drink.”

“We were successful in our attempt, Doctor, the land will be inhabitable again,” informs Spock, attempting to stall what will no doubt be a tedious and arduously long rant by the doctor.  While McCoy will undoubtedly have many valid points as they pertain to Jim Kirk, it is neither the time nor the place for this particular discussion...again.  He offers Kirk his hand to help the captain climb onto the back of his horse as Scotty does the same for Leonard.

McCoy takes one last look around, a tremor running through him that has less to do with the cold water than he’d like to admit.  The water is leveling off, continuing its gentle journey like it was never caged at the beginning of the canyon to start with.  It’s peaceful and idyllic, perfect for settling but the ground work for the rail lines is either washed away or under water.  “The railway’s really going to love us now,” he offers as the horses begin their long journey home. 

Chapter Text

Jim increases his stride across the camp as he catches sight of the doctor.  McCoy just glances at him when he finally catches up but doesn’t stop in his trek towards the corral.  “Where are you off to today?” he asks cheerfully.  It’s only one part needing to keep tabs on McCoy in the light of recent events and eight parts sheer boredom at everyone else seeming to have some adventure planned for their day.  The last part, the part that he absolutely refuses to think about, has something to do with having nothing to distract him from dwelling on what happened with Nero and what that confrontation shook loose in his soul.  Spock and Uhura are out collecting some root Spock needs for some Vulcan ritual that Jim was only half listening to and Spock was being intentionally vague about.  Sulu and Scotty left for Korridon on a supply run so maybe he can tag along with McCoy instead of kicking around camp by himself like a tumbleweed. 

McCoy grabs a saddle hanging over the fence post and drapes it over his horse.  “I’m heading into Rigel.  Gaila asked me to check in on one of her former girls, Eleen, who’s settled down there.  She was due about two weeks ago and she wants me to make sure nothing’s wrong.  Figured I’d be the better choice, since the town’s doctor isn’t shy about making his feelings on her former profession known.”  His own personal upbringing doesn’t take kindly to Gaila’s profession and he can’t say he’d personally advocate for it, but he knows people have to do what they have to in order to survive and if they can live with it so can he.  Judging people for biblical transgressions of the flesh are above his pay grade as long as it doesn’t involve him.

“Due?” mumbles Kirk before the word actually sinks in. 

McCoy waits for a moment for the kid’s squirming to start at the thought of actually delivering a baby.  He’s not disappointed as Jim’s enthusiasm does a one eighty. 

In a more detached voice, Kirk asks, “So Chekov’s going with you then?”

McCoy smiles to himself as he rolls his eyes.  “I don’t need a babysitter, you know.”  If anyone needs a chaperone it’s Jim Kirk.  Trouble is a hell hound that’s caught the kid scent and is constantly nipping at his heels.  He get’s taken hostage one time by someone other than Kirk and Jim acts like someone has to hold McCoy’s hand all the damn time.  He did manage to survive all life hurtled at him before he met Kirk.  And as a badge of honor, he’s survived Jim up until this point too.

Jim scuffs his toe along the ground.  “I know.  I just feel better if people don’t go out alone.”  It’s true for everyone he’s responsible for but maybe just a little more true for the doctor.  They just view the world differently than the doctor and not just from the pile of experience they all have at defending themselves from the harsh underbelly of the world.  McCoy aims to see the good in people (in spite of his grumblings and pessimistic outlook) and while Jim will defend that virtue of the doctor’s to his death, he also knows it’s the things that’ll get Leonard killed faster than the rest of them, who all make a habit of putting themselves in front of bullets.

“Chekov might be coming.”  Leonard glances around for any sign of the kid in question.  “Chekov maybe a genius, but he’s slower than molasses in January,” he huffs.  Chekov had gone all starry eyed, the way Scotty does when he sees a good bottle of scotch or Kirk when one of the tavern girls proclaims she knows where to find a quiet room, when McCoy mentioned in passing that he was heading to Rigel.  Chekov had immediately began rambling on about some new fangled invention that was being displayed in town and McCoy couldn’t bear the look of disappointment the kid would have if he didn’t invite him along.

No sooner does he say it than Chekov’s frantic cry is heard across camp.  “I’m coming, Doctor!”  The kid comes running over, exhausted and out of breath from his frantic rush to the corral.  “I’m sorry Doctor, I...”

“Just get ready,” interrupts McCoy with more restraint and patients than he uses with Jim.

“You kids have fun,” bids Kirk, unlatching the corral door and stepping aside.  Babies are cute and all from a safe distance but he really doesn’t need to be there when they enter the world.  They also make the woman around go all doe-eyed and maternal.  While that makes them even more susceptible to his charm, they’re less likely to part amicably in the morning when they find out he has no intentions of fulfilling their dreams of settling down and having a parcel of little varmints under his feet.  He points a finger at Chekov.  “Remember what we talked about Mr Chekov.”

Chekov looks solemn and serious, like the weight of the world has just been placed on his shoulders.  “Yes Keptin.”  He takes his duty to protect the doctor seriously both because he likes McCoy and having the captain’s faith in him to perform like any other adult member of the gang is important.

Leonard lets Pavel lead his horse out first, taking a moment to guide his horse over next to Jim.  “I can take care of myself, Jim.  Did it for a long time before you came along.”  His success and or failure at the task is actually debatable; his life wasn’t sunshine and roses, more a bourbon colored mess, but he wasn’t an active hazard to himself.  For the most part.  He does understand that there are a few more hazards out there now than when it was just his own miserable existence he had to care for.  He has his ghosts and the demons of the rest of the gang to be mindful for now.  Not to mention the unintentional target Kirk placed on his back when he brought him here to save Pike’s life.  McCoy’s hand comes to rest on the handle of the gun he now carries at his hip.  “Besides, Uhura’s been teaching me how to shoot.”  He has no real intention of ever using it, but the bad guys don’t know that, and it seems to make everyone else feel better for the most part.

“I know, I’ve heard.  That’s why you need to take Chekov,” insists Kirk.  He’s heard at length the frustration Uhura has at trying to teach McCoy to use a gun effectively.  The man’s brilliant with a scalpel but a gun might not be in Leonard’s skill set.  Though Uhura insists that necessity might be the trigger the doctor needs to get it right, Kirk hopes they never have to find out.

Jim watches them leave.  He’s the only one left now and boredom is already poking him.  It’s been awhile since he’s checked up on Pike, he thinks, maybe he should do that.  It would beat anything else he could come up with.  Or there’s always taking Edith Keeler up on her standing offer for dinner too.


 

A gentle breeze rolls across the fields bringing the smell of ripe food waiting to be harvested.  Pike sinks further into the old wooden rocking chair letting the built up tension of years on the trail wash away for the quiet life he’s resigned himself to.  Beads of condensation run down the side of his glass and over his fingers, a tinge of coolness against the summer heat.

He rocks rhythmically in his chair, turning his attention every once in awhile to his niece and nephew frolicking in the nearby field.  He’s gotten the doctor from Yorktown to fashion him a wooden foot to make getting around the house easier but the hitch in his step is bad enough that he can’t help his sister and her husband work the fields properly.  It’s left him minding the children, which he doesn’t mind terribly.  It’s not unlike his last job of minding Kirk and company, only he gets more respect out of the actual children then he ever did Jim, and they certainly listen better.

The serine peacefulness is broken by the cloud of dust in the distance and a solitary rider make his way down the long winding path to the house.  Old habits die hard, and Christopher casts a glance at the open door to the house to make sure his rifle is still leaning against the wall just inside the door.  He keeps his eyes peeled at the horizon for any sign that the rider isn’t alone but so far nothing.  He’s not expecting any one and the rider doesn’t give off the air of familiarity as he gets closer to the house.

When the uninvited guest is almost at the house, Pike grabs his cane and begins his slow journey down the porch steps to meet his visitor head on.  It’s definitely not anyone he’s acquainted with, Pike hasn’t run with anyone who dresses that official or nice in years.  The stranger slides out of his saddle, landing gracefully on his feet before smoothing out his well tailored clothes. 

“This is private property,” informs Pike by way of greeting.  He knows this type of person and he’s going to establish that he can’t be swayed by pretty clothes and a possible badge early.

The stranger smiles, charming and bright but his eyes are dark and hard.  “Captain Christopher Pike?”

“Former Captain,” he corrects.  “I’m not part of the army anymore.”

“Right, my mistake.  I’m Agent John Harrison...”

“Let me stop you right there, Agent Harrison, nobody here’s broken any laws or given you any cause to be here.  We’ve got nothing to say to you.”

“Oh, but I think you could shed some light on a few things me. What is your experience with Doctor McCoy?”  There’s a silence and Pike’s lips tighten in a hard line.  “The doctor in Federation City,” clarifies Harrison.  “Surely you must know him, given your accident.  Federation City is the closest town to find a surgeon, especially one as skilled as Doctor McCoy.”

“I’ve had cause to employ McCoy.”  His hand strays to absently rub his knee.  The ache is a constant reminder of how hard his limb has to work to compensate for the crude wooden substitute he’s been left with.

The corner of Harrison’ mouth twitches in a malicious grin.  “And what would your opinion of the good doctor be?”

“He does good work,” he offers simply.  “Can’t really say much about him beyond that.”  The truth is he can.  The doctor’s just the latest lost sheep that Kirk’s herded into their dysfunctional family; a good person who’s been consistently dealt shitty hands in the game of life.  “I find it hard to believe that an agent would come all this way to ask me about a local country doctor.  Especially when you could go into town and ask him yourself.”

“There was an incident, or rather the slaughtering of twenty innocent people on one of the local homesteads,” states Harrison with an assessing gleam in his eye.  “As for the good doctor, he never seems to be in town anymore.  His colleague, Doctor M’Benga looks after most of the town.”

Pike keeps his face expressionless; he can’t afford to give anything away.  “If they’re already dead, I doubt inquiring about a doctor is going to do those poor souls much good.”

“Except, that the good doctor probably had a hand in their demise.”  The agent takes an intimidating step forward.  “You didn’t notice anything peculiar about McCoy’s behaviour?  Short temper, homicidal tendency perhaps?”

Christopher holds his ground.  He didn’t make it as far as he did in the army by bowing down to self-important people.  “The doc has a questionable bedside manner but I highly doubt the man has it in him to commit murder.  Hell, he probably couldn’t get up the nerve to kill his own dinner if he was lost in the desert.”  He forces a smile, anything to sell the indifference he’s faking.  For the most part, it’s true but what McCoy lacks in the instinct to fight, he more than makes up for with his bleeding heart and quick wit. 

Harrison’ eyes light up like he’s buying Pike’s assessment.  “I believe you know a James Kirk.”

The hairs on the back of Pike’s neck stand on end.  He keeps his face impassive but internally he’s tense, almost afraid to breathe.  It’s no secret that he knows Jim, he was the force that got the kid out of a jail cell and into the army in the first place, but since Kirk’s disobedience and subsequent treason, he’s only been associated with the name in passing as people try to gage his shock at Kirk’s betrayal.   No one’s actively sought him out to gain information on Jim in the last five years and certainly not after he parted ways with the army.  The man standing across from him is dangerous and the question is loaded with landmines Christopher can ill afford to step on.  “I was the one that recruited him.”

Harrison’ face stays bland; he’s willing to play the long game.  “Yes, a distinguished officer like yourself recruited many assets to the army.”  At the mention of Jim’s name a flash of danger glints in his eye.  “But Kirk is different, not typical officer material.  I only bring it up because it happens to be the Kirk homestead where the murders took place.”

Pike keeps his face carefully neutral, not breaking eye contact for even a second.  “Maybe that’s why he was such a good officer.”  It’s true but he knows that’s not what the agent wants to hear nor is it what the man is really suggesting.

“But he wasn’t was he?  The massacre at Vulcan, that was a messy mistake for your protégée.”  There’s an evil smile trying to form on Harrison’ face.

Irritation turns in Pike’s gut.  He knows the truth about not only Jim but what happened and it varies vastly from any official report on the matter.  He wants to defend Kirk, make the world see what he’s always seen in the kid, but his defense will betray them both.  Distance is the only thing that keeps any of them safe and a little piece of Christopher dies every time he has to condemn Jim’s actions to save face with people who couldn’t possibly comprehend the intricacies of being human.  With as much disinterest as he can fake he says, “There’s some debate as to where fault lies with Vulcan.”

“Is there?” asks Harrison with dark intrigue.  “The official report states that despite the peaceful negotiations, Lieutenant Kirk spurred an uprising of the Vulcan people against the regiment which led to heavy casualties on both sides.  Even after Kirk was captured the Vulcans attacked the town to retrieve him creating even more casualties.”  Harrison stares at Pike for several long and painfully silent moments looking for any flash of emotion that might betray the former Captain’s feelings on the Vulcan massacre that lives in the hearts and minds of settlers like a stalker in the dark.  “Coincidentally, wasn’t your regiment coming to report to Talos?”

“Coincidence.”  Pike shrugs like he’s never thought about it before.  He thanks god every day that he was close enough to Talos to get the reports in time to see for himself what was happening.  He might not have been able to spare Jim the heartache of that day or be the one to save him from becoming the army’s scapegoat but he was able to use his influence to buy the kid and his new Vulcan friend time to run.  It was a mess he’d happily try to clean up again and again.

Harrison continues undeterred by Pike’s seemingly lack of interest.  “Then you decided to retire a month later...”  The statement hangs in the air unable to mask the accusation it’s trying to cover.

“Another coincidence.”

 “There seems to be a lot of those.”

Pike shifts his weight, the action stiff and cumbersome given his bum leg.  Irritation is coloring his voice; he’s had just about enough of Harrison dancing around his intentions.  “Is there something in particular you want to know?”

“Yes,” chuckles Harrison, dark and dangerous like a spider toying with its next meal.  “Where would Kirk be hiding?”

“I haven’t seen Jim Kirk since he was transferred into Cartwright’s regiment.  Since he’s wanted for treason by the army I doubt he’s going to be looking up old former army acquaintances.”

Harrison tips his head to the side, his eyes sharpening like a cobra ready to strike.  “And yet, I’d bet money on the fact that you keep tabs on the protégée and his murderous gang of thieves.”

Pike knows a threat when he hears one, seen that look of danger Harrison is sporting before.  He glances towards the field where his sister and brother-in-law are working and the children are playing, unaware of the wolf in their midst.  Mentally he counts how many steps he has to cover to grab his rifle leaning in the door way.


 

The sun is bright casting a tolerable heat on the world.  It’s a beautiful day and for once Leonard’s mood matches the weather.  There’s a bounce in his step he can’t deny and he’s so pleased with himself he can’t be bothered to deny himself his good mood.  He’d forgotten that babies tend to have that effect on people.  It probably doesn’t hurt that Eleen was so grateful for his help that he now has a name sake in this world.  If ever there was call for celebration, now’s the time.  Not only does he want to pat himself on the back with a nice smooth glass of top shelf bourbon, but he probably owes Chekov a drink for the kid’s patience. 

Their timing had been near perfect, Eleen going into labour an hour before they had arrived in town.  But babies tending to keep to their own schedules, meant a long night for the doctor, and Chekov having to bunker down in a room at the saloon for the night or Pavel would have to explain to Kirk why he returned without the doctor.

McCoy’s blissfully sauntering down the boardwalk already imagining the velvety liquid sliding down his throat when a shop door swings open in his face.  He pivots quickly to miss the door but ends up face planting into a wall of neatly wrapped boxes and landing on his ass.  The packages coming raining down around him, thumping against the worn wood of the boardwalk.

“Why don’t you watch where...”  McCoy begins to snarl as he picks himself up.  His rant stops abruptly when he gets a good look at his assailant.   “Oh I’m sorry ma’am.  Let me help you,” he sputters, turning a bashful shade of red at his outburst and the somewhat bewildered and apologetic look of the lady mumbling her apology to him.  His point still stands, but his mother taught him to be respectful of ladies and looking at the elegant creature before him, he knows she doesn’t need to deal with some brut like him.

“It’s miss,” she says accepting the handful of boxes McCoy passes her.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s miss not ma’am, I’m not married.  My name’s Carol by the way, Carol Wallace.”  She haphazardly shifts the boxes in her arms to try and free a hand to extend to McCoy.  “I’m the new school teacher here, just started last week actually.”  Her smile shines like the sun and crinkles her eyes around the edges.

“McCoy, Doctor Leonard McCoy.  It’s nice to meet you,” he says, accepting her hand.

“Oh, I thought Doctor Puri was the town doctor.”

“He is, I was just helpin out a friend.  I work out of Federation City, or rather I did, I’m... lookin at other options at the moment.  Let me help you with those,” offers the doctor taking several of the boxes before Carol manages to drop them again.  They fall into step together, making their way towards the school house at the end of the street.

“Their loss, I imagine.  But I can see the appeal of looking for new opportunities.  There’s a whole new world out her to explore.  I’ve just seen the trail from New York to here and I’m in love with the possibilities.

McCoy’s face scrunches in revulsion.  The wide eyed enthusiasm reminds him of Jim and Chekov and a part of him is envious of the way they can look at the world so naively.  “The frontier is disease and danger wrapped in the darkness of man and the silence of nature’s wrath.”

 “You must be an old soul to be that cynical, Doctor McCoy.”

“Maybe.  Most likely jus’ old.  And please call me Leonard.”  He’s surprised as Carol reaches over to reclaim her boxes, having reached the front stoop of the one room school house already.

“This is my stop.”  She offers him a friendly smile as an awkward silence pushes its way between them.  McCoy nods amicably, while taking a few steps back.  “I hope to see you again, Leonard.”

McCoy mumbles something incoherently, almost tripping over his own feet.  He covers it as gracefully as he can and makes a beeline back in the direction of the saloon.  A quick survey of the bar reveals the usual weary travelers and bitter drunks that hangout in saloons before high noon but no sign of Chekov.  McCoy orders a drink and grabs a table, thankful for a private moment to get rid of his embarrassing blush.

“Real smooth McCoy,” he mumbles into his glass.  He thinks he remembers being better at making small talk with a pretty lady but the last time he tried was when he was trying to win over his ex-wife.  She’d probably accuse him of being a bumbling idiot then too, but he likes to think he at least had swagger at one point.

He has no idea where Chekov has gotten to so he settles in for a long wait.  It’s been awhile since he’s been alone in a crowd and it’s slightly more appealing now that he knows he has the option to be elsewhere and with people he can tolerate.  The townspeople treat him like a ghost, carrying on about their business like he isn’t there at all, which suits him just fine.  Hard to find trouble when no one’s paying you any mind.  Except maybe his good day is about to come to an end, and oddly it seems it has nothing to do with Kirk.

A man dressed in black and looking every inch the law, but more official than some backwater town sheriff, steps through the saloon doors and just stops.  He surveys the crowd, scanning every inch of the saloon and McCoy’s overcome with the urge to bow his head and become enamoured with the bottom of his glass.  He’s never been a terribly good liar and constantly feels like there’s a giant sign above his head detailing all of his sins.  Up until recently those sins where no more damning than strikes against his character and possibly his immortal soul, but riding around with Kirk has upped the ante into full blown illegal.

He feels the man’s eyes land on him with the heat of a thousand candles and he can’t help but squirm uncomfortably.  Every thud of the man’s boots as he closes the distance between them reverberates through McCoy’s bones.  His breath catches as the man pulls out the chair across the table from him and sits down.  Leonard has no choice but to make eye contact now and he fortifies himself with a confidence he feels beginning to crack.

“Can I help you?” he says with his usual crankiness.

“Doctor McCoy of Federation City?”  The man leans back in his chair adopting a non threatening posture to emphasise a harmlessness that’s clearly not in his nature.

It has the opposite effect on McCoy, causing the knot in his stomach to tighten even more.  “Not any more, M’Benga is the doctor there now” His eyebrow rises to emphasise his irritated glare all the more.  If he can emulate a pissy badger, it might be enough to dissuade the man before he does something Leonard will regret.

 “And you gave it up because?”  The man looks genuinely interested, like it’s the most unfathomable thing in the world for a doctor to travel clear across the country all the way to Federation City just to give up his occupation in a couple of years.

McCoy leans an elbow on the table.  “Do I know you?”

“No we haven’t met,” assures the man.  “I’m Agent John Harrison.”

McCoy swallows instinctively; it’s exactly what he was worried about.  People just don’t get to rob trains and banks and walk away.  He can’t help but feel positively alone at the moment; he doesn’t have the skill set to navigate this kind of situation successfully.  He doesn’t have Spock’s logic, Uhura’s aim, Scotty’s engineering, Sulu or Chekov’s ability to find escape routes anywhere, or Kirk’s swagger and diplomacy.  All he has is sarcasm and a short fuse, neither of which are good when dealing with the law.

Harrison leans in closer, a shadow casting over his face which makes the man look positively primal.  “I know you ride with Jim Kirk,” he whispers like a dirty secret.

That makes the world disappear out from under McCoy’s feet.  Yes, he understands how he might have been exposed as a member of the notorious gang, but the rest of them have always been so careful to keep their anonymity.  It’s safer for everyone if they remain nameless and faceless.  The fact that Kirk’s in the gang should be a fact still kept secret from the world.  McCoy’s head snaps down as Harrison viciously grabs a hold of his wrist.

“This is what’s going to happen, Doctor.  I’m going to arrest you and charge you with crimes against the railway and the murder of Mr Nero.  I’m then going to personally march you up the steps of the gallows to your appointment with the hangman.  But before that glorious moment, you’re going to tell me exactly where Jim Kirk and the rest of the scallywags he rides with are hiding.  Kirk has a lot to answer for and it’s my mission to make sure he does.”  Harrison’s voice is calm and steady, like he’s already seen they way the days going to play out. 

McCoy can see the conviction in the agent’s eyes and has no doubt the man intends to do everything he’s said and more.  He can feel the phantom tug of the noose around his neck and the panic starts to turn in his gut.  He’s been there before and has zero desire for a repeat performance.  He held out against Nero’s torture, kept the gang safe, but there’s something in the black depths of Harrison’s eyes that makes McCoy doubt he can hold out against Harrison.

He licks his suddenly dry lips and searches his brain for some foolhardy retort when his eye catches Chekov walking through the door.  He can’t let this man get his hands on the kid who will no doubt come bounding over to McCoy’s table with his usual enthusiasm and join the party without realizing he’s stepped into the wolf’s den.

McCoy launches to his feet pushing the table hard against Harrison with his free hand.  “Get outta here kid!” he yells to be heard over the general commotion of the Saloon.

Chekov’s attention is immediately pulled to the commotion that breaks out near the back of the saloon.  He stands stock still for a moment while his brain tries to comprehend the sight of the doctor in what amounts to a bar brawl with a rather intimidating man.  The man’s head snaps to look at Chekov with a fierce snarl that makes the navigator take a reflexive step back.  The brief look is enough to make his heart skip a beat and he can feel his body sag with relief when the man turns his unrelenting gaze back on McCoy.

There are too many innocent people in the saloon to start a shoot out and those that aren’t as innocent are likely to take arms against Chekov and McCoy rather that join and aid in their escape.  This isn’t an all out fight he can win on his own.  Taking the doctor’s advice, he back tracks out of the saloon at lightning speed and disappears around the side of the building.

McCoy feels a sense of relief as Chekov takes off, but it’s short lived as Harrison’s attention is once again solely directed at him.  He sees the punch coming but not in time to actually duck.  His head almost warps completely around with the force of the blow and stars dance across his vision.  If it weren’t for the excruciating pain, the dancing lights would be pretty.  He takes a step but falters as the world swims dangerously.  He spares a second to thinks that’s not good, when Harrison’s hands wrap tightly around his arm and in his shirt dragging him towards the side exit. 

He’s too stunned to protest, simply goes limply along with his captor until Harrison uses McCoy’s body to throw the door open.  He lets out an ooff as the door swings open from his weight and quickly loses his footing on the stairs under the door.  The ground quickly comes up to greet Leonard and he lets out a hacking cough of dust.  Really, can his day get any worse?  Surely the universe has something better to do that personally torment him; the fates need to discover a new hobby.  He’s quite content to just lay there and die, save both himself and Harrison a lot of trouble when the ground begins to make a strange rumble. 

McCoy pries an eye open, getting a slanted view of the world and the unrelenting stampede of hooves thundering towards him.  He really needs to stop asking if things can get worse; the universe is too quick with an answer and never in his favor.  He scrambles to his feet but can’t make it back to the boardwalk before the first cow with its all too point horns brushes by him.

“Figures,” he mumbles, stepping out of the way of the next one.  Trampled to death, hadn’t even made his list of horrible deaths he could face, so it figures after all he’s been through, death by cow is going to be his epitaph.  He could do without Harrison’s all too pleased look at his demise yet disappointed it’s not by his hand look.

“Doctor!” shouts Chekov over the noise and confusion.  His horse is moving with the herd flowing down the street like a raging river.  He has one chance for his plan to work though now that he’s actually amongst the stampeding herd he let loose; it seems more challenging than he thought.  Part of him hopes the Captain gives him points for creativity and doesn’t dwell on how horribly it could all go wrong and kill the doctor rather than save him.

Chekov stretches his arm out for McCoy to grab and pull himself up on the horse.  If they’re hands miss, he can’t turn around and make another attempt.  He takes a deep breath and holds on tight with his other hand.

McCoy watches Chekov get closer, all evidence of his plan becoming plain.  The kid really needs to get out and meet new people, because the last thing the world needs is another Jim Kirk in it and this plan is so eerily similar to something Jim would cook up it makes him nervous.  Chekov’s hand is within reach and he grabs onto it with all the strength he can manage.  He gets himself on the back of the kid’s horse and holds on for dear life.

Harrison clenches his fists together as he watches his target manage to slip through his fingers.  He pulls his gun from its holster and takes aim at the duo.  The crack of gunfire is louder than the stampede.

They’re almost at the end of town where they can slip from the herd and make a clean break from town and Harrison’s quest to tear into the gang, when they hear the shot.  Chekov flinches forward letting loose a pained string of non English words.

“Shit, kid,” hisses McCoy as a patch of bright red blood blooms on his shoulder.  “We need to stop.”  It’s unpractical but the doctor in him need to stop the bleeding and most likely dig the bullet out before infection becomes a concern.

“No.  We must continue,” insists Chekov.  They can’t afford to give the man any chance to catch up to them or stay within range of his gun.  They can tend to it back at camp, he’s sure he can hold on till then, he has to.

“Fine.”  McCoy slips his arms around Chekov’s waist and grabs hold of the reigns.  The kid just needs to concentrate on not passing out and nothing more.  “Keep your hand tight over the wound,” he instructs.  They can’t get back to camp fast enough in his opinion.

Chapter Text

Jim's smile seems to have a mind of its own. Despite his best efforts he can't convince it to leave his face as he moseys on towards Pike's homestead. If he's not careful he might actually find himself smitten with Edith, and Jim Kirk does not do smitten. He does temporary or convenient; any real passion he's experienced in life has been fire, hot and bright but fleeting, burning itself out before it could consume both parties. It was just as well, his life wasn't something to offer a woman so the no strings attached approach is as much for his protection as it is theirs.

The thing that does finally wipe the smirk off his face is the odd billowing smoke coming from ahead of him. His brow creases in thought as he runs through possible causes for the need to burn something but rules out anything harmless as implausible. The options left are troubling and that sixth sense that has served him well in the past is kicking up. He spurs his horse to pick up its pace, clearing the remaining distance between him and the crest of the hill that will over look the farm. He tires very hard to ignore the sinking gnawing feeling turning his stomach. He took care of Nero, personally; everyone is supposed to be safe now. It's the happily ever after part of the fairytale stage they should all be living in now and it's kind of disturbing how quickly his mind wants to throw that away and latch onto the prospect of danger.

His horse makes the top of the hill and what should be a picturesque view of the lush green valley sprawling out before it, the kind they put on the posters and other advertisements to get people to flock to the west. Instead of admiring the peaceful life that has always been just out of his reach, his mind blanks and his lungs seize. It takes his treacherous body far too long to respond to his frantic demand to move, to take action, to do something to correct the sight before him. His horse must pick up on his desperate need because he starts forward, trotting in time to the pounding of Kirk's heart.

It's a war zone. The fields hold nothing but the charred remains of what should have been a bountiful harvest. Jim's seen war and bloodshed up close before but this hits him in a way it never has before. The battle at Vulcan was devastating but this is personal; it's his people and they should no reason to fear death in such a violent and devastating fashion. The bodies left strewn in the field are not men that marched into battle but innocent children and their parents, people close enough to be family. Jim can hear the children's laughs echo in his ears from the times the gang sought refuge and a good meal here. He has to swallow hard against the bile threatening to crawl up his throat, his numb mind managing a body count as his horse pulls him forward. One, two, three, four...

His eyes drift to the smoking and smoldering remains of the farmhouse. The back of the building is ash, but the front half is smoke damaged and still standing despite the dwindling fire's attempts to remove it from history. The heart wrenching part of the horrific scene is the body strewn across the front porch; body number five in count but first on Jim's conscious. He's out of his saddle and running to the house in the space between heartbeats. There isn't a force in this world that could stop him.

"No. No, no, no, no, no." He practically falls onto the porch in his desperate scramble to get up the steps, his arms immediately wrapping around Pike's prone form. His mouth contorts in a silent cry at the sight of all the blood and soot covering the closest thing he's had to a father since he watched his own dangle from the end of Nero's rope. His heart hurts worse than any gunshot wound ever has and it has to be what death feels like because nothing could hurt this bad otherwise. He closes his eyes tightly; it's all a nightmare and he's going to wake up with a killer headache and a sincere promise to never drink any of Scotty's concoctions again.

He doesn't wake up and when he opens his eyes again, it's the same horror show playing out in front of him. His own pained cries from the fateful day Nero hung George Kirk in the center of town echo in his head; he is that small boy again, helpless to save the people who matter most, this time watching Pike die instead of his father. He's so lost in his grief, Jim practically jumps out of his skin as a hand grips his bicep tightly.

"Jim," wheezes Christopher, eyes half laden. His chest feels heavy and the world far too cold for the season. Kirk looks lost and broken in a way that makes his heart ache. It's too reminiscent of the six year old with the wobbling lip and the weight of the universe on his too small shoulders, having just watched a mad man murder his father in a sceptical for the town. He'd wanted to pick that small boy up and promise everything would be alright, sooth away the pain that would take root and follow him his whole life. Pike couldn't do it then anymore than he can do it now and he knows it will be one of his greatest regrets in life.

"Hold on," stammers Jim, voice broken in a million pieces like his soul. "We'll get you to McCoy and he'll patch you up." He wants the words to be true more than he's wanted anything in this world and while he has the utmost faith in Leonard's abilities, Jim' life is firmly filed in the tragedy section of the library. Pike shakes his head but Kirk continues on. "He did it once, he can do it again. He's a great doctor. He can fix anything."

Pike summons every ounce of strength he has left. He can see Kirk forming plans A, B and probably C through G, because that's what Jim does. He fights and he fights until he can't fight anymore and then still manages one last round. Time is against them but he can't leave this world until Jim understands. He has one more lesson to teach the kid, though it's been with in Jim from the beginning. "Not this time kid."

Jim's face contorts in abject misery as he tries to protest. He can't do this alone. He needs Pike like he needs air to breathe.

"No listen to me, Jim," insists Pike. His hand tangles tightly in the fabric of Jim's shirt. "You need to be careful."

"You're going to be here to make sure I am. Who else is going to save my ass," chokes the captain. A lone tear makes it way down the side of his face and he wipes it against his shoulder, trying not to jar the man in his arms with the movement. Tears never solved anything and he's not going to put that burden on Pike now.

"He's coming for you, Jim and he won't stop no matter who gets in his way." Pike pauses as an earth shattering cough wracks his battered frame. He's afraid. Not of the death he can feel taking hold or what awaits when he sheds this mortal coil, but what he's leaving behind. George Kirk left him the greatest treasure he had and while Pike never wanted to steal from his best friend, Jim's practically his son in everything but name. He wants to know Jim will be alright, be safe and have everything George and Winona pictured for him, but he knows Jim's penchant for trouble and the likelihood is he'll share Pike's fate sooner rather than later with no one to watch out for him.

Jim watches helplessly as Christopher hacks and contorts in agony. He tightens his grip in silent support and a desperate bid to keep himself from slipping into the black empty void that's forming beneath him. He absently wipes away the flecks of blood dotting Pike's chin with his thumb. It's like hiding evidence; if it doesn't exist then there is no crime. If he can't see Pike slipping out of his fingers, the man will be fine.

Pike's words settle heavy on Jim's soul. He's the epicenter of destruction; his mentor lying bleeding and broken in his arms because of him. Once again to get to Kirk, the world sees fit to go through everyone that matters to him instead of just directly taking him out. He can't let this keep happening; he won't burry anymore of his friends' whose only crime is knowing him. The universe has had since the dawn of time to work on its aim and he can't understand why it's such a shitty shot; he certainly makes himself a big enough target. Why hit everyone around him? He grits his teeth but manages to get out, "Who's coming for me?"

"Agent John Harrison with Marcus-Cartwright," whispers Pike, releasing one final breath before going still in Kirk's arms.

Jim stares dumbfounded at the lifeless body in his grip. He can't grasp on to a single thought let alone make his body do anything other than sit there. The ball of agony starts small and builds like a snowball rolling down a hill. Its weight is crushing, threatening to destroy every aspect of Jim's being until it finally breaks and he lets loose an inhuman wail. He wants to break the world, just so it knows how he feels right now.

Jim allows himself this moment, this one second of weakness, alone in a valley of death where no one can see him, before he pulls himself together. He has things to do, none of which will be accomplished sitting there wallowing in grief. He gently sets Pike's body on the porch and wipes the tears from his eyes with enough force to make him see stars.

In the shed is a cornucopia of farm tools. His unsteady hand latches onto a shovel and he makes his way across the yard. It's family land with a family plot. He loses himself after he breaks the earth, in the repetitive task of shoveling and doesn't realize how loose and watery his limb are until he's standing in front of five graves. He takes his time in writing their names on the simple wooden crosses he hastily fashions. The letters are neat and precise so the world will know exactly who lies here, what it lost on this day. It's the least they deserve and the most Jim can give them right now. His final tribute will be a river of blood supplied exclusively by John Harrison.

He stands there until the sun begins to set, his resolve burning bright and fierce. John Harrison is a dead man walking. He just doesn't know it yet.


McCoy's pulling the coffee pot off the iron stove when he hears Kirk ride into camp. The captain is the last person to return and the most important piece of the puzzle the gang now has to assemble. He lets out a long sigh and sets the pot back down; this is more pressing than soothing his nerves with the warmth of caffeine. Chekov's going to be alright, but the whole incident has left them both shaken; even if neither will admit it out loud. Out of everyone, they're the least experienced in the gang's life of crime; McCoy being a doctor and gang pressed into joining recently and Chekov being all of two minutes older than being a child himself. Leonard assumes what he's pieced together about Pavel's past that the kid had real world experience in abundance like everyone else here but this the first time the kid's had to step up and be responsible for someone else.

He leaves the cook tent and makes his way to the corral to confront their captain who has been gone for three days without a word to anyone and no clue as to when he'd be back. In light of recent events it's dangerous not just inconsiderate. Not to mention it's given the doctor's over active imagination plenty of time to conjure horrible and bloody scenarios. Leonard's more irritable than usual because of it, so he knows he snaps when he greets Jim. "Just where the hell have you been?"

Leonard's itching to work himself into a rant but the haunted look Jim's sporting stop him dead in his tracks. The catastrophic feeling of doom is washing over him and he's in danger of drowning in it if Kirk doesn't throw him a life line through a smug grin or a carefree smile that assures the world all is right. "What's wrong, Jim?" he says, quiet and soft like a plea.

Kirk says nothing, numbly going through pulling the saddle off his horse and walking out of the corral. He's on autopilot and doesn't spare a second to even look McCoy in the eye. Leonard's a living breathing example of the danger he puts people in. How long until he can't use the term living to describe McCoy anymore? The doctor falls in step behind him, a silent shadow companion, yet he can feel Leonard's eyes scrutinizing every inch for some sort of clue or injury; worry wasted on Jim when it should be more wisely directed on McCoy himself.

Jim's in search of copious amounts of alcohol and silence as he makes his way to the cook tent. Unfortunately, everyone's gathered in there finishing dinner. The tent's filled with excitement and farfetched tales being spun over Scotty's latest batch of booze. Everyone seems happy and he's about to be the rain cloud that brings the start of what will be a torrential downpour. It's news he was hoping to hold off on until tomorrow. The bright white bandage wrapped around Chekov's shoulder catches his eye but he can't convince his brain to form the question on his lips; to care about someone who's clearly alive despite what has befallen him.

Everyone looks up when Kirk snatches the glass in front of Scotty and downs it in one go. The Scotsman makes a squeak of protest at his drink being pilfered but everyone else goes silent. Kirk's face says more than any warning could.

"Captain..." starts Spock, a note of concern in his voice as he speaks for the gang. The report he has to deliver is grave but Jim looks as though that news might pale in comparison.

"Pike's dead," says Jim, cold and straight to the point, like ripping off a bandage. His heart knows it's true but his tongue feels like its lying. Pike was larger than life; nothing should have been able to touch him. He's not good at breaking bad news, especially when he hasn't gotten his mind wrapped around it yet. It's why he wanted a night to get his thoughts in order. Perhaps he should have had the doctor do it.

McCoy's the first one to recover from the shock. "Are you sure, Jim?" He can't help but hope for a mistake, a misunderstanding. People die all the time, the world is a hard and unforgiving place but Pike had been doing well since McCoy operated on him. The few times he visited Christopher out on the farm he'd been content with his quiet secluded life.

Kirk clenches his jaw, grinding his teeth until they hurt. He keeps replaying Pike's last moments in his head on a constant loop. "I buried the body. So pretty fucking sure, Bones." Jim wants to feel bad that he's taking pot-shots at his friends, McCoy in particular who's only trying to ease the situation but his real target isn't in sight yet and his anger has to go somewhere. Maybe the gang will take offense and leave while they still have their lives before the next one is called upon to take the bullet for their captain.

Uhura covers her mouth with her trembling hands to muffle her gasp as she turns away from the table. She's made a promise to herself to never let anyone see her cry and since she can't seem to hold back the tears just now, she does the only thing within her power. Chekov looks like he's going to be sick, turning an alarming shade of pasty white and green, while Sulu seems lost and directionless. Spock is an unreadable stone wall and as much as that should piss Kirk off to not see a flicker of remorse on someone who knew Pike almost as well as he did, he finds comfort in not having to see the grief or pity. Scotty bows his head and mumbles a silent prayer while Leonard places a firm, reassuring hand on Jim's shoulder; always the doctor and always looking out for Jim. He dislodges the doctor's hand with a violent jerk of his shoulder. It's not McCoy's fault but he's the closest and that makes him a good a target as anything.

Jim kicks out a chair and drops himself on it. He's tense and rigid and probably in danger of breaking something, wound as tightly as he is. This wasn't supposed to happen; they'd beaten Nero, happily ever after was supposed to follow. It's an unwritten contract promised by every fairytale told since the beginning of time. They shouldn't have had to bury Pike until he was old and grey and Jim wants to cry at all the time that has been lost.

"Jim..." tries Spock again, "what events have transpired?"

Kirk's silent for a moment; it's replayed in his head so many times but he can't make his mouth form the words. If he says nothing he can pretend, if just for another moment, that it never happened, that he had a good night with Edith and shirked his duties, while Pike sits at home in front of a fire reading to his niece and nephew. Tears threaten at the corner of his eyes but they're not from sorrow, they're anger. Of all people, how could Christopher go and get himself killed and for Jim of all people? He's mad at Pike for not being here now, at this Harrison who saw fit to take his father figure away for no other reason than to take a stab at him. He's pissed that he wasn't there to stop it in the first place, for finding comfort in the idea that with Nero gone, that the dangers to the people in his life were minimal if not regulated to the mundane. He loathes the fact that he ever cared about someone who was going to go and die nobly like his actual father and furious with himself for ever accepting Pike's offer to make a difference. He should have stayed in that jail cell and let the world be done with him. And god damn it, he hates the fucking world.

"They're all dead," he states, cold and so devoid of emotion he thinks Spock might be proud. There's a numbness in his chest he hasn't been able to shake since the farm. "He slaughtered them all, the children too. The fucking children. All because he was looking for me." Jim hangs his head in his hands. He's not sure he can shoulder the pressure that comes with being the blight on those he cares about. His hands are so coated with blood now, he's sure they'll never wash clean.

"Who, Jim? Who killed Captain Pike?" asks McCoy in a hushed tone. Kirk's clearly in shock and he's afraid if they push the captain too hard, he'll break into a thousand shards of glass McCoy can never piece back together.

"Agent John Harrison," spits Kirk with a bitterness that leaves him cold. The name tastes foul in his mouth. He's just given life to the boogeyman, like he dared to speak evil's name. He looks at the people sitting around the table and all he can see is their deaths, the graves he's going to have to dig when they lay down their lives for his selfishness.

Everyone shifts uncomfortably at the table. Pike had been their Captain, their friend and in some cases their saviour and now he's gone, gone without pomp and circumstance. There's a general unspoken consensus that the man deserves better. They all look at each other uncomfortably, the unspoken conversation of who is going to draw the short straw and compound Jim's grief.

Leonard's never shied away from taking on someone's ire; he'll take the bullet for the gang. As hard as the news is hitting him and as much as he feels for the obvious anguish Kirk is trying hard to keep buried, he was the last one to the party and thus doesn't have the years of friendship with the now departed man to mourn. He can be a bit more objective and will gladly take on the role of devil's advocate to protect the others.

"Pike wasn't the only one to have a run in with Agent Harrison," starts McCoy. The experience is still as fresh in his mind as the bruise on his face but adding to Jim's burden hurts worse than the punch he took. Still, Jim needs to know just how efficient this man is; he's already gotten closer than Nero ever did to them.

Jim's head snaps up, eyes dark and dangerous and ready to cut a person to ribbons. The world is a silent sucking void filled only with the doctor's voice. He'd been enjoying himself with Edith while the people who mattered the most, his family, were wrestling with death personified. In the stark light of truth, it's the first time he's really notices McCoy's black eye. It's been three days and already Harrison has put his hands on Jim's people and what's worse, he's blind to the damage being done.

"He showed up in the saloon in Rigel. Wanted to know about you..."

"I'm going to kill him." It's soft and quiet but no less a promise of the blood bath that's coming.

Scotty hunches his shoulders and pulls his empty glass closer to himself. Sulu's lips form a hard line as his fist rests tightly on the table. Uhura's hand seeks out Spock's under the table as Chekov sits up straighter. They know that tone, that look; it promises war and a path to ruin if they're not careful. They've been here before and seen what Kirk's obsessive focus can bring and now they no longer have Pike to temper Jim's devotion. Objectiveness will be lost in favor of justice and they don't know how to save Jim from himself.

Jim springs to his feet, paces back and forth. "Pike said Harrison's an agent with Marcus and Cartwright."

"He's an employee with the railway," states Spock. It's one thing to launch a vendetta against a single person, another to go against an entire corporation which is backed not only by money but the army and government as well. They've seen the destructive force that that kind of enemy can bring with the destruction of the Vulcan settlement.

"You think this has something to do with the damn we blew up?" asks McCoy.

"No, this is personal. And they wouldn't know it was us, at least not by name. And they wouldn't have anything against Pike," answers the captain.

"Well that's just great," mutters McCoy.

Jim stops and turns sharply towards the table. "I want each of you to pick a town, call in any favors you have with anyone and get information on him."

"Yes, let's seek out the psychopath," blurts McCoy, refusing to flinch under the glare Jim levels at him. People with sense would run from the danger, but as always Kirk seems to run towards it. McCoy's had firsthand experience with Harrison, this isn't someone who should be trifled with and they certainly shouldn't be splitting up at time like this to be picked off on by one.

"Captain, is this a wise course of action?" injects Spock.

Jim's glare finds Spock. "We need to know who we're dealing with. He clearly knows about us and I don't want to get caught unaware again. You think that would be logical enough for you, Spock."

The clenching of Jim's fists and tension in his shoulders is not lost on Spock. "You are getting defensive." Driving a wedge between the captain and the gang will not help matters but the line between facilitating Kirk's goal while keeping the gang safe is becoming finer and finer.

"I'm the captain here and those are my orders. Everyone needs to head out at first light." His statement leaves no room for argument, at least not one anyone is going to win. He has to find John Harrison and take him out to keep his people safe.

They quietly get up from the table, filing out of the tent single file into a night that just became colder. Jim's glaring at a spot on the tent wall steadfastly ignoring the little voice in his head that is some weird hybrid between Spock and McCoy that's whispering his plan is faulty. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Chekov stand gingerly, careful of his shoulder that's bound in crisp white bandages. He knows he's being a bastard during their impromptu meeting, Pike taught him to be a better leader than what he's currently demonstrating, but his rage is demanding release like a starving animal; punching members of his own gang to dispel his anger would be in poor taste under normal circumstance let alone now. He feels compelled to take steps to mitigate his transgression. "Chekov, what happened to your shoulder?" he snaps despite his efforts to come across as compassionate.

Scotty gives the kid a sympathetic look before he ducks out of the tent. Knowing the mood Kirk is in, Chekov is either going to get treated with kid gloves or unfairly wringed out. Either way he doesn't envy their youngest member.

"ничего... it is fine, Keptin," insists Chekov. It hardly compares to the trouble that's darkening their doorstep and he knows it won't slow him down; he won't let it. Growing up on his own on the streets taught him to be resourceful and work through any injuries that weren't life threatening. He won't let this get in the way.

"No it's not," interjects McCoy taking a step closer to Jim. Why these people insist on brushing off injuries is beyond him, but unlike them, he knows exactly how much worse they can make it.

Kirk keeps his eyes firmly glued on Chekov's face for any ticks or tells that might contradict the kid's claims.

"He took a bullet to the shoulder. What he needs is to rest, not get on a horse and go galloping all over the country side!" snaps the doctor. Chekov will be fine but putting unnecessary strain on the wound is only going to increase the likelihood of it not healing correctly.

"Chekov, can you continue?" asks Jim, hiding behind formality and rank. He'd like to let Chekov convalesce but he needs all hands on deck for this one. Every second Harrison is out there is a chance the man will get the drop on them and that will leave them worse off than an injured shoulder.

The kid straightens and holds his head high. "I can do this Keptain," assures Chekov. He adds an enthusiastic nod to drive the point home.

"I'm the doctor here, Jim, and I say he can't," interjects McCoy, willing to hold the line if no one else is. Everyone around here is always in such a hurry to get themselves killed.

"Enough, Doctor McCoy. Your objection is noted but some things are more important." Jim wants to apologise for being cold and distant when he hears the audible click of McCoy's jaw as it snaps shut but he needs to stay focused. There's someone stalking them right now and he doesn't have the intel to keep his people safe. Harrison's gotten too close for comfort and taking comfort in familial bonds isn't going to stop this new threat.

"Whatever you say, Captain," spits McCoy as he storms out of the tent. It's as close to a 'fuck you' as he can get without uttering the actual words. In fact, it might cut even deeper. He can only hope it serves as a reminder of just what Kirk has to lose if he's not careful with his blind quest of vengeance.

Jim silently watches Leonard storm out. Jim softens his voice. "Just to be safe, I want you to go with Sulu tomorrow."

Chekov slouches a little, the disappointment clear on his face. He owes his survival to Captain Pike and later to Kirk, failing them hurts the way he imagined failing family would. Being the weakest link through injury is a failure in his books.

"It's just a precaution. You did good out there, Chekov. You kept McCoy out of Harrison's clutches." A little spark comes back to the kid's eyes as he nods before taking his leave. Jim on the other hand still feels like someone shot his dog and in retaliation he went and kicked his best friends' dog. The first day without Pike in the world and he already feels like he's screwed things up royally.

Chapter Text

John Harrison is a ghost. The gang is able to turn up surprisingly little about the man; they can't even get confirmation that he works for the railway. Jim's starting to think the man's a delusion Pike suffered in the throes of death, except for the rather convincing bruise McCoy's sporting and bullet hole in Chekov that corroborates the story from miles away. They're chasing their tails while the hunter is gathering information and making plans. Kirk can't stand doing nothing, especially when that nothing is putting them further behind in a game he doesn't know all the rules to. He can't protect anyone this way.

He twirls his knife between his fingers and fantasizes about driving it deep into the gut of a man he hasn't had the pleasure of meeting but wants nothing more than to see his heart thump its last beat up close and personal. The waiting game is just winding him tighter and for a moment, he entertains the idea of going door to door, town to town asking if anyone knows where to find Harrison. If it's Jim he's after, surely he'll accept a personal invitation to settle things in person.

A tense silence has blanketed the camp. The gang is on edge and fraying under the constant threat of the boogieman gunning specifically for them. They're not strangers to being hunted; if the authorities knew what they looked like, they'd have their pictures decorating the walls of ever sheriff's office from here to New York, but there's something different about this Harrison having a personal vendetta against them. He's already proven his not the standard hapless lawman put in authority because someone had to wear the badge but rather a skilled hunter who enjoys his work.

Spock is second guessing every order Jim's giving and Uhura is in silent support of her boyfriend's objections. Scotty and Sulu won't say it to his face but they've begun to resent the uselessness of their fruitless search. Chekov's the only one that seems determined to produce results in Kirk's vain attempts to find Harrison, but that's mostly a sign of his guilt over Rigel than any real belief they're going to find anything on Harrison without changing tactics. That leaves McCoy who isn't bashful about reprimanding Jim for allowing Chekov to go gallivanting around the world in this wasted endeavour.

The doctor, god help them, has never been shy about making his feelings known, but lately he's seemed to be a bit more hostile in their expression. Jim can feel the rift forming between them but can't spare the time to fix things. He'd love to adhere to McCoy's professional opinion but none of them saw what he did to Pike's family. They didn't see what they're up against and Jim can't let that happen to any more of his people. If anyone should understand what Jim's trying to protect them from, it should be McCoy who found himself dangling from the end of Nero's rope as a way to get at Jim.

Harrison has managed to find them twice while they haven't even found someone who knows him. Clearly the man has done his homework. Jim was never one to put a lot of effort into his studies, preferring to fly by the seat of his pants. He can't say the method hasn't produced favorable results. In fact, the best way to throw off someone who thinks they can predict what they're going to do is to be unpredictable, something Kirk excels at.

He stares at the map that has been permanently set on the table this last week and replays the intel he has on the towns depicted on it. "We're going to rob a bank," declares Jim.

Everyone either drops their forks or their jaws, and stares dumbly a Jim from around the tent. They must have misheard their captain because at a time when they need to be circling the wagons, there's no way he purposing taking on another dangerous task when they aren't desperate enough to need to take the risk.

"Finally cracked, have ya Jim?" asks McCoy, finding his voice first. It's such a complete switch from what they've been doing that the only option is the lack of sleep and stress has made the kid delusional.

Kirk scowls. "I'm serious, Bones."

"There's a sociopath looking for us and you want to rob a bank?" shouts the doctor shedding every bit of calm he possesses as he realizes Jim is really proposing it. It's not a hard concept; when a deranged agent wants your head and will go through anyone to get it, you don't deny him the honor by getting yourself killed doing something especially stupid. Even a small child could work out that laying low is how to keep ones neck from stretching on a rope and yet Kirk's proposing running in front of a hail storm of bullets just to break up the monotony of the day.

"Captain," interrupts Spock, with a flicker of confusion across his face. He's never gotten a firm grasp on the settler's version of humor, but this must be some type of a prank. "I fail to see how engaging in larceny, of any kind, will help us identify John Harrison." Jim didn't know Spock could actually get his eyebrow to go that high.

"Pike said he worked for the railway and the railway has the payroll coming into the bank here in three days. We hit the bank and Harrison has to come and investigate," explains Jim, pointing to a town on the map.

"So you want us to hang around for the psychopath after we commit a crime that they'll wanna hang us for? That's just brilliant, Jim," McCoy huffs, crossing his arms and rolling his eyes. Scepticism drips off his every word.

"He's right," adds Scotty hesitantly. Jim's always managed to pull off the impossible and Scotty's enjoyed the ride right alongside him but without Pike to rein Jim in, his recklessness is overflowing. If they're not careful it could drown them all. "The Sheriff's not exactly going to make it easy to wait around for this Harrison to show up. We'll get bloody caught." Their last robbery didn't exactly go off without a hitch.

Uhura eyes the map critically. Kirk can be brash but there's usually a workable plan in sight. The railway stores their payroll in many banks at various times. One being robbed isn't exactly a red flag for someone looking for the gang; banks and stagecoaches do get robbed by various people with a frequency that doesn't make it unusual. "You don't just want to rob one bank," she says, cutting through the chatter as her finger traces the rail line on the map.

Spock watches her filed nail run along the map latching onto the same thought she has. "Robbing all the towns along the main line the railway uses to hold the payroll constitutes a pattern. One that Harrison can decipher and predict," cautions Spock.

McCoy throws his hands in the air. Just when he thinks Jim can't become any crazier, the kid finds a higher cliff to jump off of. "A crime spree!" Because that's what they need right now."

Jim shoots the doctor an especially irritated look. "Bones," he breaths, pinching the bridge of his nose. He's grasping at straws and he knows it, but it's all he has. He doesn't need everyone picking apart the only avenue they have. "He'll be walking into our trap." It's hard to keep the exasperation out of his voice but after everything they've been through, the gang should at least hear him out before blowing apart his plan. The fact that they're all still alive should earn him that much.

"When we think he's caught on, we'll be waiting at the next town instead of robbing it," supplies Sulu, catching onto the captain's train of thought. It's not foolproof but it's the best shot they've come up with so far and at least this is doing something.

Chekov taps his finger against his chin as he runs the idea through his head. "That means someone will have to stay behind and watch his movements to see when he figures out our next move." All eyes automatically fall back to Kirk. "I will do it, Captain," insists Chekov. There's danger in trying to shadow someone who's proven themselves a serious threat but he feels he's up to the challenge, if not just to prove it to himself, but to everyone else. Whether they mean to or not, they look at him like a child they need to protect. He performs his duties admirably but never seems to wow anyone into thinking he can handle more. The incident in Rigel certainly didn't cement his status as an equal member.

McCoy opens his mouth to protest, but Kirk beats him to it. "Thank you, Mr Chekov, but Harrison has seen your face. We can't take the chance that he'll recognize you. That means you're out as well, Bones. And Spock, you're not exactly inconspicuous." Jim rubs behind his ear aiming for subtlety but based on the look on the Vulcan's face, he misses the mark.

"I'll do it, Captain," volunteers Sulu.

"I can't let you do it alone. Scotty and Uhura, you're with Sulu. You'll each go into town separately before the robbery and get a room. If we can get three people with eyes on him we can stay out of sight better." It dwindles their numbers but he can't take the chance of sending one person into the wolves' den without backup.

Scotty raises his hand like a pupil in school to pull Kirk's attention. "You mean to pull off a robbery without us then, sir?" No matter what crazy stunt the gang has pulled in the past, and they've pulled many, their success has come from the fact that they work seamlessly together. Unity is their greatest strength. They've taken robbery and turned it into a well oiled machine because they were together. Pulling the group apart to divide and conquer is a risk. It leaves both groups short and opens them up to even more danger.

"We can do it Mr Scott. We'll just have to get creative," assures Jim, hoping he's not being premature.

There's no rousing chorus of agreement but the rest of the gang sees fit to keep their doubts and objections to themselves, though they fail to hide their dismay from their faces. This is personal. It's not innocent people they're rescuing or sparing from Harrison's wrath only themselves. This is about survival and vengeance and nothing more. It has all the makings of failure. Chekov and Sulu slowly shuffle out of the kitchen tent, heading back to their own tents to catch up on much needed sleep and weigh their own concerns against what's at stake while Spock and Uhura choose to settle next to the campfire and talk out the proposal quietly. McCoy leaves silently shaking his head but Scotty stays, burying his argument in a glass of whisky so as not to point out what happened when Jim decided to leave the Scotsman out of helping him warn the Vulcans about the army.

Jim stands silently trying to think what Captain Pike would do in his position. He suddenly feels inadequate for his position as leader, like someone more qualified could crack the puzzle of Harrison easier and without putting his people in danger. Except that they're all in danger anyways and the longer they do nothing the easier they're making it for Harrison to pick them off one at a time. It's Harrison or them and he needs to go down at all costs if they can even hope to be standing at the end. Kirk's not going to watch anyone else he cares about die choking on their own blood. Jim's pulled off the impossible before, he can do it again, he's got right and vengeance on his side this time.


McCoy grabs Kirk by the shoulder as they leave tent startling him out of his reverie. The doctor nods towards Pavel's tent. "That kid ain't in no condition to rob a bank." He hasn't exactly been in any shape to be doing anything he's been doing lately.

"He'll be fine. He's tougher than he looks, Bones." Kirk hopes he's not wrong. He doesn't have the option of everyone not being on top of their game right now. "Besides, we don't have much of a choice."

Leonard scowls. "There's always a choice, Jim," he says seriously. He can't shake the feeling that they're stepping into something that will consume them all whole if they're not careful. To make matters worse, the fool kid has that damn look in his eye like the world can't touch him and he's going to make everyone pay for someone messing with his toys. McCoy knows what grief can do to a person; having so much firsthand experience with it, he practically aches for Jim. Where Leonard had turned his grief inward towards his own personal destruction, Jim seems hell bent on turning his outward, and god help them all.

Jim shakes his head solemnly. "No there isn't." He leaves McCoy standing there and goes to grab some empty cans and jars. He's over come with the need to shoot something and since Harrison isn't an option at the moment, he'll have to settle for the satisfying ping a bullet makes when it sends a can flying off a stump.


The night is still and quiet compared to the normal atmosphere around camp. The peak of summer has passed and Uhura can feel a chill start to settle in the night as the last month of summer begins its slide into fall. She snuggles closer into Spock's warm embrace as they sit wrapped in his mother's blanket in front of the fire.

There's a rhythmic discharge of a gun in the distance that should be alarming to a group of outlaws yet she knows it's Kirk blowing off steam and not the law out for their heads. The loud sound is a constant reminder in this quiet intimate moment that their problems are much bigger than just her and Spock and the distance she's felt growing between them lately.

Sitting there this close is more intimate than they've been in a while. There's a constant string of tension between them that makes them feel like stranger despite everything they share. They're both too stubborn for their own good, convinced their view is right and the other wrong. Even knowing the fallout of her actions Nyota wouldn't change her actions during McCoy's rescue from Nero. She can't bring herself to apologise for saving Spock's life under any circumstances. They pretend they're not in disagreement about it in front of the others so well, the ruse has bleed over into their personal lives. It's a risk to bring up a topic she knows they occupy opposite sides of but she needs to know where Spock will fall when push comes to shove in what is shaping up to be Jim's newest obsession.

"You were quiet back there," she says, hushed yet probing. Jim might be able to convince Scotty, Sulu and Chekov to join him in insanity but Spock usually holds firm to his sanity. She's not sure where she stands in regards to this new threat breathing down their necks and it fills her with dread that Spock might not either. With Nero is was simple, revenge and protecting innocent people from his tyranny was the game plan; none of them giving much thought as to what life after the fact would look like. Now Harrison is looking like the new Nero and the struggle that was won seems to be never ending.

Spock lets out a measured breath. "The matter did not seem open for discussion."

Uhura sits up straight and looks the Vulcan straight in the eyes. She needs to know where his head is at in regards to the ledge they're about to jump off of at Kirk's behest. "Spock, do you think this is a good idea?"

He contemplates her question for several long silent moments, choosing his words carefully. "At present, there does not seem to be many viable options given the unknown nature Agent John Harrison, thus I must yield to the captain's judgement."

"Even if it gets us all killed?" demands Uhura. They're all loyal to Jim, being more of a family now, than lost souls uniting for a cause, but this isn't the first time she and Spock have clashed over his loyalty to Jim even in the face of the Vulcan's more rational convictions or Spock's sense of duty and honor for that matter. Pike always kept them from becoming a sinking ship; without him, they might have to be willing to swim to shore without Jim.

"I lack sufficient evidence at the moment to predict such an outcome."

"If you did, could you walk away?" It's a loaded question filled with landmines about their future. They've had many conversations that were preferenced with one day, and after Nero, that seemed like wishful thinking and ideal outcomes, but now have the potential to be reality if they can just seize that quiet life they dreamed of. It used to be Nyota's excuses for avoiding domesticity and Spock's obligation to his debt to Jim and vengeance for his mother, but now when it's a more realistic possibility, Spock is the one who's been finding reasons to hold off on the idea.

"If the only reasonable option was to walk away, I would consider it."

It's all Uhura needs to hear, snuggling back into Spock. They'll stand by Jim like always but if things go south or Kirk becomes too reckless and beyond reason, they'll chose survival over revenge. She just hopes the others have it in them to walk away before this gets them all killed too.

Chapter Text

The gang sits firm in their saddles watching the lack of activity around the small town of Galor. A couple cabins that looked abandoned surrounding a way station was probably a more apt description of the place that has so far been as silent as the grave. This sleepy hamlet nestled deep in a remote valley would have been easy to miss if they hadn't been specifically looking for it.

"You're sure this is the place, Sulu?" asks Jim, peering down at the town with a healthy amount of skepticism. It's not the usual place to use for a holding place for the railway's money but perhaps that was the point.

"Mudd was very specific that the payroll would be stopping here and our opposition would be minimal," says Hikaru.

"I don't think this place could mount an opposition if it wanted to," counters Kirk. The promise of an easy take requiring little man power is what prompted this job in the first place, but it was looking to be too good to be true; a case which means either misinformation or an ambush. If everything is as it appears there couldn't be more than a handful of people residing below.

"Mudd lies!" objects Uhura, gripping the reigns tightly. Of all the charlatans she's had the displeasure of knowing, Mudd is the slimiest. If Harrison is gunning for them, flashing anything remotely shiny in front of Mudd is a sure fire way to tempt the conman into selling the gang out. There are plenty of lies and acts Nyota has performed in her life that were vile in nature but her loyalty has ever waivered. Mudd doesn't have the same compunction which makes him dangerous in ways they can't fathom. Relying on him for information is not the start she was hoping for when she reluctantly agreed with Spock to stick with Kirk and his plans to go after Harrison.

Jim tries to hide his smile. Uhura's already madder than a wet hen, spoiling for a fight with whoever is dumb enough to get into an argument with her today; he doesn't need to provoke her with his cavalierness. "Were you equally specific about what would happen if that information should prove false?"

"Oh, I was very specific, Captain," replies Sulu, amused. There's something silent and dangerous about Sulu that catches people off guard making baring his teeth like a bobcat all the more satisfying.

Jim turns in his saddle, to make sure he has Nyota's undivided attention. "Ole Harry might try and rook us from time to time, but he is wholly and religiously against his blood being spilt, which we will surely do, if he gets us ditched." It's the best reassurance he can offer.

Kirk has every intention of making Harry pay if anything happens to his people. The only reason he tolerates Mudd in any capacity is because a snake has his ear to the ground and good information is something they can't afford to pass up based on who's spouting it.

"Well, let's get this over with," Jim says, leading the four of them down the winding trail to the town below. It's not the fight that makes Jim nervous, he's been addicted to the rush of adrenaline from the moment he felt the hammer click on his daddy's gun as he shot it for the first time at seven years old. Today apprehension is prickling his skin from the enormity of what's to come. When he vowed war against Nero he had anger stoking the fire of his resolve to see it through and no sense of purpose beyond vengeance. He has that fire now, lit by Pike's death, but time has given him perspective. He knows exactly what it will cost everyone to see this venture through. This is the start of something- something long and unforgiving.

It's easy to throw himself into this because he's not sure what he has if he doesn't have a mission. He tried his hand at a normal life and it didn't pan out in anything more than disappointment and the realization that settling down was never in his cards. McCoy is a brilliant doctor. Spock and Uhura have a future together. Scotty and Sulu have skills that they can build a life around and Chekov's young enough that he could adapt to any life he chooses. All Jim has is a gun and the family he and Pike built to see vengeance through. Take the gang away and all he has is a gun. Take the gun away and who is Jim Kirk?

A great leader would set them free but Jim's starting to realize he might be afraid of being alone these days, of letting the party come to an end. Is he doing this for the right reasons of is it a thinly disguised excuse to justify his pace in the world and hold hostage those he cares for?

They're as divided in their position of Harrison as they physically are now. He's left Chekov at camp in a poor attempt to rest up his shoulder as much as possible and sent McCoy to town to perform some errands. Spock's off doing some recon and supply acquisition that the Vulcan insisted upon and Jim was too tired to fight him over. He's justified taking this heist by claiming it was good practice for the future bank robberies in which the gang's efforts will be split into two groups, yet somehow it feels like he's been abandoned.

They ride as a threesome: Kirk, Sulu and Uhura, down the main path between the buildings, unprotected and so far unacknowledged. Scotty lingers behind; an insurance policy against anyone who thinks they might get the drop on them. There's a couple cabins, a small store/government office, a bunk house for passengers of the stagecoach, a bank, and the sheriff's office. They stop in front of the bank which can't house much more than a ledger and small safe in side. Their faces are obscured behind handkerchiefs leaving little room for interpretation as to their intentions in this small town that seems woefully unprepared for a robbery.

"We're here for the railroad's payroll," shouts Jim, to whoever might be in the bank. He drawing the gun from his right holster and aiming at the door to the bank. "Just hand it over and this doesn't have to get messy."

An older gentleman, gray and weathered unlike this town hobbles out of the bank. He looks more like a miner than a bank manager but looking at this place, it's doubtful there was a lot of competition for the job. He eyes the three of them for a moment before raising his hands in the air to prove he has no weapons on him.

"Just hand us the money bag belonging to the railway, sir, and we'll leave without incident," offers Jim, gentle and sincere. Some gangs have made a name for themselves out of fear and blood. Jim finds it a better policy to keep the people on their side by letting them go about their lives once the gang rides out.

A few more people step outside from the surrounding buildings to see what the commotion is about though none of them seem to be sporting weapons. Uhura and Sulu are quick to draw their guns, in the hopes of deterring any would be heroes. They may come across as nice and full of showmanship but they're not to be trifled with.

"We don't want any trouble," assures the old man, slowly making his way back in the bank. He's seen too much in his day to get any ideas about spilling his blood to protect what amounts to pocket change for a major corporation; that's a job for anyone foolish enough to sport a sheriff's badge. He emerges a few moments later, bag in hand.

"Just set it on the ground right there," orders Jim pointing to a spot that's halfway from the bank and the gang. The old man shuffles out from the safety of the doorway and drops the bag at the appointed spot before slowly making his way back.

Sulu and Uhura keep eagle sharp eyes on the other townspeople as Jim climbs off his horse, holster his gun, and walks towards the bag of money. He almost has the bag in his grasp when the dirt beneath it billows up preceding a searing pain that rips its way across his hand. Sulu and Uhura are a little faster at putting the pieces together than Jim, bringing their guns to bear on the sheriff's that's decided to join the party, but then again, neither of them were just shot. It's really just a graze across the top of his hand but it's far closer than Kirk's comfortable with.

"Don't touch that bag and reach for the sky," commands the sheriff, punctuating his point by working the lever on his rifle. His deputies are quick to step out from the buildings, using the few townspeople as buffers. Their steely gazes settle on the robbers, predatory grins claiming they're tightening a noose the gang unwittingly stumbled into.

"First ones a warning," continues the sheriff, his smug confidence bleeding through his professional veneer. He nods his head towards Uhura and Sulu, careful to never take his eyes off of Kirk. "You best get them to drop their guns and come along quietly or ya'll be in the boot yard by dark." The sheriff can practically count the reward money for bringing in these three hustlers.

"Ya best nae be doin that laddie," warns Scotty, placing the barrel of his pistol below the sheriff's ear. His stealthy advance from behind has rattle-snaked the ambush, the sheriff tensing surprised as the rest of the deputies that the Scotsman's got the drop on them. Tension is filling the air waiting and daring someone to be the first to get this shootout started.

"Is today the day you really want to earn that badge?" warns Jim. His people are trained, in life and as a unit. No lawman with any talent is going to waste away in a way stop like this so, odds are they don't have a ringing among them. A sharp shooter would have dropped Scotty before he got that close to the sheriff meaning the only deputies are the ones in sight. The only thing these lawmen could boast would be luck, but since all their guns are trained on Jim, it's a chance he'll take. Sulu can take the one on the right, Uhura the two on the left, and Scotty the one almost behind Sulu. Jim will take the sheriff, getting this standoff started.

As though he can read Kirk's mind, the sheriff warns, "You ain't shooting with that hand, son and my men will drop you before yours can do anything about it. You really wanna die today?" as though he isn't afraid of Scotty's gun next to his head. The slight tremble in his outstretched hand aiming the gun at Jim betrays his false bravado. Odds are they can take Jim out and maybe be able to take Uhura and Sulu out but Scotty's got the sheriff dead to rights.

Jim rolls his fingers. The wound's not deep but there's a persistent ache and moderate bleeding. It's enough to throw his reflexes off marginally. Not enough to give these smug sons of bitches the satisfaction of taking down Kirk's gang and certainly not enough to stop Jim from showing his displeasure of people preaching to him like they're some kind of father figure.

"The problem with that," starts Jim, grinding his teeth together. In a flash his left hand finds his left gun holster, draws his gun and fires. The sheriff cries out, dropping to the ground clutching desperately at his knee. The chain reaction is instant. The gang fires and take out their targets before the sheriff hits the ground. The air hangs with the scent of gunpowder and defeat. "I'm equally as good with my left hand," finishes Jim in the stunned silence that befalls the town. "Anyone else care to be a hero?"

The townspeople gasp in shock, some shaking their heads before stepping inside. If the sheriff and his deputies can't slow the gunmen down, honest law-abiding folks don't stand a chance. The fight was over before it started and spilling more blood for something that's not theirs to start with is fruitless.

Jim twirls his gun in his left hand, sliding it back in its holster before picking up bag, the weight uncomfortable in his injured had. McCoy's going to love this; the irony that not only was it Jim that took around but to his gun hand won't be enough to spare him from the doctor's ire. "You might want to call a sawbones for the law there," says Jim, pointing at the sheriff, still hunched in a ball on the ground, once he's gotten back on his horse. Scotty mounts his and the four of them start to ride out with Jim hanging back. "And I ain't your son," snaps Jim as he spurs his horse to catch up to the others.

It was a few more shots than Jim hoped to fire but otherwise it was a rather successful last minute effort to start their crime spree. They're going to need something better though if they want to take on better lawmen in bigger cities with their smaller numbers.


"Remind me why we're going this again?" asks Jim, like a petulant child before removing his hat to wipe at the sweat beading his brow. The sun is so hot, that the dry cracked earth of the desert feels like it's replaced his skin. He's still riding high from the thrill the other day; not the adrenaline surging peril their daring robberies usually produced but enough to get his heart beating. It's a stark contrast to the limbo he's experiencing now. Waiting isn't his strong suit, and boredom is setting in something fierce.

"You were rather insistent we rob a series banks to gain Harrison's attention. This is simply a means to carry out your plan," replies Spock, stoic and unflinching on the horse next to Kirk. He doesn't seem to be dying in the heat like the rest of them.

"Exactly, a b-a-n-k, indoors, out of this squelching heat." Jim swears the vultures are circling on high, waiting for anyone of them to drop to the ground, providing the harbingers of death a well cooked meal. "Waiting out here for the wagon right now is ..."

"The logical approach. Since we lack our usual numbers an assault on a bank without additional supplies would prove reckless. This wagon promises to provide many useful tools. It seems our best option if you insist on perusing this path." If Jim didn't know better he'd say the Vulcan was looking a little smug.

"I was going to go with asinine but if it's promising new toys," says Jim with a little more interested in the matter. Bank robberies are filled with anticipation as they ride into town, the excitement of the take as they hit a stationary target, and the long adrenaline high as they make their way back to camp. Robbing a stagecoaches and wagon trains is a long wait for something that might not show up. He takes the canteen Sulu is offering, indulging in a long cool swig before passing it back.

"Oh, all the best toys," adds Sulu longingly. It's not often they get a tip about an army shipment being moved covertly. He can practically feel the cold steal of new weapons in his hand. Mudd's tip about Galor was on the money, so he probably isn't wrong about what awaits them here.

The trail ahead finally shows signs of life, as the first glimpse of the unassuming looking wagon appears around the bend, oxen team pulling hard up the uneven trail. "Be ready boys," snaps Uhura as she pulls on the reigns, spurring her horse to move. The horse begins its gentle trot further down the hill the gang is perched watching, to where Scotty is waiting behind the overturned wagon blocking the narrow path. She'll take cover behind the rocky outcropping to serve as cover fire and help perpetuate their ruse.

"You really think this will work?" asks Sulu. There's disbelief and skepticism behind his boyish smile. Danger laces every aspect of the heists they pull, however, the army is often more dangerous than local lawmen and hired guns. These are trained soldiers armed with the very training that makes the gang so good at what they do. They're a few hands down and about to gamble on a card they might be over selling.

Jim looks to Spock to offer reassurance at the Vulcan's plan.

"We stand a seventy-four point eight..."

Jim's raised hand stops the onslaught of numbers. "Yes or no, Spock."

Spock looks curiously at Sulu and Kirk. Actions such as these cannot be simplified with a yes or no. There are variables to consider and nothing is certain until the dust settles and the dead are counted. Why settlers find comfort in false reassurance still eludes him, even after all these years of living amongst them. Still, he tries his hand at the false platitude, "As sure as one can be, given the reputation of those indigenous to these lands and the unfounded fear ingrained in most settlers."

"Somehow that doesn't fill me with comfort." Sulu frowns but his smile doesn't vanish. Nerves and excitement are setting in as the smell of pending battle floats on the air. His horse begins its journey that will lead down the hill and behind the dried and brittle remains of trees and shrubs that thought they could beat the odds and thrive in this inhospitable land. The haunting and ghostly remains of a once promising forest will obscure him from sight of the oncoming wagon allowing him to move behind the wagon once it passes and attack from the opposite side as the Captain.

"It'll work," assures Kirk as Sulu rides away. He's not a hundred percent certain of the plan either but like most things in his life, it will either workout stunningly or go horrible in spectacular fashion. This is going to be about the spectacle and the power of fear.

Jim refrains from giving in to the desire to scratch at the war paint adorning his face that's become impossibly itchy and tight from the dry heat and sweat marring his skin. The only saving grace that it offers is that he can forgo the thick cotton kerchiefs they usually wear to hide their faces. He hopes the decorative war paint and hastily fashioned headdresses are convincing enough. Tying his usual cowboy hat to his saddle, he pulls out his deerskin and feather headdress and ties it around his head. It looks regal and natural on Spock but Jim just feels awkward and unbalanced, like he misplaced a piece of himself.

From a far they look like a couple war dogs ready to go to war against some invaders. Jim remembers all too well the air of dread that swirled around his regiment when moving through native land; the fear and horror stories about savage brutality touching every soldier's soul. Nothing's changed since his time in the army to dispel that notion for the men they're about to engage.

The problem is there's no amount of paint and native garb that's going to conceal his bright blue eyes which threaten to betray their ruse. If Spock's plan works, no one should get close enough to notice, but if they do, these men are sure to muster up enough bravery to engage in battle with five outlaws. Jim takes a deep breath, his fingers itching for the oncoming fight.

The wagon rolls to a gentle stop as the driver pulls back on the reigns signalling the team of oxen to ease their march. The four men riding escort stop along with the wagon, pulling their rifles free and positioning their horses to stand guard along all four corners of their haul. Everyone is on high alert both because their path is blocked and the sight of the wagon laid to rest before them.

There's blood splattered across the worn wood of the wagon, while the ripped canvas from the covering billows in the breeze. An overturned wagon speaks to a traveller's bad day, but the gut clenching horror comes from the blood and the arrows embedded in the wagon and the spilled crates scattered around the area. It's a massacre.

One of the guards slides out of his saddle, putting his long gun back in its scabbard. The clink of his spurs rings loudly in the oppressive silence of the scene as he bends down and picks up the stained raggedy doll, hastily discarded in the dirt. It has all the makings of a slaughter of an innocent family making their way to a new beginning only to be snuffed out by the brutal and savage animals that have little regard for the strangers on the land they call home.

The younger soldiers look spooked, flighty and unsure. The guard at the rear of the wagon removes his hat and offers a silent prayer for the unfortunate souls that didn't survive the scene.

The mortified silence is Scotty's cue. He stumbles out from around the overturn wagon, careful to not step too far away should he need to take refuge behind it. He looks a fright, torn clothes and painted blood covering him as though he went ten rounds with the savages that did this. He hands rise in gentle surrender as the shotgun messenger cocks his rife at Scotty's sudden presence.

The Scotsman freezes, careful not to spook the men into firing at him. "Och, thank god ya arrived. Those animals attacked us. They took the wee lasses and left the rest of us for dead. Ya gotta git me outta here before those devils come a back and finish the job," he begs. His legs tremble like his voice.

Jim watches Scotty's performance from on high. It's rather impressive and entirely convincing. He'd recognize that stiff, ready for trouble posture the soldiers are sporting anywhere; nothing spooks soldiers more than knowing a blood thirsty enemy is lurking nearby. "That's our signal," whispers Jim to Spock.

The pair splits up going down the trail. Once Jim's certain Spock is far enough away, he lets out the loudest war cry he can muster. The others do the same, their voices coming from all sides of the soldiers. They holler and whoop, firing their weapons as they begin to circle, making sure to stay hidden in the tree line so no one can count their numbers. If they keep moving and making noise, they can convince the soldiers that their numbers are greater than just four men running amuck on the forest.

"Those savages are back," cries Scotty, looking terrified. He runs forward to wrap his hands tightly in one of the soldier's jackets, trying to get the boy to understand just what horror is encircling them. "The whole tribe is here to massacre the lot of us!"

The soldiers try to tighten up their ranks by falling back to the wagon. A silent yet deadly arrow embeds itself in the back of one of the soldiers. The dead soldier tumbles from his horse, a grand and very visual display of the promises death that screams for their blood from beyond the tree line. Death, most gruesome and horrid crackles in the air as the stories of hell told around the campfire suddenly take shape.

Half way down the hill Jim jumps from his saddle, firing his gun and continuing his screams. Like the others, he runs to the right, yelling and shooting. Spock's supplying the arrows as he moves through the trees. Between the four of them, they cover enough ground that they've made a complete circle around the men and are going for a second round.

"They have us surrounded boys," yells one of the officers, firing blindly into the trees where he heard one of the Indians. They don't have enough bullets to take on a whole tribe. The two youngest soldiers were shaky to start with, but now are looking like a flight risk.

The wagon guard is the next victim, slumping over and toppling from the wagon. That's the only motivation the two youngest soldiers need to abandon the wagon, running off down the trail.

With all the commotion and noise the gang is making in the woods, Scotty slips closer to the wagon, cutting the tethers tying the oxen to the wagon. It takes a few shots but soon the oxen are following the deserter's example, leaving the driver with no escape route but to run like everyone else.

Uhura takes out one last rider before the rest finally give into retreat, running for their lives and firing blindly back at the wagon. With no one left to scare, the gang makes their way out from the tree line. It's eerily silent now that they don't have to play at being blood thirty savages. Scotty's sitting triumphantly on top of the wagon, grinning ear to ear.

"You make a hell of a war tribe, Captain," says Scotty, giving into his laughter. "Poor buggers had no idea there was only four of ya."

"I can't believe it worked," says Sulu, climbing up on the back of the wagon to survey the goods.

"We played on their biggest fears, Lieutenant. They thought they were surrounded by the monsters the army has warned them against. With us moving through the brush they were unable to ascertain our numbers, yet seeing enough to feed their imaginations," states Spock.

Jim's smile fades a little. It was a brilliant plan, but its success isn't without ramifications. Fear and greed destroyed Spock's home and today proves that same fear is still rampant. "Your performance was very convincing as well, Scotty."

"Thank you, sir," replies Scotty. There's no mistaking the gleam in his eye. That level of self satisfaction can only mean the gang will be blesses with the Scotsman's finest brew tonight.

"Let's get the horses hooked up and these supplies packed away," orders Jim. "Is she here, Mister Sulu?"

Sulu rips off the dusty sheet covering one of the crates in the wagon, revealing a long rectangular box with perfect black lettering along the side. "She sure is." Sulu can't hide his appreciative grin any more than the longing in his voice.

Chapter Text

If someone had told McCoy that he'd ever feel a sense of home and relief upon riding into Kirk's camp he would have booked a room in an asylum for both the speaker of such insanity, and himself for being off balanced enough to listen to such a claim, and yet the feeling still comes upon him as the hidden settlement comes into view. Relief is twisted in his gut like a basket of snakes, knotting and tangling with the feelings of worry and dread that have been chasing his heels like a dog since last night. Like a mirage to a dying man in the desert, the crisp white fabric of the tents flutter in the gentle breeze as they come into view around the bend in the creek. It's a far cry from the opulence of his youth in Georgia, but somehow feels more like home than any place he's rested his head before. He only hopes the residents of this shanty community are all alive and well.

McCoy hopes Sulu is alive to give credit to; the man is a miracle worker with horses. His first trip to Federation City on his new stead and the animal is a dream. There were no bullets or explosions to contend with; just a leisurely ride back to town to check in with M'Benga and catch up on all the latest news and gossip from a town that serves as a hub for the comings and goings in the region. Steadfast and powerful, the sleek chestnut mare made the trip with little effort. Her power's been demonstrated during Leonard's rushed trip back as he pushed her hard to get home.

The camp is alive with activity as Leonard rides in. Sulu, Chekov, Uhura and Scotty are scurrying like ants around a supply wagon that's a recent addition since the doctor headed for town. They all seem to be well with no sense of urgency or panic that spurs them on when someone is injured. The sight is almost enough to let Leonard breath again.

"How was she, Doc?" asks Sulu as McCoy rides up. He has faith in all the horses he acquires and trains but the doctor's requirements are more a bit more dandified and gentle rather than just harrowing getaways.

The casualness puts Leonard at ease, soothing his worry that his skills might be needed after the gang's ride to Galor. He pats the mare's head appreciatively. "Couldn't ask for anything better," he insists. He glances around doing a head count and keeps an eye out for any sign of Kirk and Spock. He won't be completely at ease until he actually lays eyes on every single one of them, but for a gang of outlaws none are cruel enough to not tell McCoy if something bad has befallen one of them.

A huge smile appears on Hikaru face. "That's my girl," he says fondly.

"What do you have there?" asks Leonard, nodding towards the wagon. Whatever it is, it probably wasn't obtained by honest means but the doctor's learning to put most of the gang's exploits in that special gray area that his Christian moral upbringing can't scrutinize too hard. It's better to know what questionable activities have transpired so he can prepare for future shenanigans.

"A wee gift from the army," offers Scotty, hoisting one of the wooden crates off the back of the wagon.

Concern overtakes Leonard as he gets a good look at the Scotsman. Scotty's shirt and pants are stained with what looks disturbingly like blood, a lot of blood, however he shows no sign of suffering from any physical injury. "Are you alright?" he asks alarmed.

Scotty's brow scrunches in confusion at the doctor's sudden concern until it dawns on him just what has caught McCoy's professional eye. His eyes light up with his boyish grin. "Ya don't need to be worrin' yourself about that, Doc," he explains gesturing to the stains on his clothes, "there's not even a scratch."

"Then who's is it?" presses McCoy, somehow not comforted by the fact that the blood doesn't belong to Scotty. He glances around the camp trying to track down who he hasn't laid eyes on yet. He knows that if someone was hurt, it would have been the first thing out of everyone's mouth the second McCoy stepped foot in camp, hell, they'd have come to town to get him, but it doesn't ease that knot in his gut that's screaming at him to help, to preserve life.

"It is just paint," assures Chekov as he hands Sulu a pry bar.

"Paint?"

"All part of the plan to get this little beauty here," says Sulu with awe, as he pries open the lid to the large rectangular crate still left on the wagon.

There's a brief silence as everyone crowds around the crate and takes in the contents. It's shiny and new and the afternoon sun catches it just right making the smooth metal sparkle.

"Is that a Gatling gun?" asks McCoy, a little stunned and awed in its presence. He's heard about the army's latest weapon. While most men revel in the sheer power of it and manpower it can replace, McCoy feels a little sick at thinking about the damage to human life it can inflict and the volume it can accomplish it at. His brain doesn't even want to touch why anyone would have a need for such a weapon.

It isn't some toy; it's an undeniable symbol of intent. They don't bring out such a weapon for a small skirmish; someone is going to war. The users of such a gun mean business, though he supposes the gang has always meant business. Worse, if Kirk was in search of such a weapon, he intends to fight more than just one man. Nero was one thing, going up against railway that has access to resources like this, is another. They might be wading into something here McCoy just can't be a part of.

"She sure is." Sulu runs his fingers down the cool metal of the barrel, gently brushing away the hay that's packed snuggly around her.

Leonard can't fight the gut feeling that they're trapped in a raging river in which walking away is the rope thrown from shore and pursuit will just mean they get swept away by something far bigger than any of them. He doesn't have the same affection for violence as the others do. Perhaps it's because he has other tools in his arsenal like his penchant for healing, or that the problems he faces usually don't require a heavy handed gun. Then again, Leonard never seems to handle any of his greatest problems to any satisfactory result.

"Is Kirk here?" asks Leonard. Irritation is slipping into his voice the way death is creeping into the air. Men can only be civilized in a civilized world so he tries not to hold the coming storm against the gang too harshly, even if wise men should know enough to get in out of bad weather.

Sulu nods his head towards Kirk's tent as he moves to gently free his shining lady out of her protective chest. The doctor begins to move away as the object in the corner of the wagon grabs Hikaru's attention. "Wait a moment, Doc," he calls, grabbing the leather wrapped package and hopping out of the back of the wagon to land gracefully on his feet.

Leonard turns to find Sulu in front of him, shoving a book at Leonard's chest as Sulu frees it from the worn leather wrap. He takes it, turning it over in his hands to reveal the cover. It's an English translation of a French medical book, far newer and more advanced than anything McCoy has seen since leaving southern high society. The thought of the newly learned secrets that lie within sparks an excitement for medicine that he hasn't felt since he took over his father's practice back home.

"Thank you." Genuine appreciation lightens his voice and his eyes ravenously devour every inch of the cover.

Sulu shrugs. They didn't go out of their way for it, even if making sure their resident doctor had the latest medical advancements at his finger tips would be a good insurance policy for their future health; he just plucked it from obscurity amongst the cargo and set it aside for McCoy. "No one here has any use for fancy books."

"Still, it's incredibly thoughtful." McCoy hefts the book in his hand feeling the knowledge at his fingertips before raising it above his head in a declaration of triumph, waving with it as he walks away. "Appreciate it!" he calls over his shoulder.

McCoy reaches for the tent flap just as it flips open bringing the doctor up short. He stands there speechless for a moment as he takes in the unexpected presence of a familiar face that has no business in this small community in the middle of nowhere. "What are you doin' here?" he says stupidly.

Gaila shakes off her surprise much faster, lighting up with delight at realizing it's McCoy she's almost walked headlong into. "You're not the only one that makes house calls," she purrs with an impish grin and sultry wink.

Leonard recognizes what makes Gaila so good at her job and a favorite among all men that frequent her bed. It's a shame such a bright soul is painted solely as a woman of ill repute. She's a piece of art from the way she carriers herself, to the fit of her dress, down to the careful placement of every strand of hair- this time, curled and pin expertly to attempt to cover what is a nasty looking black eye.

Something protective flares within McCoy and he curls his hands into fists at his side. It doesn't matter what a lady does or doesn't do for a profession, she should never suffer a man's rage; unfortunately Gaila's profession seems to give some men the impression that rule doesn't apply anymore. He wets his lips, stalling for every possible second so he doesn't have to voice the next reasonable question. "Kirk didn't..." He tips his head to indicate her swollen and bruised eye just to keep the accusation from defiling his tongue.

Gaila's hand gently caresses the bruise causing a lock of hair to fall over it, further hiding it from view. "Certainly not," she insists. "He's a surprisingly gentle lover."

"More than I needed to know," says the doctor, slightly uncomfortable and relieved in turn.

"Good with his hands, as I imagine you are," continues Gaila, undeterred by the doctor's discomfort and somewhat spurred on by it.

"I may lose my lunch." Leonard suddenly becomes infatuated with his shoes, anything to avoid eye contact and encourage Gaila's provocative and tawdry taunting. As a doctor, a former husband and well a man, he's well versed in what transpires between couples behind closed doors but his mamma raised him to be a gentleman and less vocal about such taboo subjects.

She shrugs, deflating slightly. "Just a customer that didn't take kindly to my asking questions." It's a partial confession, but there's something about its briefness that fails to obscure the partial lie behind it.

McCoy frowns. "You're not the type to ask questions." While McCoy can't speak to Gaila's talents in the bedroom personally, he has had the privilege of watching her conduct the procurement of her business from a far on the many nights he spent in the saloon getting piss drunk like it was his job. Her business is based on customer satisfaction and the girl is smart enough to know pestering the client with questions isn't good for business.

"A girl's willing to do a favor for a friend." She steps forward closing what little distance existed between the two of them. Her hands find themselves sitting gently atop of McCoy's broad shoulders before caressing their way down his chest, coming to rest lightly on his hips. "I'd be willin to do you a favor," she says sultry and demanding with all the promises of every filthy thing she's ever threatened to do to McCoy.

McCoy gently but firmly takes her warm and delicate hands in his, hesitating for a moment as his traitorous body aches with the distant memory of the touch of a good woman. Gaila has her own case to make on judgement day; he won't sully her further with his damaged soul. "Ain't nothin' but heartache waitin for ya here darling," he warns tenderly pushing her hands away.

Gaila is his eternal temptation; always there and always willing. He prays against the day he gives into temptation and takes her up on her offer. She's always been good to him, far better than he deserves. She was persistent in the face of his bitterness when he first arrived in Federation City, forming a tentative friendship over bottles of bourbon and life's disappointments. As much as she plays at wanting the doctor, he'll be damned if he gives in and let's his darkness destroy her the way it has everyone else in his life.

"Pity," she says with an exaggerated pout. "I imagine a doctor can do amazing things with his hands."

"I hope you never have cause to find out," he says steadfast.

"Never say never, Doc." She winks before sashaying past Leonard. "You'll have your hands on me one day, Leonard." Gaila heads towards the rest of the gang still buzzing around the wagon. Leonard can't help but watch, mesmerized by the sway of her hips like so many men before him. "Hikaru!" she shouts, "take me home."

"God knew what he was doing when he made her," say Jim appreciatively as he steps out from his tent. His eyes are immediately swept up in the same allure that's captivated Leonard. Gaila is a masterpiece, something Jim should worship Monday through Saturday and twice on Sunday. If finding comfort in her willing arms and perfect bosom is a sin, then god shouldn't have made her so perfect.

"God damn it, Jim," snaps Leonard, turning on the outlaw. "You got Gaila involved?" He's come to terms with the fact that he was gang pressed into service and so hopeless he can't seem to pull himself away, but Gaila has no business being thrown in with this den of wolves.

"Nice to see you too, Bones," he mutters, doing up his pants before turning and stepping back into his tent. A cantankerous rant from the doctor is a sure way to ruin the euphoric high he's riding from Gaila's visit.

Leonard follows hot on his heels. "It's bad enough you have this ragtag group along for your suicide mission, among them is a child and me no less, but do you have to go putting an innocent woman in harm's way too?" He's already irritated over the fright Kirk gave him, adding insult to injury means Kirk's just asking for a tirade.

"If you saw what she did to me last night, you'd know she's not innocent," counters Jim smugly. It's like poking a bear but Jim knows the lord didn't bless him with any sense of self-preservation so he can't help but turn the key.

McCoy grabs him by the shoulder and swings him around to face the doctor. "Did you see her face? Did you see what doing you a favor has done to her?" demands McCoy.

"I'll take care of it," insists Jim. It hadn't gone unnoticed to Jim. Gaila however, didn't seem like she wanted to get into detail about it and Jim's a firm believer of using sexual congress to forget one's problems, so it was a valid solution for both of them at the time.

"What happens next time when it isn't a fist they use. What happens when they pull a gun and shoot her down? You think about that Jim?" continues McCoy, his fury raising his voice with each point. Not everyone is as untouchable as the kid seems to be.

"I said I'd take care of it," snaps Kirk through clenched teeth. It would be his absolute pleasure to teach the dog that hit her, what happens when one doesn't treat a lady with respect. He'd be glad to do it even if it wasn't acquired in the service of Jim. His hand begins to itch under the hastily wrapped bandage hiding the bullet graze and he knows he doesn't do a good job of subtly scratching at it by the way McCoy's lips purse together.

Leonard's shoulders sag a little, his irritation melting away out of concern for Kirk. "What did you do to your hand?"

Jim tires to look surprised by the question, glancing at the bandage like it's the first time he's seeing it. "Nothing."

"That's not a fashion statement you've got there," says McCoy grabbing Kirk's hand to take a closer look.

Jim rolls his eyes but allows the doctor to poke and prod. He waits patiently for McCoy come to the same diagnosis Jim made and fails to hide his smile as the doctor begrudgingly gives Jim his hand back.

"Is that war paint?" asks Leonard, scratching at the chalky blue substance smudged under Jim jawbone. Confusion is clearly written on his face as he comes up with no theories as to what has possibly transpired here while he was gone. Somehow he knows he's better off having missed it.

Jim scrubs at his neck, removing the last few missed traces of his recent activities.

"Should I start counting to make sure you still have all your extremities or be worried about angry hordes descending upon us or new lawmen hunting us with a vengeance?" asks Leonard, giving Kirk a thorough eye.

Jim makes a face. "You've been gone five days," he protests.

"And the world's not burning. I'm as surprised as you are," counters McCoy. He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out the latest newspaper from Federation City, holding it out for Kirk to get a clear view of the headline dominating the front page. It's hard to argue an uneventful week when bold print is claiming a daring and bloody heist.

Jim turns and grabs his shirt from his cot. Pulling it over his head he asks, "Well?" McCoy's surely read it by now.

"Congratulations," says Leonard, throwing the paper on the table, "you're a wanted outlaw."

Jim sits down and begins to read. "The town of Galor was robbed in a daring heist by twenty of the most daring gunslingers in the territory this week." Snorting he adds under his breath, "Everybody seems to have trouble counting these days."

"What was that?" snaps McCoy.

"Nothing," answers Jim quickly and with forced cheer. He glances over the edge of the paper to check McCoy's reaction. There's something in the article that's caused the doctor to be pricklier than a porcupine, Jim just has to figure out what it is.

"Sheriff Hodd valiantly fought off the outlaws but not without casualties on both sides. Despite Hodd killing several of the robbers, they managed to make off with the entire contents of the bank after terrorizing the townspeople."

Leonard slams his hand against the table. "Do you know what I thought, Jim?" he demands. The first line of the article made everything that followed suspect but his heart still skipped a beat at the possibility that someone was hurt or worse dead. Leonard's a damn good doctor but even he can't sway death's decision.

There it is, the thing that's been burning under McCoy's collar. Jim has to agree on the surface it sounds bad. For the most part they've been pretty lucky about not ending up in a shallow grave but he could see how the doctor could jump to the conclusion one of them had died. "We're fine, Bones. You can't take anything here seriously."

"Can't I? Dead sounds pretty believable." This is exactly what he's been worrying about since Harrison entered their lives.

"But 'the heroic efforts of the sheriff prevented any fatalities of innocent bystanders and the morally repugnant gunslingers from setting fire to the small town. Sheriff Hodd vows to organize a posse and begin a search for the vile men that would rob the poor people of Galor in such a violent and heinous crime,' doesn't and you know we don't have twenty people."

"If you're going to get yourself killed, can you please do it when I'm not watching?" asks Leonard. The kid's annoying as hell, responsible for every one of his future gray hairs and probably the catalyst for his demise but lord above help him, he's kind of gotten attached to Jim. Jim's like the little brother he never had and never wanted.

"You've got nothing to worry about, Bones," promises Jim.

"See, that's the attitude right there that's going to be your ruin. Every one of them gunslingers taking up space in the bone yard thought they were invincible too. Does it ever cross your mind you could die?

Jim rolls his eyes and crosses his arms. "It crosses my mind."

"And?" presses McCoy.

"I'm not going to die because you and Spock are with me. I've always known, I'll die alone." It's a quiet confession, one that settles in the silence that follows. It's a truth that Jim's been certain of since he was little boy watching them cover his father's casket with dirt.

McCoy stares at Jim, letting the statement tumble around in his head. He doesn't know where to begin to pick Jim's belief apart. "Well, I'll make sure to have a room for ya."

Jim flashes a ghost of a smile across his solemn face.

"Just promise me you know this ain't a game, Jim," pleads Leonard. His nerves aren't cut out for this kind of life.

Jim sighs. "I know it's not a game. And we're fine."

Leonard looks skeptical but allows Jim to clap him on the shoulder and steer him out of the tent and towards the cook house. McCoy could use a good drink to settle his stomach and drown his concerns.

"We'll have a nice meal, some drinks," promises Jim, still chauffeuring the doctor along. "Then we'll work out the finer points of implementing our crime spree."

Leonard hangs his head. "Oh lordy." There isn't enough alcohol in the world to get him through this.