Pre-Spirk/Spirk: Multi-Chapter of the 'Native Sky' Series: Spock quietly and internally hoped that his captain was no worse in mind and body than Spock had last seen him


Lost Horse Creek, Montana

"When you are lonely, let me be your companion. When you are tired, let me carry the load. When you need to learn, let me teach you… after all, I am your horse…"

-Unknown


Chapter One: The Road

"Turn me loose, set me free, somewhere in the middle of Montana."

- Big City; Merle Haggard


Bunk 394: First Officer S'chn T'gai Spock; USS Enterprise NCC-1701

Starfleet Academy Officers Dormitories

San Francisco, California

Stardate:2260

September 13

0432 Hours

A five month over haul before the Enterprise was turned free from her chain at space dock to under take one of two tentative missions.

Five years of deep space exploration.

Or a two year deployment weaving between the borders of the Outer Rim and deep Federation territory; providing support, acting as a show of force, a diplomatic vessel and maintaining a close distance to the flagship's birthplace.

Both were in play and both had a careful balance of benefit and sacrifice.

The five year stretch had been the first envisioned course of for the ship, but the events that had been sterilized by the name 'The Narada Incident', disrupted that vision. There was too much damage to close to the core of the Federation that needed to be controlled. The Vulcan recolonization project, the strain placed on the Romulan Empire in accordance with the Federation, the threat of more hostile and aggressive controls in the universe pressing on the Federation… not to mention the violent and devastating depletion of Starfleet personnel, young and experienced, as well as destruction of half dozen or so Starfleet Constitution and ----- class ships.

Starfleet had been vitally wounded and it made what most referred to as 'the Brass' nervous to have one of their last heavy weights to far away for to long. Most of the Starfleet High Command were leaning towards keeping the Enterprise reigned in, close to rapid response range until a substantial recovery could be made.

While the Command debated and bristled over the situation the Enterprise's crew underwent standard procedure for liberty in preparation of return. Every crew member, from E-1 to the Captain, went under a stringent of tests and decommission protocols for a reintroduction into civilian life until they were recalled once a month for retests and three weeks prior to deployment date for training and conditioning for the mission. The exams ranged from a dietary change to psychological tests and counseling.

Spock could not logically formulate a reason or means by which Jim Kirk slid through those psychological exams with out so much as a red flag.

It wasn't that Spock believed Jim was unfit mentally for his position, it was that the trauma of waking nightmares and pure exhaustion was still so fresh in the young captain. There should have been some inclination that something out of the ordinary had occurred with Jim's mind fairly recently.

Food poisoning.

That was what was logged into the data banks, medical records, reported to Starfleet and passed on to one overly curious, speculating, gossiping Russian genius teenager that within the hour made sure the entirety of the Enterprise's rumor mill was buzzing with notions that ranged from the Corsa had unintentionally prepared foods with several components adverse to Jim's systems to the wild ideas that Jim had been poisoned in an assassination attempt to take over the Federation and only McCoy's medical prowess on site and Scott's corsair like defense of the doctor and captain had saved Jim's life.

No mention of 'horse' was ever made.

Food poisoning.

Not all that hard to believe granted that Jim had a medical reputation as wide spread as his playboy endeavors for being particularly difficult to treat and medicate thanks to an unusually delicate immune, digestive and endocrine system. Starfleet took it for what it was, under McCoy's assurance that Jim had consumed a large amount of God only knew what and that the young captain had tried to ride it out himself, resulting in the lack of sleep and changed, erratic behavior for ten days before McCoy isolated and cornered Jim to provide treatment.

It was everything that Starfleet could want: an accident that was somewhat supported by the Corsa's report that the diplomatic party had all seemed off color and without appetite through their three day feast and the chance to dress their youngest, ulcer inducing captain down a bit for being to proud to seek help.

Jim took it all in quiet stride, not flinching once at the minor mark made in his jacket and the additional medical exams he under went before release to temporary civilian life.

The reality of it was kept locked behind the teeth of the three involved. Jim himself never mentioned the incident, Spock found no logical reason to discuss it if the other two were going to ignore him and refuse that the whole thing had happened at all and Doctor Leonard McCoy only acknowledged the ordeal once since Spock had calmed Jim back reality.

Sitting quietly in the captain's quarters, Spock and McCoy had sat vigilant while Jim slept fitfully curled in a corner of his common room sofa. The medical chief had produced a ball point pen, a pad of yellow, lined writing paper and a slim manila folder that had no defining marks or labels and for over an hour McCoy had sat rigidly at Jim's desk, writing in a tight, doctor's scrawl on the pad, filling six pages before he was through and tucked the yellow pages into the manila folder along with several white pages already there. McCoy had disposed of the writing pad all together, shredding it, snapped the manila fold shut and tucked it securely under his arm. A look of warning was cast at Spock as the doctor stepped out of the room not to return again that night and left Spock to gently deal with Jim when the young man jerked awake in nightmares.

The diagnosis of acute food poisoning, and fear of further disrupting Jim's precariously balanced systems, gave McCoy more than enough reason to put Jim on two weeks of medical liberty without the aid of medical treatment other than a carefully designed diet before returning to tentative active duty. Spock sat in the captain's chair during the alpha and beta shift for two weeks and spent all other minutes without engagement sitting sentinel in Jim's quarters.

Jim gingerly put the weight back on that he'd lost and slept just enough to appear recovered and returned to his personality when he was activated to duty to finish out the month and a half left of the deployment and return to Earth without incident. But he slept only in the presence of Spock, not even McCoy could get the captain to relax enough into sleep without the half-Vulcan in the room.

It was if Jim could not feel himself secure unless Spock close by.

The First Officer understood this was another relinquish of self, done carefully and made cautiously in Jim's strained and yet unstable state. The half-Vulcan was unsure if it was another test or the reality of their ever deepening friendship; but Spock accepted it without question.

Jim's trust was something doled out carefully and stiffly. Spock had stood fast through the small, tentative helpings, accepting each and after drawing Jim back for the first time from the nightmares, was suddenly swallowed up in the surge of the young man's trust.

Jim was willing to turn himself over entirely to Spock, telling the half-Vulcan in the still of his sleep that he trusted Spock to keep him safe, to pull him back if he was needed or something was wrong, that he knew Spock and relied on him deeply enough that he would lay down his own well being. Jim willingly offered himself up to Spock's protection.

Spock was content to accept this offering and perhaps responsibility, settling himself at one end of Jim's sofa while the captain draped himself over the other in a typically odd but comfortable position and reading books borrowed from Jim's cache in the wooden footlocker while the young man dozed.

But Spock could sense that something had been unsettled deep in Jim, there had been a massive, internal upheaval and it would not quietly or easily subside. In private Jim had remained quieter than before the incident on Charus XI, he was less attentive and more inactive.

Spock could not shake the idea that his captain was suffering, nor could he ignore the ugly twist of agitation that it caused in him.

His own discomfort did not give way when the results came back that a little under weight but fully functioning mentally and physically, that Jim Kirk was fit for liberty as well as active duty at the end of their deployment.

Spock did not believe in luck, but he did have an inkling that there were an assortment of forces in the universe at work at any number of times that seemed fond James Tiberius Kirk and swayed everything to favor him… more or less.

At the very least it seemed to react quickly to counter any ill that fell on Jim.

The events at Charus XI had damaged the young man severely on a level that no one on the Enterprise was privy to, but the universe had designed the blow to be as softened as possible.

It had happened close to the closure of the deployment, but not so immediate that Jim was not given a chance to take his place as captain, abet a little shakily, but able to restore the crew's faith in him. Jim was under the aggressive protection and expertise of McCoy, who seemed to have worked out the whole ordeal, start to finish, before it had truly begun. His additional friendship with Spock had been an anchor in the storm of nightmares. And all came at timing well enough that Jim could take his disquieted soul away from Starfleet for a time to heal and sort himself out before returning to his post.

With this assurance that the universe was at work in Jim's favor was a bitter tasting kind of comfort that only deepened Spock's agitation. He would not be at ease until the internal suffering Jim was fighting had passed. Be that Spock gave him the space and isolation a Vulcan would need to restore themselves or if he was needed to sit in Jim's company all day and half the night as a rock.

Jim's rigorous course of testing had ended late that evening and Spock had resolved to give the young captain a few hours time to settle himself before walking to Jim's quarters. While he need not have one, Spock had a logical excuse for seeking Jim out at four in the morning.

Spock was going to return The Tao of Equus. The half-Vulcan had made sure to return the Shakespearian works and an equine medical text to Jim a few nights before the Enterprise had made dock, the other had been in his possession for a little over four months and Spock had analyzed it in every way he deemed possible and necessary. Spock had conceded that the book still danced just out of his reach of understanding.

The thought of taking on the rest of the author's texts, two more after The Tao of Equus that Spock knew of only because Jim professed to owning them, was slightly disorienting.

Spock would return the book and ask for the other two in return to begin reading and stay in Jim's company for a time if the young captain was agreeable. If not Spock would ask Jim to accompany him for a late breakfast later in the day.

Spock, lifted the book and tucked it securely under his arm as he exited his quarters and started down the long line of dormitories. A number of the Enterprise's ranking crew was quartered in this wing of the Starfleet dorms, lingering until testing was done or arrangements made for their liberty or some staying for the duration of the five months on Starfleet campus.

To Spock's knowledge the latter was Jim's own prerogative.

The First Officer strode quietly down the line of numbers until he came to 347, assigned to Jim on the first day returned to the campus. Spock lightly tapped the keypad for a request of entrance, sharp Vulcan hearing picked up the sound of the chime on the other side of the door.

But no other noises.

Spock listened, his muscles tightening at the lack of sound. The checked the assignment code for the room. It still stood as Jim's until further notice. Spock hesitated before tapping the keypad a second time.

The chime, muffled and echoed in the room was the only response.

Spock quickly typed in his access override code and slipped through the door as it slid open.

The room was abandoned.

Jim had not exactly settled into the generic bunk that had provided to him but there had been semblances of life when Spock had last stepped through. The sheets rumpled and unmade, a small pile of clothing that needed to be laundered, the wooden foot locker that housed Jim's cache of books and possibly a number of personal items.

All of it was gone.

The room looked as sterile and neat as it had before Jim was assigned to it. Spock felt a tension string across his shoulders and add to the agitation that bubbled in his gut.

Something was not right.

Spock turned from the empty dorm and made his way out of the officer quarters, through the lobby and out into the cool darkness of the campus. His stride was even, but wrought with tension as he crossed the deserted lawns and sidewalks, not bothering to stay on the cement paths as the First Officer made a beeline for the medical facilities. Spock, climbed the short flight of steps and crossed into the well lit lobby.

The on campus medical wing, labs and medical personnel dormitories were the only ones that were a twenty four hour operating and active facilities, all others could only be given open access after hours at the request and permission given by a ranking officer of Starfleet's educational staff, specifically the ones on staff of the facilities in question.

The bright light of the large lobby reminded Spock of a modern Terran hospital, the lobby swept off in four different directions behind thick, double doors. The floor was the same terra cotta tile of the rest of the buildings on campus but sported a stretch of artfully designed carpeting of earth tones and swirling, abstract shapes. Along the walls of the lobby were a number of plush, chocolate colored chairs, wood tables sporting the odd datapad for reading and a few potted plants. The center point of the lobby was a large curved desk made of dark honey colored wood and a brown granite top, with a large, potted vine at each end of the desk. Behind the desk were a number of translucent, suspended screens, most sporting spreadsheets of medical personnel on duty, where they were located, a string of patients names and their room numbers, a list of scheduled surgeries and labs works. But one screen, in the late… or early hour, was logged into a popular Terran late night show that the host was currently interviewing and teasing a politician that had supposedly cheated on her spouse to entertain the skeletal front desk staff in the dead hours filled only by doctor and nurse rounds and the occasional stray patient.

When he entered a chime rang loudly through the lobby and one of three personnel behind the desk turned from the screen and stood from his chair to meet Spock over the desk. The lithe, young cadet was probably an intern waiting for his admission to the medical program, he was sporting a short sleeve polo shirt, emblazoned on the right side of his chest with the Starfleet medical crest in red thread and a pair of standard issue black cargo pants and combat boots. The cadet's hair was a mass of ruffled, pale blonde locks and his eyes a sharp brown, still dancing in laughter over the politician's misfortune. There was a slim chain around his wrist sporting a thin metal plate for a medical alert band for Diabetes and an identification badge and pass clipped to his collar.

He smiled slightly at Spock and oddly didn't take on the rigid stance and acknowledgment of the presence of a higher ranking officer; he stayed lax and practically draped himself over the top of the desk. While on campus Spock had taken up wearing his black, commander's uniform and was easily acknowledged of his rank among a sea of red, and he wore it now. It was unusual and seemed odd to Spock to not be saluted and addressed formally. But if McCoy and a number of other medical staff Spock had contact with on a regular basis were anything to go on it was not unusual for the medical personnel and students to believe that they were above the formalities and restrictions of rank on a daily level. Medical was the one department, that when it came down to it, had absolute power.

And the members of medical knew that.

"How can I help you, Commander?" He asked quietly, but his voice still rang and hung loudly in the empty lobby.

"I request the room assignment for Doctor Leonard McCoy of the Enterprise."

Halfway through his sentence the young cadet, Allan Mallory by his badge, had gone very still, as if Spock were a predator with a vision based only in movement. Behind him the other two desk staff, a petite Andorian female and a slightly over weight, red headed human male, both dressed in the same embroidered polo, black cargos and combat boots, turned slowly in their chairs.

Spock did not give any outward show of interest at their reactions as the three cadets stared at him.

"…'M sorry… you said 'McCoy'? Right?" Mallory asked as he twisted to look over his shoulder at his companions before his attention fixed back on Spock.

"That is correct." Spock assured.

Mallory swallowed thickly.

"McCoy … who's not supposed to be on duty until the midday shift at 1400 hours that you want to wake up at 0430 McCoy? 'Bones' McCoy?" Mallory asked as he spoke seemed to wilt a little.

"Is there a problem cadet?" Spock asked coolly, one eyebrow raised.

"Him giving you the information and ending up a volunteer for exploratory, neuro-surgery demos." The red headed cadet snorted.

"Shut up, Kidrick!" Mallory snapped over his shoulder, even as his hands started too moved over the computer console to bring up the information on medical personnel assigned quarters in the building.

Kidrick only grinned doggedly and brought a pen to his lips to chew on the end.

Mallory, much stiffer across the shoulders, pulled the information up on one of the spreadsheet screens.

"Here, Commander. Bunk 48 on the fourth level." Mallory pointed out the information on the suspended screen, then motioned towards one of the double doors. "The closest lift is through the East Wing door."

"Thank you cadet. I will do my best to redirect Doctor McCoy's wrath." Spock dipped his head and started for the turbolift, leaving the young intern looking a little pale and possibly hopeful.

"Make sure to come by the amphitheater observation room and watch Allan get his skull sawed open later today!" Kidrick called after Spock. The First Officer didn't turn but heard the distinct sound of some object hitting and bouncing off flesh and a strangled curse between coughs.

Spock stood very still in the turbolift, his hand wrapped white knuckled around The Tao of Equus until the door slid open again and Spock stepped out to a deserted and silent dormitory floor. A quick glance down one hallway turned the half-Vulcan to walk briskly down another, following the numbers to 48 and didn't hesitated to tap the keypad for requested entrance.

As soon as the chime sounded there was a muffled grunt from the other side of the door.

Spock waited but no other sound came after the grunt, possibly McCoy believed he's dreamed the summons and turned over in his sleep.

Spock tapped the keypad twice in succession, making sure McCoy could not mistake the reality of the call.

There was a noise from the other side the sounded suspiciously like McCoy had screamed the words 'go away' into his pillow.

Spock actually felt his knuckles crack when his hand balled in an impatient fist. He chimed again, this time adding his voice to the call. "Doctor McCoy, I request an audience."

There was no mistaking the muffled snarl of 'hobgoblin' from behind the door and after a moment of shuffling and a loud thud of something large hitting the floor McCoy opened his door and stood squarely in the doorway.

His chocolate hair was sticking up in odd directions, his face rough with stubble and dark eyes dulled with sleep but flickering in rage under drooping lids. The medical chief was dressed only in a pair of black boxers and a vintage tee shirt sporting the image of a late twentieth century ambulance and the words 'THIS IS HOW I ROLL' on the gray fabric. A slim silver chain hung around his throat supporting a slender crucifix for the Terran Christian faith.

McCoy looked Spock blearily up and down once.

"I'm givin' that intern a lobotomy…" The doctor growled, his voice deeper and southern drawl thicker on the edge of sleep.

"I believe that they are aware of your intentions prior to your commitment to the… 'punishment'. But Doctor I must vouch for Cadet Mallory as he has only done what I have requested of him, and done with great reluctance, if there is any factor to your decision."

McCoy blinked slowly a few times, his brain slowly coming back into focus to follow and process what Spock had just said to him.

"Then ya can have a lobotomy, too." McCoy growled finally and lifted a large hand to scrub at his face. "It's four thirty in the mornin'. Ya better be dyin' or a messenger from God, ya pointy-eared mutt, what do ya want?"

"There is no medical emergency nor have I received a dictation from your deity to speak of, Doctor."

McCoy fixed him with a look that Spock had never seen before on McCoy's face. Pure and utter disillusionment.

"What. The Hell. Do ya. Want." McCoy deadpanned.

"The captain is missing from his assigned quarters." Spock responded tensely, his grip on the book in his hand tightening.

McCoy shifted and crossed his arms loosely over his chest, one of his own eyebrows quirking up. "What were ya tryin' to see Jim for at four in the mornin' for?"

"Irrelevant, doctor." Spock said tightly. "The captain is missing."

"Relax Spock-"

"Do you know of his whereabouts?"

"Yeah. Yeah I know where he is. Cody came and picked him up about seven hours ago." McCoy's tone had softened some and he leaned heavily in the frame of the door, his eyes drifting shut as he spoke. "Right after he got released from testin'. Was down here earlier yesterday mornin' got his stuff together while Jim finished up. Booked after he was done."

"I was not made aware of this arrangement." Spock all but growled, the tension and discomfort in his gut ratcheting up instead of relaxing.

"Ya were in the labs or somethin'. Jim said he couldn't find ya, said he looked for an hour and seemed kind of upset over not findin' ya." McCoy slit one eye open to look at Spock. "Hang on."

The doctor leaned around to lock the door open on his keypad before dropping back into his dorm to lift something off his desk and crossed back to lean in the doorway, holding out two thick, hard bound books.

The later siblings of The Tao of Equus, the series written by Linda Kohanov nearly two hundred and fifty years before.

"I was goin' to look for ya before I went on shift later today. He asked me to keep 'em for ya, said he'd be back the end of liberty and he'll try and look for ya in between."

Spock lifted the two books and the knot of discomfort in his stomach hardened into a rock and dropped heavily into place in his gut.

"Where is his location, Doctor."

McCoy quirked an eyebrow. "What?"

"Where is the captain's location."

It was a command for the information, not a question. The First Officer felt the unsettling threat of emotion simmering just under the surface on his mind, it twisted and bristled around the rock in his stomach. Something was not right. Jim was unbalanced, unsettled and shaken from his base, Spock knew this, knew that Jim was teetering on the edge of an internal corruption.

Stupidly the captain had separated himself from who he could count to anchor him, it seemed McCoy was either fooled by Jim's seemingly outward recovery or was content to allow the young captain to isolate, test and threaten his integrity alone.

Spock truly hoped it was the former.

"Why?" McCoy cocked his head.

Spock felt his jaw lock briefly before speaking. "While all his examinations have said otherwise I believe that the captain is still unstable. He may be in need of assistance in centering himself, thus far he has unspokenly recruited you as well as myself to act as those mediators for his recovery."

Both of McCoy's eyebrows rose to his hair line.

"Spock. Jim's fine." The doctor assured. "If he's not now by the time he gets back he will be."

"I cannot begin to explain the illogical nature of that statement, Doctor." Spock responded coolly.

McCoy hardened, insistent when he spoke, "He's fine."

"The captain has yet reached a point in his recovery that he is capable of mediating himself. He still cannot sleep without our presence."

"Ya mean yer presence." McCoy snorted.

Spock narrowed his eyes at the doctor.

"Jim's fine Spock. He's not ditchin' us, just goin' to get his head straight for a while and he doesn't need us for that." McCoy narrowed his eyes in return, his nostril's flaring slightly.

"Doctor, where is the captain now or headed at present time."

"He's been takin' care of himself since he was a pup Spock. It's been fun bein' babysitters for a while but he can handle himself."

"Where is the captain."

"He's fine-"

"In order to leave the campus the captain will have submitted request and information to his whereabouts for the duration of his liberty. If I do not get the information from you I will find it else where in the Starfleet database. His location, Doctor."

McCoy narrowed his eyes to near slits but found no give in Spock's stoic mask. The doctor licked his lips and sighed, scrubbing a hand through his hair before looking up and locking eyes with Spock.

"Lost Horse Creek. Montana. Just outside of Darby in the Bitterroot Range of the Rocky Mountains… the old Flathead Native territories. Cody moved the ranch up there from Iowa five years back… expect ya'll want some kind of directions."

"I can find them in the Starfleet database."

"No ya probably cain't." McCoy growled and retreated to his desk to draw dig a datapad from the bottom of a stack. McCoy crossed back to the door, efficiently wiping the pad's memory clean, accessing the Starfleet secured database as well as the internet to program the information into the pad.

"Soonest ya can probably be outta here is midday today. Ya'll hit Missoula pretty easy, big enough transports are goin' in and out all the time, not sure but there might be a Starfleet base near it too… either there or Helena… if it's in Missoula it'll make everythin' easier on ya. If not ya'll be able to get a transport from there to Hamilton, I'm sure, it's gotten bigger in the last few years with the tourism and all that bull. If yer lucky and ya catch someone in a good mood ya might get one out to Darby, or at least ya might be able to find someone goin' the same way that'll take ya. But from Darby on ye guaranteed yer goin' to have to find it yerself."

"A ranch."

"Yeah. Native Sky Ranch. Cody Chicalato's place, got 'bout fifteen thousand acres up there of native Rocky range and prairie plateau right on Lost Horse Creek. That's where Jim'll be, no doubt."

"Thank you, Doctor. Though I cannot understand your sudden disinterest and disregard for the captain's well being."

McCoy bristled and his eyes blazed as he snorted through his nose, but when he spoke his voice was calm and even. "Spock. I told ya, Jim's fine. He's in good hands goin' some place that's good for his head, heart and body. Don't think for one second that if I thought Jim was in any kind of trouble I wouldn't be next to him in a heartbeat."

Spock listened carefully and looked the doctor over once before dipping his head. "My previous statement was unfounded and therefore illogical."

"Apology accepted. Sides, I was goin' to head up there in a month and a half anyway when I got done workin' through the crew's medical files. Now only one I'm worried 'bout is ya."

Spock cocked his head. "Really, Doctor?"

"Don't look so smug. Yer talkin' 'bout chasin' down Jim, for no reason might I add, to a far northern state that doesn't get a lot of xeno interaction at all and can be a little on the rigid side of the whole issue. All while said state is driftin' into winter, ya do know that Montana can get sub zero temperatures and feet of snow at a time, right? As far from Vulcan ya can get… 'cept maybe the thin air… but it all sounds a little illogical, don't ya think?"

Spock stiffened slight but lifted his chin. "I will take necessary precautions, Doctor."

McCoy narrowed his eyes and sighed, muttering under his breath.

"If ya want to go so badly ya can come up with me next month."

"The duration of hesitation you are proposing I find unacceptable."

"Fine ya stubborn bastard. Dress warm, don't look people in the eye and here-" McCoy twisted and whistled into his dorm.

There was a sound of something large dropping to the floor and soft clicks crossing the room into the doorway.

"-Take Nemo A534 with ya."

The animal moved to sit neatly at McCoy's side and tilted his head back to look at Spock.

It was a German Shepherd.

The dog was large; the top of his head equal height to the medical chief's hip and possibly weighed a hundred pounds or more. A long, narrow muzzle, large ears that stood straight up at attention and a thick coat of cinnamon brown fur accompanied by black markings over his head, throat, saddled across his back and running midway down each long leg ending in large, clawed paws.

A wide collar was buckled around the dog's throat, baring an identification plate screwed into the leather baring the name 'NEMO A534' and contact information in Montana.

The dog cocked his head slightly. On the left side of his face was a large, caramel colored eye that blinked slowly. The right side was marred by several deep scars running from ear, over eye to the tip of his nose. The dog's right eye was an empty socket that the lids had healed closed over the gap of the missing organ.

"Nemo A534 knows the way. He could take ya there if ya wanted to walk from here. Turn him loose when ya get to Darby and he'll lead ya to Native Sky's front door."

McCoy handed Spock the reprogrammed datapad and rested a large hand on Nemo A534's head, stroking the dog's ears back.

"Doctor, it would be illogical for me to take this animal with me."

"Illogical maybe, but smart, definitely. It's Jim's dog anyway, they just left him with me 'cause they figured I'd get lonely without somethin' to chase 'round." McCoy patted the dog a last time before snapping his fingers and making a few short motions with his hands. Nemo A534 watched the doctor's hands intently before rising to his paws stepping out of the doorway and lightly walking around behind Spock's legs to sit neatly at the First Officer's right side.

"Doctor, having the company of this animal-"

"His name's Nemo A534 and this really isn't up for discussion. See ya in a month and a half."

McCoy stepped back, fingering the keypad on the wall and the door slid shut.

Spock blinked once, then twice at the closed door before looking down at the one eyed Shepherd sitting patiently and silently at his side. The dog's head tilted to look back up at him, ears twitched forward expectantly.

Spock cleared his throat and shifted the three hard bound books and datapad in his arms to free one hand. As a child Spock's mother had taught him a certain level of respect for living things beyond known sentient beings. Raised as a true Vulcan it had seemed alien to Spock to extend respect and acknowledgement of self to animals that had no fore thought or rational thinking, but he had gone along with his mother's lessons to please her before promptly logging them as illogical in his mind.

But in the past four months Jim had been expressing similar ideals on Spock. Far more intense and with a depth that far surpassed those short lessons given by his mother, but similar.

Spock carefully extended his open hand to Nemo A534, keeping it still and making sure to show no outwards signs of fear or aggression towards the dog.

Nemo A534 twisted his head so his eye settled on Spock's hand, briefly glancing up at the half-Vulcan before dropping his nose into Spock's palm and sniffed at his flesh. The scarred, wet folds of skin just hovering over Spock's palm, not touching. Nemo A534's head twisted and sniffed up Spock's wrist and the hem of his shirt.

Satisfied the dog sat back and lifted his head to look towards Spock's face, head cocked slightly to better see. Spock retracted his hand, hesitated before reaching out to lightly pass his hand over Nemo A534's head, as his palm smoothed over them the large, triangular ears swept back to flatten down before raising back up in the wake of Spock's stroke.

It was none of the natural easiness that McCoy had demonstrated but it wasn't awkward or uncomfortable either.

Spock straightened and looked back down at the dog from his full height as Nemo A534 kept his expectant and attentive eye locked on his face.

"I believe that this was the first time that I have ever participated in 'petting' a dog." Spock informed the one eyed German Shepherd.

Nemo A534's tail swished once across the floor and the dog's jaws broke open for a singular, deep chested bark that sounded in the empty hall like a gunshot, echoing before fading into silence again. Internally Spock's rapidly beating heart jumped at the unexpected and foreign noise while he remained stoic outwardly.

"Do not repeat that action."

Nemo A534's head cocked further to the side but made no noise.

"Walk with me." Spock instructed and turned to start down the hall towards the turbolift. Nemo A534 bounced up to his feet and paced evenly at Spock's side, their shoulder's aligned in perfect step. When Spock paused a step at the turbolift the dog instantly sat back onto his haunches. Then rose to his paws again to pass into the small space to sit again at Spock's side. Then they exited the turbolift Spock conducted an experiment as he made for the exit of double doors in the large hall.

Spock stopped walking a number of different times after irregular paces. At each pause Nemo A534 stopped and sat on his haunches at Spock's right side only getting to his paws when he started moving again.

"Fascinating." The half-Vulcan said as the double door slid back to reveal the brightly lit lobby. The three interns tensely looked up in his direction but relaxed obviously at the sight of Spock.

"Cadet Mallory, Doctor McCoy will be scheduling your lobotomy when he goes on shift." Spock informed the young man.

The red headed Kidrick barked in laughter and taunted the smaller boy with a wide grin. Mallory shoved Kidrick sharply in the gut as he rose to stand behind the desk, looking pale, to watch Spock and the one eyed dog cross the lobby towards the exit.

"Good morning, Commander." He called at Spock's retreating back, then whistled sharply. "Nemo A534! Catch!"

The German Shepherd instantly whirled around as the intern tossed a protein nib across the lobby. The dog leapt forward, snatched the morsel mid air, chomped it between his jaws before twisting and bounding back to Spock's side. The dog dropped back to sit at the half-Vulcan's side and looked up at him expectantly, licking his chops.

Spock looked from the dog to the now smiling cadet and back again. Spock dismissed the behavior and moved forward, the dog easily falling into measured steps at his side, following out of the lobby doors, down the front steps and onto the cement paths and lawn.

Spock half expected the dog to run away. The First Officer's observations of dogs in the campus area and park outside supported the assumption that upon reaching open land a dog would race away from their owner or handler to dig into dirt or chase another of it's species or lift it's leg against some object.

Nemo A534 did none of these. The one eyed Shepherd stayed at Spock's hip as if he were tethered there. The dog lifted his head higher than it had been indoors, his ears twitched and swiveled around, catching the early morning noises of the campus and twisted his head so his single eye could look around. But the dog never moved a step a head or dropped behind or sideways, keeping a solid easy paced with Spock.

The First Officer had a mild curiosity to break into a run and see the dog's reaction, but he restrained the impulse and led the German Shepherd back across to the officer's dormitories, up the steps and into the main doors before moving down the hall to the wing where his assigned bunk was located.

They passed a few early risers or all nighters, both Spock and Nemo A534 receiving a fair share of surprised or confused looks. When they reached Spock's dorm the half-Vulcan shifted his assortment of texts and datapad to type in the code. As he did one of the hard bound books tumbled to the floor, it's spine cracking loudly as the book landed open on it's pages, bending a number of them under it's weight.

Spock felt something deep in his gut twist, bend and nearly crack. He'd never dropped one of Jim's books before, much less damaged it with bent pages and cracked spine. Spock could not explain, much less completely fight down the rise of emotion that threatened him.

Before the First Officer could bend to retrieve the book, Nemo A534 stepped around, dropped his head and gently wrapped his jaws around the back of the splayed open text. His teeth lightly scratched the cover as the dog lifted the book from the floor, his jaws wrapped around the spine and cover and closed the manuscript as he lifted it.

Spock watched in fascinated amazement as Nemo A534 then reared up on his hind legs, bracing his forepaws on the wall next to them and stretched to lightly drop the book back on top of the small stack balanced in Spock's arms. Nemo A534 pressed his nose into the spine of the returned text, nudging it closer to Spock's chest before the dog dropped back to the floor to sit at Spock's side and look up at him expectantly.

"I did not believe an animal was capable of performing the service you have just done me."

Nemo A534's head cocked to the side, his eye turned to look at Spock as he spoke.

"Either you are very well trained or much more intelligent that I earlier perceived."

Nemo A534's ears twitched back once and a quiet sneeze blew through his nose. The dog shook his head and licked his lips before looking back up at Spock then towards the door before returning his gaze to the First Officer.

Spock keyed in the access code and stood back to allow Nemo A534 to step in a head of him. The dog crossed the quarters quietly, making a large circle before moving to sit at the foot of the bed, while Spock stepped into the room and settled the books and datapad down onto the neatly made comforter next to the dog.

Spock did not speak to the animal as he crossed to the computer and communications unit set up on one corner of his desk. Sitting, Spock passed his hands over the console, activating and accessing the Starfleet secured databank and the internet.

Over the course of an hour Spock had finished and submitted his request for liberty and reachable location at Native Sky Ranch in Montana. He then booked a seat on a transport to Missoula, pausing before confirming the reservation and glanced up at Nemo A534. The dog had climbed onto his bed and was lying on his belly, head on his paws and watching Spock with that single intent eye.

It was somewhat eerie, Spock felt as if he was being judged and sized up but at the same time accepted and waited on. Spock quickly read through the protocols of the transport for pets and changed his reservation for two seats on the earliest departure that day, which as McCoy had suggested, would not be until late afternoon. Spock set up a similar booking from Missoula to Hamilton for the day after, confirming a room at an in-port traveler's lodge for the over night stay.

And again, as McCoy suggested, he could not find a transport from Hamilton to Darby.

Spock hesitated a moment before rising and moving across the room towards the door. A loud thud echoed in the space and there was a scrape of nails as Nemo A534 dropped to the floor and galloped two strides to Spock's hip and walked easily at the half-Vulcan's side out the door and down the hall.

Spock stopped only a little ways down the corridor and tapped a keypad out side of 364 to request entrance. A few moments passed and the door slid open to reveal Communications Lieutenant Nyota Uhura standing in the frame in a red tank top and black PT pants. The slim, black woman blinked in mild surprise.

"Spock? Is something wrong?" He eyes cast down and fell on Nemo A534 with a slight face of surprise and disgust at the mutilated animal's face. "Is that a dog?"

The one eyed German Shepherd pinned his ears back for a moment before pricking forward again, twisting to look up at Spock.

"I believe they are specifically called German Shepherd Dogs."

Uhura flashed her chocolate eyes from Nemo A534 to Spock then back. "What are you doing with a dog?"

"Doctor McCoy has commissioned me to return Nemo A534 to his home as I am traveling to the same destination. To answer your previous inquiry, yes, there is something wrong."

Uhura tensed instantly. "What's going on Spock?"

"The captain has left campus unexpectedly and unannounced except privy to Doctor McCoy." Spock said somewhat stiffly. Uhura cocked her head slightly.

"The captain didn't tell you he was leaving?" Uhura, as well as the majority of the crew were aware of Spock and Jim's ever tightening friendship. In the some of the grittier rumors Spock had evidently taken Jim on as a lover of some kind, though there were no facts to support the accusations save the fledgling bond of friendship the Spock and Jim had no reason to hide from the crew.

"Doctor McCoy relayed to me that the captain had endeavored to find me and was unsuccessful in uncovering my location on the campus before his allotted time of departure." Spock refrained from mentioning that Jim had left him the two books and a relay of goodbye in McCoy's possession. "The Doctor was also kind enough to inform me of the captain's whereabouts and I intend to travel there as quickly as possible."

Uhura's eyes narrowed. "You're… going after him?"

"Nyota. I believe that the captain's state of mind and body is yet unstable and that his premature departure from campus has endangered his own well being. It is my duty to ensure the safety and health of my superior officer, even if it is from himself. I have already made arrangements to depart later this afternoon. If you so desire Doctor McCoy has informed me that he intends to reach the same location in six weeks time and you may join us in traveling with him."

Uhura sighed tightly. "Where are you going?"

"Lost Horse Creek, Montana. The Doctor assured me that I would be able to find the captain at the Native Sky Ranch, owned by a Cody Chicalato. I expect to be at the ranch in approximately three days if all goes well."

State Highway 93

Darby, Bitterroot Mountain Range, Rocky Mountains, Ravalli County, Montana

Stardate: 2260

September 18

0724 Hours

All did not go well.

Spock knew of an old belief that pets often seem to resemble their owners in both looks and personality. The First Officer could not rightly say that Nemo A534 was Jim in looks or mannerisms but he could safely admit that the one eyed Shepherd seemed to share Jim's ability to attract a certain kind of unwanted attention.

The first leg of Spock and Nemo A534's journey was straightforward and uneventful, Spock distracted by datapads and the series of Linda Kohanov's books and the one eyed dog sleeping curled up in the aisle seat next to the First Officer.

Spock had learned quickly that Nemo A534 preferred the aisle seat, able to sniff and cock his head at passengers and attendants walking and shoving up and down the narrow path between the columns of seats. The short trip from Starfleet campus to the transport dock Spock had mistakenly sat in the aisle seat and endured ugly and unnerved looks from other passengers when Nemo A534 had stood in the middle of the aisle barking every 15.6743 seconds until Spock rose from his place and moved over one.

Spock had learned the lesson and boarding the transport to Missoula had moved to sit in the window seat first.

Missoula, Montana was a large enough city that it saw its fair share of visitors and immigrants from other planetary systems. Though Spock not help but catalogue the number of looks that had been cast his way, not just by humans but by a few xeno citizens as well. The First Officer was unsure if the looks were sent his way because he was Vulcan and a rarity in the universe now or because there was a very large German Shepherd constantly at his side. His room at the in-port traveler's inn had been relatively comfortable, with an odd décor resembling a hunting lodge complete with the antlers of large, browsing animals as an accent to every piece of furniture in the room. Further more Spock had not objected to Nemo A534 climbing up to share the large bed with him, in all truthfulness Spock found the large, lump of solid warmth pressed at his hip or draped over his legs a comfort.

The next day their transport was delayed long enough that Spock was able to get caught up in a local homicide case where a number of xeno citizens were under investigation. Spock's attempt at logic and explanation of his position in Starfleet had resulted in one of the mourners to lash out at his seemingly cold demeanor, which got said individual severely bitten by Nemo A534 when the dog rushed to Spock's defense.

Spock had conceded to himself that he was conversing with an animal as if it were sentient while he explained to Nemo A534 why his actions had been particularly 'Jim-like' while they waited in a locked jail cell and Nemo A534 tried to rip off a muzzle.

Release the next morning had been welcome but the transport long missed and the only one leaving for Hamilton was on the other side of the city in the late afternoon, which was not a direct transport and stopped off in several different small cities along the way.

Each to small to be anything but tense at the sight of a different species. Not to mention a massive dog missing an eye.

The correct human term, Spock believed, was things went down hill from there. Minor incidents that could be ignored seemed to stack up and get steadily worse as time trickled by.

A lay over for a late evening meal in Lolo had yielded no completely vegan meals, but Spock was gifted with a deeper understanding of Nemo A534 when the dog had been easily and complimentary served a bowl of day old chili had refused to even open his mouth and sat, fasting with the half-Vulcan, at Spock's side loyally. The First Officer did not feel so foolish to talk to the dog at length after that.

Florence gave Spock his first, and hopefully last, scar. A bracelet of pearled scar tissue would eventually heal around his left wrist when the half-Vulcan was dragged into a fist fight in front of the small town's local bar and his hand was entangled in a length of barbed wire. He was grateful his wrist had not been broken… only sprained.

Spock could only understand the logic and reasoning behind the Victor town council and community when they banished him and Nemo A534 from their limits. The half-Vulcan decidedly kept his rebuttal debate of the insufficient way the statue had been secured to its base to himself. Spock could understand it but he could not shake the strange weight of being banned from returning to a place for the duration of his natural lifespan.

And the First Officer honestly could not remember the fire. The remnants were the delicate blossoms of dark green and sickly yellow bruises across his side and over his forearm where Nemo A534 had locked his jaws and the ugly, six inch long burn in the dog's shoulder that caused a serve limp and small noises of pain from the German Shepherd. All that Spock knew of the fire was it was the reason that he and Nemo A534 had walked from Woodside to Hamilton.

Spock felt he was near exhaustion. He'd only truly slept that first night at the traveler's lodge and had not meditated since leaving the campus.

He hadn't eaten well and hadn't had a shower since that first night… unless he counted being drenched in a sudden torrential rain storm in Stevensville or being completely submerged in the Bitterroot River in Corvallis under the hands of a holy man and probably becoming the first Vulcan to be baptized.

But above it all was the cold. By human standards it was mild, only enough to make the edges of leaves begin to turn color. But Vulcan and California alike were places of acrid, dry heat at their peaks. Their air tinged with salt and that scent of heated stone and earth, where human sweated and complained and took refuge indoors or in water.

But for Spock this cold wasn't biting, but sluggish and taunting, seeping slowly through his traveler's shirts and slacks, pooling down through his muscles into his marrow and joints and settled around his core, hovering and threatening with an internal chill that Spock could not shake.

Instead of the salt tipped, dry air the air here was thin but heavy with damp. To moist to breathe properly without the feeling of feeding some wet growth in his lungs.

It was not enough to stop him, much less slow him down any more than he was already slowed but it was an annoyance that was a steady corrosion against his already tightly strung nerves.

But Hamilton brought relief.

A citizen, one that looked more like a grizzled predatory animal more than a man, with his brown hair streaked in grey and sharp, dark eyes; had recognized Nemo A534 on sight.

The dog had greeted the stranger, Harry Gritt, balanced on three legs and with a slight wave of his tail but refused to leave Spock's side. In return the half-Vulcan, now made wary by his treatment for the last three and a half days, settled a hand firmly on Nemo A534's shoulder and carded his fingers through the dog's hair while Gritt approached and spoke to them before leading them to a nearby veterinarian. The doctor had not only looked over Nemo A534's burn but had lightly passed her nimble and sure hands over the bruises across Spock's arm and side as well as gently cleaned and wrapped his slowly healing wrist.

Gritt was far friendlier than his appearance and, on Spock's refusal for a night's stay at the local bed and breakfast, offered to drive Spock to Darby and let him off.

Waylaid for so long and assaulted by so many ill events and disruptions it was nearly surreal to stand in front of the rough structure made of native stone and carved and painted words that declared Spock and Nemo A534 welcome to Darby, Montana; Population 956.

Nemo A534 glanced from Spock's face towards the Darby sign then back again before the dog hobbled one step to the side to press his good shoulder into the First Officer's knee and along his calf.

Spock responded immediately with an action that over the course of a few days had become so habitual it now had a natural flow to it. Spock's hand rested lightly on Nemo A534's head, swept back in a single, smooth stroke over the fur, down his neck and stopped between his shoulders to card in the hair. Spock gave a single, slight tug before releasing his grip on the dog's fur and letting his hand drop back to his side.

The one eyed German Shepherd was carefully keeping his weight off his wounded leg and the burn was sporting a thick layer of a orange, burn salve that was knitting the charred flesh back together neatly.

Spock let out a slow breath before looking down into Nemo A534's eye, the dog returned the gaze clam and expectant.

"You have not led us astray between Woodside and Hamilton. I have no reason to believe you do not know the way from here."

Nemo A534 snorted softly and pushed away from Spock's side and started off at a slow and stiff walk. Spock kept a pace a step behind, giving the dog room to lead but stayed close enough the half-Vulcan could easily reach out and touch the dog without bending or quickening his steps to do so.

Nemo A534 led the First Officer quietly and slowly through the narrow roads of Darby, following wooden, covered boardwalk porches that connected the line of small storefronts and businesses of Darby. The personal home structures stood alone with their own porches over looking small fenced in yards.

Spock did not bother to take deep note of them. His eyes flicking from time to time away from the rolling back of Nemo A534 to catch the color of a house or words stenciled decoratively on a store window and occasionally to see a local look their way then lean in to talk quietly with the person next to them.

There were few of the Darby population out in the streets at the early hour but those that were up talked quietly among themselves and did not approach.

Nemo A534 continued his slow and steady pace, as if conserving energy, and hobbling on his slowly healing leg and Spock kept with him. The half-Vulcan would not pause unless the dog did. Nemo A534 was his responsibility, entrusted to him by McCoy and inadvertently Jim Kirk. Jim Kirk who Spock was so close to in these final steps.

The rock of agitation had never left Spock for a second, in fact it had only grown deeper and heavier, weighing him down. Every moment passed out of his captain's company was another moment Spock feared for the mental and physical state he would find the young man in.

There was a different ache settled around the rock in his gut. An ache that Spock had felt often as child.

Failure. It all circled slowly. Growing heavier with each pass.

Unlike his follies in youth Spock could find no relief from this weight through study or learned mistakes. This was the weight of transgressions against an unspoken trust. It had started when Spock dropped and damaged one of Jim's books an eternity ago. It had grown steadily, taking up residence in his stomach where it throbbed and pulsed unrestricted by regular meditation. Spock could not leave it behind, couldn't force it to relax its grip, because the reminder of his failure paced steadily at his side all hours of the day.

Nemo A534 was Jim's dog.

Or at lest that's what he'd been told by McCoy. The doctor had been entrusted with the animal's welfare, who unceremoniously thrust the responsibility on Spock, who had no prior knowledge or experience. And while it had become very clear that in all aspects Nemo A534 could and would take care of himself there was a level on which Spock was responsible.

And he'd done a poor job of it.

In turn of the failure in of an inadequate performance as a care giver, which was disquieting enough as Spock had always endeavored to treat Jim's thatch with the highest level of respect and exceptional care, he'd broken an inadvertent offering of Jim's trust but he'd broken the trust of the one eyed dog as well.

Spock accepted that Nemo A534 was far more intelligent and aware of his surroundings than what Spock could refer to as a 'normal dog'. With that intelligence was an array of the animal's emotions and senses. The First Officer understood now that Nemo A534 could do what humans could not, and sense the feeling broiling just under Spock's rigid control and react accordingly. In the dark of the Montana twilight and nightfall and an unusual bout of loneliness struck the First Officer Nemo A534 moved a few fractions closer or draped his head over Spock's thigh an in these small interactions Spock learned to stroke the dog's fur with a natural ease. Those times when the bitter taste of anger burned at the back of Spock's throat Nemo A534 stepped away to investigate some smell or sound and give the half-Vulcan a fraction of space he needed to collect himself.

And somewhere along the way it seemed Nemo A534 had developed a sense of responsibility for Spock and did what the dog did naturally to protect him, flying at Spock's defense when a fist was slung his way or growling when Spock was on the end of slander.

Spock could not deny that in their time together Nemo A534 had taken better care of Spock than Spock had of Nemo A534.

The last straw was the burn that hobbled the dog, causing him pain and to make small noises to the like of it.

Spock had failed the dog, allowing him to go without sleep or proper food and water or protect him from bodily harm and as he failed the dog he failed Jim.

Spock registered that Nemo A534 had veered down a narrow, paved side road and led Spock west out of Darby along the side of the asphalt. Spock took a chance to sweep his eyes over the jagged rise and fall of purple and blue mountains against a steel colored sky, their peaks dusted in snow and hidden behind clouds. The thick, hardy brush of mountain growth and forest was close on all sides, casting shade from the canopy of trees with trunks thicker than Spock's waist and taller than most buildings. The biting scent of cold rock and hardwoods battled for dominance in Spock's senses. The shade dropped the temperature of the air around Spock enough that a few, barely controlled shivers twitched across his skin. The miles along the side of the road trickled by almost unnoticed. After walking an hour along this back road the land sloped suddenly downwards and the rush of flowing water reached Spock's ears as Nemo A534's steady pace led them onto and across an ancient bridge of heavy, wood boards and steel structure. Spock peered over the side of the bridge to look down into the flowing water of what could only be Lost Horse Creek.

The water rumbled in low rolls of thunder. The murky liquid churned, boiling into a froth over the humps of sunken rocks and boulders. The tint of green flashed in the early light of algae and underwater plant growths. Spock suppressed a shiver when looking at the edges of the stones and back there was a fine, thin sheet of ice was slushed against the surface.

Nemo A534 trekked on, Spock in tow, and the landscape changed again as the trees thinned out, the land flattened and scrub brush gave leeway to hardy mountain grasses to grow knee high, here and there late wild flowers still sported their blooms.

Nemo A534's pace increased a bit as the second hour walking along this paved path came to a close and as they rounded a curve Spock was greeted with a fat, wooden round fence post weathered from the hard mountain seasons standing about thirty feet from the edge of the road. The thick post stood at a corner and leading from it to the north and to the west was a long line of tightly strung, meshed metal fence and two runs of barbed wire strung above. As Spock walked along side the fence, because Nemo A534 stepped away from the road into the grass to pace the fence line, he counted that approximately every ten feet another round, wooden fence post was sunk into the ground and the mesh and barbed wire nailed into pace in the discolored wood.

The other side of the fence the grasses were considerably shorter, a little over a foot tall instead of the grass that's highest tips and brushes of wild wheat brushed at his thigh and hip.

Nemo A534's pace quickened a bit as the ground sloped, the fence and post going along with it and Spock's pace stayed even, following in the narrow path the one eyed dog cut into the grass.

The ground evened sharply and suddenly as Spock stepped out of the grass on the German Shepherd's heels onto a lead off from the paved street.

This stretch of road was made of sandy, hard packed earth, crushed rock and small pebbles. The earth shifted slightly and crunched under Spock's weight. The road was wide enough for a personal vehicle to pass with a fair amount of room for an individual on foot… or horseback… to move along side. Two shallow ruts off to the left of the road were partially filled with the run off of the recent rain storm and Nemo A534 made a side trip to dip his head and lap several mouthfuls from a puddle.

Along both sides of the dirt packed road were the long wild, grasses, growing only about knee high in the shade of an irregular line of native trees and underbrush. On his left side the fence had taken a sharp turn to follow along the side of the road and on the other was a thick line of trees that fell back along the slight slope in the thicker underbrush and more abundant native trees.

The shade of the trees sent a chill through Spock the settled deep and sent twitches racing up and down his muscles. The half-Vulcan started down the dirt packed road, crunching quietly with each step and not waiting for the one eyed dog, knowing that the movement could cause enough friction to warm him.

His pace was slow and when he heard the soft, awkward steps of the German Shepherd he stopped and waited for the dog to take the slow lead again.

Nemo A534 walked quietly along, taking Spock deeper under the mottled shadow of the tree tops, around the slight curves of the dirt road, following the slope up and down. The fence line on his right following dutifully and after fifteen minutes of steady, slow walking it was joined on the left by a twin. The metal mesh fence and double line of barbed wire stretched and nailed between round, wooden fence posts. The land beyond the left fence had more trees than the one on the left but still sported shorter grasses.

Their path continued with only the rustle of vegetation, their steps crunching in the road and the sound of their breathing and heartbeats.

The sound of erratic thunder rushed up on Spock's back. He whirled to the left, dropping his stance to a defensive position and put himself between Nemo A534 and the rush of chorused thunder behind them. The dog had defended Spock more than once, saved his life even. He was not going to allow the animal, wounded and in pain, to fall victim to the assault.

Behind the fence line three, large horses galloped up to the fence with flying hooves and kicked tufts of dirt and grass.

The largest would have easily been taller than Spock at the shoulder, the shortest a little under Spock's collar height.

The largest, in the lead, was a massive mare, thick bones and heavily muscles chording and flexing under the skin and pelt of grey, white and black flecks the meshed into a dappled shade of grey blue roan; legs, tail, mane and nose darkened to almost black.

The second largest was another mare, slightly slimmer and sleeker than the leader was a dark, chestnut brown; three of the four legs were sporting tall socks of white and a wide blaze of white down the bridge of her nose.

The last and smallest of the group was a paler, slightly white roaned chestnut mare that had no white markings on her at all.

Along the side of each horse's throat was a series of numbers and letters, following the arch of their necks and marked in their skin by a process called freeze branding, liquid nitrogen was laid along the muscle, killing the skin underneath and turning the hair white for the span of their natural life. Spock noticed that on each horse's left shoulder just above the leg was a second, freeze brand. It was in the shape of a stylized cloud over the interlinked letters NSR.

The three horses snorted, blowing loudly through their flared nostrils and their head's thrown up and ears pricked forward.

The blue roan leader shook her head and slid up to the fence. She eyed Spock for a moment, her nose swung towards him and she sucked in a deep breath, scenting him from other the side of the fence before swinging her nose towards Nemo A534 and whinnied shrilly.

Nemo A534 had already swung around and was carefully picking his way through the long grass up to the fence and shoved his nose through a square of the mesh until he could not push forward anymore. The blue mare dropped her head and brushed her nose against his, snorting and breathing the same air. Spock listened with some interest as the mare let out a series of soft, low nickers and the dog whined and clicked his teeth stiffly.

The two chestnuts mares waited patiently until the blue roan side stepped before they dropped their noses to share breath with the dog. While the two chestnuts were greeting Nemo A534 the large blue roan locked her eyes on Spock. She nickered and lifted her head high before swinging her head down until her chin touched her chest. She repeated the same move, lifting then swinging her head to touch her chest.

One foreleg pawed at the grass and she snorted loudly.

Spock watched the roll of muscle and twist and fly of mane. Something deep in his stomach loosened slightly.

The whispered language had found him again, coming in its raw and feral form of the language chanted and hummed from the horse. The foreign words trickled off the mare and tickled across Spock's ears and floated just over his skin, not touching but gently probing, trying find a give in Spock to seep in and take root the way that it had in Jim.

It could find not place suitable to thread in and hung tauntingly above his flesh.

Spock watched, trying to understand what the horse was saying. Spock cocked his head slightly, watching the head swing down until the chin touched chest and the foreleg pawed at the grass. The whispers threading and hovering over Spock's skin, just gently taunting and pushing at him. It reached a fever pitch and the pressing weight centered on his chest and got heavier, pushing at Spock's weakened control. The rolling timber thundered and rattled, pounding almost painfully against Spock's will, mind and body. The pressure was shortening his breath, instead of cold a new heat rushed into his veins, rising higher than a Vulcan's natural body temperature, his heartbeat increased then became erratic, fluttering and jerking in his lower abdomen.

The cold air burned as it rushed into his lungs in short gasps that couldn't fill them. The whispered slammed into him, washing him completely in the rush the whispers turned into a silent roar thundering in his ears and slamming into him from all angles.

His throat constricted and he panted, a shiver coursing through him.

Suddenly and violently his control cracked, a hairline fissure the opened a fraction and hissed. Spock nearly fell to his knees give out as the emotions rushed unchecked towards the fissure. But they were pushed back and tamed when something rushed in, a fin silver thread slid through the crack weaving itself into Spock's soul and tying itself into place in a bond that would not break under force or coaxing. The roaring rush of unspoken language narrowed and in the pulsing, chanting mass a single coherent idea flooded through the half-Vulcan:

COME

It pressed into Spock from the inside, choking him, pounding and lashing out at him mercilessly. The First Officer didn't hesitate and took a single solid step towards the blue roan mare.

The pressure eased and the roar of silent language subsided instantly, draining out and sealing closed the fissure in Spock's control as it abated and fell away, dropping back to the quiet hum and chatter that drummed just under Jim's skin of barely tamed ferality.

It lapped at him gently now, almost a soothing coaxing presence after the violence and power that had come before it, as if apologetic for its actions.

It left him, hovering again just over his skin in a non-threatening haze, detaching and leaving Spock with only the singular thread woven tightly into his core. It pulsed; the pressure, sound, word both spoken and silence, image, ideal, meditation… the emotion of it pooled low in his core and hummed quietly like a living thing:

COME

Spock did not consciously remember weaving his way through the grass to press close to the fence in front of the blue roan mare, but with each step the pressure eased until it was only a light comfortable reminder of its existence. He stood patiently as the mare lifted her head high and lightly over the top of the barbed wire and extended her nose towards Spock.

She did not press into his space, sensing the still raw inner turmoil and the now unbalanced weight of Spock's core as the fever bled out of him to allow the cold to flow back into place. The blue roan mare gave him enough room that it was clear she respected Spock's space and gently dipped her flared nostrils low to suck the air around the line of Spock's throat through the delicate, folds of sensory flesh inside her muzzle.

When she breathed out the wash of moist warm are was almost welcome across his skin.

The mare sniffed lightly, bending the string of barbed wire under her throat to suck in and breathe out around Spock's sternum, her ears twitched and swiveled, catching the smallest sounds around them.

Cautiously and gingerly Spock extended his hand, it lighted on the curve of the mare's jaw, his fingers brushing the smooth, short fur, his thumb rubbed across the pelted flesh before the mare lifted her head away from his touch and moved align her face with his, her nose almost touching his and the blue roan deliberately sucked in a deep breath and exhaled it into Spock's face.

The smell of wild grass and sweet hay, animal sweat, honey and something undeniably earthly washed over the First Officer's face and into his nose. The silver thread knotted in his core jerked and tightened. Spock blinked and studied the mare for a moment, who seemed to have fixed him with an expectant look.

Spock backed away, half turning and weaving his way back to the dirt packed road and started back up its path, the blue roan pinned her ears and whinnied loudly after him, snorting and blowing through her nose. Spock didn't look back over his shoulder and only checked his pace when heard the uneven, pained steps of Nemo A534 rushing to catch up then maneuver to the lead again. The dog looked at him back over his shoulder and if Spock hadn't known better the one eyed Shepherd almost looked disappointed before turning his attention back to their trail.

The dirt path wove on, from time to time Spock would cast his eyes towards the opposing fence posts, once or twice catching sight of living things behind them.

A few more horses, that lifted their heads and watched but did not rush up to the fence as the blue roan and her small band had.

A trio of large, whitetail deer that went rigid at the sight of him before whirling and bounding away flagging their tails.

A fox dashed wildly across their path, not bothering to look at them to see if Nemo A534 was giving chase to kill the smaller canine.

The dirt packed road curved and rose before suddenly widening and the fence lines and trees gave way to a massive sweep of mountain prairie. The dirt track led right up to a massive ranch home settled deeply into the slope of the natural earth.

It reminded Spock slightly of San Sierra Stables.

The structure was two stories tall, the sloped and peaked roof covered in thick, terra cotta colored shingles. The walls had a base of natural stone, cemented and fitted into place to about waist height before the rounded sides of logs notched into place took over. Each widow was massive and thrown open to the cool mountain air. A wide wraparound porch circled out of Spock's sight on both sides of the ranch home, the supports of the over hang thick, natural timbers that looked like they had been just cut from the surrounding forest and stripped of their bark, the railing around the porch was made of a similar fashion. Along the porch line was a narrow strip of turned earth that still sported a few, yellowing plants from a garden that looked as if it might have been made entirely of wild flowers.

Standing independent of the main house was a garage made of the same hewn logs and stone base, two massive doors were rolled open to display a wall of tools and shelving pressed up against a wall. Parked outside the open doors, in drive of packed earth and crushed rock, was an antique pickup truck. Massive, taller than the top of Spock's head by a foot and a half, it's rubber tires were almost hip high and the paint was a gritted sand like color. It looked to be circa late twenty-first century, twenty-fifteen or twenty-twenty or so. A large, silver emblem welded to the front fender declared it a Dodge Big Horn, Ram 2500 and the stylized design of a big horn sheep. Next to the truck was a slanted trailer that could comfortably haul four horses. It's paint was the same gritted sand and it sported a large emblem the same design as the freeze brand on the horses' shoulders. The stylized cloud and NRS enter locked letters, as well as a contact information.

As Spock and Nemo A534 neared the ranch home Spock could see another massive structure that looked identical to the horse stable of San Sierra in California, save that it was the same stripped logs and cemented stone work. The giant, double doors of the stable where thrown open but Spock could not see in passed the shadow within.

All around the three buildings were a continuation of the mesh wire, double barbed wire and wooden post fence, it twisted and turned into square paddocks, round pens and small graze pens before giving way to a rolling stretch of wild grass pasture. Here and there it was broken up my large pipe metal gates painted chocolate brown.

A few dozen yards out from the ranch home was a large, thin slab of stone sunk into the ground that sported the words:

Native Sky Ranch

124 Flathead Road

Lost Horse Creek, Montana 59829

406. 258.2658

Spock barely controlled the breath that threatened to slip out as a sigh of relief. Native Sky Ranch. He was on its land, at its door step. Jim Kirk was here, somewhere close. Spock quietly and internally hoped that his captain was no worse in mind and body than Spock had last seen him.

Nemo A534 led Spock up to the bottom steps of the stone and log home before his ears suddenly threw forward, head cocking and the one eyed dog galloped off, dashing around the corner of the ranch home so fast Spock nearly missed it. The half-Vulcan looked after the animal before carefully climbing the steps, pushing his traveling duffle from its normal place at his hip around to his back and out of the way.

Spock glanced sideways along the porch and noted several pieces of oversized and low to the ground furniture that seemed to be made of hewn logs and thick cushions of patterned fabric.

Spock crossed the width of the porch, brushing dust from his traveling clothes up to a massive set of double doors. The secure oaken structure were swung back and open into the shadow of the front hall and a set of screen and wood doors stood closed in their place. Spock glanced to both sides of the screen doors and fining no key pad turned his hand and rapped his knuckles sharply across the wood frame of one screen door then stepped back, folding his hands at the small of his back and collecting himself.

A few moments passed before a familiar click of nails echoed from the confines of the ranch home. From a left side open door way stepped a massive German Shepherd, even larger than Nemo A534 and similar in all aspects except this dog was solid white with two large blue eyes. The dog seemed to move with a stiffness and some difficulty but his ears were pricked forward and eyes wide and watching.

On the white Sherpherd's heels walked a petite human female, she was easily shorter than Spock by a head and a half, her slim and nearly delicate frame accented by a heart shaped face and cinnamon colored hair that sported a few streaks of silver. She was dressed in a pair of jeans and a white tee shirt, a sage green flannel shirt hung unbuttoned off her shoulders and rolled up to her elbows.

Her feet were bare and padded nearly silent on the hardwood floors as she approached, the soft clink of metal and glass rose from her wrists and throat were strings of beads of natural earth tones hung securely.

The petite female peered at him through the screen as she flipped a catch and pushed one of the screens open, bracing it there with her right hip and leg, settling her hands on her hips and with a friendly and slightly confused look on her face looked at Spock expectantly. The white Shepherd sat stiffly down next to her.

The woman had sea foam grey eyes, the same color Jim's eyes took in the heat of emotion.

"Good morning, madam. I hope that I have not intruded on your morning ritual but I request an audience with Captain James T. Kirk. I have been informed that his presence is here." Spock said calmly.

Halfway through his monologue the girl's face took on a surprised, slightly wide eyed appearance. Then it changed rapidly to confusion, agitation and an unsettled tension. Her brows knit together and her head cocked as if she was trying to understand what he said. At the end of his request she remained silent, looking warily at Spock and casting her eyes around him as if looking for a way out or help.

Spock waited a moment until her troubled eyes set back on him. "Madam, if you please. I am a member of Captain Kirk's crew on the Enterprise. It's imperative that I speak with him."

The emotions deepened in her face but she remained silent. Spock felt his tension ratchet up and string tightly between his shoulders, the stress and strain of his long trek here lapped at him. He's given blood and sweat to get here only to be mocked and kept away from his final goal by a small human female.

The frayed threads of Spock's control and emotions started to unravel.

"Madam, I must insist you desist this gross display of mockery and tell me where Captain Kirk is immediately."

The woman looked on at Spock with a strained air of misunderstanding and shook her head slightly.

"Madam, if I must I will use force-"

"Spock!"

Jim.

The young captain's voice hummed and churned in his stomach, threading up to tangle with the silver thread knotted in Spock's core. The First Officer half turned as Jim Kirk and Nemo A534 bounded up the steps towards them. Jim was dressed similar to the woman but sported a red plaid flannel over a black shirt and a pair of scarred working boots.

"Spock. What're you doing here?" Jim asked quickly, his blue eyes flashed up and down, taking in Spock's appearance quickly and looking for injuries. As he spoke Jim's hands twisted and moved, fingers twitching and drawing designs in the air.

"Captain, this civilian was trying to avert me from your presence when I explicitly asked to speak with you." Spock said coolly and glared at the woman as she stepped around to stand at Spock's side to watch him and Jim at the same time.

Evidently Jim had come to know Spock well enough that he could tell when the half-Vulcan was struggling to remain calm and in control. He glanced at the woman who made a few twists of her fingers and wrists before looking back to Spock.

"Spock. Relax, she wasn't trying to keep you away from me." More shifting and drawing with Jim's hands in the air.

"She refused to speak to me."

"She couldn't understand you." Jim's hands moved and twisted with each word. "Calm down Spock."

"Captain I am calm, if she is only fluent in a different language then she should have made it known, I am master of a high number of languages. I believe that she was trying to dissuade me from finding you. A breakdown of communications through language is no excuse."

"No, Spock. I mean she couldn't hear you." Jim's hands continued to move, twisting and carving in the air.

"Volume and language-"

"No! Spock! She can't hear!" Jim nearly shouted, exasperated and his hands still making designs with each word from his lips. "It has nothing to do with volume. She couldn't read your lips. She literally couldn't hear you."

Spock's eyebrows raised and he cast a glance at the woman who on catching his eye nodded earnestly. Spock studied her then Jim and looked back on their conversation.

The hands. All the twitches and designs and movements of their hands. It was some form of communication through signal and symbol.

Jim sighed as the First Officer caught his eye and as he spoke his hands continued to sign.

"She can't hear, Spock. Cody's deaf.


A/N: Alright so yeah. This was practically two chapters in one, hope you guys aren't scared off by the size of it.

And yup: Cody Chicalato is A) a CHICK and B) stone deaf.

Some Lakota, only a little here:

Chicalato – Blue Colt

I'm really tempted to write 'The Wild Adventures of First Officer Spock and Nemo A534'… if I did it would be from Nemo A534's POV and you would hear his inner voice the whole time… that might be fun…

Anyway. Start of the multichapter! Yay! Enjoy! R&R and I'll get started on the next chappy… tomorrow…