"You'll sign those papers, I say or I'll smash your head in!" The outlaw declared, and the young doctor squeezed his eyes shut, bracing himself for the blow, which landed as surely as he'd expected it.
White-hot pain exploded through his cheekbone and he couldn't contain the cry of pain that left him, cutting off his desperate plea. It was then followed by another, much harder this time.
"Say you'll sign them, doc, or you ain't leaving this place alive, you hear me? The next corpse they'll be takin' out'll be yours!"
He raised his fist to deliver another blow but the doctor whimpered softly, unable to stop himself.
"I'll sign them- I'll sign them, please no more..no more, please-"
The outlaw's lips twitched up into a cruel smile, one that did not reach his dark beady eyes as he stood up carefully, turning the doctor's face to examine the newly blossoming bruise on his jaw.
"Good. You're learning fast, kid. Why don't you rest for a bit now? We ain't finished with you yet...but we need you awake for later."
His tone left no room for argument, but the young doctor was in no shape to disagree, as the man sauntered over to the door, hitting the light switch.
His captive was already exhausted from the constant storm of blows the group of bandits had rained down upon him from the start.
Doctor Leonard McCoy been easily overpowered upon his arrival at his uncle's ranch - and he'd been powerless to stop them from what they'd forced him to do.
He'd signed the papers giving over control of the ranch to the leader of the group, but only after they'd broken his other arm, having shoved him against the wall and twisted his forearm until the bones had snapped. He'd finally given in when they'd started breaking fingers.
Weak, shaken, and half in a daze, he'd obliged, right before his legs had given out. The impact with the floor had to have hurt but he'd thankfully never felt it. The shock and the blinding pain had knocked him out long before the impact could have.
The next thing he knew, he was lashed to his bed, disorientated and barely able to sit up properly on his own. His injured arm throbbed with a feeling akin to thousands of tiny needles pricking it over and over again.
Every once in a while, someone held a cup of water to his lips, ordering him to drink, and he never argued, obeying without hesitation. The water, although pleasantly cool, always made him feel hazy, as though he were floating, making him wonder what on earth his uncle had fashioned his well from.
Not that he wondered for long. A strange, feverish sleep would descend upon him not long after, and it would last long into the daylight hours. He'd feel cold and clammy, but simultaneously as though he were on fire. Bizarre dreams of shadowy figures and fiery rings would haunt him, and he'd often wake to the crack of a whip outside.
Had he been properly conscious, he might have deduced that he was being constantly drugged for some reason or other, but he did not. His captors had not treated his arm or his fingers, and the knots keeping him still were the work of an efficient man, making movement difficult and escape near-impossible.
A week had passed, but he'd had no clue.
As a stranger to these parts with no family to speak of, no one had gone looking for him. He knew nobody, and nobody knew him. And even if they had noticed him standing awkwardly in the sun as he waited for the coach to bring him here, they probably wouldn't have laid him much attention. He was a stranger, and a queer at that. Chances were, people were more likely to avoid him than care about whether or not he'd arrived safely.
Usually, he was alright with that- keeping to himself was something he did considerably well. He was somewhat shy, preferring the solitude of a bottle of the hard stuff and a good book to avid socialising. Besides, going out made him uncomfortable. The slights and the veiled insults hurled his way always struck just a little too close to home.
This was mainly the reason he'd decided to move here in the first place.
Fresh out of medical school and licensed to finally pursue his passion for medicine, he'd been unsure of how to get started, but the telegram informing him of his uncle's death had thrown him completely off-balance.
His uncle had been the one relative he'd kept in touch with..the only one he'd really known, having been raised on this very ranch, learning the daily tasks and chores required to keep it up and running.
As he'd clutched that paper to his chest, the doctor had felt a stab of guilt. In the years following his acceptance into medical school, he'd fallen out of touch with his uncle Jack, too caught up in the frenzy that was work and exams, and now the only man who'd ever really accepted him was dead. Dead, yes, but he'd left the ranch to his nephew, just about saving the young man from having to scrape by until he got a real place of his own.
Unknown to the young doctor, his disappearance had been noticed.
Due to the property value of the ranch, the town sheriff had been keeping an eye on the place, and his interest had peaked immeasurably upon setting eyes on the shy brown-haired man pacing at the station, looking as out of place as a horse in a lake.
The sheriff was a man roughly five years older than McCoy, who went by the name of Spock; and he was extremely open about what he liked. The occasional woman would pique his interest, but his real and undivided attention lay elsewhere. He liked men, and he was not afraid to say it- earning him many a dirty glance from the old-timers, mainly, but no one tried anything. They knew that they would not get very far if they did, as Spock was not one for accepting misogynistic behaviour, no matter what the general population thought. He had the same rights they did, and he was a good man. Flirty and sarcastic, but fair. He slept with whoever he wanted to sleep with, calling himself a bisexual, an unfamiliar term that was apparently meant as a way to describe his bizarre courtship of both men and women.
Either way, as it never impacted his judgement as sheriff, the townsfolk generally respected him. They'd never had a man like Spock in charge before the summer of '38, which had brought this change from their old sheriff, a man in his mid-sixties who was clearly barely able to see his breakfast properly, let alone execute his duties.
Spock, being at the youthful age of 29, was extremely active, and took great care to maintain his health and fitness level.
He could be seen riding through the outskirts of town every morning, coat open to combat the heat, stetson pulled down low to keep out the glaring sun, urging his horse to an energetic gallop.
Ever since he'd taken over the job from his father, he'd taken great pride in it, and taking care of himself was important if he were to keep up an excellent level of service to his people.
Now, after the passing of an entire week with no sign of the young heir to the Barnaby ranch, Spock had grown concerned. Even if the man were the type who kept to himself, he surely would have gone out at least once? No.. The only people who went in or out of the ranch were the same three men who had seemingly come out of nowhere.
Spock didn't recognise any of them, which was unusual. This was a small town, so unless they had arrived with the young doctor to help him manage the ranch (which they hadn't, he'd arrived alone), then they could not possibly be up to any good. No one rode into a town in the dead of night and somehow got themselves employed at such a prestigious property on demand.
Spock lifted the bottle of bourbon to his lips and drank, allowing the fiery liquid to sting his throat for only a moment as he gulped it down.
He'd rather liked the look of the doctor, and word travelled fast. Leonard McCoy had left his hometown partly due to the whispers about his sexual preferences. That alone would have intrigued Spock non-professionally, but the fact that he'd inherited the Barnaby ranch…the ranch which happened to be the most valued property for miles...that brought the young man to Spock's attention very quickly.
This kind of money attracted bad people, namely outlaws, and it was more than obvious that the young doctor had no knowledge of self defence. He had appeared to be of medium build, skinny, but not athletic, and there had been no gun at his hip. Spock felt worry tug at his heart once more as he recalled this. An unarmed man would always be targeted, but an unarmed wealthy heir…well, he would be lucky to escape with his life.
Turning the case over in his mind for the fourth time that hour, Spock finally got to his feet, reaching for his hat before he stepped out into the afternoon sun. He'd waited too long already, and there was no time like the present.
"Miss me?" He asked his horse softly, as he prepared the saddle, pausing only to pat the mare's flank.
This earned him an enthusiastic nudge which made him chuckle. "Eager to start, I see. Well come on then girl, we've got a job to do."
As Spock climbed into the saddle and took up the reins, the outlaws were busy debating what to do with their captive, for possibly the third time that week.
His usefulness would soon run out, they debated, the second his signature was on paper, signing over the property to a wealthy man in the next town over. The leader had become irritated with the bickering, but he had to admit that some of the points they had raised did make sense.
Killing the man would be too difficult to cover up.
Having him leave town would be too suspicious. Having him suddenly go about his business as usual was something they could not do, seeing as he was far too injured, thanks to his stubbornness.
"We could take him past the borders, leave him for the vultures" The beady-eyed man declared. "He ain't got much fight left in him."
"You're always too foolhardy, Sam" Another man scolded, banging his fist on the table. "They'd find him or we'd have that crazy sheriff at our backs, watchin' out for any funny business."
"I'm foolhardy, Butch? ME?!" The man called Sam snapped angrily. "You're the one who suggested we shoot him dead, like a gun don't make enough sound already-"
"Gentlemen" The leader spoke up testily. He was taller and more lean than his companions, and had the look of a proper, more distinguished outlaw, unlike both Sam and Butch, who looked a bit like mountain chimps, with their small, mean eyes and thickset muscular bodies. This man went by the name of Tom. He'd have insisted they call him by his surname, but he feared that that show of respect was a little beyond their usual mental capabilities. Sam was a little less stupid than Butch, who was all muscle and no brain, but he wasn't the brightest tool in the shed.
"Gentlemen" Tom started again. "This quarrel ain't goin' nowhere, so wrap it up. Now we got a stubborn young one in the back who's finally breakin'. Don't rush too much and this deal'll work out."
"The boss don't know nothin' about the doc in there" Butch said, folding his arms. "What do we do when he finds out we got a loose end?"
"Yeah, maybe we're not gettin' paid, Tom!" Sam put in, and the leader wondered silently if the mental hassle of handling these two idiots was worth the muscle.
"Shut your traps, the both of you. You're getting paid 'cause I say so. Now-"
He never got to finish, as a sharp knock sounded at the door.
Sam and Butch looked to eachother nervously, as Tom got up, setting a hand on his holster. He wouldn't shoot on sight..no. He had to be careful.
"Who's there?" He called out in an almost pleasant tone.
"It's the sheriff" Spock called back. "I say, open the door for me, will ya? It's hot out here."
Cursing plaintively under his breath, Tom unlocked the door, after gesturing to the other two to head into the back. Young Leonard had not been drugged yet today, and the possibility of his attempt to do something stupid was very high.
Just as Tom opened the door for Spock, the other two closed the main bedroom door behind them.
The young doctor was still where they'd left him of course, eyes closed as he'd taken Sam's veiled threat to heart.
He was no longer asleep however, which could pose a bit of a problem for the two outlaws now in the room with him. But he had no intention of letting them know.
"Nice place this, ain't it?" The sheriff prompted, keeping his tone friendly as he took in Tom, and the hastily abandoned game of cards on the table that was more than evident. "You working here alone?"
Having quickly guessed the man's play, Tom didn't fall for it.
"Big ranch, sheriff. Ain't nobody out there capable of handlin' it alone."
"Right...of course. I've been meaning to talk to the owner here for quite some time now. Any chance I could do that?"
"Well I'm afraid he ain't-" Tom began, but the young doctor chose that moment to start yelling.
"I'M RIGHT HE-!" He shouted as loudly as he could, before a sharp blow to the head from Butch shut him up.
Pain erupted behind his eyes and he slumped again, feeling the light-headedness return.
Spock had immediately reached for his gun at both the yell and the sound of Butch slamming the doctor's head into the headboard, but Tom was quicker.
"Easy there, sheriff, the doc's feverish."
"I demand to see him right now."
"I'm afraid that ain't a good idea. He's a danger to himself.."
"He looked as healthy as day when I first saw him" Spock argued, the worry cancelled out by both fear and anger. McCoy had sounded absolutely terrified. "Now you tell me of one possible-"
"The watermelons, sheriff" Tom said, trying to buy some time with the story he'd devised. A story which was technically partly true.
"They've been causin' some serious delirium to anyone who tries 'em. All the ranch hands were taken ill 'bout two days ago. But the doc had a larger portion…the fever's gotten a hold of him now."
"Then why didn't you call in someone to help with that? You're not a medical man yourself from what I can see."
"We got the daughter of a medicine man with us. She's my wife."
"Any chance I could see her?"
"She went out."
"That's plenty convenient."
"It's the plain ol' truth, sheriff."
"Strange then, that I find it rather hard to believe you."
There was a moment of silence, as the two eyed each other, Tom with seeming innocence, Spock with a vengeance. The silence was only broken by the sound of footsteps.
The sheriff turned immediately, only for his gaze to fall upon a young Apache woman in her mid twenties, who had just stepped through the open door, her eyes darting between the two of them nervously.
Tom hastily pulled her to his side.
"This is my wife, Nahimana."
Spock stated for only a moment, taking in the jumpy state of the woman.
"Ma'am, is what your husband claims true?" He asked her mildly, and she set her jaw with some defiance, despite the slight shaking of her hands.
"The doctor is sick, man of law. I am treating him."
"Alright.." Spock sighed, still suspicious, but a new plan was forming in his mind. "I'm sorry to have troubled you. I'd best be getting back now. When Doctor McCoy is well enough to accept visitors, give me a call."
Carefully ignoring Tom's piercing gaze, he turned to leave, keeping his expression neutral. He'd seen enough, and heard enough to know that what he'd suspected was unfortunately true.
Time was running out now; but he needed to get back, have someone else join him, in the fear of there being more of these men. He couldn't risk being killed, not when his knowledge was the only thing that could save the young doctor.
As soon as the door had shut behind Spock, Tom stormed into the back room with Nahimana, looking beyond outraged.
"What exactly is the point of you two?" He thundered at the other two outlaws, who were draped over the couch, smoking. Butch's knuckles were caked with dried blood from where he'd shoved McCoy into the wooden headboard.
Upon seeing this, the Apache rushed to check on the young doctor, whose breathing was slightly laboured. Despite the dark bruises that decorated his skin, she could tell that he wasn't bleeding anymore, and quickly got to work cleaning and dressing the wound.
Her husband had been adamant about treating McCoy too thoroughly lest he escape, and ordered her to only treat dangerous injuries, nothing more. The result was a still broken arm and fingers which were dangerously swollen and white-hot to the touch. Secretly, she was not sure that the man would survive. The outlaws would beat him constantly, and he was quite fragile.
"We kept him quiet" Butch shrugged, taking a drag of his cigarette.
"The hell you did! The sheriff suspects somethin' already and you ain't contributin' to get rid of that! And you , Sam, what the hell were you thinking?!"
"I didn't do nothin', Tom-"
"EXACTLY MY POINT!"
Amidst all of this, McCoy began to stir, head pounding with a blinding headache, as the room began to slowly come into focus.
He groaned, immediately trying to get up, but his bonds stopped him.
"Stay still" Nahimana told him urgently, but Tom had already noticed, storming over and gripping McCoy by the throat and digging his nails in.
He rarely saw red like this, but the thought of their carefully laid out plan going to waste, he saw nothing but red.
The young man struggled, seeing stars as Tom tightened his grip hard enough to bruise.
"You've nearly ruined it all, you good-for-nothing whippersnapper-"
Tom's eyes widened only momentarily before he collapsed face down onto the hardwood floor, blood pooling rapidly at his feet.
Nahimana screamed, falling to her knees by her husband's side, just as Sam and Butch moved to draw their guns.
They never got there.
Another two bullets went clean through their heads, and they toppled backwards, dead as doornails.
As the smoke cleared, the Apache woman could see the sheriff standing in the doorway, gun still raised to shoulder height, eyes blazing with something that could only be described as a fiery anger of the kind she had only heard of in the tales of her people.
And then it was gone.
Spock lowered the gun and rushed to the young doctor's bedside, cupping his face in both hands as he looked into his eyes.
"Are you alright?" He inquired, caressing his cheeks only for a moment, as McCoy winced in pain from the touch. As his gaze fell to the doctor's injured arm, the sheriff let go and turned to the young woman, who hadn't moved from her position next to her husband's body. "Nahimana...I need your help. This man is severely injured, he may die."
"I know, man of law" She stated, wringing her hands. "My husband would not let me treat him."
"Then help me, now. Every second we waste could possibly decrease his chances of survival."
She nodded, stepping over Tom's outstretched hands and joining Spock, who handed her a pocket knife.
"Cut him loose. He's conscious, so he'll have to ride. As soon as we get back to my home, you can treat him properly."
As the Apache started on the bonds, the young sheriff assessed the doctor's state the best he could. McCoy was clearly on the verge of blacking out again, but Spock knew that could be potentially dangerous.
"Hey..you stay with me now" He tried, lightly brushing the doctor's hair out of his eyes. "Stay with me. You'll be alright, it's over now."
"Sheriff?" McCoy mumbled, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. "I heard you…come in…'bout a few hours ago..but.."
"I know. Save your breath, I've got you."
As soon as Nahimana had finished hacking the bonds loose, Spock knelt down and lifted the other man into his arms easily, causing the doctor's head to roll onto Spock's shoulder as his good arm swung by his side. The sheriff had been right in his deductions, McCoy was definitely not equipped to deal with this situation, neither physically nor mentally.
"Take what you need" Spock told the Apache woman, who moved to gather the contents of her father's medicine bag as Spock made for the door, feeling the doctor's dull heartbeat against his own.
McCoy was dazed as Spock climbed into the saddle, somehow managing to help the doctor on behind him.
"Hold onto me" He advised. "Tight as ya possibly can."
"But sheriff, my arm.."
"I know. We'll go slow."
McCoy shivered slightly, but leaned forwards obediently, resting his chin on Spock's shoulder as he wrapped his good arm around the sheriff's waist.
"Can you manage to get behind him?" Spock asked the young woman as she joined them, but she shook her head.
"I can walk, man of law. It is not very far."
"Two miles is a long way, ma'am."
"I am an Apache" She pointed out. "My people navigate by the sun and the stars. We can walk for days without tiring. This will be easy."
Spock nodded, gripping the reins tightly before he set off at a slow trot.
The sun was going down, which could make visibility a slight issue, but he believed in the navigational ability of the young Apache. As for him, he'd know his way back blindfold. What really worried him was the feverish man behind him. McCoy was shivering, his teeth chattering despite the sweltering heat of the late afternoon.
"You're doin' great" Spock told him matter-of-factly and McCoy tightened his grip.
"I'm so sorry to trouble you" He managed. "This is my fault."
"It clearly isn't, doctor. You're injured, and severely so. But I promise it's over. Just hold on for a while longer."
"Sheriff?" The doctor muttered and Spock shifted slightly, allowing him more space to lean forwards.
"It's no trouble."
"How can I repay you?"
Spock's eyebrows went up for a moment.
"A kiss maybe" he joked, and McCoy's lips twitched slightly as he closed his eyes, slipping half out of consciousness.
"I'd definitely be willin' to do that, sir."
Spock applied pressure to the stirrups, allowing his horse to speed up slightly.
"Then let's get back in one piece first."
McCoy's memories of the next few hours were hazy at best, but they were not unpleasant. Spock and Nahimana had laid him down on Spock's bed, before the young Apache woman had set to work treating his injuries properly.
The sheriff's gaze had hardened as he saw the full extent of the doctor's injuries. It both worried and angered him that some men had such a lust for money that they'd beat someone up like this. It didn't surprise him, but he didn't enjoy the thought of it in the slightest. The only good thing was that McCoy apparently had more fight left in him than he'd expected. With Nahimana's knowledge of medicine and his stubborn will, the fever began to fade away and the swelling of his injured arm gradually decreased. The bones had been correctly reset and bandaged to the best of the young woman's ability and skill. He would not be able to use his fingers for a while, but they would heal, in due time.
As the doctor was left to recover on the bed, Spock had gently persuaded Nahimana to tell him the whole story from the beginning, and she had obliged, telling him of how Tom and his men had planned on making money off the Barnby ranch by selling it to their boss, who would in exchange give them a cut of it.
The sheriff grit his teeth and sat through the entire thing, forcing himself to ask all the hard questions, and he found the young Apache woman surprisingly willing to answer them. Spock shrewdly guessed that Tom had probably been abusive towards her, and decided not to include her in his report of the outlaws, thanking her for her help instead.
It was only several hours before midnight, after Nahimana had left to return to her people, having had enough of Tom and his type, that McCoy stirred again, this time not in pain, but Spock worried nonetheless, turning away from the window and walking back over to him.
"Easy, doctor. You're safe."
"Where am I?" He asked wearily, and Spock pulled up a chair.
"You're with me. That resourceful woman was an absolute wonder. Your fever's gone, and soon you'll be able to use that arm again."
McCoy turned slightly, facing Spock, trying to make out his face using just the dim moonlight.
"I believe I still owe you that kiss, sheriff."
"Call me Spock."
"Alright..I.still owe it to ya, Spock."
The other reached out, brushing McCoy's lip with the pad of his thumb before leaning in and kissing his forehead.
"Mm..I believe you do, doctor" He mumbled.
Spock's touch lingered for a moment longer at that and he hummed as he pulled away.
"Then kiss me, Leonard."
McCoy propped himself up on his elbow, tilting his head up for Spock to guide him.
The sheriff cupped his face, before their lips collided, gently at first, hesitant only for a moment before the passion overtook both of them and they pulled away only to rest their foreheads together in the moonlight.
"No one's ever gonna hurt you again" Spock said softly, and Leonard just kissed him again.