Having worked at the Shipyard Bar for just over three years now, Spock knew the daily routines of his customers well.
First there were the builders and engineers who worked at the shipyard during the day. They streamed in when their shifts were over, smelling of sweat and oil and heated metal. Younger workers would line up by the bar to socialize, while the older ones typically settled around tables. Mostly they did their best to ignore Spock, to avoid looking directly at his face as they purchased their drinks. He had no objection to this treatment. It was considerably more tolerant than the attitude of some Terrans he'd encountered during his time on Earth.
Come evening, the social atmosphere shifted considerably. It had taken him some time to parse the subtleties of this alteration and suitably accommodate it, but he now believed himself to be knowledgeable in the matter. A younger clientèle would invariably arrive as the sky darkened, and he had learned that they did not wish to sit comfortably and complain about their occupation, as the shipyard workers did. In fact, from his observations he could only conclude that they preferred as much discomfort as he was able to provide: chaotic lighting, music loud enough to strain the ears, the ability to consume alcohol so excessively they were forced to be violently ill. It was truly baffling behaviour.
There were also the tourists and passers-through to factor in, those who came to view the shipyard or who were simply travelling on the nearby highway. They were good for his profits, so Spock couldn't really object, although large groups like last week's Academy visit more often than not ended in trouble. The cadets had all departed back to Starfleet three days ago, however, taking with them both the temporary boost to his earnings and the greater potential for violence.
It left behind a quiet business, for once.
Spock carefully smoothed his hair back from his face. It had grown long enough to tuck neatly behind the pointed tips of his ears. He adjusted the soft material of his gloves, pulling them tight, making sure his sleeves overlapped them, then laid his hands flat on the surface of the bar.
There was nothing to do, and Spock found himself with little to occupy him but observation.
There was a particular Terran who was almost always present, at any given time or day. He liked to sit at the bar and order bourbon in a slow but steady stream as the hours passed by. He seemed to have no employment or other demands on his time, as far as Spock could deduce, and for a while he'd wondered how the man could even afford to sit there drinking each day.
Then he'd noticed the deals.
Men and women who were as often as not strangers to Spock's eyes would enter and move directly to the seat next to the reclusive Terran. Sometimes conversation would be exchanged. More likely, a credit chip and a PADD would be slid wordlessly across to him, and he would quickly pocket the chip and scribble something on the PADD with a stylus. Spock had glimpsed the screen once, under the guise of needing to wipe down that particular surface of the bar. The man was selling medical prescriptions, and obviously making a tidy profit doing so.
The Vulcan had never bothered reporting the matter. It was far from the only legal transgression which occurred here.
Presently, he made his way over to the Terran.
"Do you wish me to refill your glass, Doctor McCoy?"
The man donned his customary scowl. "You always gotta be so formal? You're slinging drinks, Spock, not serving canapés at a goddamn Starfleet banquet."
"Is that a no?"
"For the love of... Yes, refill my drink, you damn hobgoblin."
Spock pulled the bottle of bourbon from behind the bar and poured. "Hobgoblin: a creature from Terran mythology, originating from European folktales, generally thought to possess an undesirable green complexion and pointed ears. Is that a derogatory reference to my Vulcan biology, Doctor?"
"Was supposed to be. Lost some of its sting with your linguistics lecture, though."
"Very well. By that logic, I should simply deem you a low-functioning alcoholic, and refrain from further explanation or analysis."
McCoy snorted laughter, apparently unable to help himself, and raised his glass. "I do enjoy these heart to hearts we have."
Spock inclined his head, then went to go reorganise the drinks chiller.
The place was dead tonight. Jim didn't mind. He wasn't here to socialise.
He strode across the bar with a purpose in mind, determined, focused. This was absolutely going to work. Reaching the front, he hopped up onto the bar stool, ordered a beer, then turned pointedly to face the guy he'd sat down next to.
"So I hear you're the local Doc."
For a moment there was no response, then a dour glare turned towards him. "Yeah well I'm not practising, so if you're here to beg a free consult on your crotch-rot or whatever disgusting -"
"Woah!" Vaguely horrified, Jim lowered his voice to a hiss. "I do not have... crotch-rot! What the fuck?"
The guy side-eyed him for a second, then went back to his drink. "Well it's what most people want when they come over looking to make nice. Just assumed."
Jim stared at him incredulously. "Are you serious? People try to whip out their junk around you often enough that it's your go-to introduction?!"
The guy sighed. "What is it you do want, kid? I plan to pass out drunk by last call, and at this rate you're gonna make me miss my deadline."
So far, this idea was not panning out the way he'd expected, but he rallied. "Word is you give prescriptions, no questions asked."
"Sometimes. For a price." The doctor spared him an unimpressed once-over. "But no offence, you look like you can't afford shit, let alone -"
Jim slid a PADD across to him, displaying on screen his half of the takings they'd swiped from the unfortunate cadets a week ago.
The doctor let out a low whistle. "Well that's no small chunk of change. And what exactly are you hoping to buy with that?"
"How much felicium would it get me?"
The other man regarded him with a sceptical eyebrow. "Look. Whoever told you about me obviously didn't explain my policy. I'm not gonna be your supplier, kid. I fill personal requests only. Nothing that gets me unwanted attention."
The Vulcan bartender chose that moment to appear with Jim's beer and another refill for the doctor.
"Listen, I swear I can make it worth your time. If this isn't enough, there's more credit where that came from. If you just - I'm sorry, can I help you with something?"
The Vulcan had stopped to listen. At Jim's question, he quirked a pointed brow. "I apologise. I was simply thinking that Doctor McCoy was displaying rare wisdom in refusing your proposal."
He hitched a shoulder ever so slightly. "One can only deduce, based on the sheer quantity of pharmaceuticals you are requesting, your ultimate intention is to then re-sell them to other consumers. Should he accept, there are only two real possible outcomes. In the first, Doctor McCoy does indeed agree to continue supplying you with product, eventually prompting superiors in the medical profession to question why he is prescribing such a high quantity of a controlled substance, and inevitably resulting in the loss of his licence and what little remains of his medical reputation."
Both humans stared at him.
After a few seconds, McCoy prompted hesitantly, "And the second?"
"In the second scenario, Doctor, you are only serving to facilitate your own competition. The young man is evidently ambitious, and would presumably have little difficulty establishing a wider network of clients than you yourself are able to maintain. While the upfront profit may be tempting, in the long-term you would only endanger your sole source of income."
Again, silence reigned for long moments.
Jim held out his hands incredulously. "Are you kidding me?"
The Vulcan's face remained impassive. "I assure you, I am not."
At that, McCoy threw back his head and laughed. "That answer enough for you?"
"Wait, you're not actually listening to this, are you? I'm not... You wouldn't... The dude's a fucking Vulcan, what does he know about selling meds?!"
The doctor was still chuckling, but his face hardened at Jim's outburst. "Put it this way. I find his logic a hell of a lot more appealing than some junkie upstart looking to make credits off of me. So scram, leave me to black out in peace."
Seething, Jim snatched up his PADD and his beer, then turned and stalked away. Nyota was still sitting where he'd left her, and made an inquisitive noise as he approached.
"It was a bust. Don't ask."
She smirked and cooed at him. "Aaaw, poor Jim. Your five-minute dream of being kingpin of Iowa, over before it began."
"Well it just sounds stupid if you say it like that..." He sat down next to her, resting his chin in his hands. "We've got to do something with this credit while we've got it, Yota. We've gotta... I don't know, invest in something, make it multiply."
She shrugged. "Why? The scanners worked perfectly, why can't we just keep using them?"
"And who the hell are we going to use them on? This backwater shipyard is the only populated area in a hundred miles. Everyone knows us here. Those cadets were a gift. Out-of-towners who are are now safely back out of town. But if everyone here suddenly starts turning up with empty bank accounts..."
"Yeah alright, I get it. Why did you even bother to build the things if you knew we could only use them once?"
He gripped her shoulder. "Oh we're going to use them again. Just gotta wait til we get the hell out of this place. Me and you get to a city, two in a billion, and we can be as rich as you damn well like."
She snorted, brushing him off. "Fine. You get right on that."
"I will." He stood up decisively. "But first, gonna go for a smoke. Coming?"
"No, go ahead."
Jim strolled out of the bar, digging in his jacket pocket for a cigarette. He lit it and moved out into the parking lot, kicking at the dirt. Taking a drag, he tipped his head back and blew a stream of smoke into the night air on a sigh of relief. Cigarettes weren't the tar-filled poison they'd been a couple of centuries ago, but manufacturers still pumped them full of nicotine. He'd been craving one all day.
A scrape of dirt behind him was all the warning he got, then something struck him hard in the side of the head. Jim saw stars, felt himself falling. His hands and knees hit the gravel, and then someone kicked him in the ribs. He fell on his side, and the next kick landed squarely in his stomach. All the breath left him in a painful rush.
He coughed and gagged, tried to blink himself back to clarity. Blood was streaming down his forehead, half blinding him. His head was spinning. Awkwardly, he got his knees under him again and tried to crawl, but someone immediately grabbed his collar and hauled him upwards. His back was slammed up against a car and a fist collided with his jaw, snapping his head back.
He reeled from the sudden onslaught, barely able to get his bearings. Slumped against the car, he shook his head stupidly and squinted up into a face he only vaguely recognised.
The cadet was holding something, a metal tire iron, and brandished it in Jim's face. He could see his own blood painting the tip. "Where is it, you little bastard? What? You didn't think we'd realise it was you?"
The tire iron swung again, and Jim hunched away from it. It struck the car window where his head had been a second ago. Glass shattered, tiny shards littering the inside of his collar.
Jim brought up his knee, but it was clumsy and only struck the guy's leg. He pushed, using the car as leverage, and at least managed to free himself. Backing away, he kept one hand outstretched in a placating gesture, frantically trying to wipe the blood from his eyes with the other.
"What the fuck? What are you talking about?"
"My credits, asswhipe. I don't know how, but you and your whore girlfriend cleaned me out last week, and I want every last fucking bit of it back if I have to kick it out of you one credit at a time."
Jim placed him, then. The guy they'd stolen six month's wages from. Well shit.
"Look. I have no idea what your problem is, but I have nothing to do with it." He backed into another car and hurriedly sidestepped round it. "If you remember, I was the one you left bleeding on the floor -"
The cadet lunged at him, and Jim scrambled away. It was starting to dawn on him that the guy wasn't playing by barfight rules this time, if the murderous look on his face was anything to judge by. He was out to do damage.
"I missed my tuition payment, you fucker! I have to re-apply next year! I know it was you!"
"I swear, I don't -" Jim turned and started running mid-sentence. It wasn't his proudest moment, but he was smart enough to know when he was outmatched. His bike was out near the edge of the parking lot. If he could just get to it-
The cadet tackled him like a linebacker. Jim went down, tasting dirt, nowhere near his bike.
Spock had triple-checked the credit transfers for the night, adjusted the temperature on the drinks chiller, and circulated the room twice to wipe down tables and collect used glasses and empty bottles. The glasses had been neatly placed in the sonic cleaner, and the bottles were stacked in a plastite crate beneath the bar, waiting to be delivered to the recycling receptacle. No one demanded his attention, nothing required his supervision.
The Vulcan scanned the room a final time, ensuring that no sudden crisis was foreseeable if he was momentarily absent, then bent to pick up the crate of bottles. He passed into the kitchenette concealed from customers behind the bar, then keyed in his security code to the back door, stepping outside. The receptacle was around the side of the building.
He immediately detected the sounds of scuffle from the front parking lot, though at first thought little of it. He'd long discovered that physical fighting was a common pastime among intoxicated Terrans, and had ceased interfering after the third time he'd been struck by one of the participants. So he busied himself sliding the bottles one by one into the receptacle, listening to the crash of glass. It was almost filled to maximum capacity, but collection of recycled materials was due in the morning, so he was unconcerned.
Task finished, he turned to walk back into the building. A particularly loud thud and an abbreviated curse gave him pause, however. Spock glanced back over his shoulder, then reluctantly moved towards the parking lot. He reached the corner of the building and peered out across the cluster of gloomy vehicles. There was a flash of movement in the midst of them. At first only one Terran was visible, standing braced against a car, but as Spock moved closer it became apparent that he was kicking repeatedly at a second figure huddled on the ground. The Vulcan lengthened his strides, tossing the empty crate aside.
It was only when he was almost upon them that a flash of recognition caught him by surprise, and he realised that the one on the floor was none other than James Kirk, the con-artist who had propositioned Doctor McCoy not minutes ago.
"What is this?"
The Terran doing the beating barely spared him a look. "Fuck off, we're busy."
Kirk heaved out a breath as he was kicked in the stomach. He rolled over in an attempt to shield himself, but his attacker simply aimed for his kidney instead, making him arch backwards and flail in the gravel.
The Vulcan stepped forward. "That is enough. Whatever he has done -"
"He's paying back a debt," the Terran snarled, once again lodging his boot in Kirk's ribs. "Here, have a go. Let him work down his bar tab."
Spock reached out and clasped the Terran's shoulder with his gloved hand, pulling him backwards. The man came round swinging a weapon, but Spock ducked the clumsy blow easily enough.
"What the hell is your problem?"
"I am telling you to cease your assault and vacate this establishment."
"And I'm telling you to fuck off -"
Spock delivered a sharp, uncompromising jab of his fingers to the Terran's windpipe. The man let out an ugly gurgle, briefly clutching his throat, then swung again with what Spock now saw was a tire iron. The Vulcan blocked smoothly with his forearm, allowing the metal bar to slam against his ulna, simultaneously moving forward and forcing the Terran away from Kirk's incapacitated form. He deflected two more desperate blows aimed at his face, then brought the side of his palm down with finality on the Terran's clavicle. There was a sickening crunch. The man screamed and dropped.
It was all over in a matter of seconds.
The Vulcan regarded him critically. "This is the second time I am requesting you leave this establishment. I will not do so a third time."
He heard the door to the bar open behind him, then approaching footsteps.
Spock looked back to see Kirk's female partner crouching beside him. He was trying and failing to sit up, coughing breathlessly until blood splashed down his chin. Bright blue eyes were fixed warily on Spock, one of them rapidly swelling shut.
The other Terran managed to regain his feet under his own power, although he had turned a shade of green not dissimilar to the Vulcan's own complexion, and was clutching at his damaged shoulder. The arm on that side hung useless. His face was thunderous, and Spock did not need skin-to-skin contact to sense the fury emanating from him.
"Your pet Vulcan isn't always going to be around, Kirk."
Spock stood his ground, prepared for the man to launch another ill-advised attack, but he settled for throwing one last venomous glare at Kirk, retrieving his tire iron and stumbling off across the parking lot. Spock watched until he got into one of the cars and drove away. Only then did he let himself relax incrementally, and turn to examine the two remaining Terrans.
Kirk had his hands cradled protectively over his side, face screwed up in a grimace. "Shit, that hurt."
"What the hell happened?" his friend demanded, sounding both concerned and extremely annoyed. "Was that one of those Academy students?"
"Yeah, wanting his credits back. Took me by surprise."
Spock began to walk back towards the building. "You were severely beaten. I shall summon a med-unit to attend -"
"No!" Kirk shook his head adamantly, still trying to force himself into a sitting position. "No med-unit, no hospital. It's fine. I'll walk it off."
He fixed a pointed glance on her. "Not gonna happen. Just... give me a minute. No hospital."
She seemed to acquiesce, standing up and moving instead towards Spock, her boots crunching on the stony ground. She held out her hand as she approached. Spock glanced at it and made no move to respond. She shrugged.
"Think you can help me get him inside, maybe clean him up a bit?"
"I do not..." His gaze moved past her, to where Kirk had finally managed to drag himself into a sitting position, braced against the car. Even that small victory appeared to have cost him. Spock sighed. "Very well."
She smiled exquisitely, her eyes flickering up and down the length of him in an overtly flirtatious manner. "Thank you. I'm Nyota by the way."
He nodded in acknowledgement, then moved to aid Kirk.
Spock crouched next to him and grasped his wrist, guiding the Terran's arm round his shoulders in a perfunctory manner. He didn't particularly welcome the close contact, but he doubted Nyota would be able to lift him alone. Then he stood. Kirk groaned as he was elevated to his feet, clawing his fingers in Spock's shirt, but didn't exactly protest. As Nyota strode ahead, Spock half-carried, half-directed the injured Terran around the back of the building, where he keyed in his security code again and they shuffled awkwardly into the kitchenette.
"Do you have a first aid kit or something?" Nyota queried, looking around. "Ice?"
"Yes. But first I would suggest you fetch Doctor McCoy from the front room."
"A doctor? Even better."
"He is the extremely intoxicated Terran sitting at the bar, no doubt complaining loudly about my absence."
Her mouth twitched into an uncertain smile, then dropped when she realised he was in earnest.
"Sooner would be preferable."
She obediently turned on her heel and left the kitchenette. Spock took a moment to survey the room, then guided Kirk over to the metal table in the centre. He braced the Terran against it, stepping back cautiously. "Are you able to remain standing?"
"M'fine," Kirk muttered, averting his gaze. "Wish you'd both stop acting like I'm about to swoon." He was breathing in short, shallow gasps, one of his eyes was now swollen almost completely shut, and blood trickled sluggishly down the side of his face. He used his sleeve to dab at it. Spock moved to get him a towel.
There was a commotion at the door, and they turned to see Nyota bodily shoving Doctor McCoy into the room. He was trying to fend her off, looking thoroughly offended by the manhandling.
"He didn't want to move," she explained with a shrug, when Spock looked askance.
"Lady, if you don't get your grabby hands off me - Spock! What the hell is going on?"
The Vulcan gestured at Kirk. "He is in need of your medical expertise."
McCoy performed a strange double-take at the sight of Kirk, his expressive brows furrowing incredulously. "I literally just saw you five minutes ago. Good god, how do you even manage to do that much damage to yourself in so short a time?!"
"Didn't do it myself," Kirk snapped on a wheeze.
The doctor looked at each of them in turn. "And what do you expect me to do? Call him a med-unit and be done with."
"Not going to a -" Kirk broke off with a wince, holding his side.
Spock sighed. "He refuses to attend a hospital."
"So? What do you care?" McCoy demanded.
At that, the Vulcan was brought up short. Truthfully, he was unsure how or why he had become involved in the situation. He had no investment in the welfare of James Kirk. In fact, the Terran had been nothing but unpleasant to him during past encounters. It would be far simpler - and no doubt wiser - to do as the doctor advised, summon a med-unit and be rid of the predicament. His indulgence of Kirk's wishes could only be described as irrational.
"Can't you just examine him?" Nyota prompted, sounding impatient. "See if he even needs a hospital?"
"Of course he needs a damn hospital, look at him!" McCoy stomped closer, peering into Kirk's face without preamble. He moved his finger back and forth several times, watching blue eyes track after it, then used both thumbs to probe at the laceration at his temple. "You feel dizzy? Nauseas?"
"Just wait, it'll come." He turned back to Spock. "What exactly do you expect me to do here?"
"Mister Kirk sustained several traumatic blows to the abdomen that I witnessed. An examination is clearly in order."
"I know that, you green-blooded bastard! And he needs it performed with medical equipment and by a doctor who hasn't been mainlining hard liquor for four hours!" McCoy seemed to lose all remnants of composure then. "I am drunk, Spock! This isn't a good idea."
The Vulcan considered this for a moment, then cocked his head. "You once confided to me that you spent almost a year actively practising medicine while drinking profusely. Evidently you are adept at performing while intoxicated."
McCoy growled and stepped towards him.
Spock moved smoothly towards the door. "My presence is required at the bar. I shall leave you to debate the matter between yourselves."
The Vulcan disappeared, leaving Jim to flinch under the expression McCoy turned on him.
"Oh well this is just perfect. Don't even have a damn tricorder and I'm supposed to just patch you up on his say-so, am I?" Unceremoniously, he snatched away the towel Jim had been pressing to his forehead. "And this is going to need stitches since we're apparently heathens who don't use regen treatment."
"I'll find a first aid kit," Nyota offered, sounding vaguely amused.
"Good, and when you've done that you can help me get his shirt off. I want to check for internal injury before anything."
They tugged his jacket from his shoulders, then Jim lifted his arms stiffly and Nyota and McCoy peeled his T-shirt up and off him.
"I swear, I had a dream just like this once," he quipped, winking at both of them.
Nyota frowned, but McCoy just snorted in grim amusement. "Flirt all you like, ain't gonna make my hands any warmer. Lie down."
Disconcerted, Jim lowered himself gingerly onto the tabletop, hissing as the cold metal touched his back. His ribs ached fiercely and his stomach muscles clenched in protest as he tried to straighten. Discoloured bruising was already blossoming vividly across his skin. McCoy wasted no time on pleasantries, setting his hands on Jim's side and beginning to press and prod at each rib in turn, thoroughly ignoring Jim's wincing.
"So you know the Vulcan guy well?" he asked at length, if only break the uncomfortable silence.
"He serves my drinks, is all. Then again, suppose these days that makes him family."
"Spock's not a bad sort. For a xeno. Looks a bit too Romulan for some, but after the third or fourth time he corrects your grammar, starts to look a little less threatening, yanno?"
Unbidden, a memory of the Vulcan breaking the cadet's collarbone like it was nothing flashed through Jim's head. He frowned sceptically, but said nothing.
"Definitely fractured a couple," McCoy decided at length. "Can't feel a full break anywhere though. Course, if we weren't trying to do this like we're living in the goddamn dark ages I could tell you for sure." Huffing irritably, he lowered himself until he could press his ear to Jim's chest. "Breathe in."
Jim did so.
"Deeper. It'll feel like you can't, but hopefully that's just the bruising tightening everything up."
"Better than half a rib poking through your lung. Now shut up and breathe."
The doctor listened intently for several minutes, occasionally turning his head from side to side to use both ears. Jim stared fixedly at the ceiling the whole time, hurting and vaguely embarrassed. He could smell alcohol whenever McCoy turned towards him, but it wasn't like he hadn't been warned.
Finally, the doctor straightened. "Doesn't sound like there's fluid or trapped air, at least. But I'm telling you, you need a better exam than I can do here."
"This is fine -"
"Do you know how many things could be wrong with you right now that I can't find? For all I know, you've got blood collecting in your liver as we speak, and it's going to swell and explode."
Well really, Jim felt that was a little melodramatic, and probably less than medically accurate.
"Or you've got stomach acid pouring into your abdominal cavity. You know what that shit'll do to you?"
"Or, oh I don't know, maybe you've got a haematoma that ruptures at any point during the next three months and you die suddenly of delayed internal bleeding -"
"Oh come on." Jim struggled to sit up, a little alarmed by the sheer enthusiasm with which McCoy predicted his various gruesome demises. "It's fine, I'm fine."
"I wasn't done."
"Well you are now." He looked around for his shirt, finally noticing Nyota still holding it. "Give me that."
She looked unimpressed. "Or what? You'll hobble over here and look pathetic at me?"
"Just give me it, Yota. We're going home."
McCoy held up his hands in defeat. "Alright, fine. No hospital. Just... calm down a minute."
Jim eyed him suspiciously.
"First thing's first. You've probably got concussion from whatever hit you upside the head." He looked pointedly at Nyota, giving the instructions to her like she was the responsible one. "That means no letting him sleep for at least four hours. If he's still walking and talking normally after that, should be fine."
"And no bandaging his ribs, either. Just restricts the breathing, breeds infection."
"Yeah. Y'all send some of that credit you were flashing around my way and I'll prescribe you pain meds that work a treat."
Jim scowled. "You're shaking me down?"
McCoy just shrugged unapologetically. "Price of a private consult, kid."
Nyota was already rummaging in the pocket of Jim's jacket. She fished out one of his credit chips and tossed it to the doctor. "That should be enough."
McCoy caught it, reflexes seemingly undiminished no matter how much he'd been drinking. It disappeared swiftly into his coat pocket, and in his other hand materialised a PADD. He tapped the screen a few times, then scribbled something with a stylus. "Just put an order through in your name, ready to pick up whenever. Nice doing business with you."
Jim thought that was a matter up for debate.
Nyota finally relented, and came over to help him get his shirt back on. He was shrugging back into his jacket, movements stiff and painful, when it occurred to Jim that at no point had he caught the doctor's first name. The man had all but felt him up, that was definitely first name basis. "Hey. What do I call you, anyway?"
"'Bastard' was my ex-wife's favourite nickname," was the quick response.
"Didn't end happily, huh?"
"Well she was certainly happy about it all. Took the whole damn planet in the divorce. All I got left is this bar and the bones holding me up."
Jim nodded awkwardly. "...Alright then. 'Bones' it is."
The doctor threw him a caustic glare.