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Part One

Jim's reaching across the table for the soy sauce when Bones' hand snakes out and grabs his arm. Startled in mid-movement, Jim stops what he's saying about pressure points and bandage sprays, and follows Bones' gaze.


They're in Bones' room in the medical apartment complex. It's Friday night, and they're ostensibly studying together because Bones promised Jim that he would help him cram for his Emergency Response practical on Monday. Jim actually had to bribe him with beer and Chinese takeout, which is now spread all over Bones' desk.

Jim's sleeve has ridden up as he stretched his arm across the table, revealing the rough, red abrasion encircling his right wrist. Bones is holding him by the forearm, staring at his wrist and frowning.

Jim tries to tug his arm away and make another grab for the soy sauce, but Bones holds firm. The look he gives Jim is curious, even clinical. "That looks pretty nasty, Jim. Where did you get it?"

"I don't know," Jim replies. "Uh, probably was in Hand-to-Hand. We were working on wrist holds, pinning your opponent, that sort of thing." His tone is nonchalant, but he can't stop the hot flush from creeping over his cheeks.

"That sort of thing," Bones repeats, raising a cynical eyebrow. "You had Hand-to-Hand on Tuesday. You came to me afterward in the clinic for a black eye."

"Uh huh," Jim agrees. His eye socket is still bruised, although Bones healed the small cut below his eye and reduced the swelling. "Elbow jab right to the face. Gennady Orlov is a menace," he says with a laugh. "I must've had this then, Bones. You just didn't notice."

"Could be." Still grasping his arm firmly, Bones turns his wrist over, palm up. Without warning, he presses down on the abrasion with his thumb, making Jim yelp "Ow!" at the sudden sting. "Except that this is a fresh injury," he says calmly.

Jim jerks his hand away with a snarl, shaking his sleeve down to cover his wrist. "Some fucking bedside manner you have! Warn a guy first." The bottle of soy sauce stays on the far side of the table, but Jim decides to do without. He picks up his pair of chopsticks and begins eating, keeping his left hand tucked casually in his lap. "Anyway, I told Gennady he's gotta teach me that move, or next time I'll--"

"Let me see your other wrist, Jim."

This isn't heading anywhere good, and Bones is giving him that I'm a doctor so cut the bullshit look, which usually means that Jim's lost the battle before it's even started. Even so, he makes a half-hearted attempt to delay the inevitable. "Bones, it's nothing. Let's just eat, okay? You promised to go over this material with me."

Bones just waits expectantly, unmoved by Jim's protest, so after a pause, he presents his left wrist with an aggravated sigh. The red, swollen scratches, just beginning to scab over like those on his right wrist, make Bones scowl. "Look, they match," Jim says. "Satisfied?"

"Where did you get these marks?" Bones' voice is deceptively quiet, which in Jim's experience is a sign of the calm before the storm. He wonders if there's any way to avoid the coming discussion. Probably not, because Bones is relentless where Jim's health is concerned. And he knows that Jim's default reaction is to deny that there's anything wrong. Or lie.

Jim attempts to bluff it out. (No, this is not embarrassing. At all.) He gives him a smirk, but it comes out as more of a grimace. "You're the doctor. I'm sure you can figure it out."

"Ligature marks, Jim," Bones says flatly. "These are rope burns, and don't try to tell me you got them in class."

Jim inclines his head in confirmation. "Good guess, Sherlock Holmes. Now are you going to help me with my CPR technique, or what?"

"Jim..." Bones hesitates, and Jim puts down his chopsticks and looks up at him. Bones is giving him a look of concern. "Did somebody hurt you?" he asks quietly.

"No! I'm fine. Don't worry, Bones. It's not what you're thinking." And damn it, is he really going to have to explain this to his best friend?


His mother's face is tight with disapproval and worry. "What's going on, Jim? You didn't tell me you'd enlisted in Starfleet. You just said you'd moved to San Francisco."

"Well, then, now you know." He gives her a bland smile. He knew that she'd find out eventually; Winona's still on active duty, and she has her connections. It's not that his enlistment was a secret, exactly, just that he hasn't gone out of his way to tell her about it. They haven't spoken in months.

"Imagine my surprise when I got a call from Kurt Cheney. Kurt and I served together on the Nelson four years ago."

Jim groans to himself; Cheney is his instructor for the first-year command seminar. "Yeah, I know, Mom, he told me--"

"We keep in touch. He says that you're bright but very argumentative."

"Come on, Mom, I'm supposed to argue with him, it's a command seminar!"

"Well, maybe you should keep in mind the limits of appropriate behavior from a cadet. Even in a command seminar."

"He's an arrogant ass, mom! He knows his subject, but he likes to go on about history, too. He's seriously misinformed. We were talking about the Battle of Andoria, and I just explained to him that--"

"I told him that you got your brains from me," she interrupts, fixing him with a hard stare that reminds him, uncomfortably, of a thousand other discussions just like this. "The mouth, you got on your own. You never understood about respecting your elders, Jim, and you'll wash out of the Academy in no time if you don't learn it now."

Thanks for the encouragement, Mom. "I do respect him. What, I can't point out when he makes a mistake?"

"Maybe there are some things you still need to learn, hotshot. You just got there, remember? You're only a first-year cadet, and he's your instructor..."

He makes an effort to calm himself, wanting the conversation to be over. "It's okay, Mom. You don't have to worry. I'm doing fine here." He's really not doing all that fine, but he's used to keeping things from her. There's no point in telling her about the cadets who ostracize him, resenting his intellect and his famous name, or the loneliness he feels sometimes, even surrounded by so many people. "My grades are good."

She gives a harsh, cynical laugh. "Your grades are the least of my worries."

"What's that supposed to mean?" he asks indignantly, although he knows what she's referring to, of course. He's been in and out of trouble for years, and he can't blame her for not wanting to pick up the pieces again. His foot begins tapping nervously on the floor.

"It means that I know how smart you are, Jim, but you haven't been in school for years, and the Academy has its own rules and regulations."

"I'm getting used to them. Wanna see me salute?" Jim grins, trying to inject some humor into the leaden atmosphere. His mother rolls her eyes. "Come on, Mom, I'm 22. I can keep my part of the room neat and do a few push-ups."

"Oh, Jim." She sighs, and his stomach clenches at the familiar note of disappointment. "Of course you can. But the point is, what are you even doing at the Academy? Since when do you want to be a Starfleet officer? Did you just wake up one morning and decide to enlist?"

He feels irrationally angry at her for questioning his motives, even though she's only saying out loud what he'd been thinking for months. But he blusters on, because arguing with her is an ingrained habit. "Why can't you just take it at face value? I wanted to do something with my life, that's all. You kept telling me to go to school, to get out of Riverside."

She shakes her head. "I meant college, Jim! This doesn't make sense. You hate Starfleet. You've told me that, often enough."

Jim doesn't answer, and the silence stretches between them, awkward and heavy. He doesn't make an effort to keep the conversation going. What's the point? He knows it's only going to end with the usual accusations about not living up to his potential, and complaints about his self-destructive blah blah blah. Or his favorite, you're-only-doing-this-to-hurt-me.

"Is it your father?" she asks, finally. "Are you trying to follow in George's footsteps? Because those are awfully big shoes to fill."

Jim looks down at the floor and she stops. When he turns back to the comm, she's looking at him with a mixture of consternation and guilt. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that... I just don't want you to set yourself up for failure, Jim. The Academy's only the beginning. Starfleet is a lifetime of discipline, and I'm not sure that you know what you're getting into."

Out of sight of the vid camera, he digs his fingernails into the muscles of his thigh, letting the sting of pain wash over him. He takes a deep breath. "Look, thanks for the warning, Mom, but I'm all right. I've gotta go now or I'll be late to a class." He puts all of his charm into his smile, and is relieved to see a small, answering quirk of her lips.

"Well, I guess that's a good sign, then. I've never seen you make much of an effort to get anywhere on time."

"See? You don't need to worry. Bye, Mom."

His smile fades as the connection ends, and he smashes his fist down on the desk.

What the hell is he doing here? His mother is right.


"You're sure?"

"Of course I am," he says, smiling at Bones reassuringly. "Entirely consensual, okay?"

Bones' mouth twists into something unreadable, but he's definitely not smiling back. The tension in the line of his jaw doesn't bode well for Jim. "Then what kind of stupid games are you playing?"

There's an awkward pause. It's not that Bones has never heard Jim brag about his sexual exploits. It's just that recently, without spelling it out, Bones has started giving him the kind of unspoken signals that mean the beginning of something: a hooded glance, a brief squeeze on the shoulder, an accidental bump of thigh against thigh when they're sitting side by side, a half-smile that isn't quite as innocuous as usual. Bones' signals are so brief and enigmatic that Jim's not sure they're there at all. Jim's good at reading the kind of blatant, uninhibited messages that come his way on a regular basis, but this subtle heat that flares up when he's least expecting it leaves him unsteady, not knowing where he stands or what Bones wants.

The one thing he's certain about is that he doesn't want Bones to know what he was up to the other night with Gennady. Jim grabs the chopsticks again and resumes eating, keeping his eyes focused on the food. "That's my business."

Bones snorts. "Well, you obviously wanted it to be my business, too, Jim! You come waltzing in here, waving your bleeding wrists around under my nose--"

That's just too much, and Jim rolls his eyes. "I did not wave them around. My sleeve rode up when I was reaching for the soy sauce. You're the one who's making an issue out of this." He wants to add that the abrasions aren't bleeding, but once Bones is started on a rant, it's better not to interrupt him too much.

"--not two days after I healed your god damn black eye, but I guess that wasn't enough hurt for you, was it? You get beaten up in class on a regular basis. Now apparently you have a new hobby that involves getting tied up, but that's okay, because it's consensual, right?"

If there's something Jim hates, it's being belittled, but he checks his anger. He knows that Bones cares about him, and he knows that what he did the other night went a lot farther than he'd intended. "For God's sake, Bones, calm down. It's not a hobby. It was just one night, and it was my choice! If I don't mind, why are you getting upset?"

"Because you're hurt, you idiot! Was it just the wrists, Jim? Or maybe the ankles too?" Jim looks away uncomfortably, and Bones nods. "I knew it. You never do anything halfway. I'll bet if I lifted up your shirt, I'd find all kinds of marks on you." Bones is right, but Jim doesn't want to give him the satisfaction of admitting it.

Bones leans forward suddenly and pulls down the collar of Jim's black undershirt, revealing his throat. Jim swats his hand away in annoyance. "At least you had the sense not to use rope on your neck. Remind me to show you some pictures of what strangulation victims look like. It'll be good prep for your Emergency Response practical."

"It was just a little fun, Bones. You're overreacting." His voice, even to his own ears, sounds petulant and defensive. He tries again. "What's the matter with you? I was just looking for a little release. It's healthy. You're a doctor! Don't be so fucking judgmental."

Bones fixes him with a glare. "Judgmental? If you got abrasions like that, then your partner's an amateur and you were both just plain irresponsible!"

"Look, I don't want to talk about it."

Bones continues as if he hasn't spoken, decibels climbing. "The rope you used was too thin and too restrictive! Your circulation could have been cut off or you could have gotten nerve damage. And if your partner let you walk away with those kinds of injuries, he's either a total jackass or as clueless as you are!"

"Calm down, Bones. It's not your scene. I get that," he says, although part of him is wondering how the hell Bones knows so much about proper bondage technique. "But I'm fine. I was just experimenting a little, okay?"

"I didn't know that you were interested in this kind of thing, kid." There is a hint of gruffness in his voice, and also something else… Surprise? Curiosity?

Jim reddens. "Maybe I didn't either."



After his classes, Jim forgoes his usual leisurely jog around the perimeter of the campus, opting instead for the more demanding Academy obstacle course. The path weaves through the man-made parks of the Academy and in and out of the huge indoor fitness complex. It's starting to rain, and the drizzle mixes with his sweat, falling down his brow and running into his eyes.

He drives himself up the punishing ascents, climbs nets and wire fences, sprints through muddy terrain and crawls under bushes. Large screens posted at the end of each segment inform him of his times and scores, and he takes a masochistic pleasure in forcing himself through retrials when he hasn't met his own exacting standards.

As hard as he pushes himself, though, he can't clear his head. Even as he pants and wheezes and grunts his way through the grueling course, his mind is busy obsessing. He recalls and analyzes every nuance of the conversation with his mother, and then replays it, this time saying what he should have said but didn't have the guts to. He digs up all the past discussions in which his mother expressed her disappointment in him or implied that he'd never live up to the standards she'd set for him. He gets angrier and angrier as he remembers all the times when she wasn't around, leaving him to fend for himself in ways that she never dreamed of. He imagines having that conversation with her, telling her exactly what happened and when and with who.

He runs and runs and can't stop thinking.

An hour and a half later, as darkness falls, he's exhausted. His muscles ache, his lungs burn, and he's chilled to the bone from the wind and incessant rain. He's a little nauseous from the exertion. His mind is quieter, finally.

It's better. But it's not enough.



Jim's relieved when Bones finally drops the subject and focuses on his food. As they eat, Jim bugs him with questions about emergency medical situations. After dinner, Bones takes out his medkit, and they move on to the practical aspects: Jim takes his pulse, makes a basic tricorder sweep, and applies a pressure bandage to Bones' arm.

"Your technique is shit," Bones informs him.

Jim scowls at the bandage he's trying to place around Bones' forearm, which has already begun to unravel. He throws up his hands. "Show me how it's done, then. You're the professional."

"Thought you'd never ask," Bones says with a grin. "Lie down on the floor. You can't work with a patient that's sitting in a chair. And push up your sleeve." When Jim has complied, Bones kneels next to him and grasps his elbow, holding it out to the side, and points to Jim's bicep with his other hand. "Let's say you've got a deep cut right there. Not all that hard to imagine, if you get drunk on Aldebaran firewater again and start picking fights with the guys at the next table—"

"That only happened once, Bones!"

"…and one of them pulls out a knife," Bones finishes, fixing Jim with a hard glare. "So you're bleeding from a deep laceration." He traces a line along Jim's arm with his fingernail, to demonstrate. "All right, pay attention. I'd check for a fracture first. Look for a break in the skin, swelling, or pain." Jim nods, noting the way Bones' fingers are probing methodically along his humerus bone.

Bones' tone is calm and confident, as if he's lecturing one of his residents. "Put the dressing on the wound site and apply direct pressure. Keep it up until the bleeding stops. That should take a few minutes." Bones lays down a sterile bandage and presses down firmly with the heel of his hand.

Bones' hands are warm and surprisingly strong. It's an odd experience to be on the receiving end of medical care when he's not actually injured. Jim's enjoying it, despite the awkward position he's in, lying on the floor with Bones kneeling above him. It's been a long day, and he doesn't mind letting Bones take charge for a little while. It's funny, the way the steady pressure on his arm makes the rest of his body relax.

Bones maintains his hold, still talking in that calm, measured voice. "If you're putting pressure on a cut, it's going to hurt. But you have to press down hard enough to stop the bleeding, even if your patient is complaining about the pain."

"Okay." That makes sense, although the idea of hurting someone who's already wounded makes him a little nervous. It occurs to him, for the first time, that Bones probably has to deal with that sort of situation every day when he's at work. Fuck, he could never be a doctor.

"When you've stopped the bleeding, wrap the wound with something elastic, to keep up the pressure. If you've got a standard field bandage like this one, use it. It's made of polygarnate, and it adjusts the pressure automatically." He begins winding a wide bandage around Jim's arm. "Wrap an extremity in this direction, distal to proximal—from farther away to closer. Try to keep the tension even, and keep the limb elevated." When he finishes, the bandage is tight, and it constricts slightly around his arm.

Bones presses his fingers to Jim's wrist. "You should check the pulse above the bandage manually, to make sure circulation's still good." He looks at him thoughtfully. "How does that feel, Jim?"

"Huh?" It's a strange question, since he's not actually injured, but maybe Bones is just demonstrating proper medical concern. "It feels good. Uh, I mean, it doesn't hurt."

Bones unwinds the bandage, a small smile on his lips, and lets Jim up. They go back to the desk and go over a few other First Response techniques. Bones draws the line at allowing Jim to inject him with a hypospray, and makes him practice on an orange instead while he cleans up in the kitchen.

It's harder than it looks. He's so focused on perfecting his citrus hypo technique--snap in the saline, swipe, jab, press, release--that he doesn't notice the whirr of the scanner behind him until it's too late. When he turns around, Bones is holding the medical tricorder and scowling.

Jim hates med scanners. They aren't nearly as accurate for diagnostic purposes as a biobed, which is equipped with highly precise sensors and cellular imaging technology. For the most part, the biobed eliminates the need for the patient to say very much, because the bed displays his bodily functions automatically on the screen above his head. The most a tricorder can do is measure vital signs and perform limited diagnostic imaging, which means that Jim is about to be asked some uncomfortable questions.

"Bones," Jim reminds him, "you're supposed to be helping me practice. Show me again how you do that hypo jab."

"Pull up your shirt. I want to see what's underneath."

"That's tempting, but I'll pass," Jim smirks. Bones doesn't look amused, which is a bad sign. "Put that thing away. I'm fine."

"Cut the crap, Jim. The scanner's showing increased platelet and lymphocyte interaction and macrophage activity over your chest and abdomen."

"So what?" It's not a brilliant response, he knows, but there's a chance that Bones may drop the subject if he puts up enough of a fuss.

Bones rolls his eyes. "That means you've got some open wounds, kid. So you're going to let me see whatever it is you did to yourself while you were experimenting the other day."

"Some other time." Jim stands up abruptly. "We're done, then, if you're not going to help me study anymore. I'm going back to my dorm."

Jim grabs his PADD and his cadet jacket, but Bones is quicker than he is. He places himself between Jim and the door and folds his arms over his chest. "I'm not kidding, Jim. Take off your shirt."

Jim can't explain why he's compelled to obey. There's something authoritative and steady in Bones' tone which Jim finds hard to resist. It's not the tone Bones usually directs at him--he tends to use a derisive, scathing kind of sarcasm as he rips Jim up one side and down the other for whatever bit of stupidity or clumsiness caused the problem at hand, although his hands are gentle--but Jim's heard him speak like that to the nurses and the other doctors. It's a commanding, confident tone that implies: I expect you to do exactly as I say. For some reason, it makes Jim's stomach clench.

He sighs and grabs the bottom hem of his shirt, pulling it off over his head in one smooth move and tossing it onto the desk. He knows, as he does it, that cooperating like this is a not a good idea, because Bones is going to be furious with him.

"God damn it." Bones moves closer, fingering the sharp cuts along his abdomen and chest, pressing slightly on the sensitive skin while Jim pastes an indifferent look on his face. "I knew it would be something like this." A hot sting of pain flashes through him as Bones touches the swollen edge of deepest cut, just under his rib cage, and he flinches involuntarily.

Bones is shaking his head. "There are twelve separate lacerations that I can see. Most of the cuts are fairly shallow, but these two," he says, pointing to the deep one and another below his navel, "are pretty deep, and they're getting infected. I'll need to clean and treat them."

He's a little rattled by Bones' description of lacerations and infections, not to mention cleaning and treating. If Bones has his way, things are going to get medical and unpleasant very quickly. "Bones, don't make such a big deal out of it, it was just a little knife play--"

"Knife play?" Bones looks disgusted. "Is that what you call it? Did your friend even sterilize the blade, or just run into the kitchen and start rummaging around in the drawers?"

"Of course he cleaned the blade," Jim scoffs, although he really has no idea where Gennady got the knife or whether he sterilized it.

"He?" Bones raises an eyebrow. Jim stares back defiantly. "Well, did he use an antiseptic before he started slashing you?" Jim shakes his head, feeling like a scolded child. "Did the fool even wear gloves?"

"I don't think so, but—"

"And for your information, this isn't knife play, kid. Do your research next time. This is cutting, plain and simple."

"How would you know what knife play is?"

"I'm a doctor, remember? Believe me, I've seen it all before. I know what blood play looks like, kid, and this ain't it. This is random and uneven, just like a beginner would do after seeing too many cheap porno vids. Was this what you wanted?"

"Don't give me that look," he says defensively, although it's beginning to dawn on him that maybe Gennady wasn't as knowledgeable as he seemed. "Lots of people do this sort of thing. Not everybody's vanilla like you." Jim really doesn't know anything about Bones' sex life, beyond the fact that he was married. If he's been getting any action at all since they've been at the Academy--which Jim doubts--he's been completely discreet about it.

Bones gives him a withering gaze. "Well, thank you for that lecture on sexual diversity, Doctor Kirk. Personally, I don't care if you get your kicks from holding hands with your partner or doing acrobatics. But this guy's an irresponsible asshole if he let it get this far."

"I told you, it was consensual!"

"You consented to letting somebody carve you up like a Thanksgiving turkey?" he asks, and Jim glowers at him. "Your wrists are bruised and abraded and you came out of there bleeding in a dozen places. Did you even have a safeword, Jim?"

Jim shrugs away from Bones' touch and takes a step backward. He doesn't really want to answer. It's nobody else's business whether he did or didn't have a safeword, and besides, this is downright embarrassing. Jim's pretty uninhibited in the bedroom when the door is shut, but he's not so keen on giving the blow-by-blow afterward to his best friend and his doctor, especially since Bones is making him feel like an idiot. His ears are hot, and he can imagine how red his face must be by now.

But Bones is looking at him expectantly, and the silence is itching along his nerves, so he finally answers. "Not a safeword, exactly, but I agreed to it, okay? I told him he could do what he wanted. I thought it would be... I don't know. Intense."

"So you didn't discuss any limits, then." His tone is rising dangerously. "Did you both check your common sense at the door? Damn it, Jim! Sounds like the blind leading the blind! No wonder you ended up like this."

Bones has a point, Jim concedes, but hell, how was he supposed to know what was going to happen? Gennady told him he knew what he was doing. "You're making it sound worse than it is. It's not that bad."

Bones just shakes his head. "Well, I'll give you a choice, Jim. You can either take a short walk with me to the clinic, or you can lie down on the bed here and let me clean and seal those cuts now."

"No fucking way! I'm going home."

"Don't argue with me. Do you want to have an ugly scar for a souvenir? Or a sepsis infection? Sit." Bones glares at Jim until, sighing, he perches himself on the edge of the bed.

He watches glumly as Bones turns back to the desk to where the medkit is lying open, selects two small liquid-filled vials, and snaps them down onto the hypospray. "Come on, Bones, I don't need--Fuck!"

Bones slams the hypo home with a practiced flick of his wrist and thumb, a one-handed jab-press-release. Despite everything, Jim is impressed by his dexterity with the hypo. "It's an antibiotic for the infection."

"For God's sake, Bones, I was gentler than that when I was practicing on a piece of fruit! Don't you think that..."

A wave of dizziness washes over him, and he stretches out his hands to the bed for balance. "Whoa. What was in that?"

Bones smiles. "I added a muscle relaxant. It'll make things easier." He places his hand on Jim's shoulder, steadying him, as Jim starts to sway slightly. "Lie down, Jim. Don't fight it."

"I think this is unethical," he grumbles, but can't resist anymore as Bones guides him back onto the pillow, hoisting his legs up onto the bed. "Didn't give you permission to treat me..."

"I'm a Starfleet physician and you're an injured cadet. That's all the permission I need." Bones is rummaging in his medkit again, and returns with a disinfectant spray, a dermal sealant and some other supplies that Jim can't identify. "Relax, kid, this will take a little while."

The muscle relaxant takes the fight out of him. Jim keeps his eyes trained on Bones as he works, fully focused on Jim's bare chest. He's always liked to watch Bones in his doctor mode. His movements are fluid and sure, and his brow is slightly furrowed in concentration. Jim can feel Bones' fingers, pulling and stretching his skin, but it doesn't hurt. He feels floaty and a little detached, as if the numbing agent Bones is spreading over the cuts is numbing his brain as well. Bones sets up a sterile field around the cut under his ribs, and the heat from the device soothes him further, making him drowsy.

After a few minutes Bones looks up and meets his eyes. "Talk to me, Jim."

Jim shakes his head. "I don't want to talk about it. It was a mistake."

"I'd say the way you went about it was a mistake, but you acted on a need." Bones' voice is surprisingly gentle. "I'm actually kind of impressed. Most people don't go so far as to act on these kinds of impulses. It takes courage. I'm just trying to understand what you wanted."

He really doesn't want to explain any of it, but he can't quite stop himself from speaking. Maybe it's the intimacy of the situation, with Bones leaning over him, touching him, and so fully focused on him. He has a sneaking suspicion, though, that whatever drug Bones has slipped him is loosening his tongue and lowering his inhibitions.

So he answers, revealing the painful, simple truth. "Maybe I wanted it to hurt." Once the words are out of his mouth, the air in the room feels suddenly stuffy, and Jim feels a hot flash of embarrassment sweep through him. Even so, he can't stop. "Maybe I needed to stop thinking about... things."

"Things?" Bones repeats. "What things?"

"I don't know..." He sighs, knowing that Bones' eyes are on him, waiting. "Being here at the Academy. A Starfleet career." His voice is low, hardly audible even to his own ears. "My dad. My mom."

Bones doesn't say anything, and Jim wishes he could just manage to shut up. But he can't seem to control his tongue. "I thought it would help... I can't sit still in my classes. I'm too jumpy. I went for a run the other day, and that usually works, but not this time..."

"So you thought you'd do something a little risky. Something you've been thinking about but never tried."

Jim doesn't deny it. "I needed to get out of my head, that's all. Just for a few hours."

To his surprise, Bones doesn't give him one of his disparaging looks or berate him for being a self-destructive idiot. He just nods, as if Jim's confirmed something he suspected. "Tell me how it happened."

Bones' fingers are warm and comforting on his chest, and the soft whirring of the dermal stimulator relaxes him. "We booked one of the small sparring rooms at the gym," he begins. "It was pretty late at night, and most of the rooms were empty." Jim remembers how he stripped down to his briefs and let Gennady bind his wrists and ankles to the bars mounted on the wall of the small sparring room at the gym, feeling the thrill of immobilization, the rush of powerlessness.

"At first, it was a turn on. The secrecy, the ropes... I let him blindfold me, and he just touched me, ran his hands over me, for a while. It was..." It was erotic and terrifying, he almost says, but no one, not even Bones, needs to know that. No one has to know how his body flooded with a rush of adrenaline and arousal as Gennady's rough hands began skating along the muscles of his back, thighs, and abdomen. "It was exciting," he says instead. The dermal stim unit is a little irritating and he squirms uncomfortably.

Bones doesn't look up from his work, but a small smile plays on his lips. "I'm sure it was. Hold still now." His hand presses down firmly on Jim's hip, keeping him from moving. It grounds him, and he relaxes into the touch with a sigh.

"I liked it. It felt good, even when he got a little rough." Bones raises an eyebrow in curiosity. "Nothing much, just a pinch or a slap here or there. But then... He told me he'd brought something, and he was going to try it, if that was okay with me. I said yes."

"Just like that? Blindfolded and tied up, and you gave him permission to do whatever he wanted?"

Put that way, it does sound reckless. "I've never done anything like this before, Bones," he admits. "The guy I was with...he said he liked power games and he knew what to do. I let him control the scene. That was the point, wasn't it? I didn't know he was planning to cut me like that." He closes his eyes. "That was my fault."

Bones raises an eyebrow. "How was that your fault, Jim? You were tied up and he was the one holding the knife."

"I knew I was taking a risk," he says. "If shit happens when I put myself in that position, I've got no one to blame but myself."


"No limits," Jim tells Gennady. "Make me feel."

"I know what you need. I can give you what you want." Jim feels a brief rush of heat that goes directly to his rapidly-hardening cock, even though Gennady hasn't touched that yet. "You relax, Jim. Just let me do the work." He can hear Gennady take a few steps away, moving across the room to the bag he's left lying near the door.

Jim waits. The ropes are tight and abrasive against his wrists and ankles, and though he strains against them briefly, he can't move at all. Unable to see or move, his remaining senses seem more acute. He wants desperately to be touched again.

The shock of the cold metal on his skin, just as he's expecting the warm touch of Gennady's fingers, startles him and he flinches. The bottom drops out of his stomach as he realizes just what Gennady is holding against his skin. His heart rate ratchets up and a cold sweat breaks out over him.

Fuck. A knife.

Jim hates knives. Gennady doesn't know that, of course. No one does. Knives make him feel small and helpless and vulnerable. There's a very bad memory that goes along with a particular knife in a particular kitchen, and a very small scar just under his chin.

He doesn't protest, though. Protesting would mean admitting the power and shame that memory holds over him, and it makes him furious with himself that he's allowed those images to surface again, now, just as he's starting to lose himself in the scene.

"Don't tense up. Relax." Gennady traces patterns over Jim's chest with the flat side of the blade, teasing him. He drags the handle around Jim's throat, making him gasp. He glides it over his lips, and dips it into his mouth.

Jim's mouth is dry and his breathing is quickening. He feels as if not enough oxygen is reaching his brain, but he can't seem to take a deep breath. His muscles clench, and when Gennady pokes him gently with the tip, just over his navel, he presses back instinctively into the wall.

Calm down, he tells himself. It's just play, just a mind game. He makes an effort to loosen his muscles and slow his breathing. Gennady presses the cold, blunt edge into his thigh, scraping it hard along his skin.

"This is really getting to you, isn't it?" Gennady sounds a little giddy, oblivious to the panic attack Jim's on the verge of having.

"Maybe you could slow down a little," Jim manages to say.

"Relax. I'll put the knife down for a bit. Just focus on how you feel." Gennady runs his hands again over Jim's sensitized skin, alternating between light, feathery touches of his fingers and hard scrapes of his fingernails. Jim's breathing gradually returns to normal.

It's good, he thinks; the element of fear is just what he needed. Gennady palms Jim's flagging erection through the cotton of his briefs. Jim feels his cock twitch and swell slightly against Gennady's fingers. "That's better," Gennady says with satisfaction. "Want to try again?"

Jim nods. It's about time he dealt with his fear, anyway. This is just a scene and the knife is a prop. He can handle it. "Sure."

Gennady brings the knife out again, touching him here or there with the flat of the blade. He plays across Jim's shoulders and traces the line of his spine and the curve of his bicep. He makes quick slashes with the blunt edge of the knife, pressing down just enough to raise a welt without breaking the skin. He scrapes the blunt edge across his chest. It's unpredictable and it keeps Jim off balance.

The sting of the knife is good; it's not really painful, and it centers him, reminding him that it's clearly a game. Jim begins to breathe more deeply. He's calmer, even as his heightened senses are stimulated and teased. His focus sharpens and narrows. He's not really afraid, but he's on edge and nervous.

Then he hears Gennady says, "Now don't move. Let's try something a little more intense." He freezes as he feels the sharpened edge of the blade drag across his chest. Gennady suddenly presses down, and he feels the blade sink into his skin.

He makes a startled cry at the sharp pain. He wants to object, to tell Gennady that this is going too far, but his vocal cords seem paralyzed. He struggles vainly against the bonds, and that just makes it hurt more. His heart starts hammering in his chest and his throat is suddenly dry.

"Keep still," Gennady tells him, sounding amused, "or I might accidentally do this." Jim hisses as he feels the sharp point of the knife poke into his skin just above his sternum, leaving a stinging pain in its wake. "Or this," he says, pressing down hard enough on the blade to cause a white line of fire to open along Jim's rib cage. Jim can feel the slow drip of blood trickle down his abdomen.

Gennady's voice is calm and soothing, even as he traces the blade lightly down Jim's neck. "That's what it's about, Jim. Fear is good. It'll give you an adrenaline rush. The endorphins will kick in and then it won't hurt at all. Come on, you're too tense..."

Of course I'm fucking tense, he wants to say. He tries to control the panic, reminding himself that this is what he wanted, what he asked for. But the feel of metal penetrating his skin touches something primal in him, and he knows that unless he stays perfectly still, the knife will do serious damage.

Gennady presses down again in a quick flick over his chest. There's a split second in which he feels nothing besides the pressure of the blade, and he thinks that Gennady might be right, that it won't hurt. But then the pain washes over him, a sharp burn that makes him moan and jerk back, and fuck, what the hell's wrong with him, did that pathetic sound just come from him?

He pulls against the ropes, eyes straining open against the blindfold. His body forgets that it's a game and can only focus on one thing: fight-or-flight.

Gennady stops, and the hesitation is clear in his voice. "Want me to keep going?"

Jim knows he's being given a choice, and the rational part of his brain is screaming at him to stop. But there's a secret part that he keeps hidden in a dark corner of his soul, that is drawn to the hurt like a familiar comfort. It's nothing he would ever admit, but it's something he knows on a visceral level, a shattering truth that came to him when he was young. Pain is inevitable and expected; at best, he can control when and how it overtakes him.

It's how his world works. And sometimes he seeks it out, brings it on himself.

So he says nothing.

"I'll take that as a yes. Let's try another one."


"It hurt," he admits. "But I didn't stop him."

"Why not?"

"Fuck if I know." His eyes are closing. God, he's so tired.

Bones sighs heavily, smoothing the sealant gel over the last cut. He picks up the tricorder again. Moving it slowly down the length of Jim's chest down to his hips, he seems satisfied with the readings. "Well, the cuts should heal within a few days."

Jim grunts in sleepy acknowledgment. A second later he's startled out of his doze by a sharp slap to his cheek, and he cries out in surprise. "Hey, what the hell--"

"Don't fall asleep." Bones is glaring down at him. "I have a few things to say to you."

Shit. Of course he does.

"You can sit up." Bones collects his equipment from the bed, dumps it onto the desk beside the medkit, and steps into the bathroom.

Jim pushes himself to a sitting position. His head is still a little fuzzy, as if he's had too much to drink. He grabs his shirt off the desk and tugs it down gingerly over his chest, which is covered in gleaming translucent gel. The abrasions on his wrists are also covered with a salve, and they don't look as red and swollen as they were before. He shrugs into his red uniform jacket, feeling depleted of energy.

Jim hears the rush of water in the sink as Bones washes his hands. "You still have traces of the muscle relaxant in your system, so straight to bed from here. You can wash off the gel tomorrow night."

"Fine." All he can think about is collapsing in his bed.

Stepping out of the bathroom, Bones goes to the desk and fiddles with the medkit, keeping his back to Jim. "All this just to get your rocks off, Jim?" he says, too casually. "You couldn't just get laid without having somebody slice you up?"

Ouch. "It wasn't about fucking. We didn't do that, anyway. I don't..." His voice trails off.

I don't do guys, he's about to say. But he's not entirely sure about that lately, not if his fantasies about his best friend are anything to judge by. "I've never done that," he amends.

"You never let a man fuck you?" Bones' tone is neutral, noncommittal, as if he's asking something about Jim's medical history.

"That's not my thing," he says too quickly.

"Not your thing, huh?" Bones gives him a skeptical look, and shit, Bones is learning way too much about his fantasy life. "But letting a guy tie you up and cut you is your thing?"

"That's my own damn business! I know you don't get it, but that was for the thrill. For the risk."

"Or the hurt," Bones says quietly. "Or the surrender."

"Maybe. I don't know." Jim sighs, tired of trying to explain what he hardly understands in the first place. He's not sure that he's relieved, now that he's told Bones about what happened. He wants desperately to slide into his own bed, shut his eyes, and try to forget that this conversation has taken place.

"All right, Jim. Now listen to me."

Jim braces himself for the tirade, but Bones only says quietly, "Number one. I want you to come back here next Friday evening. You'll need a follow-up on those cuts and abrasions--"

"Oh, come on, Bones, it's just a couple of little scratches!"

"...and I'm assuming you don't want a record of them in your medical chart. So I'll check you out here again." Bones' expression turns stern. "But I'm warning you, the next time I find out that you've damaged yourself in these kinds of games, I will make a full notation in your medical file."

"Okay, okay!" Jim isn't sure whether Bones would actually carry out on his threat, but his stomach churns as he mulls over the implications. A comment like that in his file could seriously screw up his chances at command.

"Number two. Stay away from your partner, whoever he is."

"I knew you'd say that." He's already wondered what he'll say to Gennady on Tuesday, during their next Hand-to-Hand class. At the moment, his plan is to bluff his way through, pretending that nothing out of the ordinary happened between them.

"I mean it, Jim. What you did, consenting in advance without knowing what he was planning, was irresponsible and dangerous. You could have been seriously injured, and you're lucky your partner didn't do something worse. I want you to promise me that you won't try something like that again--"

Jim cuts him off, meeting his eyes defiantly. "That's very fucking helpful, Bones. I tried to explain it to you. You want to tell me again how stupid I was? Thanks very much."

"That's not what I was about to say, you idiot! I want you to promise that you won't try something like that again, not with this guy and not with anyone else."

Jim shakes his head and scowls. "Telling me not to do it—"

"I know. It doesn't make the need go away. Which brings me to the third point. The next time you feel like that—like you can't concentrate, can't stop thinking about things, and you need to get out of your head—I want you to come to me."

"To you?" he says incredulously.

"Yes, to me." Bones meets his eyes directly. He looks deadly serious. "Nobody else, Jim.

Jim's laugh has a bitter edge. After all this, Bones still hasn't understood anything. "What the hell can you do? I know you're a doctor, but this isn't something you can just hypospray away!"

He's taken aback when Bones just chuckles. "Who says I'd use a hypospray? You're not sick."

Jim blinks at him. If there's a joke here, he's missing it. He wonders if Bones is making fun of him.

Bones seems to sense his confusion. "Leave it to me to figure it out. Trust me, I know what I'm doing, and you've just demonstrated that you don't."

He's so tired that he'll agree to anything at this point. "Whatever. Come to you. Got it. Anything else?"

Bones looks as if there's plenty more he'd like to say, but mercifully, the only thing that comes out of his mouth is, "That's it for now. Go home, kid. Get some sleep. Don't do any strenuous exercising for the next two days and make sure you eat regularly. You look like shit."

As Jim stumbles out of the room, rolling Bones' instructions over in his mind, he has the uncomfortable feeling that he's just missed something important. But in his muddled state, he can't quite figure out what it is.



Part Two

The next few days go by without incident. Jim finds that he's able to focus on his studies once again with no problem. In his command seminar he makes intelligent comments, and Cheney gives him a look of approval--not that Jim cares, because Cheney's an asshole, but still. In Hand to Hand he not-so-subtly places himself across the room from Gennady and works out with other partners. He can feel Gennady staring at him questioningly from time to time, but Jim doesn't meet his gaze.

He aces his Emergency Response practical. He feels his confidence growing again as he puts his conversation with his mother out of his mind. He was just having a bad week, he tells himself. The incident with Gennady was a fluke, and the fact that Bones found out about it is just fucking embarrassing, but now he's back on track.

As promised, he shows up at Bones' apartment on Friday night, but to his relief, Bones treats him with matter-of-fact professionalism. He doesn't berate Jim again, just asks him to lift up his shirt and gives him a quick once-over with the tricorder. The rope abrasions have mostly healed, leaving only a fading reddish band around his wrists. The cuts are barely visible.

It's awkward, but Jim tries to act as if the conversation the week before never happened. Bones is his best friend and he wants to get beyond this. Okay, so now Bones knows that his tastes run a little kinky and Jim knows that Bones is way too uptight about sexual matters, but if they just never mention it again, things will go back to being like they were. Or at least he hopes they will.

So as the doctor is putting away the tricorder, Jim decides to do what he'd normally do on a Friday night in Bones' room, which is to go into his kitchen and grab two beers.

"Don't you want to hear about my Emergency Response practical?" Jim asks, placing one of the beers in Bones' hand and flopping down on his couch. "I was awesome. You should have seen me administer a hypo. My technique was flawless."

"Well, I taught you. Of course you passed," Bones says smugly. "But using a hypo is only useful if you've got a medkit with you. It's a lot more important to know what to do when you don't, like how to resuscitate someone or tie a tourniquet."

"I'm not a doctor, Bones. That's your job, not mine," Jim says, just to needle him.

"If you ask me, Starfleet should design that practical so that every cadet has to demonstrate basic first aid techniques. Even a command-track clown like you should know what to do if someone's bleeding out next to you and a medic's not available!"

Once Bones starts bitching, he's easy to manage. Jim asks leading questions about his favorite topics: the incompetence of the residents he's supervising and the absurdities of hospital politics. Bones is brilliant, independent, and demanding, and he's also extremely intolerant of fools, who seem to be in good supply in Starfleet Medical, according to one Dr. Leonard H. McCoy. Jim nods and agrees in all the right places, glad to have his friend back to his usual blustering, cantankerous self.

Even through his relief, he feels an undercurrent of tension, as if there's unfinished business between them. But he ignores it. He's not going to bring up what happened and he hopes that Bones won't either.

Jim tells him about the presentation he's preparing for his seminar. He's excited about the topic—command dilemmas—and he's decided to do his on Jonathan Archer's decision to steal a warp coil from an Illyrian ship in order to repair the damage to the Enterprise in 2154. He's going to discuss the history of piracy and the moral dilemma of stranding the alien ship.

After a while, though, he notices that Bones doesn't seem to be paying attention to what he's saying. He's leaning back in his chair and regarding him with a pensive look. Bones is getting too quiet, and that makes Jim nervous.

He expects Bones to start asking him awkward questions about how he's feeling and what he's been up to, but all Bones does is ask him, after a while, "Been able to settle down this week?"

Jim gives him his most sincere smile. "Absolutely. No problem."

Bones gives him a penetrating look, but only says mildly, "That's good, then." His tone seems doubtful, as if he knows something that Jim doesn't.

Jim excuses himself pretty quickly after that, saying that he has to do more research for his presentation. "I'll see you around," he says casually. "Thanks for the beer."

As he walks past Bones on his way out the door, a hand on his arm stops him in his tracks.

"Don't forget what I told you, Jim." Bones' voice is soft and low in his ear, and he stills instinctively. "Stay away from your partner, whoever he is. If you start feeling like you need to get out of your head again, I want you to come to me."

Jim blows out a shaky breath, nods, and leaves without looking back.



A week later, like a house of cards in a gust of wind, it all falls apart.

Jim makes his seminar presentation on Friday afternoon. It goes smoothly. Jim's discovered that he has a knack for public speaking, and he rather enjoys it. Cheney tells him that his discussion of the ethical conflict was insightful and clear, but his coverage of First Contact with the Xindi was superficial. Jim's happy enough with that; most of his classmates had their work torn to shreds by the end of the class.

There's time for one more cadet presentation, but Jim's not really paying attention to the speaker as he finishes making notes on Cheney's remarks. When he finally looks up, he sees Paul Sarfus, a thin, intense cadet whom he doesn't know well, standing at the front of the room. The title of his presentation is plastered across the front wall of the classroom and the individual screens on each desk: "The Destruction of the Kelvin."

The screen splits as Jim blinks stupidly at it. One side reads "Command Dilemmas in the Sequence of Events," and the other shows the standard Starfleet photo of his father.

Jim sits frozen, not really listening to Sarfus, staring into his father's face. The picture is utterly familiar to him, and yet he hasn't really looked at it for years. It was taken when George Kirk was 28, about six years older than Jim is now. The resemblance is unmistakable. He has his father's thick eyebrows and blue eyes, the same coloring, the same smile. The differences are apparent, too: George looks determined and optimistic in the picture, whereas Jim's been told (again and again) that he projects something more defiant and cynical.

Looking at his father now, Jim can't help but imagine how he'd have been different—more positive, more trusting—if the man in the picture had been in his life. If he'd had a normal family, instead of a grieving, bitter mother who couldn't handle the circumstances she'd been dealt.

He shakes himself out of his reverie as Sarfus is summing up the background information: the Kelvin's warp capability, crew complement, and armaments; its command structure, and Robau's leadership style. Sarfus explains that he will be giving them a minute-by-minute breakdown of the command decisions taken by Captain Robau and, later, George Kirk.

Jim looks helplessly over at his instructor, wondering if he's going to step in and stop this amateur dissection of his father's last moments, but Cheney won't meet his eye. Well, screw him, Jim thinks, his fingers curling involuntarily into a crude gesture under the desk.

He tries for some measure of objectivity. It's not personal. It's just a class assignment, and the destruction of the Kelvin is a well-known public event. Naturally, Starfleet would encourage its cadets to study it. Captain Pike told him that he did his dissertation on it. Maybe he's being too sensitive; after all, his father is widely praised as a hero. If Sarfus wants to learn from his actions, let him.

Jim lets himself be drawn into the details of the story as Sarfus reviews the known facts: the sudden appearance of the massive enemy ship, and the crippling attack which caused high numbers of casualties and disabled the Kelvin. Jim's mother lived through it all, but she never talked about it. She kept a stifling blanket of silence around the tragedy, and despite his burning curiosity, Jim never felt that he could ask his mother for details about what it was like for her.

Sarfus discusses Robau's decisions to prepare for evacuation and to beam over to the rogue ship, analyzing his decision-making process and suggesting alternatives. Listening to the cadet's reedy voice droning on about "problem analysis" and "utility alternatives," Jim tries to distance himself from his personal story and look at the events with some detachment. It's just a battle, he tells himself. One for the history books.

But then Sarfus finishes with Robau's part in the story, and George Kirk becomes the focus of his analysis. "The final minutes of the Kelvin are not part of the public record, as most of the material is still classified. I interviewed a few Kelvin survivors who are teaching here at the Academy, but as they were already on the escape shuttles at the time, some of what I present here will be, uh, speculative."

Speculative. He's going to make wild guesses, Jim translates, with a vague sense of apprehension. He's going to make things up and present them as fact, to give his stupid presentation more of a punch.

Sarfus never once looks in his direction as he makes his arrogant critique. Communications were damaged, he informs the class, and George Kirk never left the bridge. In that situation, isolated and inexperienced, "it's entirely understandable that Acting Captain Kirk would hesitate," he says with a note of sympathy. Jim stares at him, narrowing his eyes, his mouth closed in a hard line. His father wasn't Acting Captain by that point, he fumes; Robau had relinquished command to him and then been killed.

"Kirk knew that his wife was in labor and was delayed in reaching her medical shuttle. It's possible that he wasted precious seconds waiting for her to board her escape pod and take off." Heads are beginning to turn toward Jim; he can hear the cadets behind him whispering.

Sarfus continues, seeming oblivious to the stir he's creating. "If Kirk had initiated the collision course even thirty seconds earlier, the autopilot would have engaged and he might have been able to make it to a shuttle himself." He pauses, making eye contact with Jim for the first time. The look he gives him is apologetic, but his words are damning. "Commander Kirk's motives for delaying are certainly inspiring on a personal level, but his command decisions seem to indicate that he was emotionally compromised."

Jim can hardly breathe. This conceited twerp is standing there, telling the whole class that Jim's father was indecisive and hesitant, because he waited a few extra seconds so that his wife and unborn child could get out. His sacrifice was nothing more than a poor command decision. The fact that George Kirk waited for Winona—and Jim—to get to safety was a waste of precious time.

His attention begins to phase in and out, and he's only able to focus on snatches of Sarfus' words. His mind is whirling. "Assuming that the Kelvin's weapons capabilities were still functional… The escape pods needed weapons cover, which Kirk was unable to provide… Extrapolating from this data, I can suggest another course of action…"

Jim can't hear anything above the roar of fuckyoufuckyoufuckyou that's flooding his brain. He can't stand being in the same room anymore with this moron and his shallow assessments, doesn't want to acknowledge that any of his criticism might be accurate. He only wants the class to end so he can grab Sarfus by his bony shoulders, spin him around and punch him hard across the jaw so that he'll shut up.

When Sarfus mercifully stops talking, the class is over. Cheney thanks Sarfus for his efforts in presenting the class with such a thought-provoking retelling of a well-known event, and says that he'll deliver more detailed feedback in the next lesson. Jim's barely listening as Cheney dismisses them. He shoots out of his chair and heads toward the door.

His friend Gary Mitchell grabs his arm as he storms past his chair near the back of the class. "Jim, wait for me!" His eyes look sympathetic, full of concern, but Jim's in no mood for pity.

"Leave it," he hisses, and shrugs off his grip.

Cheney is calling his name, but he pretends he doesn't hear.

He doesn't care what his instructor might have to say. Cheney approved Sarfus' topic and has known about it for weeks, but it obviously didn't occur to him that Jim might want to know in advance that his father's actions would be put on display and judged in front of the entire class. Or was this Cheney's revenge for the way Jim made a fool out of him in class a few weeks ago? Either way, Jim knows that if he talks to the man right now, he'll say or do something that will, in his mother's words, "disrespect his elders."

He has to hit something or he'll explode. He's shaking with fury, and there's no way he can sit through his next class: "Federation History: From First Contact to the First Babel Conference." He blows it off and heads for the gym.

An hour with the contact combat simulator leaves Jim bruised and sweaty but no calmer. A long, hot shower doesn't help much either.

He checks his comm as he's getting dressed. Gary's called, and so have two others from his class. Cheney's tried to contact him twice, but Jim deletes those messages. Sarfus sent a vid apology: "Kirk, listen, I'm sorry… Guess I should have talked to you first. I didn't really think about how you'd react." He texts him back a quick "Fuck you."

Bones is unavailable when Jim calls him. Figures.

He calls Bones again when he's ready to leave the gym, and twice more over the next hour, but he still isn't answering. He feels irrationally let down. He knows that Bones can't always return his calls when he's at work, but damn it, he needs to talk to him now.

Then he brightens slightly; it's Friday, so he's allowed off campus. He sends Bones a message: "Gonna get drunk tonight. Meet me at The Titanic?"

It doesn't matter. He can drink alone.


Jim's at a small side table working on his third whiskey when a hand slaps him solidly on the back, making the drink he's holding slosh onto the table. He looks up in annoyance.

Gennady seems unmoved by his antagonistic glare and slides into the seat across from him. "Heard about what happened, Jim. It's all over campus."

Jim scowls and looks away. "I don't give a shit."

"Hey." Gennady touches his arm, making him look up. "Paul Sarfus is an arrogant ass. He's in my dorm, and I know he's an idiot."

"He can say what he wants." The drinks have numbed Jim's senses, and he's not so angry anymore. He's fallen into a sort of sullen stupor where Sarfus and Cheney can't touch him. "I can't stop people from talking."

"Forget them. They're not worth it." Gennady leans in, across the table. His voice drops lower, more suggestive. "Haven't worked out with you in a couple of weeks, Jim."

Jim takes another swallow of his drink, enjoying the sharp burn as it hits the back of his throat. He makes an effort to keep his expression neutral. "Hey, no offense. It's just good to work out with different partners."

"But it's better to work out with someone who knows your strengths and weaknesses." Gennady smiles, reaching out to grab Jim's wrist. He rubs his thumb lightly over the red mark that is only faintly visible. "I know what you need."

Jim feels a wave of heat wash over him. He remembers the feeling of struggling against the ropes, sightless and hypersensitive to Gennady's probing fingers, and damn it, he's tempted.

"I can help you forget," Gennady tells him. "I can make it hurt in a good way."

Make it hurt. Jim recalls the white-hot bite of the knife across his ribs and shivers. He jerks his hand back, remembering too late that Bones has warned him to stay away from Gennady. "I don't think so. Once was enough for me."

Gennady frowns, as if he doesn't have the patience for Jim's objections. "You got a kick out of it. I know you did."

Jim raises his voice. "Fuck off, okay? I just want to have a drink, that's all."

"Come on, Jim. After what happened, you need this. We can get a practice room at the gym again. It'll be empty at this hour. Or we could go to my room..."

"Hello, Jim." Bones is suddenly standing next to their table. "Guess you started without me." Jim squints up at him, feeling a little dizzy, relieved at the interruption. But Bones is staring coldly at Gennady, and Jim wonders how much of their conversation he's overheard.

He covers his embarrassment with a weak grin. "Bones! Uh, this is my Hand-to-Hand partner, Gennady. The one with the mean elbow jab. But he was just leaving." Jim looks meaningfully at Gennady to emphasize his point.

"Right. I'm going." Gennady stands to leave. "Give me a call, Jim. The offer stands." He pushes past Bones, squeezing Jim's shoulder as he goes. It's a possessive gesture, and Jim pulls away uncomfortably, unable to stop himself from casting an anxious glance in Bones' direction. But Bones' powers of observation are acute, and he doesn't miss the leer that Gennady gives him, or the way Jim tenses at his touch.

"Wait a minute," Bones says slowly, turning to face Gennady. He holds out his hand, but his expression is chilly. "Dr. Leonard McCoy." Sensing the open hostility radiating off him, Gennady shakes his hand reluctantly and introduces himself.

"I'm Jim's physician. I've seen the results of your handiwork, you jackass. A black eye a few weeks ago, and then—"

"That wasn't his fault, Bones," Jim says quickly.

"—and a few more cuts and bruises," Bones finishes, ignoring Jim. He keeps his eyes trained on Gennady's face, and nods when Gennady's mouth tightens in comprehension. "Yeah, I thought so. Come here, cadet. I want to have a word with you."

Bones places a hand on Gennady's shoulder, drawing him closer. He speaks very quietly at Gennady's ear for a minute. Jim can't hear what they're saying and he can't see Bones' face, but Gennady looks distinctly uncomfortable.

Bones hisses one final, menacing syllable, and Gennady turns on his heel and makes his escape. Bones slides into the chair next to Jim with a satisfied grunt.

Jim toasts him sloppily with what's left of his whiskey. "Hey, Bones. Glad you could make it."

He raises the glass to toss the drink back, but Bones stops him with a quick movement of his wrist. "I think you've had enough." He looks markedly displeased.

Screw that. Jim pushes him away angrily and downs the rest of the whiskey in one gulp.

Bones' voice is flat, as if he's furious but trying to mask it. "I told you to stay away from the guy with the knife."

The look he gives Jim is accusatory, but damn it, why should he feel guilty for talking to a friend? Besides, Gennady joined him. It's not like he went looking for Mr. Slice-and-Dice. "Well, I called you, but I guess you were too busy to answer."

"I was in surgery when you called." His mouth tightens in frustration. "I came as soon as I could."

Jim gives a bitter laugh. "Hey, it's okay. Gennady was here."

"You were about to—"

He slams the glass back down on the table. "No, I wasn't about to anything. We were just having a drink, for God's sake! What the hell did you say to him?"

Bones sighs. "Don't worry, I just directed him to a club on Castro Street where he can polish his skills."

"How would you know where—"

Bones cuts him off, fixing him with a hard glare. "And I told him that if he gets close to you with a sharp object again I'll have him hauled in on charges of aggravated assault."

"What the fuck gives you the right to interfere in my business?" Jim snarls. "You don't approve. I get that. But I don't need your protection."

"Maybe you do. You asked me to come here, remember?"

"Not for that!"

Bones is clearly losing his patience. "You're drunk, and I'm not having this conversation with you here."

Jim watches glumly as he reaches for his ever-present medkit and starts rummaging in it. "That's the point of drinking, Bones. I want to get drunk. And you can put away that damn kit, I don't want a fucking detox hypo."

"Relax, I don't have a hypo." Bones closes the kit and spreads his hands open in a gesture of innocence. "But I think you should come home with me now." He rests his hand casually on the back of Jim's neck. Jim jerks away in irritation, trying to shrug off the touch, but Bones is surprisingly persistent, rubbing the back of his neck until it starts to tingle. It's an odd feeling.

Reaching up, Jim can feel something attached to his skin; it feels like a circular, paper-thin, flexible bandage. "Bones, what the hell—"

"Detox patch. We keep them stocked in the E.R. to deal with belligerent drunks like you. You can't peel it off after it's been activated," Bones informs him, slapping away his fingers. "It'll drop off once the process is complete. Let's go."

Jim can feel heat radiating out from the patch. His skin feels suddenly tight, and he's starting to sweat. "I'm not going anywhere! Get your hand off me, and I…" His voice trails off as a wave of acute nausea begins building in his gut. He stares at Bones in alarm. "Uh, I think I need to—"

Bones hauls him up by the arm and pushes him in the direction of the bathroom. "That means it's working. I'll meet you out front when you're finished."


Jim sobers up quickly and unpleasantly during the walk back to the Academy, ending up with a metallic taste in his mouth and a burning thirst. The patch gradually stops tingling and itching, and comes off easily in Jim's hand. He tosses it onto the manicured path in front of Bones' apartment building, grinding it into the dirt with the heel of his shoe.

Bones laughs at his childish gesture. "It's biodegradable."

He follows Bones sullenly into the lift. The aftermath of his aborted drinking bout has left him feeling resentful and dissatisfied. Bones has a lot of nerve, Jim thinks, treating him like a recalcitrant child. Paul Sarfus' reedy voice is beginning to intrude into his consciousness again.

"I told you I wanted to get drunk," Jim complains as they reach Bones' door. "You had no right to cut me off like that." His head is starting to throb. Leaning back against the wall as Bones punches in the access code, he closes his eyes for a moment, rubbing his temples.

"Sorry about that," Bones tells him, not sounding apologetic in the least. "But we can't have the conversation we're about to have if you're drunk." The door slides open. "Lights at thirty percent," he says as he steps inside.

Jim peels himself painfully off the wall in the hallway and walks through the door. "I'm not in the mood for a conversation," he grumbles. He heads for Bones' kitchen. "You owe me a fucking good cup of cof—"

His last word is cut off as his wrist is grabbed and twisted suddenly up behind him. Startled and caught completely off guard, Jim gives a yelp of surprise, while Bones uses his leverage and his weight to maneuver Jim back against his chest.

He tries to pull free, but Bones is rock steady behind him, holding his arm just above the elbow and pushing down on his back, keeping him off balance. "Bones! What the hell are you doing?"

"Self defense for medical professionals, Jim." Bones' voice is low and tense. "I used to teach the class back in Atlanta."

"I'm not attacking you! What's the matter with you? Let go!" Jim says, bewildered and seriously pissed off. Bones is forcing his arm into a painful angle that effectively immobilizes him. "Hey! That hurts!"

"I told you to stay away from that dickhead with the knife." There's an angry edge to his tone. "Damn it, I should have known you wouldn't listen to me."

Jim flinches at the sharp pain that's shooting up through his shoulder. "Bones, would you calm down? I wasn't going to go anywhere with him."

"You're an impulsive idiot when you're drunk, Jim, and you know it. I saw the way you were looking at him. You'd have followed him out of the bar in a minute."

"So what?" he says furiously. "That's my own business!"

"Not anymore. I'm not going to stand back and let you put yourself in the hands of Jack the Ripper again. If you can't take care of yourself, I will."

"Who asked you? I don't need a fucking bodyguard!"

"You do need me. You don't have a clue what you're doing or why."

"So you're going to dislocate my shoulder in order to educate me?" Jim's had enough of this. He's in Advanced Hand-to-Hand, and Bones' little course in Basic Hospital Handholds is no match for him. Without warning, he shifts his weight forward onto one leg and sweeps his other foot back, trying to twist away without hurting Bones.

But Bones is a lot quicker than Jim anticipates. He steps back out of reach of Jim's probing foot, and uses the heel of his hand to jab him sharply in the bundle of nerves at the side of his neck.

It's a dirty move, and Jim cries out at the white hot stab of pain. It numbs his right arm, and Bones uses that moment to push him down onto the floor. Using the advantage of his full weight to pin him, he twists Jim's arm further up behind his back, straining his shoulder joint almost unbearably.

"Ow!" he yells. "Are you insane? What the fuck are you trying to prove?"

"Testing a theory," Bones says, letting his twisted arm drop down a fraction, hugging Jim tighter against his body. "Settle down. It won't hurt if you stop fighting."

"Is this your idea of a conversation? Let me up, damn it!" Jim starts to struggle again, but Bones simply presses his arm up higher until his shoulder screams and he has to stop.

Defeated, he lets the tension drain out of his muscles, giving in. Fine, he'll let Bones have his little show of force. He doesn't know why Bones wants to take him down before they can have a talk, but Bones is his friend and he can let him win this one. He doesn't have the energy to fight anymore.

"That's better," Bones tells him softly, sounding satisfied. "Just relax."

This is definitely weird. Bones isn't usually the kind of guy who likes casual physical contact. He's a doctor and has to touch people all the time at work, Jim reasons, so he's careful about where he puts his hands the rest of the time. But right now he's kneeling on top of Jim, leaning down on his shoulder with one hand and twisting Jim's arm up with the other. Jim can hear him breathing heavily above him.

Jim is struck by how comforting it is to give in and be held tightly like this. His head aches from the detox and he's bruised from the combat sim, and it actually feels good to release the tension and stop struggling.

He leans a little into Bones' grasp, surrendering. "Okay, Bones," he says quietly. "I'm listening."

Bones lets Jim lower his arm enough to ease the pressure on his shoulder, but he makes no move to let him up. "What happened today, Jim?" he asks softly. "Why did you want to get drunk?"

Jim sighs. "One of the other cadets did his presentation about the Kelvin." He feels his throat constrict. "He analyzed all of my father's command decisions and said that he waited too long and didn't do enough to protect the escape shuttles."

Bones gives Jim's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "Jim, your father was a hero."

"You don't know that. I don't know that. My mom never told me anything and all the material's classified."

"Listen to me, kid. He saved his crew, and he saved your life. That's the bottom line, and that's all you need to know."

That has been enough for him, all these years, but he can't help it: Sarfus has planted the seed of doubt. It infuriates him again, and he makes another futile attempt to shake Bones off. "Let me go. Now."

"Not yet," he says. "Time to talk."

"Enough already!" he yells, frustrated. "What do you want from me?"

"Only some honesty."

"I honestly want you to let me up," he grits out. He tries to shift onto his side, but Bones is heavy and his grip on Jim's arm is relentless.

"No, you don't. Not really." Bones' voice is maddeningly calm. "You like being restrained, Jim. That's what your body's telling me. You fought me when I first pinned you, because you were surprised and upset, but once you calmed down, I could feel you leaning into me. Your heart rate went down and your breathing slowed. It felt good to you."

Jim's glad Bones can't see his face, because he's sure that his cheeks are burning. Bones is a doctor and of course he can read his body's signals, but how the hell does he know that? "I stopped fighting you because if I move, you're going to pop my shoulder out--"

"Don't lie to me, kid. That's not the reason, and it won't kill you to admit it. It's okay," he says softly. "Being restrained is a turn on for a lot of people, and you're one of them."

"You're making assumptions." His voice comes out shakier than he hoped. Shit.

"You're an expert at contact combat. If you really wanted to throw me, I'm sure you could do it in a minute. But you haven't really tried."

"I don't want to hurt you--"

"But do you want me to hurt you?"

Jim's breath seems to be caught in his throat. To hear the question stated so baldly, so calmly, makes him feel as if Bones has stripped him bare. His heart begins racing in his chest, driven by furious denial and embarrassment. Bones' simple question both attracts and repels him in equal measure.

It's true, he knows. There is a shameless, small voice deep inside him that is saying yes.

He's always known there was a dark side to his fantasies that he's never really acknowledged or accepted. Lately it's become harder to ignore. His aborted scene with Gennady was his first attempt to act on it.

But the idea of actually talking about it with someone makes him shudder. So he shakes his head in denial. "No, Bones. I can see why you'd think that, but no. The thing with Gennady was just... Uh, I was experimenting, but that's over now. Come on, man, let me up."

"Okay." Without warning, Bones releases Jim's arm and manipulates it slowly around and down. Jim groans softly at the bone-deep ache. "Turn over," Bones says softly, sitting back on his heels to allow Jim to move.

"You remind me of someone I knew back when I was a resident. Not a close friend, but…we'd had a talk one night, and I knew he was looking for someone who would be willing to play some pretty edgy games with him. He came through the E.R. a few nights later." Jim looks away, not wanting to hear the rest. "He hadn't really hurt himself very badly, physically, but he was pretty messed up." The concern in Bones' eyes is palpable. "I don't want that to happen to you."

"It won't," he says, but his voice lacks conviction even to his own ears. He's grateful for the low lighting, because he's sure that Bones can see too much already. "You don't understand."

"Maybe I do. And maybe I'm not as vanilla as you think. Look at me, Jim," he says more sharply. Lying on the floor, fully clothed, Jim's never felt more naked and vulnerable, but he raises his eyes to meet Bones' steady gaze. "It takes courage to admit what you need. That's not a weakness, it's a strength. There's no shame in it."

Jim laughs harshly. "Easy for you to say."

"Stop judging yourself. Forget your preconceptions. Why not let me help you explore this side of yourself?"

Because it terrifies me, he thinks. Because I'm ashamed of it. Because I'd be giving up control. Because I don't know what this means for me.

But what he says instead is, "Why would you want to?"

"It's what I like to do. As a matter of fact," he smiles, "I'm very good at it. And if you're going to be trying anything on the edge, I'd rather you do it with me."

"With you?" Did Bones really just say that? "I can't—"

"I'm your friend, Jim. Don't you trust me?"

Jim hesitates, not really sure what Bones is asking. "Trust you to do what?"

"Trust me to respect the boundaries you set. Trust me to give you the kind of sensations you need without injuring you. Trust me to keep this completely confidential, just between us."

Jim can't answer. Part of him is resonating with every word, longing for what Bones is suggesting, eager to hear more. But there's another, larger part that wants to bury itself deep in the floor. He's never felt so transparent.

Bones gives him a look that seems to penetrate through Jim's last defenses. "If pain is what you need, I'll give that to you, without damaging you. If you need me to take you out of your head... take control away from you... I can do that, too. But you have to trust me. No more lies."

For a long moment, Jim doesn't answer. He can't pretend anymore that this isn't what he wants; Bones has seen right through him. The fact is, he's so turned on by the situation, with Bones kneeling over him and so in control, he can hardly breathe.

Yet part of him still hesitates, because it's one thing for Bones to know (oh God) that this is what he needs, and another for him to witness it, to watch him as he falls apart and begs for it.

Please, he thinks. Don't make me say it.

Bones can see that he's wavering. "Ask for it, Jim," he prods. "Tell me."

"Fine," Jim finally manages, closing his eyes. "All right. I trust you, Bones. Do it."

When he opens his eyes again, Bones is smiling. "Up on the bed, then."


Part Three

While he settles himself hesitantly on the bed, Bones steps over to his closet and retrieves a box, which he places on his desk. "Just some things we'll need," he explains.

"Uh, right," he says, trying to sound unconcerned, as if he knows what Bones is referring to. But he can't take his eyes off the box. It's roomy and deep, and it looks antique, made of dark, shiny leather. Did Bones prepare it especially for him, when he planned their "conversation"?

Maybe not. It's what I like to do, and I'm very good at it… What the hell did he mean by that, and what sort of equipment does he think Jim will need?

"You're looking for a certain kind of sensation, I think, and you've been finding some mighty dangerous ways to get it. You get into fights, you do crazy stunts in the training sims, and you find people who are willing to hurt you. I'm going to show you another way to get where you want to go that doesn't leave you bleeding on the floor."

Jim's throat is so dry he doesn't think he could speak, even if he could think of something coherent to say. So he nods, slowly.

"I'm going to be trying a few different things, just to see what works with you, and what doesn't. All you have to do is let me know, one way or another."

"What are you planning to do?" he blurts out.

Bones smiles. "You leave that to me, kid. It's better with an element of surprise."

"I hate surprises." Jim can sense how Bones is subtly starting to shift the power dynamic between them, and it's making him jittery.

"Red means stop," Bones says suddenly.

"Huh?" Jim gives a nervous laugh; Bones is looking at him so seriously. "Sure it does. And green means go, I guess."

"No, kid. That's your safeword. That's your way out of the scene. You say it and this stops."

A hot flash runs through him when he hears the word, but he covers it under an embarrassed smirk. "Safeword… Come on, Bones, that sounds kind of kinky."

"Not kinky. Necessary. Remember it. You say the word 'red' and you can bring everything to a halt."

Jim's about to reply that he doesn't need it and won't use it, but the words stick in his throat when he remembers what happened with Gennady. Maybe a safeword isn't such a bad idea after all. "Got it."

"Good." Bones looks him over for a minute. His demeanor is suddenly more serious. It's beginning now, Jim thinks, feeling his stomach clench. "Take off your clothes, Jim."

"What?" He blinks. How do doctors learn to say such things so casually? "Wait, I didn't think we were actually going to…uh, take them off? Really?"

Bones seems amused by his reaction. "Why, Jim, are you feeling shy? What we're going to do involves a lot of touch. I can't do it if you're dressed. And I need to see the way your body reacts."

His heart is starting to pound. "Reacts to what?"

"Just do it, Jim."

"Uh, we're not fucking, right, Bones? I told you… I don't want to…"

"I remember what you told me. And no, I'm not going to fuck you." It doesn't escape Jim's notice that in Bones' scenario, he's the one bottoming. Obviously. "But I am going to take some control away from you. So take off your clothes."

For a moment Jim doesn't move, and Bones doesn't say another word. It's a standoff, almost, but Jim feels his resistance crumbling fairly quickly. Bones is so authoritative and expectant that Jim can't really refuse to go along. And he doesn't want to stop the scene right at the beginning, before he even finds out what Bones has in mind.

"This is fucking embarrassing," he mutters, half to himself, as he unfastens his red cadet tunic. He's not usually shy about his skin, and Bones has seen him half-naked before, so what does it matter? But this is different. Bones isn't looking at him as a doctor here. In fact, he's never seen Bones look at him quite like this: totally focused and controlled, with an underlying eagerness. His skin is a little flushed.

He looks turned on, Jim thinks. He likes this. It's not just about me.

The thought gives him a little more confidence. He's been so overwhelmed with his own insecurities that he hasn't really considered what Bones has been feeling. With all his talk about what Jim needs, he was beginning to feel a little like a charity case. But it's clear that Bones is in it for himself as well, and he's looking forward to using whatever he's got in the box. It makes Jim feel just a little bit more eager himself.

Undressing is clearly part of the game, so he pulls off his tunic and black shirt. Reaching for the waistband of his pants, he gives Bones a questioning look. "Those too," Bones confirms. He shucks them awkwardly, still half-lying on the bed, tossing the clothes onto the floor. Then he peels off his socks and discards them, too, because keeping them on would just feel silly.

But then he balks, unable to undress further. That's it, that's as far as he can go. He's sure his entire body is blushing red as he lies there in his black briefs, feeling completely exposed under Bones' scrutiny. He fights the impulse to cross his arms over his crotch, placing his hands carefully at his sides on the bed and stretching out his legs in front of him.

"Okay," he says a little shakily. "That's all."

He's relieved to see Bones nodding. "That's enough for now," he says, sending Jim into further anxieties as he ponders for now. Bones snatches the pillow from the bed and tosses it onto the couch. "Lie down, Jim."

He turns back to the box on the desk. Jim can't see what he's doing. In the silence, all he can hear is his own loud breathing and the sound of objects being laid out on the desk. "So, what've you got in that box?"

Bones shoots him a look over his shoulder, so Jim settles himself down on the bed with a nervous sigh. "Okay, okay… Just tell me what you're planning to do."

He gets no answer; Bones continues to fiddle with his equipment. Lying on the bed on his back, mostly naked, he's beginning to feel a little out of his depth already, and they haven't even started yet. He tries again. "You could, uh, save some time if you let me know in advance, and I'll tell you if it sounds good to me."

"We're not negotiating now, Jim. And unless you use your safeword, you're giving me permission to control the scene however I want." Bones has turned toward him again and is kneeling at the side of the bed, doing something with the right side of the bed frame that is outside the range of Jim's vision.

When Bones stands up again, he has a gleam in his eye that's so hot, it makes Jim's breath stutter. "Hold out your arm."

He's a little concerned about a concealed hypo, but Bones doesn't look like he's in the mood to answer questions, so he offers his left arm warily. Bones grabs his wrist and places a sturdy, wide strap around it, then brings his wrist down and connects the strap to some kind of hook he's attached to the side of the bed.

"What the—"

"Medical restraints, Jim. The old-fashioned kind. Unbreakable and they won't cause abrasions."

"Shit…" Jim stares at his wrist in disbelief.

Bones smiles and adjusts the strap until it's snug. He doesn't seem to be in any hurry; his movements are careful and precise. When he's finished, Jim tugs at his wrist experimentally; he can't raise it more than a centimeter.

He can't quite wrap his thoughts around the idea that his best friend is in the process of strapping him to the bed.

In short order, both of Jim's ankles and his other wrist are bound. He flexes the muscles of his arms and tries to draw up his legs, but the restraints hold him tight. His heart is hammering, but he admits to himself that mixed in with the panic is a certain amount of…anticipation. The sensation of being immobilized is already pushing his buttons and making his cock twitch.

Lots of people like being restrained, and you're one of them. Fuck, it's true.

Finally, Bones finishes his rounds of the bed, looking satisfied. "There. How do you feel?"

Jim weighs some possible responses—(Turned on. Terrified. Helpless.)—and decides, for the sake of his pride, to dodge the question. "I'm fine."

Bones presses two warm fingers to the side of Jim's neck. In his half-aroused state, unable to move his arms or legs, even that quick touch is exciting and leaves him wanting more. "Your heart's racing, that's for sure. Take some deep breaths. Relax."

He tries to slow his breathing and to get some air into his lungs, but it's hard. Bones is watching him intently, and he doesn't want to think about what he must look like, flat on his back in his underwear with his legs and arms bound.

Bones' gaze lingers over the bulge which is growing in his briefs, and he smiles to himself; of course, he wouldn't miss that. A wave of embarrassment washes over Jim, to think that Bones knows that he's turned on by his own helplessness.

Suddenly, it's all too much. The awkwardness of the situation is overwhelming. Sure, he was in a similar state with Gennady, but that was different—they weren't really friends to begin with, and Gennady seemed to be a little unsure of himself too. But Bones seems completely in control here and he's looking at Jim so knowingly, it's ten times worse. Shit, this has to stop now, before Bones sees any more deeply into him.

"Wait a minute," Jim says, struggling up from the bed. His shoulders are still free, after all, and he'd feel marginally better if he wasn't lying down. "Uh, let's not go so fast. I changed my mind."

"Lie back. Come on, Jim, relax," Bones says softly, pushing down on his chest, keeping him from rising all the way. He can't use his arms for leverage, so he's stopped at an awkward 30 degree angle, with just his shoulder blades off the bed. It feels like he's working his abs in one of the endless exercises his Hand-to-Hand instructor makes them do.

"No. This was a bad idea, Bones. I think… Uh, maybe I'm not ready. We should stop right here. It was a mistake, okay?"

Bones just looks at him, frowning slightly, but he makes no move to let him go. Jim pulls at the restraints, with real intent this time, but the more he struggles, the more frustrated he gets. The restraints may be old-fashioned, but they're as effective as a stasis field. Unless Bones releases the straps, he's going nowhere. Fuck, this would be much easier if he hadn't spent the afternoon with the combat sim. His abs were already aching from that session, and now they're starting to burn.

Bones seems unfazed by his struggles. He doesn't let him up, but he doesn't push down any harder either, just lets Jim exhaust himself. "Calm down," he soothes. "You don't have to fight so hard. Just let yourself relax."

"Take these off me!" he snaps. "I'm not kidding, I don't want to do it!"

"I hear you, kid. Well, I can wait." He grins. "It's a good warm-up… Tired yet?"

"Enough! Let me up!"

"I'm not going to fight you, Jim," he says calmly. "You can't hold this position much longer. Your stomach muscles are starting to shake." For good measure, he pushes down harder on Jim's chest, making Jim exert more effort to keep his shoulders up. He holds out for another twenty seconds, but his already tired muscles are trembling with the strain, and the burning is becoming really painful. Finally, he sinks back down against the bed with an exhausted groan.

"That's better," Bones says. "You have to accept that you can't force your way out. But I think you need to feel a little more secure." He retrieves a wide, sturdy strap from the box, while Jim watches sullenly, chest heaving. He pulls it tightly over Jim's chest and biceps and fixes it to the bed frame.

Jim, you are truly fucked now, he thinks. When he tries to twist his torso, the strap chafes against his skin. Even when he lies completely still, the restraints feel heavy and coarse against his wrists, ankles, and arms, reminding of just how helpless he is. Strangely, the added restraint does make him feel more secure, physically at least. There's no point in struggling anymore.

"All right," he says slowly, "you win. Enough with the bondage now, okay? Take 'em off, and let's just forget this ever happened, all right?"

Bones acts as if he hasn't spoken, just grabs his wrist and calmly takes his pulse again. He can't understand why Bones doesn't simply use the tricorder, if he's so interested in Jim's heart rate. He never realized Bones was such a hands-on kind of doctor.

"Take. Them. Off." Isn't this being clear about what he wants? "I want to stop."

"You want to stop," Bones repeats, as if he's trying to understand. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. Take these straps off. I'm sorry… This isn't what I want. I thought it was but I was wrong. Let me up."

Bones shakes his head. "I don't think so, Jim. You keep saying no, but your heart rate's going down, and you're more relaxed than you were a minute ago."

"No, I'm not!" He hates the way Bones throws around his medical knowledge, as if he knows how Jim is feeling better than he does himself.

"You did the same thing a few minutes ago, by the way. I told you to get undressed and lie down, and you protested the whole time but you did exactly what I asked." He laughs softly at Jim's discomfiture. "There is a way out of this, but you're not using it."

This is ridiculous. "Come on, Bones, this is you and me. I'm not gonna use a fucking safeword."

"That's your choice. When you've got a genuine objection, I'll listen."

For a moment, Jim feels almost repentant, like a child who's been caught lying. But he hates being made to feel childlike. "I told you, I want to stop."

"I heard you. The answer's no. In a scene like this, you tell the truth, Jim, or you shut up. So now I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to think carefully before you answer." His eyes are trained on Jim's face, and he looks absolutely serious. "Can you be honest enough to tell me what you really want, or do you need me to help you with that?"

"I am being honest, damn it! I've had enough and I want you to let me up."

Bones sighs. "Well, I warned you, kid." Turning back to the desk, he grabs a wide strip of thick cloth out of the box and winds its length over both hands.

"A blindfold?" He can't keep a note of fear out of his voice, thinking of a hidden knife and the sharp bite of metal.

"No. This is something your friend Gennady got wrong. He blindfolded you, didn't he?" Jim nods. "Well, I need to see your eyes because they don't lie. Your mouth, though…that's just distracting us for now. You don't need a blindfold, you need a gag."

"A what? Fuck no, Bones, are you crazy? Don't—" Bones leans forward and stretches the cloth over Jim's mouth mid-protest, tying it tightly behind his head while Jim makes yet another futile attempt to move away. There's some kind of large knot in the middle of the cloth, which is stuffed between his teeth. His cries are muffled, and he's reduced to a grunt of fury.

It's humiliating. The fibers are unpleasant and dry on his tongue.

How the hell has he gotten himself into this position, tied down and gagged? He sags back against the mattress, defeated and resigned. As if he can sense it, Bones squeezes his shoulder. It's a comforting gesture and it reassures him somewhat, even as he's feeling that he's lost all control of the situation.

"That's better," Bones says, looking him over with a sort of pride. "You can't use your safeword anymore, but you've just indicated to me that you wouldn't use it anyway. You can still tap out with your hand if you have to." He demonstrates a quick three raps of his knuckles on the side of the bed. "But aside from that, we're going to use simple signals, and you're going to make a very big effort, Jim, to answer honestly. Do you understand?"

Jim nods slowly. Trussed up and silenced, he's suddenly much more aware of physical sensations. The restraints feel snug and a little constricting against his skin. The room is warm, but there's gooseflesh on his arms.

"Good. Now I have something to show you. Look here, kid." He withdraws a narrow, cloth-covered pouch from the box, extracts what looks like a metal instrument, and holds it up for Jim to see. It's a blade, sheathed in a transparent plastic cover. Jim's eyes widen as Bones removes the cover, exposing the cutting edge. It looks sharp. He twists it in the dim light, letting Jim see it from all angles.

Jim can't help himself; he flinches back, pressing into the mattress. Bones won't use it, he thinks, but there's a cold gleam in his eye that's making Jim doubt, just a little.

Bringing the knife closer, Bones trails the flat edge over his abdomen, and Jim's stomach gives a lurch. "It's made of obsidian. Sharpest natural material on the planet. They used to make surgical scalpels with it."

Thanks for that image. He knows Bones is playing with his mind, but he's scared nonetheless. He can feel the fear rushing through his blood, making him sweat and tremble because he can't fight or flee.

"Do you want me to cut you, Jim?" Bones asks, as if it doesn't matter to him one way or the other.

Get the hell away from me with the knife. He shakes his head emphatically and taps on the bed for good measure.

Bones is clearly pleased. "That's good, Jim. That's exactly the way to do it." He caps the knife, making sure that Jim can see, and slips it back into the pouch. "I need to know that you can communicate clearly, and you have to trust me to read your signals. I wouldn't have used the knife tonight…but I wanted you to tell me. Without words."

Jim rolls his eyes, his muscles still aching with pent-up adrenaline. What is this, a fucking test?

Bones looks vaguely apologetic. "I'm not trying to trick you. But I wanted you to see that you do have some control here. Not much," he laughs, "but enough to stop me from doing something that you don't want."

Very god damn educational. But he doesn't have time to linger over his resentment, because Bones is leaning over him, looking him over critically. Then he begins to run his hands slowly along Jim's neck and shoulders. Jim is surprised at the gentle touch. Maybe Bones thinks he needs to calm Jim's nerves.

Bones rubs his skin in slow, circular strokes, loosening the muscles, then skipping over the strap to move down his arms. "I learned medical massage when I was on orthopedic rotation," he tells Jim. "You're looking a little tense, kid. Damn it, your muscles are tight."

This is such a change of pace that Jim just blinks up at him, confused. After all this, was he going to get a massage?

Bones' fingers probe more deeply, but they're still gentle. It's a little weird, granted, because Bones is a guy and Jim is tied up, but it feels good. He's open to new experiences, and besides, what choice does he have?

"Breathe," Bones tells him, kneading the muscles around his rib cage. "Take deep breaths and relax." Bones' fingers stroke and press into muscle group after muscle group as he works his way down from Jim's abdomen to his calves. Jim's a little nervous when he gets close to his pelvic area, but Bones is strictly professional, no innuendos or unauthorized touching, so he finally allows himself to relax. Ah, just there

Bones reaches out to Jim's neck, as if he's going to check his pulse again—why the hell can't he just use his tricorder like a normal doctor?—but his fingers linger over the skin where his shoulder joins the base of his neck. He seems to be feeling for something, rolling the skin between his fingers, pressing down into the muscle.

Bones is frowning slightly, concentrating. "It's sometimes a little hard to find in a man your size, but—"

Jim gives a startled twitch as Bones pushes on a tender spot deep in the muscle, because ouch, it hurts with a sudden, stabbing pain.

"There it is." Bones sounds satisfied. "Called a trigger point. Sort of a knot in your muscle. You can get them all over your body, and they can cause all kinds of skeletomuscular pain. Very common among cadets like you who're always exercising themselves into the ground. You've got one right there." As if in demonstration, he digs directly into Jim's taut muscle; Jim jerks back at the sudden flash of pain.

"Simple to treat, though," Bones informs him. "I'm going to release the tension. This will probably feel uncomfortable, just for a little bit."

Bones' fingers have started moving across his trapezius muscle in a series of quick, short strokes. It doesn't feel so much like a massage anymore; in fact, it's getting pretty irritating. The doctor's fingers are surprisingly strong, and his strokes are forceful, as if he's trying to press down into the underlying bone. It's creating a throbbing pain deep in the muscle that radiates out to his neck. Jim rolls his shoulder back, trying to shrug off Bones' hand.

"It takes a few minutes," Bones murmurs. "Be patient. Does that hurt?" Jim nods because yes, it's starting to. Bones looks unsurprised, but he doesn't let up, just continues to press and stroke Jim's neck while he winces.

"That's enough for that one," he finally says. He eases off the pressure, rubbing the spot gently until the ache disappears.

He steps lower, moving toward Jim's legs. He probes along Jim's left shin, pressing and pushing against the muscle until he finds a spot that makes Jim flinch. "Tibialis anterior. Another hot spot for cadets, with all the running they make you do. It's a tough muscle, so I have to dig in pretty hard." He uses both thumbs at once in the same repetitive milking motion that he used on Jim's neck.

It doesn't hurt at first, but after a minute or two Jim can feel a hot pain radiating down from his shin into his foot. It intensifies with each stroke, a flood of sensation running down his leg, making him grunt behind the gag.

Bones doesn't ask him how he feels, this time—he has his eyes trained on Jim's face as he rubs, so obviously he knows that Jim's hurting—but after a few minutes, the pain eases and Jim relaxes. Bones pats his leg reassuringly, then moves on to the other shin and repeats the process. After that it's a point just below his clavicle, two on the outside of his knees, and a pair on his forearms just under his elbows ("You've been spending too much time on your PADD, kid, it's a little inflamed," he says as Jim cringes).

He's breathing faster. Every time Bones assaults a new muscle group, it's an adjustment. He varies the stroke: faster or slower, lighter or deeper. When he picks up Jim's hand, instead of stroking, he presses steadily into the soft flesh at the base of his thumb, producing a tight, hot pain that he can barely tolerate. He presses deep into the muscle for half a minute, releases, then presses in again, ignoring Jim's whine.

Each time he lets the pain build until it's just shy of agony, but finishes with a pat or caress over the area, as if in apology. It leaves Jim with a lingering ache and a growing sense of relaxation. The process certainly isn't pleasant, but knot after knot in his muscles is being released. He's sinking into the mattress, feeling boneless and limp, even as Bones continues to find new muscle nodes to attack.

Bones' hands roam all over his body, from his temples to his feet, with casual intimacy. There's nothing sexual in his touch, although Jim's body seems a little confused on that point. Bones aims unerringly for the trigger points on the inside of his thighs but ignores his cock, which is gradually becoming more engaged as blood rushes to the surrounding areas. And the fact that he can't move, can't raise his arms, can barely shift around…it's making things worse.

What the hell, he tells himself nervously. It's natural. He's a healthy 22-year-old man, and with all the stimulation, his reaction is unsurprising. He's glad that Bones doesn't comment on it, although he's surely noticed.

"All right, Jim," Bones says finally, giving a final pat to his shoulder. He picks up the tricorder off the desk and scans Jim briefly. "You're warmed up, I think. Endorphins are elevated. Let's try something more intense." He looks pleased, maybe a little expectant.

That was just the warm up? He's a bit uneasy about what's coming next, but despite himself, he can feel a thrill of anticipation. And judging from the way Bones' breathing has picked up and the fine sheen of sweat coating his forehead, he's not the only one excited.

Bones turns back to the box, retrieving what looks like a medical scanner. It's a small, cylindrical knob, about the size of his thumb but slightly wider. "This is a neural stimulator. It's used to perform diagnostic tests in cases of nerve damage and paralysis. It sends out a signal of progressive intensity and measures the corresponding nerve sensitivity."

Jim hasn't understood much beyond nerve stimulator and progressive intensity, but he's watching the innocuous-looking device with suspicion. Medical gadgets make him nervous, because he doesn't understand them and they usually mean something unpleasant for him.

"Hold still," Bones says, and Jim makes the most sarcastic grunt that he can. As if he could move if he wanted to.

Bones chooses a patch of skin just below Jim's collarbone and sprays it with some kind of cold gel, making him flinch. "For conductivity," he explains. Jim tenses as the device, now activated and humming softly, is placed against his chest. Bones presses down against it, as if he's forming a seal. "Okay, it's activated. Can you feel it?"

He nods. It doesn't hurt, as he'd feared. It tingles a bit, but no more than that.

"I've set the signal to increase every thirty seconds. Just wait."

The tingling sensation is only mildly annoying, so Jim settles back and watches Bones' face. He's wearing what Jim thinks of as his "doctor's expression," cool and distant, but with a hint of caring and worry there. He's had it directed at him before, when Bones has patched him up for this or that, but it's always been brief. It's a heady feeling, to have Bones so fully focused on him, so attentive and—

He jerks in surprise. The tingling has morphed into something more irritating, almost a burning.
"That's the next level. Breathe, Jim." Bones' tone is soothing.

He takes a deep breath, willing himself to relax. He gradually settles into the sensation. It doesn't really hurt, and anyway, he's used to ignoring little aches and pains. He goes back to his study of Bones' face. It's hot, really, the way Bones is looking at him with that clinical stare. He wonders if doctors ever get turned on by their patients. Probably, but Bones would never admit it. There's a glint of expectation in his eye, as if he's waiting for something.

The signal ratchets up again. This time it's sharper, not quite painful, but definitely unpleasant, like a series of wood splinters under his skin. It's harder to adjust to, harder to ignore. Jim squirms uncomfortably, but his range of motion is limited. He's starting to wonder how many levels the little device has.

As if sensing his anxiety, Bones lays a firm hand on his shoulder. That's all it is, just a warm touch, but it's enough to reassure him that his friend hasn't completely retreated.

The next level makes him sweat. He pulls away instinctively, but the restraints hold him in place. He draws fast, shallow breaths in through his nose. Bones gives his bicep a squeeze. "You're doing great, Jim. Feel okay?" He glares up at him, and Bones gives a small laugh. "I guess the gag was a good idea, then."

When the next level hits, it wrenches a moan from him. Hot, sharp pain is radiating out from his chest along his nerve endings, and holy fuck, it's like being burned from the inside.

He struggles helplessly, unable to get away, feeling the unyielding resistance of the straps on his wrists and ankles. His eyes are squeezed shut as he bites down on the gag. He's grateful for it, in a way, because he's not sure he'll be able to keep from crying out if this goes on for much longer.

And then suddenly, the pain is fading. He can feel Bones' fingers on his chest, removing the device, wiping away the gel. His breathing gradually returns to normal and he relaxes his jaw.

Opening his eyes, he can see that Bones is holding the neural stimulator in his hand, tapping the controls. He brushes the back of his hand lightly against Jim's forehead, wiping away the traces of sweat. "Don't worry," he assures Jim with a small smile, "it doesn't do any permanent damage. Just a temporary discomfort."

Jim hates that word: discomfort. Doctors always use it when they mean it hurts like a bitch.

Bones looks at him speculatively. "You seemed to handle that okay. But do you want to stop?"

He shakes his head slowly, and Bones smiles. "I didn't think so."

There's no way he's calling an end to this now.

Bones repeats the process—spraying the gel, attaching the stimulator, sealing and activating it—using a spot just above his right hip this time. Jim's more prepared, but the timing of the device has changed. No longer a predictable thirty-second cycle, the increases in intensity come more randomly: after fifteen seconds, or after nearly a minute. It keeps him in a constant state of anticipation. When the pain comes, it's more familiar this time, but it's not any easier to take. Bones lets it continue until he's shaking and sweating, his breath coming in shuddering gasps.

The third time, the device is planted on his left hip. His right side is still radiating pain, the muscles of his abdomen bunched tight. This time the first stages are more prolonged, making the anticipation worse. When the device reaches its highest level, Bones lets it go on even longer.

By the time he finally detaches the stimulator, Jim is trembling and moaning, but all Bones says is, "You can tap out anytime you want to, kid."

Fuck him.

The fourth time, Bones moves down to the foot of the bed and places the stimulator on the sole of his foot. Oh, crap. Bones wouldn't do that to him, would he? But Bones just looks back at him steadily, and Jim can't protest.

Jim's read enough military history to know that prisoners of war were frequently tortured by flogging the bottoms of their feet. He quickly learns why: his soles are exquisitely sensitive. He's never thought much about his feet, but as the neural stimulation starts up, he vows to treat them with more respect. Even the lower levels are barely tolerable there, and he bucks uselessly against the restraints.

As he climbs through the levels, the pain gets worse. It stings at first, then burns, then travels like fire down the arch of his foot. The stimulator sends out the signals this time in brief, sharp pulses, almost like a lash. The pain is throbbing and inescapable, making him groan hoarsely against the gag.

It's humiliating, but all he can think is make it stop make it stop! He can't believe he's making sounds like this. By the time Bones finally removes the stimulator, his heart is thumping wildly and he's trembling.

The pain lessens gradually, and he sighs with relief. But then his foot starts to cramp so badly that it hurts almost as much as before. He flexes his foot, but the cramp is relentless, the pain white-hot.

It's a whole different kind of pain, frightening in a way that the neural stim wasn't, because Bones isn't controlling it this time. Fuck, fuck, fuck! He sees Bones frowning as he moans in real distress, and tries vainly to shift the position of his foot.

The cramp doesn't abate. Damn it, Bones is a doctor, and now would be a good time for him to do something. He's got his eyes trained on Jim, so can't he figure out what's happening?

It hurts. This pain isn't a turn on in any sense of the word, it's a killer distraction, and he just wants it to stop. For the first time, he considers tapping out. His fingers of his right hand twitch, and he clenches them tightly into a fist.

Red, he thinks. Red. Red. Red…

Then, to his immense relief, Bones is bending his toes upward with a firm grip and massaging the arch of his foot. For a minute, it hurts even worse, but Jim doesn't care. He knows that Bones is once again in control.

"It'll go away in a minute, Jim," Bones says softly. "Trust me."

The cramp finally releases its grip, and Jim sinks back against the bed. But Bones gives him only a brief respite to get his breath back before he's spraying the gel on the sole of his other foot. "Ready?" he asks. Jim can only nod.

The process starts again, but he feels a growing sense of detachment. He can hear himself moaning, can feel his body twisting and struggling against the bonds, but it seems to be happening to someone else. It hurts, but it's also distant. He's in some kind of buffer zone, just like he gets when he's being pummeled in a fight but doesn't feel the pain of the blows.

He can hear Bones talking to him, asking if he wants to stop. He's glad for the gag, because it eliminates the need for him to give a coherent answer. Even in his head, he can't seem to form a sentence, as if his higher cognitive functions have been disconnected and all he can do is react to the physical sensations. He can only manage a head shake.

Vaguely, he's aware that Bones is studying his tricorder, with a small smile on his face. "I can see that you're flying… We'll do one more, then." He barely notices as the device is moved up to a point just under his rib cage. He's breathing hard and sweat is pouring off his forehead, but he feels removed from his body, almost as if he's floating above himself. As if he's drugged.

There's heat and pressure radiating out from the device, but no more pain. The sensation is still intense, but instead of hurting, it's a rush, a dizzyingly satisfying surge of pleasure. He's hardly aware of Bones' presence in the room with him, although he can hear him talking.


And then it's over. By the time he comes back to himself, Bones is releasing the restraints and rubbing his wrists and ankles. He unties the gag, and his fingers brush gently along Jim's cheek where the cloth has been pressing tightly into his skin.

It takes Jim a while to remember where he is and what they've just done. "You did great, Jim," Bones murmurs. It's reassuring, even if Jim isn't sure what he did that was so good. "I know you're tired. Don't try to talk."

He couldn't talk even if he wanted to. He rolls onto his side, reveling in the freedom of movement, even though his muscles ache when he flexes them. He's as drained of energy as he was just after he ran the obstacle course, but his nerves are singing. He feels exhilarated and a little disoriented.

Then Bones is at his side, urging him to sit up. His hand is on Jim's back, supporting him. Bones places a cup in his hand and Jim raises it to his lips automatically. It's cold, sweet and tangy… Orange juice. He realizes, suddenly, that he's unbearably thirsty.

"Drink the whole thing, kid. You need it." Bones' tone is gentler than he's heard from him all evening. It feels good to be taken care of, especially when his thoughts are so muddled.

He hands back the cup and drops back onto the bed, closing his eyes. "Just rest for a minute," Bones tells him softly. "I have to get something."

As Bones leaves his side, images of what just happened flash through his mind. He has a vivid memory of Bones watching him intently as he writhed on the bed, struggling and moaning. Was that really him? Maybe he should be embarrassed, but he just feels drained.

And he's freezing. He's still mostly naked, and he's starting to shiver.

"Here, Jim." As if he can read his mind, Bones is suddenly at his side again, draping a blanket over him. "I know you're cold. It's an effect of hypoglycemia—a scene like that can use up all your reserves."

Jim's still trembling, so Bones wraps the blanket more tightly around him. Sitting down on the side of the bed, he runs his hands over Jim's shoulders, as if he's trying to warm him up.

It's funny - after the wrestling, the massage, the trigger points, and everything else, it's no longer weird to have Bones' hands on him. There's an intimacy between them that wasn't there before, as if they've skipped several steps in the dance of seduction that began a few weeks before. But this tango, if that's what it is, has veered off in a direction that Jim doesn't understand at all.

Still keeping one hand on Jim's shoulder, Bones swipes the tricorder off the desk and aims it at him. He studies it with a frown.

"Wha's the matter?" The words come out a little slurred, so he clears his throat and tries again. "Something wrong?"

"It's fine. Nothing to worry about. I'm just going to give you some glucose and a few other things. It'll help you get back on your feet a little faster."

Too late, Jim notices that Bones has again reached into his medkit and is loading a hypo. Shit. He hates those things. He shakes his head, trying to move away even though Bones has a solid grip on his bicep.

"Relax, Jim. It's just one little hypospray, not a big deal." His fingers begin stroking the juncture of Jim's neck and shoulder, almost in a caress. "It won't hurt, I promise. Just a little sting, that's all." He keeps murmuring soothing encouragement to Jim, and it calms him a little. "It'll help you regain your energy, trust me. You'll feel better afterwards."

Bones' voice lulls him almost into a doze, and the hiss of the hypo startles him. True to his word, Bones has made it almost painless.

"See? Nothing to it. Now let me see your hands."

Jim slides his left hand out to the side until it emerges from the blanket. Bones examines his wrist. It's not abraded, but it's a little red. "I've got an anti-inflammatory cream for this," he says, rummaging around in the medkit. The cream feels soothing and cool when Bones rubs it into his skin, and he moans appreciatively. His other wrist and both ankles are treated in the same fashion. He's starting to nod off.

Bones' voice cuts into his stupor. "I know you want to sleep, but you've got a curfew, kid." Jim can only groan. "Yeah, I know. Come on, just sit up."

He struggles into a sitting position, swaying slightly. He feels a little less exhausted, which is probably a result of the hypo, but he's still confused. "What the hell… I don't get it," he manages, somewhat clumsily. His cognitive functions aren't yet up to speed, apparently. He has to think hard to make his mouth form words, and he can't seem to frame a coherent question.

Bones looks amused at his confusion. "It's okay, Jim. You just had an endorphin rush. The pain triggers a release of hormones and adrenaline. It's your body's natural response to intense physical experiences."

"I was high on the pain?" he asks, a little disconcerted.

"At the end, at least. That was the point of the scene, kid. Or one of the reasons for doing it, anyway. And now you're coming down from that high, so you're tired and it sounds like you can't string two sentences together." He smiles. "You just need a good night's sleep. You'll be fine in the morning. Come on, I've got to get you back to your dorm."

Bones hands him his pants and shirts, then his socks and boots. He's gradually coming back to himself, although he still feels clumsy and slow.

He stands unsteadily. God, he's beat. "Bones, that was wild, but I don't understand… I mean, what just happened?"

"Not now," Bones tells him. "Let's save the talk for later. You're tired, Jim, and so am I, believe it or not. I've got a double shift tomorrow, but I'm off on Sunday. Come over in the morning and I'll make breakfast for you. We can talk then. Now come on, I'll walk you back to your dorm." He places a hand on the back of Jim's neck, giving him a gentle push.

"You were amazing, kid," Bones whispers as he guides Jim out the door.

Even in the depths of his exhaustion, he feels a rush of pleasure.















Part Four

Jim sleeps in on Saturday. Oversleeps is more accurate—he's usually an early riser, even when he's been out late the night before. But it's almost noon before he struggles out of a deep sleep, aroused by a crack of thunder and the sound of pouring rain.

There's a moment, as he lies there half-asleep, when he's floating in a warm glow, relaxed and peaceful. He stretches like a cat, making a little hum of well-rested contentment. In the tiny gap before his mind clicks into gear, there's only the sensation of satisfaction and relief, unattached to any explanation.

Then he stiffens. It all comes flooding back to him: Sarfus and his smug speculations, the look on Bones' face as he whispers in Gennady's ear, the feel of the restraints taut against his skin. The pull of the gag against his cheeks and the dry cloth fibers in his mouth. Bones' fingers, warm and sure, as he massages Jim's muscles and searches for the knots of tension. The feel of the stimulator as it escalates from an irritation to a white-hot source of pain, on his chest, on his hip, on the bottom of his feet.

Holy shit. Did that really happen?

"Good, you're up." His roommate's voice startles him. "I was about to wake you. Don't you have a class at one?" They're not close friends, but Alec's a considerate guy, and they help each other out in little ways.

"Yeah. Thanks, man. I'm up." Jim's accelerated courseload means that his Saturdays aren't free: he's got an astronavigation class, followed by a practice session in the flight simulator. He usually heads over to the library afterwards, studying and working on his assignments until dinner.

Today, he's grateful for the busy schedule because it doesn't give him time to think. He rushes to his class, arriving wet and breathless from trying to dodge the rain, and the next three hours pass quickly. In class, which usually drags on because of the hour and the subject matter, he doesn't allow his concentration to falter; he takes meticulous notes and asks questions. The flight sim demands his full attention, both physically and mentally, so he doesn't have a chance to reflect on last night at all.

It's still pouring as he races across the lawn to the library, skidding on the muddy grass. Inside, it's pleasantly warm.

Wiping the rain out of his eyes, he drips his way over to the beverage replicator. A cup of coffee would be good, he thinks, and then he'll head up to one of the study carrels on the upper floors.

There's another cadet getting himself a drink. Shit, he realizes, it's Gary Mitchell. That shouldn't surprise him, because it's not the first time he's run into Gary here on a Saturday. The library's a popular place to study, with hundreds of individual-ambiance carrels, each sound-proofed and equipped with multiple computer screens. It's a good solution for cadets who find that their study habits are incompatible with those of their roommates. Jim likes to study with pulsing, rhythmic music and the lights turned down low, while Alec needs a quiet environment, preferably with white noise in the background.

Gary looks pleased to see him, and Jim feels a pang of guilt for not returning his call. "Hey, Jim! Where'd you disappear to yesterday? I waited for you in Fed History."

"Oh, yeah…" Jim grimaces slightly, remembering. "I skipped it. Could you send me your notes?"

"Sure, no problem. You didn't miss anything crucial. More on First Contact, and there's an assignment."

"Great." That'll add at least another hour onto his study time.

Gary looks at him uncomfortably. "Listen, Sarfus was way out of line, Jim. He's a prick and an idiot, and I told him that. He should never have—"

"It's fine," Jim interrupts. He doesn't want to have this conversation now. He busies himself with the replicator, tapping in his order. "Sarfus doesn't know what the hell he's talking about, so who cares what he says. It was Cheney's decision to allow it, anyway."

"Cheney's not going to let him get away with it. It was just wild speculation. Did you see his face near the end, while Sarfus was talking about the self-destruct sequence?"

"No…" Jim hadn't actually been paying attention to Cheney, by that point. He'd barely been able to focus on what Sarfus was saying.

"Well, I did. He looked pretty annoyed, if you ask me, and he kept looking in your direction."

"I didn't notice." He feigns indifference, hoping Gary will pick up on the hint and drop the subject.

Gary seems determined to talk about it, though. "Cheney wanted to talk to you after class, but you ran out so quickly, maybe you didn't hear him. Did you talk to him?"

"No. I, uh, needed to cool down a little first." He remembers the messages from Cheney that he deleted, with a twinge of anxiety. Maybe he should restore them and at least see what he wanted, before the man decides to contact his mother again. Wouldn't that be perfect. "I went to the gym."

Gary grins. "Yeah, I get you. Better to punch a simulator than punch another cadet."

"Exactly," Jim says, giving Gary a sharp look. It's uncanny, the way he seems to know what Jim's thinking sometimes. "Not what I need on my record right now."

"So where'd you go last night? I looked for you at Momentum."

Avoiding Gary's gaze, Jim removes the cup from the replicator and takes a sip. The coffee's pretty bad, but at least it's steaming hot. "Wasn't in the mood for dancing. I went to The Titanic. Look, I've got a lot of studying to do, so see you later, okay?"


The library computer directs him to an empty carrel on the third floor. It's tiny, no more than a chair and a desk, but private. He peels off his wet jacket, kicks off his boots, and programs the ambiance the way he likes it. Setting his comm, his PADD, and his coffee out on the desk, he leans back in the chair and starts activating the wall screens.

Gary's already sent over the Fed History assignment: "Choose a nation on earth and present its political and legislative reactions to Human-Vulcan First Contact in 2063."

Piece of cake. He'll do the assignment on Mexico. He spent a few months travelling there when he was eighteen, and he's almost fluent in Spanish.

If pain is what you need, I'll give that to you, without damaging you.

Oh, fuck. He is not going to think about that now.

He shakes his head to clear it, and tries again to focus. He keys one screen to display a timeline of Mexican history, another to show the structure of the Mexican government and the coalition factions, and a third shows President Delgado's first speech to the people after the arrival of the Vulcans.

You can tap out anytime you want to, kid.

His heart has started to hammer against his chest, and his throat is suddenly dry. He reaches for the coffee cup, trying to steady his shaking hands.

He takes a deep breath, trying to pin down what's making him so damn anxious. He wasn't this agitated after the scene with Gennady, even though that was scarier in some ways and ended pretty abruptly. No, Bones took time with him afterwards, calmed him down and took care of him. That was nice, actually. In fact, if he's going to be honest with himself, the whole experience was pretty exciting, and that part with the neural stim had actually been--

Oh, God.

He loved it.

That's the truth that's making his heart pound.

It was a wild ride, a mind fuck, and he loved it, all of it: the restraints, the struggling, the hurt. He doesn't understand what made it such a thrill, because it wasn't even about sex. And he can't begin to explain what happened at the end, when he was catapulted into some other level of awareness where the pain disappeared and he was just floating, disconnected from himself and everything that was happening.

He liked it. He can't deny it, not now. If he didn't use his safeword—when he could have, at the beginning—and didn't tap out later on, that said something, didn't it?

With Gennady, he hadn't stopped it either, but it had happened too fast—the knife had paralyzed him—and he'd gotten in over his head. But this time Bones made sure that Jim understood he could stop the scene. He felt safe with Bones in control, even when his fingers were digging into his muscles and making him howl, even when the neural stim ratcheted up beyond what he could tolerate.

He can't lie to himself anymore. Fuck no, he wanted it.

Bones must have thought he was ridiculous, protesting and objecting and resisting, when all along... Jim closes his eyes, trying to erase the damning images from his mind. Bones is a doctor and a trained observer, so he must have known how turned on Jim was despite the "No" that was coming out of his mouth.

Bones was right, with all his talk about being honest and admitting what he really wanted. Jim needed the gag to silence the objections that were bubbling up from the rational and sane part of his brain. Once he'd been stripped of his ability to argue, unable to fight or even move away, he had no choice but to acknowledge what his body already knew. He wanted the restraints, craved the stimulation, accepted and even reveled in the pain.

It's a disturbing revelation. Jim's always had a healthy sexual appetite. He likes sex, he's open to new experiences, he's a sensitive partner and a damn good performer. He's a normal 22-year-old male…or so he's always thought. But maybe he should reconsider, since it seems like his tastes really lie somewhere beyond kinky and bordering on seriously disturbed.

There's a relief in admitting it—his breath catches at the idea of being able to act on some of his darker fantasies—but also a terrible shame.

What the fuck is wrong with him?

There's something about that phrase that echoes back into a dark place in his childhood. Out of nowhere, he can hear his stepfather's deep, heavy voice.

(What the hell is wrong with you?)

It comes to him like a punch right to the solar plexus. He hasn't heard that voice, even in his own mind, in years. It's attached to a memory he's brutally quashed, a memory he hoped would have the grace to disappear from his unconscious.

But there it is, almost untouched and vivid.


"I didn't touch your stupid tools!" Jim is saying. He's backed against the wall in the barn, where Frank's workroom is set up.

Frank is handy with repairs, both mechanical and electronic. It's an unavoidable part of running a farm, but it's also his hobby. Frank loves to get his hands on an antique appliance and coax it back to life with his set of expensive, vintage tools. When Jim was younger, he used to help him out, so he knows all of the funny-sounding old-fashioned names: ohm meter, pliers, nuts and bolts, wrenches.

Frank grabs him by the scruff of his neck and drags him over to the waste compactor in the corner. "Look in there, smartass! Tell me what you see."

Jim doesn't really need to look, because he knows exactly what he'll find: Frank's prized Makita power drill, in pieces, the drill bit smashed.

It was his revenge for Frank's latest act of so-called parental discipline: he'd taken away Jim's PADD after he'd been involved in yet another fight at school. "You've obviously got too much damn freedom, too much time to play around," he'd told Jim in disgust. "You're twelve now, and you can do more work around the farm. Show me that you can be responsible, and you'll get it back."

So Jim has spent a lot more time doing chores, including cleaning up in the barn. And if his hand slipped and knocked the power drill down, chipping the casing, well, that was just too bad. So the antique drill went into the waste unit like the rest of the garbage. That was the responsible thing to do, wasn't it?

"It was broken," Jim says stubbornly. "You told me to clean up in here, didn't you?"

Frank shakes him roughly. His grip is like a vise. "I've told you, over and over again, not to touch the tools when I'm not around. Are you trying to provoke me on purpose, you little shit?"

"Take your hands off me!" Jim tries to break away, but Frank is immovable.

"It's like you want to be punished! What the hell's wrong with you?"

"Fuck you, asshole!"

Frank's slap smashes into his jaw, whipping his head around and sending him crashing to the ground. Jim cries out in fury and pain. Frank has never hit him before, though he's threatened to. Jim scrambles to his feet, holding his jaw in his left hand and swinging wildly with his right, unable to see very well because of the tears that are blinding him.

Frank catches his wrist easily in his larger hand, twisting it around painfully and pushing Jim back down. "Don't try that again," he says coldly, and the warning's there, crystal clear. "Unless you want to find out how strong I really am."


Fuck, fuck fuck. Where did that memory come from?

He doesn't want to make the connection, but the answer creeps into his mind anyway. There is something wrong with him, just like Frank said. A shudder runs through him, a physical expression of the shame that's enveloping him.

Being held and helpless, being hurt and forced to take it… if last night is any indication, then he likes that, in spades. And now Bones knows this about him. How the hell will he be able to face him tomorrow, let alone hang out with him, study with him, go out drinking with him? It occurs to him, too late, that he may have just lost his best friend.

But he remembers the way Bones' breathing quickened when the scene began. He can recall the glint in Bones' eye when he first applied the neural stim device, knowing what was coming and waiting for Jim to discover it. And he remembers how Bones smiled calmly and told him not to worry about the "temporary discomfort," even though he must have known that Jim was ready to scream.

Bones enjoyed it. He's sure of that.

He can't understand any of this. There are too many contradictions to reconcile. Bones was so cool and calm through most of it, hurting Jim with casual unconcern. (Holy hell, that was hot.) And then he was so gentle at the end…

You were amazing, Bones told him.

He remembers how Bones watched him so intently the whole time, gauging his reactions. Amazing? He can only imagine what he looked like, gagged and moaning, arching up against the bonds. It's such a shameful picture, he slams his fist down on the desk and stands up, frustrated that there's no room to pace in the tiny cubicle.

He needs to get out, now. Screw the homework assignment. He'll go for a run, maybe try the obstacle course again even though it's still raining…

His comm chirps just as he's reaching out to stuff it into his pocket. Leonard McCoy, the screen informs him. His heart starts racing.

Jim considers ignoring it. If Bones is calling to laugh at him or make some pointed remarks about how he acted last night, what can he say? But Bones is a persistent bastard, and he'll just keep calling if Jim doesn't answer.

So he plays it cool. "Hey, Bones. What's up?" The screen is blinking requesting video, but that's the last thing Jim wants.

"How're you doing, kid?"

"Fine. Uh, I'm studying," he blabbers nervously. "At the library. The usual. I'm working on an assignment for Fed History."

There's a pause. "I didn't ask what you're doing. I meant, how are you feeling, after last night?"

"Great," Jim says, projecting a confidence he doesn't feel and hoping Bones won't know the difference. "Slept like a log."

"That's good. You were pretty done in."

"Yeah, it was really intense, but kinda fun, I guess." He laughs. "You know me, I'll try anything once."

Apparently he's not as good an actor as he thought. "Jim," Bones says, sounding concerned, "I know you're rattled. You're coming off a powerful high. It's normal to be a little agitated."

"I'm fine." Forget agitated. He's rolling along straight into panic.

"No, you're not, but I'm at work and I won't be back until late this evening. This is the first time I even had a minute to call today." Bones sounds frustrated. "Have you eaten yet?"

"No," he says, realizing this for the first time. He usually gets up in time to eat something before astronav, but he had to run straight to class today.

"Go eat something."

"I'm not finished studying."

"You probably aren't getting much done anyway."

Jim opens his mouth to object, but then realizes that his protests have probably lost all credibility after what happened yesterday. "Fine," he sighs. "I'll get something to eat."

"And don't overanalyze it. I know you. I can hear the god damn gears churning in your brain from here. Just leave it, Jim, and we'll talk tomorrow. Be at my place at ten."


"I mean it, Jim. Go eat."

Bones sounds a little exasperated with him. It's comforting, because it resembles his usual Jim-you're-an-idiot tone. Feeling unexpectedly better, he gathers up his things and heads out.



When Jim shows up at Bones' apartment the next morning precisely at ten, Bones is already in his tiny kitchen. He grunts a greeting to Jim, and nods in the direction of the sink, meaning: Stand there and shut up.

Jim doesn't mind. Bones has cooked for him on two other occasions, so he knows what to expect. The first time was during an evening study session during finals week. Jim kept rambling on about warp propulsion while Bones prepared a chicken dish, not noticing that their conversation had become a monologue. Bones finally told him to stop talking, damn it, because Jim's infernal chattering was making him lose his focus and if he'd wanted to keep on studying, he wouldn't be in the kitchen cooking dinner.

Bones cooks like a surgeon, Jim decides. He doesn't start until all the ingredients and the utensils he'll need are laid out on the countertop, more or less in the order he'll need them. When he's ready to start, his movements are confident and precise, effortlessly graceful. He doesn't converse much except to request that Jim hand him this or that, or take something out to the table.

So Jim's content just to watch, knowing conversation is neither expected nor desired, as far as Bones is concerned. He keeps his eyes on Bones' hands, strong and skillful, as they whisk the eggs in quick, smooth movements. He remembers how those fingers probed his muscles, seeking points of tension, stroking back and forth, pressing down until he was ready to howl, then patting his skin in wordless apology.

I am definitely losing it, Jim thinks. Bones is making an omelet, and it's almost erotic.

Bones throws him a quick sideways glance. "You're quiet."

Jim feels heat flush over his cheeks. "I like watching you cook."


Jim doesn't have much appetite when they finally sit down to eat. The omelet is delicious, but his stomach has always closed down when he's on edge. He manages a few bites, then mostly just pushes the food around on his plate while they discuss politics and current events.

"It's food, Jim, not a dish decoration," Bones finally tells him. "You might enjoy it more if you put it in your mouth, chew it, and swallow it."

"Ha ha. Very clever. Guess I'm not as hungry as you."

"You're always hungry, from what I've seen. Like a god damn growing boy." He pauses. "Maybe we should talk about what happened and you'll get your appetite back."

Here it comes. "Maybe I don't want to talk about it."

Bones sighs. "I'm sure you don't, but we're talking about it anyway."

"No, we're going to pretend it never happened, Bones, and –"

"You can't do that, Jim."

"—not discuss it, because it was a stupid fucking mistake!"

"Jim," Bones says softly, after a beat, "I know this is new to you. It's scary. But believe me, it's common enough."

"Come off it, Bones, you were hurting me, and I wanted you to do it! Don't tell me that's normal!"

Bones pushes his plate to the side and leans forward on the table, looking at Jim directly. "You just discovered something about yourself that was always there. You were ignoring it before and trying to deal with it in all sorts of destructive ways. It's not something you should be ashamed of. It's a part of you that needs to be acknowledged."

"Easy for you to say," Jim says glumly. "You weren't the one who was tied down."

"I was there too, remember? Who do you think was the one tying you down?" He laughs softly at the way Jim is burying his face in his hands.

"Shut up," Jim grates out. "It's not funny."

"Some people are hard-wired a little differently than the norm, kid, and you're one of them. I am, too, so don't take it so hard. It doesn't change who you are, because you've probably had these same needs since you were very young. I just helped you bring them to the surface—"

"Thanks very fucking much!"

"—where you can deal with them in a way that won't put you in danger or damage you."

"Bones," Jim says, feeling his cheeks getting hot, "I'm in the command track. How can I…" His voice trails off.

How can I command a ship, if deep down, I like being tied up? He can't even come close to saying that.

"Remember that club I recommended to your friend Gennady?"

Jim nods miserably. Maybe Bones is going to send Jim there too, to "polish his skills."

"You'd be surprised how many officers are regulars there…including at least one admiral that I recognized."

Jim gapes at Bones in surprise. "Are you serious?" he blurts, and then, "Uh, which one?"

Bones laughs. "I'm not going to tell you that. If you want to go there sometime, you can see for yourself."

Jim is beginning to feel a little light-headed. This conversation is moving too fast for him. "Wait, does that mean that you go there on a regular basis?"

"Only when I can't find what I want on my own," he says, and Jim feels the air suddenly heat up between them. "Did you enjoy it, Jim?"

Jim swallows. "You know I did. It was hot, Bones, but I don't understand what the hell happened. I mean, I didn't even…we didn't…"

"It wasn't about sex. You're looking for emotional release, Jim, not just orgasm. What we did was more a journey of the mind than a physical climax. Although," he pauses, giving Jim a meaningful look, "that can be part of it, if you want, and when you're ready."

He ignores the last part and focuses on the most salient thing he can comprehend. "You mean, you want to do it again? With me?"

"Course I do, kid." Bones reaches out and clasps his hand gently around Jim's wrist. Jim is beginning to think that Bones thinks of him as a sort of skittish horse that needs a calm voice and a confident touch so he won't bolt. "Maybe not exactly the same way, but now that I've seen what you need and what works, I can think of a few things that might be even better."

"You mean," Jim says hesitantly, "you got a kick out of it too?"

Bones smiles. "Fuck yeah. That high you experienced at the end… I enjoyed getting you there, believe me."

There's a pause while Jim digests that.

"In that case," he says, a slow smile spreading over his face, "I guess I wouldn't mind letting you enjoy it again some time."


Gary, it turns out, might be a mind-reader for Jim, but he strikes out with Cheney. Far from being annoyed, Cheney starts their next class with strong words of praise for the "thought-provoking" presentation that Sarfus gave.

"I'm impressed by the efforts you made to gather first-hand accounts of the incident. It's important, when you're trying to investigate an event like the destruction of the Kelvin, to hear from as many witnesses as you can. Each one brings a unique point of view that adds to our understanding of the incident."

"Thank you, sir," Sarfus says, while Jim rolls his eyes. Sarfus interviewed a botanist, a nurse, and a gamma-shift helmsman who'd slept through all but the last minutes of the event. They'd known about as much about what was happening on the Bridge during the attack as he did.

Cheney rambles on about his own experiences interviewing survivors of the Klingon raid on Antares Outpost. One cadet asks Sarfus something about Captain Robau's background in diplomacy, and another says that Romulan warrior culture wasn't covered enough.

Cheney makes a few suggestions to Sarfus about further reading on crisis management and battle tactics. "Those topics are beyond the scope of this seminar, but you may want to pursue them on your own, as you've already shown an interest," he says.

"I will, sir." Jim would love to wipe the smug smile off Sarfus' face, but busies himself instead counting dandruff flakes in the hair of the cadet sitting in front of him.

Keep your mouth shut for once, he tells himself. Don't give Cheney a reason to single you out again.

"I'd like to commend you on your courage in tackling this difficult subject," Cheney says, winding up the discussion. "Too often, we refuse to look too closely at incidents as emotionally-charged as this one. Your analysis shows original thinking and raises important questions. Good work, cadet."

This is just too much for Jim. "Sir, with all due respect for Cadet Sarfus' creative analysis, I think it's only fair to reiterate that the material is classified. He might have raised some interesting questions, but there's no way he can answer any of them. He doesn't know what really happened."

"I think he made that clear to everyone at the outset, Kirk. But given that limitation, as an intellectual exercise," Cheney says with emphasis, "he did a fair job."

"Well, I disagree. His whole analysis is based on unfounded guesswork!"

"I said it was speculative." Sarfus' posture is defensive. "It doesn't mean that's what really happened."

"You said he was emotionally compromised, asshole." Jim knows he shouldn't be talking this way in class, but the words fly out of his mouth before he can stop them. "You said he wasted time waiting for my mother to board the escape shuttle!"

"You're out of line, Kirk." Cheney's giving Jim a look that means shut up before I squash you, but Jim ignores it.

"You said he didn't do enough to protect the other shuttles! How would you know?"

"Sir, I support Cadet Kirk's view," Gary says, and Jim's touched by his loyalty. "Sarfus should have picked a command dilemma that was better documented. All he has are unfounded hypotheses." The other cadets have started to chatter among themselves around the room.

"That's not true! I was extrapolating from the available data…"

"What data?" Jim snaps. "The recorders weren't functioning! You don't know what the fuck was happening out there."

"Quiet down!" Cheney's voice hardly penetrates the rising noise in the room. "Kirk, that's enough! I won't have that kind of language in a command seminar."

"Don't take it so personally," Sarfus says tightly. "I'm talking about your father, not you."

"My father was a hero who saved 800 lives, you little shit!"

"Cadet Kirk!" Cheney raps out, so sharply that the room falls suddenly still, leaving Jim's words to hang unpleasantly in the air like an echo. Cheney lowers his voice, but his tone remains cold. "Please wait outside the classroom until class is over."






Part Five

"Cheney's recommending that I get an official reprimand," Jim snarls as he walks into Bones' apartment on Saturday evening. "God damn him and the whole fucking disciplinary committee."

Bones gives him a sour look as Jim yanks off his books and pitches them into the corner of the room. They hit the wall with a satisfying thwack, one after the other, bouncing off in separate directions. Bones grimaces in disapproval and retrieves them, stacking them neatly against the wall.

"Do you want to keep throwing things, or do you want to just tell me why?"

Jim gives him a disgusted snort. "Inappropriate and offensive language in a classroom environment."

Bones raises a questioning eyebrow. "It must have been pretty insulting, if they want to reprimand you just for that."

"And disrespecting an instructor, which is a fucking crock of shit, because I was swearing at that stupid Sarfus, not Cheney!"

Bones shakes his head. "I guess they didn't see it that way, did they?"

"He's a supersensitive prick!"

"And you're a hotheaded idiot with a big mouth." He stands up with a sigh, heading into his kitchen. "I'll get us some beer." Jim just glares at his retreating back.

Half an hour later, Jim's still in a foul mood. Bones hasn't been particularly sympathetic. Jim eventually concedes that he may have overreacted in class, and calling Sarfus a little shit probably wasn't the smartest move. He's willing to accept that it could have been handled better all around, and yes, he knows he has to learn how to deal with assholes who are superior to him in rank.

But he's already fantasizing about how satisfying it would feel to punch that arrogant Sarfus, who started the whole thing in the first place. Shut him up, right in the middle of that reedy whine. Watch him crash to the floor in front of all his stupid, self-righteous classmates.

When he says this, Bones is unimpressed. "That's always your answer, isn't it? Get drunk, start a fight, prove with your fists that you're right. You're brilliant and articulate when you want to be, Jim. Why didn't you debate with him, instead of just calling him names?"

"I tried! Cheney wouldn't let me get a word out!"

Bones just shakes his head. Jim hates it when Bones acts level-headed and reasonable, making Jim feel even more immature in comparison. But he can tell that Bones' patience is wearing thin, so he reluctantly drops the subject of Cheney and Sarfus, although it still rankles under his skin.

They talk for a while about blander topics: the upcoming lecture by the Vulcan ambassador and next semester's classes. His heart's not in it, though. He's irritable, like there's an itch under his skin that he can't scratch.

He excuses himself to the bathroom. It's still early, and he doesn't want to sit here and talk any longer. He'll stop by Gary's dorm, he thinks. Gary, at least, will be properly outraged on his behalf. And if I happen to run into Paul Sarfus…so much the better.

"I'm leaving," he says as he comes back out.

"You should stay here." Bones meets his gaze head on. "You need to settle down."

"I need to get out, actually. But thanks for the beer." He crosses the room, picks up his boots from the corner, and sits on the bed to start pulling them on.

"I know you. You're spoiling for a fight. You'll head out for the nearest bar—"

"Can't." It comes out as more of a grunt, as he yanks his right boot on roughly and stamps it on the floor in impotent frustration. He reaches for the left boot. "I'm grounded for the next two weeks. Not allowed off campus."

As he draws his left leg up to slip it into the boot, his calf scrapes over something solid and uneven, jutting out from the side of the bed. Annoyed, he pulls up the blanket to expose the bed frame. It's one of the duraplast anchors Bones used to attach the restraints to the bed frame, the leather wrist strap still hanging off it. He runs his hand over it, gives the strap an experimental pull. It's solidly anchored, as strong as he remembers.

He wonders if Bones left the strap there on purpose, or just hasn't gotten around to removing it. He pushes up the blanket toward the foot of the bed, unsurprised to see the ankle strap still there as well. Looking at this concrete reminder of what happened here a week ago, he has a visceral memory of the restraints, heavy and tight against his skin. His muscles twitch in remembered ache. He can sense the flush creeping into his cheeks.

God, I need to get out of my head again. He remembers that floating, detached state of mind where nothing, not even pain, could touch him. He wants that, even if it means making himself vulnerable, even if it means letting Bones put him in that position again.

He sits unmoving, one boot on and one boot off, until Bones startles him out of his reverie. "Something on your mind, kid?"

As if he doesn't know. "You left the straps attached," Jim says. "That supposed to be a hint or something?"

"No." Bones looks amused. "It's just convenient."

Bastard. "Look, maybe we could…" He stops awkwardly, once again on unfamiliar territory. "I think maybe I need… who decides when we…" His voice trails off.

"When we what?"

"Uh, you know…what we did last time. I mean, what's the protocol here?"

Bones turns serious. "There is no protocol, Jim. If you want something, you ask for it."

"Oh." He takes a deep breath. "Well, then, I'm asking. Get me out of my head again. I want you to do it."

There's a moment of silence between them.

"What do you need this time, kid?" Bones asks quietly. "Do you need it to hurt?"

"Yes," he answers without thinking, then hesitates. "I don't know. I don't care. Something intense, that's all. You decide."

Bones stares at him, thinking. Do it, Jim urges him in his mind. Because if you don't, I'm going to smash something.

"All right, Jim." Bones says finally. He stands, closing the distance between them. "You still have a safeword. Remember it."

"I remember." But I won't need it. "Don't worry, I'm fine."

"Well, obviously you're not, or you wouldn't be asking for this. But that's okay. I think I know what you need, but you're going to have to trust me on this one."

That sounds vaguely ominous, but Jim just nods. If it gets him to that dreamy state where he was before, he doesn't care how.

"Okay," Bones says. "Computer, raise temperature five degrees, lights to fifty percent," he instructs. He pulls off his shirt, tossing it neatly into the laundry chute at the side of his bed, then looks at Jim expectantly. "Strip down."

Jim mirrors his movements, removing both his shirts and his pants. It's not as awkward this time, since he's done it once before. Bones has gone to his closet, and is rummaging for something far back on the upper shelf. It's a nice view, showing off his broad shoulders and the muscles of his back.

He's not sure why Bones has removed his shirt this time, although it makes him feel a little better not to be the only one showing his skin, even if he's still a lot more exposed. The atmosphere in the room seems more sexually charged.

As if reading his thoughts, Bones turns around and sweeps his eyes approvingly over Jim's body. Jim's eyes widen as he gets a look at what's in Bones' hand: a long rope made of thin braided fibers. "Uh, Bones, I thought you said not to use rope."

"I said that the way that other fool used it was dangerous and too restrictive. For what we're going to do, the way I'm going to tie it, this kind of rope is just right."

"Oh." Just right for what, he's about to ask, but one look at Bones' smug expression stops him. Bones wants to keep him in suspense. Of course.

Bones has a hand-held laser cutter, and he's busy measuring and cutting different lengths of rope, curling each one separately and placing them out on the bed. "It's polyaminene. Non-abrasive and hypo-allergenic. Soft, too." Jim's not sure what to reply to that, so he just nods.

Bones turns back toward him, holding a 3-meter length of rope. He doubles the rope over, grabs the looped end, and picks up Jim's left hand. He winds the rope twice over Jim's wrist, then passes the loop back underneath crosswise, finishing with a square knot. He cinches it down until it's tight, leaving the ends dangling.

He repeats the procedure on Jim's other wrist, his ankles, and just above each knee.

Watching Bones makes these preparations is making Jim somewhat apprehensive—because the ends of the rope are obviously meant to tie him to something—but really, he tries to reassure himself, it's not that different from last time, except that he's standing. Each time Bones tugs the knot closed, Jim's breath comes a little faster.

There's one very long piece of rope left on the bed, and Jim swallows as Bones picks it up and moves behind him. "Pick up your arms," he tells Jim, and winds a length of the rope under his arms, around the top of his chest. Jim can feel him cinching it snugly in the middle of his back. Bones runs the rope around his chest again, this time lower down and in the opposite direction. He continues, winding around, pulling through and cinching, until Jim can see that it's formed a sort of harness over his chest.

It doesn't restrict his movement in any way, and he can't imagine what Bones has in mind with it. But Bones doesn't seem hesitant at all as he winds and knots the rope, and he's beginning to understand that Bones sets the ground rules for whatever they're going to do. There's a certain liberation in letting him direct the scene, so that all Jim has to do is let things happen. And he's beginning to come to terms with the fact that being restrained is a turn on, since his dick is very clear on that point. At least he doesn't have a gag this time. He's not protesting or arguing—yet—so maybe Bones has decided that he doesn't need one.

Bones gets to his feet again, looking him over with satisfaction. "All right. Just two more things, and we can start. First…take off the briefs now, Jim."

Oh, shit.

Naked? Bones must know that he's pushing Jim's limits. Bones implied that it might go in this direction in their first scene ("That's enough for now"), but it feels like it's too soon. Bones must know that Jim's uncomfortable with it, but he's counting on the fact that Jim won't safeword on something so trivial.

Even so, Jim considers stopping the scene, or at least putting up a strenuous objection. He's not the kind of guy who feels comfortable strutting around the locker room—or anywhere else—naked and nonchalant. He has no problem with throwing his clothes off in the heat of passion, but he prefers the disrobing to be mutual, and Bones doesn't look like he's about to undress any further.

There's also something disconcerting in the way Bones is watching him so complacently, as if he's perfectly aware of how uncomfortable his instruction is making Jim—and he's enjoying it. And Jim hates being manipulated.

But he can't stop now, no matter how awkward it's going to feel, no matter how exposed he'll be. He's half-hard, but Bones is a doctor, so that shouldn't shock him.

There's only one way to get through this with any sort of aplomb, and that's with a smirk. He shucks the briefs, tugging them down over the ropes on his knees and ankles, tossing them off to the side. "Guess you want to heat things up a little, huh, Bones?"

"Nope." Bones smiles. "Just need access to certain parts of your anatomy, kid."

Bones doesn't give him time to ruminate over that remark. He moves back to his closet, leaving Jim standing there, naked, ropes hanging, feeling more than a little absurd.

Holding something in his hand, Bones walks around behind him. And then Jim's world darkens suddenly as a padded stretch of cloth is pressed against his eyes. He pulls back instinctively, but Bones is right up against him, adjusting the blindfold over his eyes and pulling tightly on the elastic strap.

He's in total darkness. Gennady blindfolded him too, but he used a thin strip of cloth that let in some light, and Jim could see out of the corners. This one feels more like sensory deprivation.

"What the hell, Bones," he hisses, not liking the feeling of standing in the middle of the room, vulnerable and defenseless. "I want to see what you're doing."

"Use your other senses," Bones tells him. "Listen and feel."

"You sound like the leader of that fucking meditation workshop I had to take."

Bones laughs softly, then walks back to the closet. From the rustling of clothes and the way he's breathing hard and grunting, it sounds like he's dragging something heavy out from the back. Jim's beginning to catch on to the fact that the medical apartments come with a lot more storage space than his own tiny closet in the plebe dorm.

"Don't overexert yourself," he tells Bones, needing the comfort of hearing his own voice. "Wouldn't want you to faint while I'm in this position."

"That's not the position that should have you worried, kid." Bones sounds amused, which is irritating since he doesn't get the joke.

There's a thud as something is placed on the floor next to the wall on his right. He can hear loud metallic clicks, as if a hinge is snapping into place. He can't imagine what Bones is constructing, but from the way he's struggling with it, it must be heavy…and big.

"There," he says finally. He takes Jim's arm and leads him a few steps forward, then stops. "Reach out. See if you can feel what it is."

Feeling slightly ridiculous, Jim raises his right hand cautiously. Bones lifts it and places it on some kind of wide metal beam, angled up toward the ceiling. Frowning, he reaches out both hands and runs them lightly over the structure. There are actually two crossed beams, he realizes, set upright in the form of a human-sized X and anchored to the wall. There are circular bolts laid in intervals along the edges.

"Bones," he says uncertainly, "I don't think this is standard Academy furniture. Even for doctors."

"No," Bones laughs, "there probably aren't too many on campus."

He places a hand in the small of Jim's back, prodding him forward until his waist meets the intersection of the beams, then grabs the dangling ends of the rope attached to his left wrist. Jim feels his hand being raised and stretched up and out, then tugged snugly up against the padded beam until he feels a soft leather handle dangling from the top of the beam. "Hold onto this," Bones says. His hand curls around it instinctively, needing something solid to grasp, while his wrist is secured in place.

It finally dawns on him, much too late, which parts of his anatomy Bones wants access to.

"Wait," he says, hearing the panicky tone rising in his voice. "Are you crazy? You're tying me to a fucking cross? Slow down, for God's sake, this isn't—"

"Calm down." Bones doesn't even pause as he ties his other wrist up. "Trust me on this."

"I can't believe you're doing this…" He pulls against the ropes, but his arms are effectively immobilized, and he has no leverage.

"Don't fight it, Jim." Bones gives his shoulder a brief pat which is probably meant to be encouraging, but in the position he's in, it just feels irritating. "It'll give you a secure hold."

Jim feels the ropes around his chest and waist being pulled forward, drawing him snugly up against the crossbar and preventing him from twisting around.

Bewildered, he remembers how last time Bones began slowly, massaging the tension out of his muscles. He'd been a little upset at the way Bones had slipped the restraints on him, but the firm, gentle touch had calmed him. It was weird, but the touch had reassured him.

But this, being attached to a metal-and-wood structure, with nothing touching his skin but ropes and leather, is freaking him out.

Trust me, Bones keeps saying, as if it's as easy as just relaxing his muscles. He can count on one hand the people who've proven trustworthy in his life, and none of them have asked him for such a physical, gut-level proof of that trust.

Before he can really make up his mind, Bones is tugging at his left ankle. "Spread your legs apart, out to here, and bend your knees just a little." He lets himself be maneuvered so that his leg is flush against the lower beam. The blindfold is magnifying all his sensory impressions: the warm smoothness of the wood against his skin, the stretch of his shoulder muscles, and the inescapable pull of the rope.

Relax. Relax. Relax. The knot above his knee is secured, holding his leg firm. Wordlessly, Bones taps on his right leg, and Jim moves it outward to the opposite beam. He tries to slow his breathing as Bones ties the final two knots.

He's spread-eagled now, completely immobilized. It's not uncomfortable—the beams are covered by some kind of leather padding—but it's a tangible reflection of just who's holding the power in this situation, and who isn't. And it's erotic. Why deny it? The heightened sensitivity, the nakedness, the leather, the warmth, the control (not his, of course)— the sexual tension is fairly crackling between them.

Finished with the knots, Bones is moving his hands up Jim's legs, over his backside, along his spine. Jim arches into the touch, as much as he is able, feeling the shudder wrench through his body. "That's good, Jim," Bones croons. "Nice and tight. You like that, don't you?"

"Mmmm," he murmurs, only agreeing in part, because he's too uncertain about what's coming next.

Bones steps back, leaving his skin tingling. He hears him giving quiet instructions to the environmental controls, and pulsing, lyrical music starts issuing from the room's corner speakers. It's not an artist Jim recognizes—synthesized music and multi-track vocals—and the music adds to the sense of unreality of the situation.

The first slap of the flogger on his back nearly shocks the breath out of him.

It doesn't hurt. In fact, the sting is mild. But it lands with an impressive thud which makes him shake with the impact.

Before he can say more than "Hey, what—" another strike comes from the opposite direction, driving whatever he was about to say out of his mind. Bones slaps back and forth, with an even forehand and backhand, stroke after stroke. He can feel a wave of heat spreading over his upper back.

He can't quite grasp the fact that Bones is flogging him, actually striking him with a leather instrument.

After a few minutes, Bones stops. He lets the soft ends of the flogger stroke Jim's sensitized skin—he can feel, now, that there are dozens of tresses, trailing down his back and down over his buttocks. "Do you like that, Jim?" he asks softly.

"I don't know," he breathes. Like it? He can't sort out what the hell he's feeling. But he wants more.

Bones changes his target, aiming lower down across his ass and thighs. He snaps the tails back with his hand, making the strokes sharper. Jim flinches slightly with the force of each blow, but it still doesn't really hurt. He still feels more shocked than anything else. He can't quite get over the fact that Bones hides this kind of equipment in his closet, behind his uniforms. He seems so nonchalant about the whole thing, as if this is a perfectly normal way to deal with a friend who's in a bad mood.

After a few minutes, Bones introduces a different instrument, letting the ends caress Jim's neck and glide over his chest. These strands are a little thinner and stiffer than the other ones, and there seem to be more of them. "Suede," Bones tells him. "More sting." He demonstrates, with a quick flick over Jim's ass.

That's more like it. There's a definite sharp bite to this lash.

After that he alternates back and forth, still not using much strength, but keeping the pace even. It's rhythmic, predictable, and still easily tolerable, like a heavy massage. Jim relaxes into it, letting the ropes support his arms. It's not pleasant, exactly, but it's certainly not painful.

It's just a mind fuck, he thinks, feeling more than a little let down. Bones has obviously put a lot of effort into the props, but the actual flogging part seems a little mild.

And it's not enough for him. He's still seething over what happened in class and at the hearing. He can still hear the restrained aversion in Cheney's tone ("Please wait outside the classroom until class is over") and he can see the satisfaction in Sarfus' eyes as Jim was summarily dismissed from the class. His head is still full of he's wrong and I'm right, and it's distracting him from the physical sensations.

And now his anger is all mixed up with Bones, too: anger that Bones wouldn't commiserate enough with him, resentment that he's made Jim acknowledge these needs, and now frustration that as long as he's got him in this position, he should at least make it hurt.

It goes on for a few minutes. Bones steps forward, running his hand lightly over Jim's skin, which is gradually becoming slicker with sweat. "Getting warmer," he murmurs. "Need something to drink?"

"I'm fine. Come on, Bones. Is this it?"

Bones laughs. "Don't be such an impatient brat."

He strikes a little harder now, moving up and down his body: calves, thighs, butt, and shoulders. He adds a third flogger, heavier than the other two, steps back, and puts more weight into it. The impact reverberates more deeply into his tissues, jarring him slightly with each swing.

Then, after a few minutes, Bones stops again. He runs his lightly hand over Jim's skin, making a sound of satisfaction deep in his throat. "Ready, kid?" he asks, and Jim nods. The warm up is over, he understands. He's more than ready.

There's a sudden sharp movement behind him, and Bones lets loose a stroke that lands so solidly it shoves him into the crossbeam, making him pull on the ropes. The backswing catches him just as hard, slamming into his back, drawing a grunt from him. Bones doesn't skip a beat, keeping up a pounding rhythm that is starting to feel like a lot less like a massage and more like a series of punches.


"Doin' okay there, kid?" Bones sounds a little out of breath.

"Hell yes."

"All right, then. I've got something more intense."

He begins to regret his eagerness when the first lash hits. This time, there's nothing ambiguous in the sensation: it hurts. The sting is sharp, almost like a cut, and he jumps, or tries to. The ropes hold him firmly in place, giving him very little range of movement.

"Shit!" he yelps. "What the fuck is that?"

"It's a cat," Bones huffs. "Braided tails and..."— thwack!—"…knotted ends."

"Ah!" His cry is involuntary, and he presses his lips together. For the first time, he feels like he's actually being whipped. The bites roam down his back, over his shoulders, on the backs of his thighs. The music is louder, the beat more insistent, and Bones lets the strokes fall faster.

It's like a dozen stinging barbs, catching onto his skin and then being yanked away. (Is he bleeding?) When Bones uses it on an area of skin that's already had it applied, snapping the tails over what feels like open cuts, it's fire.

Bones stops and steps back. Jim can hear him sipping something. His breathing is heavier. Must be hard work to whale on your best friend with a strip of leather, he thinks sarcastically. No wonder he took off his shirt.

Jim can feel the sweat dripping down his chest and sides. The ropes feel hot and constricting. He waits for Bones to check in with him, ask him how he's doing, but he just sets down his glass and picks up one of the instruments again.

The next stroke crashes down on his shoulders, making his wrists strain against the ropes, and damn, Bones' upper body strength is impressive. It's the heavy flogger again, and it packs a punch when Bones is smashing it down on him full strength. Each successive stroke forces out a little explosion of air, a grunt of pain. The sensation of the deep muscle impact, on patches of skin that already feel like they have masses of cuts, is so intense that he's beginning to struggle in earnest.

As if reading his mind, Bones suddenly lightens his touch. The ends brush against his shoulders, so gently it gives him goosebumps. "Remember your safeword, Jim?" he asks softly. "Don't actually say it, because then I'll have to stop. Just answer yes or no."

"Yes." His voice sounds shaky and tight.

"Okay, then. Use it if you need to."

Then he hauls back and snaps the tails against his ass with, it seems, even more force than before.

He alternates between the two instruments, keeping Jim off guard, varying the pattern of strokes. Jim can hear himself gasping for breath, and his arms and legs are shaking. The pain is climbing. He keeps waiting for the sensation of detachment to descend, for the pain to morph into pleasure, but for some reason, he's stuck in the here and now.

His skin is burning. Each successive stroke of leather on skin jolts him with a flare of pain. The braided cords of the lighter whip sear his skin, making him moan. He's sure he must be bleeding by now in a dozen places.

But the heavy flogger is worse, and he starts to dread each stroke. It pummels him relentlessly, slapping areas of skin that are begging not to be touched, making him strain into the restraints. Each time it comes down on the welts and the cuts, the whole area burns like fire. He can't arch away, can't do anything but stand there and take it.

The pain is building, but he's not detaching. There's no high, only a gradually increasing sense of desperation.

What's wrong? he thinks, with a twinge of worry. Why isn't it working this time? He's making noises almost continuously now, grunts and moans and little cries of pain.

Bad as it is, though, he doesn't want to stop. Maybe, just maybe, the endorphin high is just around the corner, waiting for the next stroke to tip him over the edge. Then it will all have been worth it. And if not, he can at least have the satisfaction of seeing it through without wimping out when things got rough. He's got plenty of experience with rough and it never breaks him, never.

The onslaught continues, building inexorably until his thighs, ass, back, and shoulders feel like one hot mass of pain.

There's a moment's respite, and Jim can hear Bones rummaging around in his closet again. Fuck, how many toys does he hide back there? The sweat is running down his forehead and the sides of his neck. He hears Bones stepping up behind him again, and braces himself for a new assault.

He hears the whistle of the stroke a split-second before he hears the sharp crack of leather on skin, low across his ass. The blow is so forceful and fast that it nearly knocks the breath out of him. The pain of contact is more severe by far than anything that's been used on him until now. Jim cries out in surprise, clenching his ass muscles reflexively. A few seconds later, his shocked nerves return to life, and the pain reverberates through him with greater intensity.

The second blow, applied almost exactly on the same spot a few seconds later, makes him yelp again. His eyes start to tear.

The third stroke, heavy and powerful, works the same sensitive patch of skin again. It lands with a brutal whack, and the double wave of pain is so intense it wrenches a sob from him. His throat aches and he's panting with the effort of holding in his reaction.

The worst of it isn't the pain itself, though. It's the fact of being beaten, the primal shock of someone inflicting physical pain on him, regardless of the fact that he's consenting to it and could stop it if he wanted. The intensity of the sensation is bypassing his cognitive reasoning and going straight to the center of his being. It's an instinctual understanding that he's powerless and helpless.

Being struck is unearthing emotions that he's buried so deep within him that he's almost forgotten them, but now they're rising up within him in an unstoppable wave. Shock and unfairness and betrayal. Indignity. The feeling of being trapped and desperate. All of his controls seem to have broken down, overwhelming him with feelings that he's been keeping in check for a long, long time.

By the sixth stroke, his eyes are watering beyond his control, dampening the blindfold. Each blow feels like hot metal across his skin. He's struggling, pulling helplessly at the bonds holding him in place, but there's nowhere to go and the strokes keep coming relentlessly. The ropes tug and pull at his chest, arms, and legs, and he groans in frustration, because they're fixing him in place when all he wants to do is curl up into himself.

He's beginning to feel like he honestly can't take it anymore, but he's held firmly in place, unable to escape. Every ineffective pull on the ropes simply reminds him of how he's not in control of the situation. And the inescapable truth of the matter is that he's put himself in this position willingly. He's allowed it to happen.

All of his pent-up fury—at Sarfus, at Cheney, at Frank, at his mother, at his father—is finally redirected to the true target: himself. Because in the end, he can't blame anyone else for what's happening to him. It's that realization, more than the pain, that breaks him.

"You can't fight this," Bones taunts him. (Crack!) To his utter shame, Jim lets out a pitiful moan, and he clamps his lips tightly together.

"All you know is how to fight and curse and show the other guy that you're stronger, isn't that right, Jim? You couldn't think of an intelligent way to respond to that idiot in class, so now you want to go over there and punch him. But the one thing that you can't handle is when you have to just sit there and take it."

"No!" he grates out as the next stroke jolts into him.

"Yes." Bones' voice is coldly disparaging. "You can't deal with Cheney, can't make a proper argument in front of the disciplinary committee, can't even defend your own father."

(Can't do anything right, can you, Jimmy?)

God, he hates that voice.

His shoulders are shaking. He makes another futile attempt to move his legs, pull down his arms, to do anything but stand there, defenseless and impotent.

He's gotten away for years on his smart mouth and his quick fists. From the minute he left home, he's been fighting. He hasn't let anyone get really close to him in years, hasn't wanted to feel that vulnerable. It's only been here, at the Academy, that he's started to realize that he can't keep fighting. The rules he's been living by don't work here. They're holding him back, getting him into trouble, but damn it, he doesn't know any other way.

The whole situation is wrong. He can't just run out and smash Sarfus' face in, and he can't tell Cheney what an asshole he thinks he is. And worst of all, he can't ask his father any of the questions that are burning in his head. His father is dead. It's all fucking classified, and his mother is tight-mouthed, and he wouldn't feel comfortable asking her anyway.

He's powerless and trapped, and the restraints, the blindfold, and the pain are only physical reminders of how screwed up his life has become.

His best friend, his only real friend, is calmly beating the shit out of him. And instead of riding the pain to a blissful peace, he's crying like a baby.

Bones hasn't let up. Jim can hardly believe he's still got the strength to keep pounding him. The leather slaps against his skin again, dragging a full-throated howl from him as the pain flows out from the impact like a shock wave.

He lets himself sag a bit against the ropes, his breath coming in little hitching gasps. His whole body is trembling. God, he's so tired.

"That's it, kid," Bones says softly. "You've had enough."

He places a gentle hand on Jim's shoulder and squeezes. Jim doesn't want the touch—not after what Bones just said to him and did to him, not while the tears are still running down his face—but Bones holds tight.

Jim tries desperately to get his breathing back under control. His nose is stuffy and running and fuck, he can't even wipe it.

And then his blindfold is being tugged off, and a hand is running through his sweaty hair, pushing it off his forehead. A cool, damp cloth is wiping his face, cleaning him off, running over the back of his neck. Jim blinks, feeling like someone coming up into fresh air after long hours spent underground. He's glad that the only thing that greets his vision is the blank wall in front of him; seeing Bones' face right now would be too much.

Out of the corner of his eyes he gets his first look at the strange metal-and-leather structure that he's tied to. His hands are still fisted around the padded handholds, high above his head. He can see how the rope is secured through circular steel bolts, locking his wrists in place. Looking down, he sees how his heaving chest is anchored to other eye bolts, creating a webbing of rope that's holding him suspended between the two crossbeams.

"Calm down, kid. It's okay," Bones tells him. He stands close behind him, as he releases his hands. Jim's shoulder muscles burn as he lowers his arms, folding them in tight against his body. His chest and legs are still tied to the cross. He can't stop shaking.

Bones presses against his back in a gentle embrace, folding his arms around him in steady pressure . A little whine of pain escapes Jim's throat because at this point, even the rustle of air feels intolerable on his bruised, abraded skin, but at the same time, it soothes him. Bones' arms are solid and strong, and Jim can feel the warmth radiating off him.

His breath tickles the back of Jim's neck. "Relax. You did just fine. I've got you."

Jim's shivering and exhausted, empty and drained. His emotions are spent. The fury and the frustration are gone, leaving behind an odd sort of calm.


The dermal stimulator hums over his back. Bones is hovering over him as he lies prone on the bed, eyes half closed, limp with exhaustion.

"Wasn't what I expected," he mumbles.

"It never is."

"You knew what would happen, didn't you."

"No, I didn't, Jim." Bones shuts off the device. "I could see you were strung tight and you needed the release. But I didn't know it was going to happen in just that way."

"Didn't get a high this time," Jim tells him mournfully.

"Yeah, I could see that, kid," Bones says with a soft laugh. His fingers probe the newly regenerated skin along Jim's shoulders, making him wince. "I think the crying was a clue."

"I'm sorry," he says, embarrassed.

"What for?"

For crying. For losing control. But instead he mumbles, "Because it didn't work right."

"What? No! Is that what you think?" Leaving his perch on the side of the bed, Bones drops down to his knees on the floor beside Jim, putting him almost at eye level with him. "You've got it wrong, Jim."

"But I should've—"

"Listen to me. There's no should have. You can't predict what your reaction's going to be when you go into a scene like that, and you shouldn't put a value judgment on it, either. There's no right or wrong way to react."

"Oh." He's a bit taken aback by the intensity in Bones' words, as if Bones is determined to make Jim understand something. And Jim's too tired to resist.

"It was a release of emotion. It's good for you, kid. Believe me, you needed it."

Jim nods. "I guess…" He does feel calmer, more at peace, almost numb. In fact, he's surprisingly relaxed, as if he's finally let go of all the anger and frustration that have been building inside him.

"And you were beautiful, Jim, at the end," Bones says. "To me, that was beautiful."

"Bones," Jim sighs, shaking his head, "you've got a screwed up sense of esthetics."

He just laughs.



"Hmmm." Bones starts rubbing some sort of cream into the bruised and aching skin of his ass. He's grateful for the clinical touch, especially (owww) when the slightest pressure is like fire.

"Not gonna be able to sit down for a week."

He rubs lower, spreading the cream over the back of Jim's thighs. It feels so good, Jim doesn't want him to stop. "You'll be a little sore for a few days. I'll give you some analgesics for tomorrow and the day after."

"No hypos."

"Pills, you big baby." Even without being able to see Bones' face, Jim knows he's rolling his eyes.

Jim groans. "I need to get up. 's late." He starts to push up from the bed, but a firm hand on his shoulders pushes him back down. "Bones…!"

"You're sleeping here tonight, Jim. I've already sent out a medical report. You got dehydrated by overexerting yourself during strenuous physical activity this evening. You're officially under medical observation until tomorrow morning."

Jim squints up at him."Really? You wrote me a medical excuse?" He grins sleepily. "I think I love you."

"You're welcome."


He's almost asleep, curled on his side in the bed. The deep ache in his muscles has dulled to a soft throb, but when he stretches, he can still feel the tight pull of the new skin on his back. He doesn't want to close his eyes yet, though. He's watching Bones, who's sprawled on the couch, working on his PADD in the semi-darkness. "Bones…"

"Thought you were asleep. What now?"

"You've got a mean fucking backhand."

Bones laughs. "I played tennis as a kid. Comes in handy. Now go to sleep."






Part Six

"You wanted to see me, Captain Pike?" Jim's standing at attention in the office of the Commandant of Cadets. The office is spare and neat, and smaller than he'd imagined it would be.

Pike is at his desk, reading something on the PADD in front of him. Probably Cheney's complaint about me, he thinks in annoyance. After a moment, Pike glances up, giving Jim an appraising look. "At ease, cadet."

Jim hasn't seen him in months, not since the shuttle ride from Riverside and the introductory welcome speech he gave to the assembled first-year cadets. He's just as Jim remembers, lean and stern in the charcoal-grey uniform. He doesn't smile in greeting, which only confirms Jim's suspicions that this isn't intended to be a friendly how's-it-going meeting. Pike doesn't smile much, anyway, from what he's seen.

"Cadet Kirk. Do you know why you're here?"

Always the same fucking question. Just once, Jim would like to be told outright why he's been called in for The Talk. As if he didn't know.

"I think so, sir." The summons to the meeting didn't surprise him. After the altercation with Cheney and the meeting of the disciplinary committee the week before, Jim expected some sort of follow-up talk, although not necessarily a one-on-one with the head of cadet training. "It's about the reprimand, I guess."

Pike's expression is unreadable. "I make it a policy of scheduling individual meetings with all cadets, at least once during their four years at the Academy. I like to get to know each cadet. Usually it's toward the end of their training, and it's a good opportunity to think about the direction of their career, advanced training and eventual placement. But occasionally," he said, inclining his head toward Jim with a wry smile, "I find that I have to get involved sooner."

"That's not necessary, sir." As far as Jim's concerned, Pike doesn't need to get involved, whatever the hell that means. He's not quite so angry about it anymore, even if he's still left with a sense of mild injustice. "I accept the disciplinary committee's decision," he says stiffly. "I shouldn't have spoken out in that manner in the classroom. I get that. It won't happen again."

"Well, I'm relieved to hear it," Pike says, a hint of sarcasm in his tone. "But that's actually not why I called you in here."

Jim looks up at him warily. Between his mother, his stepfather, all his past teachers and a few law-enforcement officials, he's been on the receiving end of a hundred conversations just like this. He knows what's coming. Either he'll be given a dash of sympathy along the lines of I-understand-but-you-need-to-try-harder, a play for guilt with your-father/mother-would-be-so-disappointed, or some kind of warning or lecture. Looking at Pike, he's pretty sure Option Number Three is coming, so he braces himself to get chewed out.

But Pike takes him off guard. "I'd like to know how you're adjusting to the Academy."

"It's fine, sir." Pike doesn't respond, merely looks at him and waits, so he adds, "The classes aren't too hard. I'm getting good grades."

"So I've seen. I'm glad that's the case, especially with your background." Jim's not sure whether Pike is referring to the fact that his father is the hero of the Kelvin, or that he spent the last couple of years racking up petty offenses. Probably both. He nods, not knowing what to reply.

"The Academy can be a little hard to take at first," Pike says, with a wry grin. "All those rules. My plebe year, I was put on probation twice for minor infractions." At Jim's questioning eye look, he explains, "Unprepared for inspection, usurping privileges, being caught out of uniform while on liberty, that sort of thing."

Classic joining tactic, Jim thinks, not letting down his guard. He doesn't want Pike's empathy. "I don't have any problem with the rules, sir. The disciplinary committee met regarding a specific incident in one class."

"Have a seat, cadet." Jim's familiar with this tactic, too. It usually means a long conversation, of the Option Two type. He sits down with a sigh.

"I hear from your instructors that your field performances are exceptional. And that you're top of your section in hand-to-hand combat." Pike smiles. "I was actually under the impression, from our first meeting, that you needed some remedial training."

Jim feels his cheeks getting hot. "That was four to one, sir, and I was…uh…"

"You were drunk. So I noticed. Not your best moment, I suppose, although you still put two of my cadets in the infirmary that night."

"I don't back away from a fight," he says, a little defiantly.

"And I see that you still don't, from what Commander Cheney tells me."

Here it comes. "You knew that about me when you recruited me, Captain. The instinct to leap without looking, you said. Just like my father."

"It's a good quality in an officer. But there's a difference between courage under pressure, and impulsive gut-level reactions that have no place in a classroom." Pike's words are stern, although his eyes are kind. "There's a time and place to respond, Jim. That's something you need to learn."

It irks him that Pike uses his first name, drawing him into an intimacy that he doesn't want and can't reciprocate. "I understand that, sir. I shouldn't have spoken out like a hot-headed jerk. But in my opinion, there are times when an immediate response is necessary."

"I take it you're referring to Cadet Sarfus' presentation."

Jim wishes that he could stay as calm as Pike, but that's easier said than done. "Yes! It's a command seminar, isn't it? We're supposed to hone our critical thinking skills. I objected to the nature of Cadet Sarfus' analysis. I admit that my language wasn't appropriate…"

"I reviewed the presentation, you know." Jim looks at him in surprise. "I think I told you that I did my dissertation on the Kelvin. I was curious to see it. I'd like to know what got you so outraged."

The fact that it was a piece of drivel, he wants to say. The fact that Sarfus is an ass-licking chickenshit coward.

He knows better than to say that, though, so he tries to frame a more respectful response. "The assignment was to analyze a command dilemma, sir. I don't object to the fact that Sarfus decided to research the destruction of the Kelvin, although in my opinion, Commander Cheney should have pointed out that it was a poor choice. All the material's classified and the few witnesses available for interviews weren't anywhere near the Bridge during the actual incident. But if a cadet wants to work within those limitations, it's up to him. What I do object to," he says, taking a deep breath, "is that the presentation was pure speculation with a few decision-making models thrown in for good measure!"

Pike's eyes narrow, and he leans forward slightly in his chair. "So you didn't like the fact that the presentation had some hypothetical elements? There are always unanswerable questions. And people make mistakes. Especially those in command. It's almost inevitable, in the heat of battle."

"I don't think the cadet should be praised for original thinking when no one has the information to contradict what he's saying. I don't think maybe and it could be and what if are indicators of intellectual rigor. Sarfus' whole point was to make my father look bad!"

"That's for your instructor to decide."

"Well, I don't accept that!"

Pike's face is stone. "You're a cadet and he's your instructor. Whether you approve of his methods or his grading system is irrelevant."

Fuck. Watch it. Jim takes a deep breath and makes an effort to lower his tone. "I know that, sir. I just think Commander Cheney should have allowed a more open discussion on this topic."

"A more open discussion…" Pike parrots thoughtfully. "Well, if that's what you want, I'm giving you the opportunity, here and now, to say your piece, Jim." He sits back in his chair. "Go ahead. I'm listening. Convince me that you were right. Show me that you know how to argue intelligently."

It's both an opportunity and a challenge. Jim knows what Pike is asking, and more than anything, he wants to prove himself to him. He wants Pike to hear him when he's sober and articulate. He can be persuasive, and not just when he's picking up some fun for the night.

And, damn it, he's right here. The presentation was a farce, Sarfus is a dickhead and if Cheney thinks it was so brilliant, he shouldn't be teaching the seminar.

My father was a hero, he wants to tell Pike. He saved 800 lives. You said so yourself.

But his throat is squeezing around the words. The doubts that have been growing insidiously since he heard the presentation in class are drowning out every defense of his father's actions.

Emotionally compromised.


Wasted precious seconds.

"Jim?" Pike prompts, and he realizes that he's been staring ahead blankly.

"I don't know, sir," he says slowly. "I don't know what to think anymore. I don't know what happened up there. Nobody does." His shoulders slump and he lowers his head. "I never knew him…" he says quietly. "I don't know anything about the kind of commander he was. Maybe he made mistakes, or maybe he did everything right, but I'll never know."

Pike purses his lips together in sympathy. "That's one of the hardest things to accept, son. Sometimes a good officer dies in the line of duty, and there's no trace, no explanation, no record of what happened."

"I know."

"Do you?" Pike's voice is pained. "I've had men and women die under my command, more than once, and I've been left with nothing but a mystery, a void, and empty speculation."

Pike's words send a cold shiver down his spine. Jim contemplates, for the first time, a different ending to the Kelvin disaster. What might it have felt like to be told that his father died in the black, and no one knew how or why? For all the pain of growing up in the shadow of a hero, at least he'd had the comfort of knowing what happened, and that his father had died in order to save the lives of his mother, his crew, and himself.

"But that's not the case here." Jim looks up at him, startled. "The material's patchy in places, and some of the recorders were dysfunctional, but Starfleet was able to get a very good idea of what happened during the Kelvin crisis. Most of the crew survived, including the command staff. We have a pretty accurate picture of the entire incident…including the last twelve minutes."

Jim swallows and clears his throat. "And what were the conclusions, sir?" His tone comes out reasonably even, although his heart is hammering.

Pike shakes his head. "I can't tell you that, cadet. The material, as you know, is classified. But I don't think I'd be amiss in telling you that in my opinion, your father's actions were admirable. Heroic, even."

Not those platitudes again, he thinks with a sudden stab of fury. Hero of the Federation. Upholding Starfleet's highest ideals. Noble sacrifice.

"Captain Pike," he says carefully, "with all due respect, that's not enough for me anymore."

"It'll have to be." Pike's tone is matter-of-fact. "For now, at least. You'll need an alpha security clearance to gain access to the files."

"That could take ten years, sir! Or it could never happen."

"Then it's not a bad goal for you to work toward, Jim. Focus on your studies and don't spend so much time worrying about things you can't change."

Jim blows out a breath in frustration. "Isn't there something you can tell me, sir? I really need to know…"

Pike doesn't answer. He's tapping on his PADD, swiping it rapidly with his finger, accessing different files. The discussion is clearly over.

Pike stands suddenly, turning the PADD around the placing it in front of Jim. Jim jumps quickly to his feet, but Pike motions him back down. "I've made a small change in your course load next semester, Jim. You'll be taking an additional seminar which I think you'll benefit from."

"Debate, Negotiation, and Conflict Resolution," Jim reads off the PADD. What the hell. "Sir, that's a course in the diplomacy corps!"

"Right," Pike tells him calmly. "And you sure as hell need it. It's an excellent foundation for a future commander. I've recommended it over the years for several command-track cadets. Learn to make your point effectively without calling your opponent names."

Oh, for crying out loud. "Captain Pike, that's not necessary, I told you it won't happen again…"

"Read the course description, Jim." Pike leans over and touches the PADD's screen, keying one of the documents. "Here. I've got a meeting for the next two hours, but you can stay here for as long as you need to review the material."

"Thank you, sir, but I don't think—"

"Read it, cadet." Pike is already out the door.

Jim sighs. Just what he needs, an extra course on top of the extra ones he's already taking. He saw a debate once, in an old documentary. What an antiquated, anachronistic, useless form of—

His eyes sweep over the screen and he does a double take. His body is quicker on the uptake than his mind, apparently; he feels a sweat break out over his skin and his heart starts to pound.

Blinking hard, he looks again at the document Pike left for him on the PADD. "An Unstoppable Chain of Events: An Assessment of the Command Decisions Leading to the Destruction of the U.S.S. Kelvin." The word CLASSIFIED is blazoned in red across the lower half of the page.

It's Pike's dissertation, he realizes, shocked.

He's got two hours, Pike said. Taking a shaky breath, Jim taps the screen and begins to read.


Jim shows up at Bones' room that night. He comes there because despite all that's changed between them recently, Bones is still his best friend. Because he's bursting to share this with someone and there's only one person that he trusts enough to share it with.

"Don't hold your breath waiting for your alpha security clearance, kid," Bones tells him afterwards, as they pick through the remains of their pizza. "Keeping secrets is obviously not your strong suit."

"Fuck off," Jim tells him cheerfully, tipping back his beer bottle. He hasn't told Bones the details, of course. Just that Pike let him look at some restricted material and that now he knows, really knows, what happened to his father. Okay, he may have quoted from it once or twice—especially the part about George Kirk "using his intuitive expertise to select the one and only correct action in the heat of combat"—but he thinks, under the circumstances, that it's a forgivable slip.

There's a mellow, contented glow radiating out from the center of his being. Part of it is the alcohol, but it's also the sudden release of a weight from his shoulders. For the first time, he can think about Paul Sarfus without wanting to punch him. Sarfus can walk around as smugly as he wants, with Cheney's praise still ringing in his ears, but Jim knows he got it wrong. And knowledge, Jim realizes, is power.

Let Sarfus keep his little speculative misconceptions, and let Cheney think that he's taught Jim to respect his authority. It doesn't matter. His father's heroism is intact. And that matters more to him than he'd known.

I dare you to do better. Jim still remembers those words, and he's pretty sure that Pike hasn't forgotten them, either. Jim doesn't know whether he'll be able to outdo his father, but he can try. For the first time, he's starting to feel that enlisting in Starfleet might not have been an impulsive blunder, but the right thing for him to do.

Maybe he'll even say that to his mother someday, too.

He feels more accepting of himself than he ever has before…even now, knowing what he knows about the darker reaches of his psyche. Bones has provided a safe place to explore that pain, to release some of his demons.

Bones is watching him, a pensive look on his face. He's leaning his chair back against the wall, rocking it slightly back and forth. He picks up his beer bottle and sips it in the dim light, licking his lips to catch a stray drop, never once breaking eye contact with Jim.

It occurs to him suddenly that this simple act is on of the hottest things he's ever seen.

Maybe there's something else I need to ask for, he thinks.

"Something on your mind?" Bones seems relaxed, a small smile on his lips.

Actions speak louder than words, he decides. Jim puts his beer down and stands up. Taking a step forward, he places his hands on Bones' shoulders, pushing his chair solidly onto the floor with a thump, and kisses him.

Bones' warm hand cups around his neck, fingers brushing gently across his skin, undemanding and surprised. The light touch is more arousing than he expects. Immediately his cock feels heavier, and he can feel the adrenaline beginning to flow. He kisses Bones again, using his lips and tongue to explore, tasting beer and pizza and something more.

Bones recovers quickly, breaking off the kiss and looking at him questioningly. "Are you sure, kid? Thought you said this isn't your thing."

Jim shrugs. "This part's fine. I said no fucking."

Bones leans forward and whispers in his ear, "We'll see about that." His hot breath makes Jim shiver, or maybe it's the implication: that even in this situation, Bones is setting the rules.

"Bed," Jim says succinctly, pulling him that way. He doesn't want to think about where this might be heading. For now, he'd like to stretch out and explore. He stands up, using the opportunity to pull off his shirts, and lays down on the bed. This has the advantage of giving him a front-row view of Bones as he does the same, and then they're lying side by side.

Jim has always liked kissing. It's comfortable and warm, not too messy or acrobatic, and it gives him a good indication of the coming attractions. Jim quickly realizes that if Bones' kissing style is anything to go by, things are going to progress pretty fast. His tongue is insistent and knows what it's doing. Bones quickly arranges himself so that he's on top of Jim, shoving his thigh between Jim's legs. He bites at Jim's lips and presses down on his shoulders, and damn, Jim's cock is getting the message loud and clear.

Jim explores a little lower. His hands slide over the smooth muscles on Bones' back and reach underneath, running lightly over his flat abdomen. It's a little disconcerting to find himself the smaller partner. They're about the same height, but he's no match for Bones in the breadth of his shoulders or overall mass. His hands slither down lower, following the curve of Bones' back and beginning to glide over his ass which, Jim has to admit, is pretty darn hot. Jim's erection is fast becoming a demanding part of his awareness, and he feels the tension growing between his thighs.

Without warning, Bones reaches down, catching Jim's wrists in his hands and pinning them down on the mattress on either side of his waist. Jim's a little annoyed, because his explorations were beginning to get to the interesting part. Bones lets him struggle a bit—he's not resisting in earnest, just enough to see that a simple tug isn't going to budge them—and smiles down at him.

I know what you want, his eyes are telling Jim.

Fuck you, Jim smiles back.

Bones laughs. He lowers his mouth and sucks on his right nipple, using his teeth and tongue to draw a low moan from Jim's throat. A sudden bite sends a spark of pain jolting through him, making him jump and strain against Bones' hands. Bones releases his left hand and cups his hand around Jim's groin, stroking his erection through his pants, until Jim bucks against him. "You like that," Bones tells him, not a question, grabs his wrist again, and moves to the other nipple.

After a few moments they're both rutting and straining against each other, both sweating and breathing quicker.

Bones sits up. "Take these off," he says huskily, pulling at Jim's waistband.

"Yours, too," Jim counters.

Sex with a guy, or at least with Bones, seems to involve a lot of power issues. Jim's fairly sure that they started on equal footing, so to speak, but from the moment they got horizontal the control's been shifting pretty much in Bones' favor. That's fine, Jim's open-minded, but fair is fair, at least where undressing is concerned. Nobody's blindfolded or gagged now—not yet, at least, he thinks a little nervously—and there's no way he's going to wind up naked again while Bones gets to keep his pants on.

But Bones doesn't seem to mind. He stands and strips off his clothes with an easy, fluid grace, and no wonder: he's gorgeous, all lean muscle and hard lines. His cock is fully erect, long and beautifully formed. Jim can't take his eyes off it.

Jim mirrors his motions, shucking the rest of his clothes, feeling slightly self-conscious. It's silly, because Bones has already seen everything, but that was in different circumstances and besides, he was blindfolded at the time. He lies quickly back down on the bed, unsure what to do next. He's beginning to worry that things are going pretty fast. He wasn't sure what he had in mind when he leaned over to kiss Bones in the chair, and while he's not averse to the direction this seems to be headed, he feels that there are details still to be worked out.

"Tell me what you want, Jim," Bones says, standing at the side of the bed and looking down, and Jim shivers, because those words and that voice are viscerally associated with a different set of activities. He doesn't want to think about that, but now he can't help it, and his breath catches in his throat.

"It's okay," Bones says quietly. "Tell me."

"I don't know what I want." It's true. He's never gone this far with another man, and while he has a pretty good idea of the mechanics, he doesn't have a good sense of what he likes or doesn't like, beyond sucking and stroking.

"Well, I know what I want." Bones' eyes are gleaming as he looks Jim over. "I want to fuck you."

"Bones," he says warningly. "I told you…"

"Trust me," Bones says, and again, a little shiver of memory runs up Jim's spine. "It'll be good. You'll see."

"I trust you. I do. It's just…" He wipes the back of his hand against his sweaty forehead. "Shit."

He knows that this limit, no fucking, is an artificial barrier. It's something he's said to himself for years, without ever examining it. Someone like him, who's impulsive and reckless, needs limits, even if they're self-imposed. But it's more than just a convenient excuse not to get involved. Fucking is all about trust. Allowing himself to be penetrated would mean opening himself up, making himself vulnerable in more ways than one, and he's not sure he can do that.

Yet while his objections to it are real and salient—let's face it, the act involves parts of his anatomy that are usually occupied with other bodily functions that he'd rather not dwell on—he's attracted to the idea. He's curious, but it's more than that. He's drawn to the idea of giving in, of letting go. He can't help wondering how it would feel to have another man inside him, to allow him access to his most private recesses, and to let that sensation drive him over the brink.

So yes, he wants it. But no, he can't bring himself to ask for it.

"I'm not sure," he amends.

"Come on, Jim. You started this. Tell me." There's no judgment in his tone, just acceptance. It makes it so much easier to take the next step.

Still, it's so hard.

He reaches down to the left side of the bed frame until his hand connects with the anchored wrist strap. "Do it, Bones," he whispers, pulling on the strap, feeling the solid resistance of the metal anchor. "I want you to."

Bones nods, a half-smile on his lips. "All right, if that's what you want. Lie back," he says. Jim can't tell if he's amused or gratified, and he hates feeling so uncertain. He lies back against the mattress, staring at the ceiling, feeling completely exposed.

Bones climbs onto the bed, kneeling between Jim's legs, and quickly attaches the wrist restraints. The tight bands are familiar and comforting on his skin. Jim pulls against them, feeling the satisfying tug of the straps and how securely they hold him.

"Is that better, kid?" he drawls, although Jim's erection is answer enough.

Jim strains against the restraints for a few seconds, but the straps don't budge. He relaxes, just a little. "Yeah, that's good," he says. "Maybe now you could—"

Then he feels his cock enveloped in wet heat, and the rest of his sentence flies out of his head.

Holy fuck. He stares down at Bones as his tongue glides along the underside of his cock, making him shudder. Bones sucks gently on the tip and mouths it, then back to the shaft, letting his tongue slip along it from base to tip. Jim watches him in a heavy-lidded daze. It's indescribably hot, the way Bones' eyes are closed as he focuses fully on Jim, tonguing him in long, dexterous strokes and swallowing him deep, over and over.

Jim can feel himself starting to move back and forth in a reflexive rhythm, but Bones places his hands on his hips and shoves him down firmly into the mattress, holding him steady as he licks and sucks. It frustrates him, because the sucking isn't enough; he needs a rougher friction, and he wants to control his own movements. But his hands are pinned firmly to the mattress. He settles for making appreciative noises and spreading his legs wider. He can feel it already, a gathering wave of pleasure that's driving him forward. His breath is coming faster and faster, and he's beginning to make little gasps of anticipation.

Bones can sense it too, apparently, and he squeezes hard at the base of Jim's cock, reducing the blood supply and stopping his rising orgasm. Jim lets out a whine of discontent, but Bones laughs. "Not yet, Jim."

"Come on, Bones," he pleads, "I need this, what the hell are you doing? Finish what you started …"

"I want you to slow down."

"I don't want to slow down, you god damn cocktease! What's the matter with you?" He pulls uselessly at the wrist restraints. He's not completely immobilized—his legs and shoulders are still free--but he's not free to move, either.

"We can always do it your way and be done in fifteen seconds," Bones says, rolling his eyes. "I'm just going to help you try something new, okay? It'll be worth the wait, I promise." He pats the side of the bed, almost level with Jim's ass. "So bend your knees and put your feet up here."

Reluctantly, Jim draws up his ankles, separating his feet and placing them solidly on the bed. He's no idiot, so he knows what Bones is leading up to. "Uh, Bones, I'm not sure if I—"

"Relax," Bones tells him, reaching one hand down to the side of the bed frame. Jim pulls his legs up instinctively, worried that his ankles are going to be restrained as well, but Bones only keys open the drawer built into the bed frame, and retrieves a small tube.

"Don't tense up," he says, squeezing some sort of gel onto his fingers, while Jim gives him a wary look. "Nobody's going to force you into anything that you don't want, okay? This isn't a scene and you don't need a safeword. You can tell me to stop and I will."

Bones' left hand is still wrapped around the base of his cock, and he makes a sudden firm stroke upward with his right, captivating Jim's attention. His lubed fingers slide smoothly along the shaft, making him dizzy with pleasure. "Bones, holy shit that's better, just like that," he babbles, closing his eyes.

Bones makes a few more delicious strokes. He seems to know just how hard Jim likes it and what kind of pressure he needs. His fingers are so skillful—Jim supposes it's from having one of his own to practice on—that they rivet his attention on what's going on in front, distracting him from what's coming up from behind. Which is obviously the point.

Even so, it's a shock when he feels a lubricated finger poking into his crack. It circles his hole gently, caressing without pressure. After a minute, he relaxes a little. It feels good, he admits a little sourly, and obviously there are a lot of nerve endings there that are excited about the stimulation, but Jim's still not enthusiastic about the whole maneuver.

"You're too tense. Relax," Bones tells him again. "Come on, Jim, loosen up. This is the easy part." His voice is soothing, and little by little, Jim lets himself be coaxed out of his irritation, until he relaxes his pelvic muscles and lets his legs fall a little wider apart.

When the finger breaches him in a slow, deliberate movement, he clenches around it, his hands jerking involuntarily against the bonds, but Bones holds his hip firmly until he adjusts to that sensation. Slowly, Bones opens and stretches him, using one and then two blunt fingers, while he grunts and whines at the intrusion.

It's an odd feeling: tight and full, but not painful. Jim's trying not to think about where exactly Bones is putting his fingers so confidently. He's a doctor, so Jim supposes that he's used to putting his hands in all kinds of intimate places. But this is all new for Jim, and he's not at all sure that the end result is going to be worth his while.

Then Bones curls his fingers inside him in a particular angle, and he feels a series of tingly jolts of pleasure moving down his spine like live electricity. "Shit, Bones! What the—" Bones touches it again, sending a burst of sensation straight to his cock.

"It's your prostate, you ignorant hick," Bones tells him, and Jim decides that being on the receiving end of a doctor's touch has definite advantages after all. "You like that, huh?"

"Yes!" Bones massages it again and again, and Jim realizes for the first time that his nervous system is made of molten lava. After a minute his cock is quivering with need, hot and hard, and he's sweating.

"Tell me, Jim."

"Touch me," he gasps. "Please." It's torture, being at the mercy of this strange internal caress, but being unable to move his hands. His cock is aching for attention. He needs friction, something to rub against. If he could only get his fingers around himself, he'd go off in a matter of seconds. Bones knows it, too, the fucker.

"I want you, Jim." Bones' voice is rough and husky with his own need, looking up at him from between his bent knees, and it's so hot it's making him squirm.

"Then do it. Fuck me."

"You're sure?"

"Yes! Fuck me. I want it. I need you to. Do it, Bones."

"All right, then." Bones removes his fingers, and. Jim can hear him slicking himself up. Then he lines himself up and pushes in, just the tip.

Jim winces a little at the burn and the fullness, trying not to tense. After a few seconds, Bones pulls out again, then thrusts in further, back and forth in a gentle rocking motion. Jim twists and pants at the stretch, tightening in automatic resistance as Bones sinks into him, wanting to pull away yet at the same time craving the searing pain, needing the friction. His cock has deflated somewhat already as he chokes on a moan, trying to adjust to the discomfort. Bones keeps moving forward in slow, steady thrusts, filling him, delving deeper until he's fully seated inside Jim.

And then Bones finds his rhythm, and Jim is being driven into the mattress with a steady thwack of skin on skin. Knees pushed back, rocking with every thrust, Jim pulls against the restraints in frustration.

He's beginning to feel a little bit like a passenger on this ride, because Bones is doing most of the work but also, from the looks of him, getting the main share of the fun. Jim is taking it, but damn it, he's not really enjoying it. He can't understand why anyone would want to get so worked up about it, at least from this side of things.

Then Bones changes his angle slightly, and the next thrust hits that spot inside him that lights him up. He makes a little whiny sound in the back of his throat which Bones must take as approval, because after that, Bones aims for it unerringly. His cock is rapidly regaining interest, and when Bones puts a lubed hand around his cock, Jim moans out loud and starts grinding his hips up to meet Bones' thrusts. They're both grunting and straining, sweating and sliding against each other, in a desperate rhythm.

It's a feeling of being torn apart from the inside, as Jim shudders with the want and teeters on the brink. Bones rocks into him, over and over, surging forward and retreating. Jim is helpless to direct him, unable even to wrap his arms around him, and he knows that he asked for this, that he allowed the control to be taken away from him. He craves it, this heady feeling of being swept up in sensation and made to accept it, to give in and ride it to its conclusion.

It's the secret that only Bones can know, that this is what he wants, this safety. Only Bones can watch him as he comes apart.

His orgasm tears through him without warning, shuddering through him in long spurts, leaving him sticky and sated. Bones comes a minute later with a groan, hips stuttering.


"So…." Jim says a little later. They're still tangled in the sheets together, warm and sweaty. "I'm willing to reconsider the 'no fucking' rule."

Bones barks out a laugh. "You're way too predictable, Jim."

"Not predictable." He searches for a more appropriate word. "Persuadable."

"Thank God for small favors." Bones' voice is gruff, but his hand squeezes the back of Jim's neck in a gentle caress.

It feels good. Surgeons' hands, Jim decides, are the best. "And I was wondering…what else have you got hidden in your closet?"

"Oh, I've got a few more things." Bones smiles inscrutably. "But I think I'll leave you in suspense for now."