Bones, can you meet me for drinks at O’Sullivan’s after you get out of clinic? I need to ask you something. - Jim
Leonard frowned at the text memo on his comm unit. When Jim needed to preface a discussion with booze, he knew a storm was coming. To be brutally honest with himself, he’d felt it coming for a week now. The clouds on the horizon had finally encroached, looming dark and foreboding.
Jim had taken the Kobayashi Maru test a week ago.
He’d been single-minded to a fault in the days leading up to the test. He’d researched previous attempts by other cadets, looked for tactical strengths and weaknesses, and had created contingency plans for every known variation of the test. His drive had been almost frantic, with an intensity that had pushed all of his other classes and duties to a secondary status. He kept up with them, but his focus on the test had been absolute. Losing wasn’t an option. He’d needed this.
Of course, Jim Kirk, like every cadet who had come before him, had failed the Kobayashi Maru. His ship had gone down in a blaze of crackling electronics, smoke, and realistic explosions, with images of Klingon battle cruisers buzzing around like flies at a picnic, while the Maru itself had burst into a spectacular fireball on the viewscreen of the fake bridge.
Leonard had watched the whole thing from the observation deck as the duty doctor for the sim. He’d requested the slot. After watching Jim’s intense preparation for this test, he’d had to see this for himself. So, after Jim had stumbled out of the simulation room, Leonard had unceremoniously slapped an oxygen mask on him to treat for smoke inhalation, partly as an excuse to get the kid to sit down and listen, and had proceeded to give Jim a gentle lecture.
“It’s okay, Jim. Really. Maybe now you’ll be able to put it aside and move on to bigger things. I know you were fixated on this, kid, but it’s just a test. Now you can let it go. You’ve done it, so move on.”
To Leonard’s surprise, Jim hadn’t argued with him. The kid didn’t even fuss with the oxygen mask or protest the treatment, which was an even bigger surprise. He’d merely sat there, staring blankly ahead. It looked as if he was in some sort of trance, mentally reviewing every detail of every decision he’d made during the test. After Leonard had finished treating him, Jim had merely nodded, thanked him, and left without so much as a glance back.
In the week after that, Jim had been distant, sluggish, distracted, and... not Jim, goddammit. Leonard caught him staring off into space too often, and when they met for lunch, Jim had pushed his food around his plate more than he’d eaten it. Around other people, he acted perfectly normal; not a single other person on the campus would ever be allowed to see that Jim Kirk was emotionally wounded. Jim made sure of that. But Leonard wasn’t any other person, and he was seriously starting to worry that Jim was slipping into a depression.
So, after a moment of staring at his comm, he finally tapped out a reply:
Of course. Just don’t start drinking until I get there.
There was no reply, but he hadn’t expected one.
O’Sullivan’s was the pub where Leonard and Jim would hide when they needed to escape from reality. It was several kilometers away from campus, and they’d almost never seen other Starfleet Academy personnel or cadets there. The food was decent, the beer was better, and Leonard had come to love some of the Irish whiskeys they offered almost as much as his bourbon. Not quite, but almost. With its shadowy booths and dusky atmosphere, it was the perfect place to be for someone who didn’t want to be anywhere.
He found Jim in a small booth in the far back corner of the pub. Despite his half-slouched posture, the lines of Jim’s body were so taut he looked almost ready to snap. His hands were wrapped around a tall, frosty mug of beer, but the mug was still full. Across the table from him, a glass of whiskey was waiting.
Jim actually startled slightly as Leonard approached. He was pretty obviously distracted. “I ordered you a Bushmill’s 1608,” he said, indicating the small glass of amber liquid with a nod.
Leonard raised an eyebrow as he sat down. That was some damned fine stuff, and Jim had blown quite a few credits on it, which meant that he had some serious shit to say. Leonard raised the glass, appreciating the refraction of the light through the liquor, then took a small sip. The burn was just right, and he took a deep breath, savoring the aftertaste. “Thanks, Jim. But you know that’s only got me more worried.”
Jim pressed his lips together with grim amusement. “You worry too much, Bones. You’re gonna give yourself an ulcer.”
“You’re gonna give me an ulcer, kid.”
Jim merely shrugged.
Leonard narrowed his eyes. They were good friends, practically in each other’s pockets. More than in each other’s pockets, if he was being honest with himself. If Jim needed to talk about shit, he didn’t need to woo him with fine liquor and hide in the shadows of a pub, away from prying ears and eyes. No, this was going to be something unusual. Leonard could feel it coming. He sighed and leaned forward on his elbows. “Listen, I’m not stupid, Jim, and neither are you. You’ve been messed up since the test last week, and you know that I already know this. So... talk to me. What’s on your mind?”
Jim’s gaze was blank, focused loosely somewhere around Leonard’s shoulder. He opened his mouth, then shook his head and took a deep sip of his beer. That was even more disconcerting. Jim was usually able to tell him almost anything, without preamble. Most people would find his usual level of bluntness to be disturbing, if not downright shocking, even between good friends. However, after their friendship had shifted in the spring of their second year, expanding into the realm of S&M, there was no other way for them to communicate other than with complete honesty. Not a romance, but an unusually tight friendship with a kinky side. Their little secret. Leonard had learned, above all else, that Jim trusted him. That trust was one of the most precious gifts he’d ever received. And yet there was Jim, sitting across the table and staring at a droplet of beer sliding down the side of his mug, practically fighting with himself just to speak.
It was a fight he had to win alone. Jim stared at the far wall, drank a bit more beer. Leonard waited, and finally, he spoke.
“I keep playing it in my mind, Bones. The whole Kobayashi Maru scenario. Over and over. And every time, it makes me feel like I’ve been gutted.”
Leonard had figured as much. It was worrying that Jim was still this obsessed with it, but not surprising. “Well, you were pretty damned fixated on the test,” he said, keeping his tone even and deliberate. “But I told you, you need to let it go. Everyone takes the test, fails it, and moves on.”
“I can’t.” His eyes flicked upwards briefly, making contact with Leonard’s for a split second before looking back down at the table with an expression of disgust on his face. “Fuck it, Bones, I’ve tried. I can’t get it out of my head. I can’t get out of my head! It’s like...” He lifted his right hand away from his beer mug and held it out, palm up, as if begging for something but he didn’t know what. “It’s like I’m stuck. I’m exhausted and I’m numb but my brain keeps racing in circles and not going anywhere. I know I need to snap out of it. But I can’t.”
Leonard leaned back against his seat and took another small sip of liquor, trying to project a front of calmness. He knew Jim, and the kid was asking for help. If he’d gotten to this point, Leonard was damned sure he’d already done what he could to fix it on his own. “Can’t snap out of it? What have you tried?”
Jim laughed dryly, still slouched back in his seat, and not really making eye contact. “A few extra rounds of hand-to-hand? We’ve got our unit testing on Andorian martial arts coming up.”
“Jim,” Leonard said with a meaningful eyebrow.
Jim sighed, but he finally looked up and made real, if tentative eye contact with Leonard. “Mostly, I was just trying to do everything as normally as possible, hoping that this would just fade with time. Waiting for things to feel normal again. I’m still going to all my classes. I did a couple of early morning runs with Thaleb.” He tried for a grin. “I watched some really good porn last night.”
Leonard tilted his head, emphasizing the raised eyebrow even more.
Jim’s watery grin fell in on itself, and he stared at his beer as if he was considering drinking it, but the effort of lifting the mug to his mouth was just too much. “I’m stuck in a rut, Bones.”
Still trying to tread gently, Leonard asked, “What about Doctor Rodriguez? Have you thought about paying him a visit?”
Jim frowned. “The psych guy you sent me to last year?” He shook his head, and if anything, slouched a bit deeper in his seat. Even slouched, he still looked tense. “It’s not... that’s not what I need, Bones.”
That was a curious statement. It sounded like Jim had something in mind already, and based on all evidence - the request for the meeting, the location, the high-end whiskey - Leonard could guess that it was something Jim specifically needed his help with, and it was going to be something... intense. Keeping his voice as neutral and non-judgmental as possible, Leonard asked, “Then what do you need, Jim?”
Jim glanced around quickly, as if to reassure himself that nobody was paying attention to him, then looked squarely at Leonard. “You told me that if I ever needed to get out of my head... to come to you before I did something stupid. I need that right now.”
Leonard nodded slowly. “You want an S&M scene?”
Jim pressed his lips together and didn’t move, but the answer was clearly yes. And that wasn’t surprising at all. They’d blown off steam with kink scenes after exams, rough weeks, or even after tense conversations with family members. After finals week last spring, Jim had begged for a heavy flogging to work off the stress, and Leonard had been happy to oblige. By the time they were done, Jim’s back and ass were bright red, Leonard’s arms were sore, and the anxiety of the semester had melted away from both of them. It was therapeutic in a way that nothing else was, and they were both comfortable with that, so it seemed odd that Jim was so unnerved about asking for it this time.
“Kid, we’ve been playing those games for almost a year. It’s not a big deal. If you needed that, you could have just asked. You didn’t need to...” Leonard’s voice trailed off as Jim began shaking his head.
“It’s not that simple, Bones. I’ve thought about what I need. A regular scene isn’t gonna do it.”
An uncomfortable sensation started to work its way through Leonard’s gut. They’d played gentle and hard in the past. Most people would consider some of their kinks to be edgeplay. If Jim was asking for something beyond what they already considered normal, it had to be pretty far out there. “Do what?”
“Take me out of my head,” Jim said flatly. “And I mean really take me out of my head. Completely. Force me to the point where I can’t think anymore. This isn’t for fun. I don’t even want it to be fun.”
Understanding was slowly starting to dawn. Fuzzy, with no details, but Leonard was starting to see where this was going. “You want me to really hurt you.”
Jim didn’t meet his gaze as he nodded.
Breathing as evenly as possible, Leonard tightened his grip just slightly on his glass of whiskey. There was a delicate but clear line between pleasure-pain and actually hurting someone in a scene, even if it was fully consensual. It was a line that Leonard didn’t like to cross. Partly, he’d always told himself, it was because of his oath. Damaging people went against his natural instincts, even if he could fix it immediately. Still, on a deeper level, he was afraid of what it would mean about him if he could cross that line to play a scene like that... and enjoy it.
He and Jim had never crossed that line, but he’d known Jim long enough to understand why he might be asking for it now. As much as he didn’t want to actually hurt anyone, he loved the feeling that Jim trusted him enough to ask, and wanted to be able to give the kid what he needed. “What do you want? Whip? Cane? We could stop by my dorm, get the duffel, and head over to the Balls and Chains.”
This time, Jim shook his head. “Not like that. Well, not only.” He chewed on his lip for a second. “It’s not just for the pain. I’ll fight through pain this time. I... I need something that I can’t fight through.”
“Oh?” Leonard prompted.
Jim shifted in his seat. “This... it’s gotta be psychological. This needs to take me past the point where I couldn’t fight even if I wanted to. It’s gotta feel real. I need to break, Bones. I need...” His voice choked off.
“Jim, I taught you how to negotiate a scene. I’m not gonna judge you. So just ask me for what you need.”
Jim glanced around again, as if making one last check to make sure nobody was within earshot. Between the shadows, the tuneless music, and the din of the other patrons at the bar and tables on the other side of the restaurant, nobody would be able to hear a word he was saying. He sat up a tiny bit straighter and squared his shoulders before leaning forward and lowering his voice. “I want an abduction and rape scene. I want it to be realistic, and I want you to break me.”
Leonard felt his eyes go wide and he leaned back and away from Jim as though he’d just been physically slapped. “Whoa, Jeez... Jim, I...” That wasn’t the way he and Jim played. Not even close. In fact, early on in their kink partnership, Jim had asked him if he’d ever done scenes like that, and he’d replied with a staunch no. Jim had never asked him about it again, and had never shown an interest anyway. But now...
Leonard shook his head, almost as if he could dislodge the idea from his ears, then quickly composed himself. He’d told Jim to ask. Just because the answer had been startling didn’t give him the right to violate that trust now. “Kid, are you sure you understand what you’re asking for?”
“Yeah. I do.” His tone was flat and breathy. “I need it to feel real. I need it to hurt like hell. I feel like a fucking pressure chamber, Bones, and it keeps building up, but I can’t break out of it. I need help breaking through that. And if it takes beating, whipping, rough bondage, head games, fucking, or anything else, then that’s what I want. I... I need to get to the point where I just... crack. I’ve thought about it, and I think this is what I need before I lose my shit. And Bones?” He glanced up. “You’re the only one who can do this for me.”
The desperation in Jim’s eyes felt like a physical thing, and Leonard couldn’t quite meet the stare, but couldn’t quite look away either. It toyed with something in his psyche, something buried deep. He was a sadist in his own way, but this was something different. The idea of a realistic roleplay with the sub playing the victim... actively struggling... screaming no... it struck something primal and dark. Maybe it was because of the rape victims he’d treated in the ER. Maybe it was the mixed opinions of the med-psych community about those sorts of sex games. Maybe it was something else, but while Leonard could intellectually recognize that the controlled indulgence in that sort of fantasy in a consensual BDSM setting was acceptable, it felt like an ugly thing to him. A monster that should never be unleashed. He’d always told himself it was just better not to go there.
Trying to ignore the sensation of ice in his stomach, Leonard hid behind the burn of another sip of whiskey before speaking again. “Jim... I swore I’d never do a scene like that. For anyone, for any reason. It’s not something anyone has asked me to do. I wouldn’t say I can’t, but... I mean... dammit, Jim.” He flicked his gaze and Jim’s tense face before staring down at his whiskey.
“I know it’s not your thing. That’s why I didn’t want to ask you.”
“But you did.”
And you wouldn’t have asked me unless you were desperate. The unspoken thought hung in the air, silently understood by both of them.
Leonard bit down on the inside of his cheek and considered the situation.
Some people in the S&M community asked Doms for rape scenes as a purely sexual kink. In rarer cases, they were trying to work past traumatic issues of their pasts. It was obvious that what Jim wanted was something completely different.
Leonard knew what Jim was feeling. That indescribable itch. The sensation of numbness like the world was muffled, and the desperate need to break through it. The insanity a racing mind, churning thoughts and emotions just beyond reach, and never able to resolve any of them. For most people experiencing those sorts of thoughts and feelings, a trip to a counselor or psychiatrist would be their best bet.
Jim wasn’t looking for help from a counselor, and this time, Leonard could honestly believe that it wasn’t because Jim was trying to avoid professional help. In fact, the kid probably knew, on some instinctive level, that he needed something different, even if he didn’t understand why.
Thinking back, Leonard considered Jim’s immediate reaction to the Kobayashi Maru. He’d just experienced the catastrophic destruction of two ships and everyone on board, all under his responsibility. And then... he’d walked away from it. No real consequences for failing. No pain, no suffering, even though he was being told that his failure had led to hundreds of deaths. A bit of smoke inhalation and some fancy pyrotechnics, but then the regular lights had come back on, the ventilation system had sucked the smoke clear, and the door to the sim room had opened. It had all been fake -- the deaths, the destruction, the entire mission -- but on some level, it had been absolutely real to Jim.
The kid was still waiting for the ball to drop.
For a tactile, experiential person like Jim, that meant some part of his psyche was still waiting for the punishment for failing. All the rationalization and advice in the world wasn’t going to fix the fact that his subconscious was still stuck in that sim room, waiting for it to hurt. It was a dozen different kinds of wrong, and Leonard wasn't even going to start mentally reviewing the reasons why Jim's brain might be wired this way, but that's how it was. Jim needed his failure to hurt. Until that happened, until Jim felt the expected pain from failing, he wasn’t going to get past it.
Hardcore scenes shifted the mental states of the participants, and could put them into places that they could never reach any other way. Even if Jim didn’t understand it the same way Leonard did, he still grasped it instinctively. The fact that Jim was involved in the BDSM scene gave him a possible outlet for that sort of thing which most people would never even consider. Pain and punishment... in a relatively safe and controlled setting.
“You really know what you’re asking for?”
“And you’re sure you want me to push you that hard? As if it were real?”
Jim nodded again. “I need it, Bones. I’m going nuts.”
Leonard sighed. This was the way it had to be. “I know, kid. Just... tell me what you want.” He forced himself to look at Jim, hoping to see any sign of hesitation from him. If he saw uncertainty, then he’d have a reason to say no.
There was no uncertainty or hesitation in Jim’s eyes. “I told you... an abduction and rape scene. With torture.”
Inwardly, Leonard cringed. Outwardly, he nodded. “Anything more specific than that?” If Jim laid out specific requests, maybe it would feel more like fulfilling a precise request, and less like inflicting something horrible on his best friend and play partner.
“No. In fact, I don’t want to know anything ahead of time. Whatever you can think of that will make it seem real.”
So much for a guideline. Leonard swallowed against the nausea starting to churn in his stomach. “Do you need me to play this scene so you can’t tell it’s me?”
“Would you need to?”
“Probably.” Leonard couldn’t imagine doing something like that while Jim was looking at him. Fuck it all, he really couldn’t imagine doing this anyway. But this was Jim, and for Jim... he’d do almost anything. “What are your hard limits?”
“What?” Leonard pulled back from the table as if he’d been shocked, then took a slow breath and leaned forward again, furrowing his eyebrows as sternly as possible. “No. Jim, you never play without limits. Nobody should ever play without limits. I’ve seen enough idiots who have tried it, and I don’t want to add you to that list. You know this.”
“I know. But Bones... you are my limit.” His expression was so sincere, so open, that Leonard’s breath almost caught.
Jim looked at him evenly. “I know you’re not going to do anything that will do permanent damage. And I know that any damage you cause... you can fix. There is nothing you could do to me that would violate my limits.”
“Nothing?” Leonard asked, edging the question with sarcasm.
“Nothing.” Jim’s voice was more confident than it had been since Leonard had joined him. “I know you, Bones. And I trust you.” Then he hunched his shoulders, both defensive and wounded. “But if I know what you’re going to do, or where the limits are, then that still gives me control. I’ll be thinking too hard, and waiting for that limit to come. I need the sense that anything could happen to me... that it’s beyond my control. I need it to feel real, Bones.”
“Jim... even if you trust me... you know that people who play without limits are crossing the line from kink into the realm of self-harm by proxy.”
Jim frowned. “What?”
Leonard clenched his hand tighter around his glass. “I need to know that you’re not suicidal.”
Jim’s eyes went wide and he shook his head vehemently. “No! Shit, Bones. No.” With a look of surrender, he leaned his elbows heavily on the table and dropped his face into his hands. “Bones... I’m not gonna hurt myself. I don’t feel like that at all. But I think I’m going crazy or something. If I don’t snap out of this soon...” He raked a hand through his hair, then leaned back from the table wrapped his arms around his stomach. “I just can’t keep going like this. I keep playing the Kobayashi Maru in my mind, and all I can see is the image of the Maru exploding on the viewscreen, and everyone on my bridge crew trying to put out fires on the sim deck... the ones who hadn’t been declared dead by the simulation, and...” He glanced up with a look that seemed both sheepish and nervous at once. “I asked to take the test again.”
“Whoa, what?” That piece of information came at Leonard so fast it caught him by surprise, and his mouth fell open.
“I applied to take the test again,” Jim said, with a hint of self-deprecation.
“I heard you the first time, kid.” Leonard shook his head in disbelief. “Are you out of your ever-lovin’ mind?”
At that, Jim actually laughed. It sounded broken and even a touch mock-hysterical. “Maybe I am. And I think that’s the problem.”
“And you think the solution is having me beat the stuffing out of you, while you’re still planning on going back for seconds with the Kobayashi Maru?”
“I feel like it is. I’ve thought it over, and... I don’t know why it seems so... I guess the word is right. But it is.” His earnest expression settled into a hard mask of impartiality -- the look Leonard had seen Jim use in debates, negotiations, and whenever the chips were down.
Leonard sighed and leaned heavily on the table. “Let me make sure I’ve got this absolutely clear. You want me to stage an abduction. You want me to use simulated torture techniques to the point where it feels real, and...” He gritted his teeth and forced the word as evenly as possible. “And you want me to essentially rape you.”
Jim nodded. “I need this, Bones. So, can you do it?” It was a cold question, presented with no inflection, no attachment to the answer. Still, the urgency was there, simmering hot below the surface.
Leonard looked at Jim’s face carefully. His features were set with firm stoicism, but there was a chaotic swirl of emotions in his eyes, all half-shrouded by the shadows in the dim light of the bar. Leonard recognized that look on Jim. It was something he seldom saw on the man: desperation. He slowly lifted his glass to his lips, and the burn of alcohol gave him a moment to think and calm himself before answering. “It’s a tall order.”
“I know. But I think it’s necessary.” Jim pressed his lips together and shook his head. “Everyone has a breaking point.” Then his mouth twisted into an ironic smile. “They say some people still need to learn theirs.”
“So they say,” Leonard said dryly. “Two tries at the Kobayashi Maru, huh?”
“Maybe.” Jim blew out huff of air irritably. “I don’t know if it’ll be approved, but that’s not up to me. Even if it isn’t, the request has already been submitted. It’s the intent that’s important right now.”
“That’s a whole lot of intent.” Leonard snorted and tipped his head in mock-amusement to hide the nerves he was starting to feel. This was treading into waters he’d never tested before. “Definitely a sign of someone who doesn’t know his own limits. Who would do something like that?”
Jim replied with a harsh laugh. “Fools and madmen.” Then he shook his head. “It’s what made me wonder if it’s gone too far.”
Leonard considered Jim carefully. The thinly veiled desperation, the frayed nerves that he’d probably hidden from everyone else, and the fact that he had driven himself to this point over a goddamned battle sim test. “Maybe it has.” The words hung between them for a moment. He was going to say yes, and he hated himself for that.
Jim’s mouth twitched in what almost looked like a hopeful smile, only far more broken. “You’re the only one who can take care of this.”
The mere thought of Jim going to anyone else for something like this was enough to make Leonard’s heart clench. If he didn’t agree, judging by Jim’s level of desperation, that would likely be his next step. Leonard couldn’t let that happen. Keeping himself steady, he hid behind his Dom face. “Probably. I’d like to think I do some good work.”
“You do.” Jim leaned closer, eyes begging, but brightening. He knew Leonard was in. “Not a trace. Nobody else will ever know.”
They’d kept their kinky life well-hidden from Starfleet and everyone else. It wasn’t forbidden, or even uncommon, but it was... private. Of course nobody would know. “It’s still risky.” Leonard almost managed a smirk, hoping to hide the slight nervous shakes he was feeling at the idea that he was actually going to go through with this. “What if we’re caught?”
“You’ll just have to make sure we aren’t,” Jim said with more confidence than he should have had. He almost looked giddy at the prospect that he was actually going to get this scene.
Leonard hoped Jim really knew what he was getting into. Physically, emotionally, psychologically... this wasn’t going to be pretty. “Are you ready for the fallout?”
“Are you?” That was rhetorical. They both knew the answer. Jim wouldn’t have posed the question in the first place if he’d thought the answer would be no. “So... when?”
Leonard looked at the warped and broken eagerness on Jim’s face for a moment, before he picked up his whiskey glass and knocked back the rest of it. Then, leaning across the table, he fixed his face with the most neutral expression he could manage, trying to hide the maelstrom of emotions trying to rip him apart. “When I’m damned well good and ready.”