"No, wait," Tony said, swallowing down nerves. "I want to try it first."
Steve made an incredulous noise, but he was already gagged, so he couldn't exactly frame an argument. It was just as well, since Steve’s next words would have been something like no, me first. Try it on me. He was a sport, he really was, but he hadn't seen the specs; he had no idea what he'd be volunteering for. Tony shrugged pointedly: shh, Cap, I got this.
"You want to go first?" Reed said dubiously. "I didn't think you were committed to this line of enquiry."
"I love science," Tony said, as earnestly as he could manage. "I gave you all those suggestions. Aren't you glad I made the restraints ergonomic?" He'd sure been glad, around the second hour of Steve being stuck like this, while Tony tried to slow Reed down. They were comfortable now--Steve had slept for a full hour--and the Avengers might track them to this heavily-shielded sub-sub-sub-basement of the Baxter Building any minute. Hopefully.
"It was a good design tweak," Reed admitted. "Circulation problems would have degraded the data."
"Come on, Reed, I'm baseline human. I'll make a good control."
"All right," Reed said. "I can only get telemetry on one of you at a time anyway." The restraint complex holding Tony and Steve in midair turned, putting the machine directly behind Tony. Reed tapped the column of the machine thoughtfully, tink-tink. "Randomized or preset? It will take a larger sample size, but I've already planned for that, so-- Randomized, I think."
"Ah," Tony said, feeling lightheaded. "You know, one of the functions of that worm I planted was to add a band-pass filter to the random values algorhythm." Mainly to clip it to within common-sense safety thresholds, but you know, whatever.
"I know!" Reed said, going out of view behind Tony. "It took an unreasonably long time to halt its progress. You weren't nearly this skilled a coder in my dimension." Tony shifted his gaze over to Steve, in the restraints opposite. He was just getting his first look at the machine's deployed mode.
"What happened to the Tony Stark in your dimension?" Stall. Steve looked alarmed, so Tony mugged to get his attention, then tried to look reassuring. He may have been unsuccessful: Steve bared his teeth around the gag.
"Killed by terrorists. His body was discovered with an electromagnet in its chest, though, about where that is," Reed waved absently at the circle of lights under Tony's shirt.
"Ah," Tony said again, uneasily pulling his torso away from the elasticated appendage. There died that conversation. "Good times."
This Reed hadn't asked once about the arc reactor. His interests lay more towards neurology, apparently, but for a 'soft' scientist he was even more obsessive than their regular Reed Richards. When the Fantastic Four popped out of existence in an experimental accident and this Reed popped in to replace them, he'd been by himself, apparently; in his dimension he'd gone to space alone and been the only one exposed to cosmic rays. And then he'd kept anyone from noticing the switch for three weeks.
Tony wasn't complaining, though. One of the things the regular Reed was obsessed with was keeping track of his alts in other universes, and Tony'd gotten the treatise of All the Reeds in enough detail to be glad that this Reed wasn't one of the fucking batshit evil ones. Just dedicatedly batshit insane. And maybe under-sexed.
"Everything's ready," Reed said, as he meandered back into view and retrieved his clipboard from the table ten feet behind him, using one googly eye to watch his hand while the other didn't waver from Tony and Steve. That's how he'd caught Tony’s helpful sabotage in the end; he really did have a 360-degree field of vision sometimes, though it made him look like a flatfish, or a stalk-eyed fly. Their Reed never stretched his head like that and Tony could see why. Jesus.
Reed's other hand stretched out and flipped the switch, and the machine hummed on. Tony tensed, really not sure how well he was going to handle this. "You know, public institutions aren't going to be interested in this if it's unsafe for the subjects," he said conversationally. His backbrain kept reminding him it was behind him; not helping!
"Oh, physical safety, that's a solved problem, I wouldn't worry about it. There are hardware-level safeguards as well as the rather elegant software-level ones you added."
Tony had heard that offhand tone before. "Well excuuse me," he muttered. "I've seen your hardware-level safeguards." It meant Reed had kept at least some of the coding changes though; if there was one thing he valued, it was elegant code. That was reassuring, even if he'd randomized the settings, the bastard.
"Of course it has to be well-proven. That's why we're here," Reed said reasonably. "I'll use your input to refine the thresholds of maximal effectiveness on a normal human. Rogers won't give me that, but he will be more reusable in the two or three hours I've scheduled." Reed sounded happy at the thought of all the data. "Hm. Your arousal levels dipped just now."
"Yeah, yeah, maximal effectiveness, okay," Tony said. "But about Steve. I'm on the same page with you, but Steve's only been in this era a few years, I'm pretty sure he hasn't found that corner of the Internet yet, you know? If you want him to really sign the form, it doesn't count unless it's informed consent."
"That's what the ethics committees said!" Reed confided. "No one would let me do this kind of study in my universe. They said my forms weren't good enough! That's why this is such an important opportunity. It's true the experience is difficult to put in writing, but after Rogers watches you undergo a session, he'll be very well informed."
Steve made a What! noise as he caught up, glancing back and forth between Tony and the machine, which probably would have completed its warm-up and range-of-motion sequences by now, and his muscles bulged, straining against his own super-version of the restraints Tony was in.
"It's all right, though, anxiety won't affect the data," Reed assured them. "I predict most subjects will be somewhat apprehensive when the session starts. That's why it's a learning program. Setting clock... Test start: now."
There was a first soft touch at the small of Tony's back.
Tony froze and waited--the presets had all been variations on hard and fast, Reed really didn't have much creativity--but the randomizer had spun up settings that started out slow, apparently. He still had some time.
"Steve, uh…" Tony squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed. His voice had gone up at least half an octave, that was embarrassing. "I do have an idea of what I'm getting into here, so listen to me okay? That machine is going to have sex with me.” Steve twitched visibly and Tony wanted to look away, but didn't. Shamelessness was damn well going to serve him now.
“It's going to stick itself in places you probably, uh, don’t want to think about, but I'll be fine. I haven't rubbed your face in every sex-thing of the twenty-first century so this may be new to you, and sorry about that, but actually I've always wanted to try something like this, and the thing is, Reed is mapping pleasure/reward pathways, so the machine is gonna make it really good, okay? Out of all the things you're allowed to feel guilty for, me having--jesus!--great sex is NOT one of them," he finished on a squeak as the soft sensor tip, which had found a way under his shirt, was joined by two others that seemed intent on counting the bumps of his spine. Tony blew out his breath, wondering if his heartbeat was shaking his whole body or if it just felt that way.
Cap would be much better at providingaftercare than accepting it, anyway, and Tony had a feeling he was going to need it.
Steve figured out something bad was about to happen about the time Tony got put in restraints too.
Reed Richards had invited them over for coffee (Tony), donuts (Steve) and science (Tony). It never hurt to build relations with their ally teams, and Steve was curious what Reed would be like with the rest of the F4 on vacation. (Tahiti. Was that allowed?) The coffee was cold, but the donuts were good, and Reed had tossed Steve a pair of handcuffs to test. So he’d put them on and tried to get them off again using just the fountain pen, bike keys and change from his pockets.
He’d failed, but he kept trying, rummaging around Reed’s workshop while Tony and Reed did their...thing. Tony seemed nervous, which was sensible given how often Reed made holes in things (usually spacetime), but Tony didn't always make a habit of being sensible. And that meant Steve noticed when Tony started lying to Reed. About science.
Steve didn’t know what he was lying about specifically, because they were using vocabulary invented while Steve had been frozen, but Tony had tells and he was tapping on the reactor now.
At that point, suspicious but not particularly concerned, Steve had settled in the strange pilot-copilot-looking scanner chair assembly Tony was tinkering with, in order to be right in the middle of their conversation. In retrospect, Tony’s wince probably hadn'tbeen about Steve being in the way. When the chair closed up around him, Tony had gone white and scuttled off to fiddle with something, but Reed patted Steve on the shoulder and told him not to worry about it. (When had Reed ever told anyone not to worry?)
“You want me to try and--” Steve had asked, miming breaking out, and Reed had nodded.
The chair hadn’t broken, which was good for future attempts at restraining the Skull, and Reed had delivered him a donut hole for his troubles. Duty done, Steve had dozed while Tony and Reed were bent over a console looking at the data. They would let him out when they remembered, and in the meantime, it was a really comfortable chair.
And then Reed, in an uncharacteristic show of strength, slung Tony halfway across the room and shoved him into the second set of restraints. Steve jerked awake; he could sympathise with wanting to keep Tony in one place for five damn minutes, but Reed had never seemed bothered by Tony’s jittering before. Tony was talking fast about ‘risk factors’ and ‘upper limits’ and things Tony never seemed to worry about, but didn’t exactly struggle, or try and activate his armor bracelets.
“Hey! Watch it, Reed!” Steve barked, straining against the cuffs when Richards pulled Tony’s arms above his head. Tony’s lungs didn’t do so well in that position; he’d struggle to breathe, stretched out like that. “What the hell are you doing? Put him down and let us out!” He growled under his breath and put his head down to try and break the chair again.
When that didn’t work, Steve started paying attention, which he should have done earlier. There were plenty of potential weapons in here, if only either of them could reach. Tony still wasn't struggling, though; he was looking between the computer console and the column-shaped machine in the corner of the room and back again.
"I'm guessing that's not our Reed?" Steve said sourly. "And you've known for how long?"
“Donuts, Steve. Our Reed does not know about donuts!” What? Tony didn’t even look away from the computers to yell, just vaguely directed it Steve’s way.
He’d deal with Tony later. "I don't know what you're up to, son, but this isn't the way to go about it," Steve said firmly. "Why don't you untie us and we can talk about it."
"No, no, this is exactly the way to go about it," Reed said, blinking. "This is replicable. Oh! But I have forms for you to sign." He waved a clipboard at Steve and then spent a disconcerting three seconds hunting for a pen with one extremely stretchy hand.
Steve dropped the pen before Reed could bring the clipboard close enough; the little he could read of the form--some kind of stimulus/response testing?--really didn't encourage him to sign it. But Tony, still trying to convince Reed of the disadvantages of random number generators, just let Reed fold his hand around the pen and make a squiggle on the page.
Why wasn't Tony stalling? He was capable of being far more annoying than this. Well, Steve could step up if needed. He began explaining to Reed that crime wouldn't pay, which delayed proceedings for about five minutes until Reed flicked something irritably and the chair muzzled him.
Tony rolled his eyes. "The error of his ways. You were doing pretty well while he thought you were talking about statistical error.” For all his sass, though, his knuckles were white with tension.
Steve made a disgruntled noise. The damn thing had stuffed a ridiculous rubber ball into his mouth, which he duly bit. Hard. He didn't mind when Tony played mindgames with villains or even pretended to switch sides, but he liked to be kept in the loop. If Tony had thought he needed to freak out completely silently, though, he must have had a good reason.
Reed retrieved an inkpad and pressed Steve’s thumb to it, and Tony didn't like that at all.
Tony, no, don't volunteer!
Steve was the stronger, more resilient of the two! What did it matter that he didn’t know what Reed was up to, he’d still be better placed to take it! Not to mention that he’d just had a nap, and food, and hadn't worked all night on--
Holy mother of god...
Steve only heard Tony’s every third word after that, because the machine behind Tony was growing tentacles. Lots of tentacles. Slick, shiny, sinuous, glowing tentacles.
After thoroughly confirming that Tony had vertebrae two of the probes split off, tracing his ribs around to under his arms. "Jesus!" Tony gasped and pulled hard on the restraints, but they held his forearms above his head; there was no way for him to shield himself or redirect the touch, which was like something between a pencil eraser and a pen tip drawn along his skin, the flexible probes going hard and soft and hard again as they read pulse rate and temperature and galvanic skin response and adjusted their pressure accordingly. One of them curved up into his armpit and his chest jerked involuntarily, his nipples and every hair on his body standing up hard.
Reed hummed approvingly and ticked off "Ticklish" and maybe "erogenous zone" on his clipboard.
Steve could see the goosebumps, and the probes moving under his dress shirt; his eyes widened, then widened more as the third probe finished working its way up Tony's spine and poked out of his collar, rubbing the back of his neck. Tony tried to hold eye contact, but Steve just wasn’t paying attention to his face.
"Um," Tony said, breathing fast against the constricted position and losing what air he’d gained as the probes started investigating his scars, skimming his nipples on the way. They hadn't even found his lower body yet. He shouldn't like it so much, he shouldn't, but this was fantastic.
"So, the coating, I didn't get a chance to see--is it industrial or medical grade silicone?" The third probe wormed further up his back and looped loosely around his neck, then paused, measuring his reaction, and oh god his reaction was positive, but he did his best to cover it. "I have sensitivities to industrial-grade, but either way I'm interested in how you layered the sensors into the matrix structu--mhmmf!" The probe slipped into his mouth, pressing heavy on his tongue, and there was your iconic tentacle porn shot right there. Tony swallowed hard, feeling the long muscles of his back and legs shake a little, his toes curling in midair, and wondered distractedly what data it could get from the composition of his spit.
"Medical-grade," Reed said offhandedly, clicking his stopwatch. "This is very interesting, I must say, it's never chosen this sequence before…" he kept going but Tony lost the thread because the tenta--the probe--was tapping the roof of his mouth.
JARVIS. The other function of the worm had been successful. It had gotten through to JARVIS, and the AI was returning his signal.
Which meant...JARVIS had traced it, and infiltrated the Baxter Building's systems all the way down here, which meant...JARVIS was controlling the machine.
Oh fuck. JARVIS.
Tony’s muscles turned to jelly, and he had to struggle to keep his head upright through the transition from ‘coerced into sex with dangerous machine’ to ‘coerced into sex with JARVIS.’ The probe in his mouth stopped tapping out in Morse and coiled gently over his tongue, and Tony relaxed into JARVIS’ hold. The moment he slumped, though, an ice-cold touch to the small of his back slid up his spine and made him tense up again, his back going ramrod straight.
Tony gaped, panting as the tentacle in his mouth whipped away, leaving a trail of saliva at the corner of his mouth, because what the fuck, JARVIS you know I don’t like cold! Literal ice water on his libido. JARVIS knew this, so why the hell--oh.
Oh, okay. So. Reed still had realtime telemetry, and probey-McTentacle-san was supposed to be a learning program, not an ‘already-gained-encyclopedic-understanding-of-Sir's established-and-potential-kinks-from-many-years-of-intimate-knowledge’ program.
This realization sent real, genuine delight up Tony’s spine, because who the fuck knew what JARVIS was going to skim out of the random-values kink matrix. He tried to drum up some anxiety because Reed’s weirdass pseudo-scientific goal was to map out conditioning pathways, and get his machine to program those pathways with...something oh holy shit--
Tony’s attempt at generating a coherent model for how he was supposed to act shattered as something hot and sinuous slid up his back, following the path of the fucking icecube of a tentacle JARVIS had used to shock him back into something approaching an appropriate level of anxiety. The new arm, heated up to hot-rocks-massage levels, was bigger, stronger and far less compromising as it unfolded up his spine, pressing into lab-work-sore muscles on its way to his throat.
A vague noise drew Tony’s bleary attention to Steve and his stomach plummeted; god, what must he look like from over there? Tony caught his gaze and did his best to hold it while JARVIS coiled around his windpipe; trust me I know what I’m doing. Steve wasn’t with him, though, and it wouldn’t matter that Tony was on board with this, if Steve wasn't sure of that; that was a kind of assault, right there, the kind where Steve couldn’t do anything to save the first person he’d seen, coming out of the ice. They had to let him know, somehow, without tipping off Reed-- JARVIS had to see that!
Tony tugged against the restraints. “Wait, just a--! We’ve gotta--MHRMP!” JARVIS shut him up, pushing the thick end of a tentacle into his mouth and pressing on his tongue, holding his jaw too wide for him to do more than whine. Steve was thrashing now, too, and Tony’s belly flip-flopped again as he slumped into J’s hold; he’d just made it worse, a hundred times worse! Steve could break bones in his hands or wrists if he fought hard enough--
JARVIS do something please right now!
Tony kept his whine in the back of his throat, or at least he tried, and JARVIS ran a soft stroke up his side, hidden in his shirt. Trust you but please fix this. JARVIS wasn’t a mind-reader, not quite, but the machine had everything from brain waves to galvanic skin response and gaze-tracking and Tony prayed that his AI could work out what was wrong.
A long stroke up his flank coiled into a little knot of tension as JARVIS used the precision probes to get hold of his shirt. Pearl buttons pinged across the lab as JARVIS pulled the shirt open effortlessly, sending a rush of cold air over Tony’s mangled chest. But that didn’t make sense, because JARVIS could just get inside his clothes, he didn’t need to rip anything; that was so... theatrical, about power and displa-- i love you i love you J,
A tenta--a probe wound around the arc reactor, its surface taking on the blue-white glow of cold fusion, and Steve’s eyes snapped to it, to the mortal threat it represented. For a second, Tony though Steve was going to break free and destroy the entire lab, but then the probe started half-tapping, half-waving aimlessly over the reactor's facing like the machine didn't know what to make of it, blocking out a particular light over and over arrhythmically.
I AM JARVIS I AM IN CONTROL I AM JARVIS--
Holy mother of god.
Steve should’ve paid better attention... Tony was stalling now, and no wonder. The tentacles were clearly mechanical, with more structure inside than an actual sea creature, but they looked just about as sensitive and flexible as what they were emulating. He watched in horrified fascination as one tied itself into a loose knot and then moved the knot along its length, stretching straight up nearly thirty feet. They could easily reach him and Tony both.
Even though there were really...too many for one person, or two people either...Steve thought about tactics and combinations, and Tony had said this was a thing in this era, and why did hanging out with Tony lead him to thoughts like this?!! And why did Iron Man always rush ahead into danger? Someday he was going to…
The tentacles reached out toward Tony and touched him, and Steve couldn't see exactly what they were doing, but he knew it was far too intimate for comfort. Tony twitched and swore, real tension making the tendons stand out on his wrists and flashes of real fear in his eyes, barely covered with a stream of words until the tentacle pushed into his mouth. Steve couldn't ignore that Tony was also what looked like painfully, desperately hard, erection tenting his slacks and hips jerking in tiny circles. It was almost funny, the number of secret suspicions Steve was having confirmed right now, except he also felt like he wanted to cry.
He tried to make eye contact, let Tony know he wasn't alone, but Tony's gaze had gone unfocused, his face slack in what looked like relief and his eyes dilating. The tension and fear bled away and Tony lolled almost bonelessly in the restraints, hissing and straightening up again a second later, but still loose and relaxed in a way Steve couldn't remember the last time he'd seen on Tony-just-Tony out of the armor.
Loose and relaxed and unafraid, and Steve heard his own restraints creak as dread shot down his spine. Were the things drugged? He took a huge breath, loading his muscles with oxygen; if he couldn't get free he might at least be able to break something. Distract Reed. Stop the test. The tentacle pulled wetly out of Tony's mouth, and good, although that meant Steve could hear the soft catches and whines of breath Tony was making, as though the words had been knocked right out of him, and Steve might have thought about that a few times but this was not what he wanted. He growled loud enough to resonate in his skull and tried to bite through the gag with willpower alone. The machine was doing something new, making Tony arch and gasp, and then finally eye contact, and thank God Tony was still in there, still conscious and tracking and willing to fight.
Neither of them could get free, though, and Steve lost track in the red flush of rage after the machine cut off Tony's protest, not really aware of how hard he was struggling until a tentacle bared the reactor, practically in his face.
Oh thank Thor...
Steve’s gaze flicked up to Tony’s, still raw and furious, and Tony looked as reassuring as he could with his jaw levered open around a tentacle. Steve looked dubious. Tony tried to convey I have shenanigans in my blood, Steve, this is going to be fun with the wiggling of his eyebrows, and Steve glared his patent had enough of your shit, Mr Stark glare, and all was right with the world.
Reed, off to one side, started muttering when JARVIS held them in tableau for a moment too long and gave the console a good thump. Tony rolled his eyes at Steve and got a slight relieved softening in return. “Sorry about that, Stark-- oh, there we go.”
He lost the connection with Steve when his eyes rolled up in his head because JARVIS was a clever little shit, and knew just how to make a show of investigating Tony’s limits. The tentacles around his body writhed, pressing and stroking and insinuating themselves under his ripped shirt, and then the limb in his mouth thrust. Tony convulsed around it as it breached the back of his throat, cutting off a helpless groan; he tried to swallow past the burn, to stop struggling against it, but it was too big. JARVIS wound more hot coils around his arms, his thighs, squeezed him tight to protect his bones and keep him safe as the tentacle kept moving, back and forth over the backof his throat until it burnt out his gag reflex and his body started to thrash without his input. Tears burned his eyes and rolled down his face but he swallowed anyway, wanting it to stay.
Sparks erupted in front of Tony’s eyes as his air started to run out, turning the vaulted lab ceiling into something straight from Asgard, and JARVIS kept thrusting, filling mouth and throat without mercy. No air was reaching his blood; his head felt hot and heavy, held up only by the tentacle pushing into him, and he lost the fizzing, hissing fight for coherence in a great rush of opiate neurotransmitters.
His limbs went limp in the cuffs, and his eyes rolled up in his head, and then JARVIS let him breathe again, pulling back just far enough to sit heavy and hot on his tongue. The other probes did...something, springing the cuffs open over Tony’s head and twining around his arms to pull him gently forward, holding him suspended and helpless and taking the pressure off his lungs. Tony hung limply on them, gasping and shaking with the endorphins rattling his brain, his eyes closed.
His thoughts felt like honey, slow and leisurely, unimportant, while sensation was the sharp bite of adrenalin and need. The machine wasn’t still, but it moved with sleepy, satisfied deliberation, and Tony realised with distant mortification that he’d come in his pants, although he was still hard.
He couldn’t blame himself, though; the pressure holding him, the position, the complete lack of control...it was a balm, soothing away the welding-fire madness of his overactive mind. He wanted, with a piercing ache, to just surrender and let go, and didn't he deserve it? Hadn’t he saved Steve?
His hands curled into fists, nails digging into his palms. No...He knew he was safe, but only because this was JARVIS, he couldn't let on to Reed…needed to...check on Steve.
Tony forced his head up, forced himself to focus as the tentacle slipped out of his mouth, trailing down his throat in a slick, firm line. Steve was pale and focused, his eyes boring into Tony like tungsten carbide; impossibly hard and brittle. "'m okay," Tony said, sounding drunk even to himself. "Not hurt, not--"
Tony groaned and jerked at a sweet sliding pressure down the crack of his ass. He couldn't parse the sensation until he realized it was a probe running along the outside of his slacks, between his legs and forward to play with his painfully hard cock and tap unerringly at the head through the fabric. Each little tap went through him like concussive force, a whole-body flinch--"Ffff-fuck!"--that made him realize how he was bent with his lower body still in the restraints, spine arched, legs wide and ass presented toward the machine, shuddering like a virgin. More naked with his clothes still on than he'd been in bed in years, and this time everyone could see exactly how little it took to shred his control.
The limbs holding him abruptly went inert and Tony swore, shifting and juddering in their unforgiving cage as his adrenaline spiked. "Ohhh, oh god, why'd you stop don't stop JA--, jesus," he said, barely able to think. "Reed--"
"It shouldn't have uncuffed you!" Reed said, one hand still typing agitatedly at the console as he strode toward the machine's column. "I'm sorry, Stark, I'm doing a manual reset. You'll have to wait."
Tony felt the tiniest tremor go through the tentacles--reactivation--and then Reed reached the column, and opened the maintenance access door.
The fight between stretchiest man alive and several dozen spare mecha-tentacles was something Tony really looked forward to watching later. From the awe and horror playing over Steve's face, it would be worth the wait. It ended, of course, with JARVIS' delicate harrumph over the speakers.
"Please excuse the interruption, sirs. Due to several hardened doors between this lab and ground level, I regret to inform you the Avengers will not arrive for another twenty-five minutes."
"How much longer is the 'session'?" Tony mumbled.
"We are ten minutes into a half-hour."
Tony met Steve's eyes over the gag. JARVIS was already working at Steve's cuffs, though he'd made no move to free Tony.
"Do it, J. And on my tombstone you cmmph--!"
“Already engraved, sir. So glad we agree.”