The first time Harold sees it, he’s deliriously tired, to the point of clumsiness. After four hours of grading ethics essays, he forces himself to his feet, cringing at the pain in his neck and spine. In order to rub at his sore eyes, he removes his glasses and places them on the stack of completed work, which slips and scatters. Fortunately the frames do not break, but only because they are caught before they hit the ground. Harold’s vision is blurred, but still it’s obvious this is not a human appendage. The thing passes his glasses back up to him. Too exhausted to do anything else, Harold merely says “Thank you”, and gathers his things to leave. On his way out, the something strokes his back and absorbs his pain.
The second time, it’s after Root strolls into the subway, drops her auburn wig on his desk and shrugs out of her dress inside the train car. Harold accidentally sees her black bra and flat stomach before he turns away, awkwardly trying to give her privacy, though the large train windows offer none. When she emerges, still buttoning up a clean blouse, Harold is reminded of John: shirtless in the library in front of him, unflinchingly patching up his own wounds before charging out again, gun at the ready. Not for the first time, Harold regrets being in the position of working with such devastatingly attractive people. Curses his own foolish libido for longing to touch them.
Root leaves, sporting a new name and a new pair of stylish glasses. Harold slowly sets his palms on the desk, then rests his forehead on the back of his hands. This hurts his neck, of course, but the pain is meant to distract him from the other things he feels.
Whether his guilty arousal was sending out some kind of pheremonal signal for the creature to respond to, Harold doesn’t know. But what happens next is this.
Root’s wig slides off the desk and Harold straightens up at once. For a second he thinks Bear wants to play, but the dog isn’t here. The wig pops up a second later, beside Harold’s chair. It’s being modeled on the thick curl of a deep purple tentacle, turning this way and that, as though admiring itself in front of a mirror. Harold laughs.
This amusing display isn’t the only appendage to emerge from the blackness at the far end of the tunnel, beyond the end of the platform, where none of them have ever ventured. And so Harold thinks of course, and then, you poor thing.
“How long have you been stuck down here?” Harold asks it. He receives no response. The message the Machine gave to Root to pass on to him makes sense now. Sometimes it’s better not to know.
So he files away all of his questions.
Others before him may have fled in terror at the sight of at least a dozen waving tentacles advancing, throwing shadows in the dimly lit space, but Harold remains in his seat. The first tentacle shrugs off the wig and tosses it into Harold’s lap. He passes his fingers between the red strands fondly, until his wrist is caught in a gentle grip. Harold tests its strength and elasticity by tugging his arm away a little. It adapts, of course, gelatinous and clever. “Very nice.”
The creature turns his hand over and another tentacle writes on his palm in pale blue ink. SEX?
“Why, are you offering?” This much is evident. Two more tentacles have crept up his legs and are working on his belt. Harold’s personal ethics won’t let him cross that line with his team, but to the tentacles he murmurs, “Yes, please.”
The tentacle rotates to reveal its underside of tiny suckers, and laps up the ink from Harold’s skin. He shudders. That feels better than it has any right to. Perhaps the ink has aphrodisiac properties. He feels it start to course through his bloodstream, and his heart rate picks up. His pants are open now. The wig tickles at his inner thighs. Harold throws it onto the desk just in time to be lifted out of his chair. The tentacles have autonomously thickened to be able to carry his full weight. One wraps around each of his legs and a third coils around his middle.
“Careful!” Harold protests, wobbling precariously in mid-air, the green subway tiles arching over his head much closer than he would normally be to them. But the thing’s strength is unquestionable. It deposits him on the narrow bed in the corner, and when he is lying down comfortably, it resumes the process of undressing him. Harold is permitted to close his eyes and simply feel. It unties his laces and eases his feet out of their shoes, then wriggles inside his socks until it can pull them off. Harold chuckles, squirming pleasantly at the brushes against his ticklish toes. The tentacles respond by spreading them, zigzagging between, the tiny sucker pads giving him an effortlessly thorough foot massage.
At nearly the same time, another dexterous digit unbuttons his shirt and goes exploring beneath it, tugging curiously at his chest hair, testing the springiness of the superfluous collection of fat on his hips and belly. Reminded of his glimpse of Root’s perfectly svelte body, Harold bites his lip, but the something doesn’t let him wallow in self-pity for long. It flicks experimentally at his nipple, and when Harold can’t help leaning into it, the tentacles double down, forming perfect circles of eagerly squeezing suckers around each nipple. Harold cries out, lifting his arms above his head, only for them to be caught and supported at the wrists and elbows. It he pulled, they would simply elongate. Harold couldn’t escape if he’d wanted to.
He has surrendered the same control over his legs. He’s feeling no pain in his hip. He has goosebumps where the cool air of the subway meets his bare skin. Harold opens his eyes. His pants and underwear are being held aloft and turned inside out by more tentacles beside the bed. He might protest this treatment of his clothes, but this is one of Whistler’s suits anyway, so if they get covered in ink he’ll say a fountain pen exploded.
It makes an undignified pose perhaps, but it costs Harold no discomfort to have his legs be pulled wider apart and aloft. This exposes his ass, and a smaller tentacle wraps itself helter-skelter around his cock, undulating slowly and luxuriously. Harold watches it for a time, incredulous and overwhelmingly aroused. This thing, whatever it really looks like in that darkened tunnel, whether it’s alien or not, wants to take especially good care with him.
It occurs to Harold that the Machine already knew he needed this, the same way it knew he needed Grace. Led him to this very place. Is it watching him across the room, silently approving, or has it deliberately averted its eyes the way he did for Root?
He hopes it keeps everyone away. If Mr. Reese walked in on him now, surrounded by towering pillars of supernatural strength, happily pinned in place while it enters him, things would get more complicated fast. But he mustn’t think about John while in this position.
He concentrates on the sensations instead, the intense bloom of pleasure when rows of small flexible pressure points find his prostate and manipulate it tirelessly. Waves of far, far too much are followed swiftly by not enough, his body’s appetite growing along with the girth of the tentacle inside him. “More! Please! More?” He calls out, his voice high and shaking, barely recognizable. It gives him more, stretching him open, absorbing any pain before it reaches his nerves and magnifying his pleasure. Several tentacles descend to cover him, crisscrossing over the bed, surrounding the flimsy metal frame like a sea serpent threatening to crush a legendary ship.
But there is no danger, even now. It envelops him and fills him until he overflows, coming messily all over himself. The creature absorbs his ejaculate the same way it absorbed its own ink.
Harold lies there panting for several minutes. Slowly the tentacles begin to shrink. They lower his limbs to the mattress and lay out his clothes. “Don’t go yet,” Harold pleads, and one tentacle delicately strokes his hair, before they all recede into the darkness, one by one.