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equilibrium constant

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Inhale.

Bruce's thighs hurt. He could feel the muscles trembling as he held them ninety degrees from the wall his back was pressed against. Ninety degrees above is supplementary to ninety degrees below. Floor perpendicular to calves, calves perpendicular to thighs, thighs perpendicular to wall.

Exhale.

Taut thighs, relaxed ass. Had to keep upright against the wall. Quadriceps: "four-headed," from the Latin quattuor and caput. Rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, all locked in tension to keep from falling. And then between the thighs, the sphincter ani externus, agonist without antagonist, relaxing, relaxing, relaxing.

Inhale.

Ginger, from the Tamil inji ver. Rhisome, slick flesh, peeled skin, carved plug shape, slid into Bruce's ass by Tony's ruthless fingers. Extruding juices laced with gingerol, (S)-5-hydroxy-1-(4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)-3-decanone, chemical relative of capsaicin. Burning. Clenched muscles lead to swifter juice absorption, more searing pain. Relax the sphincter, keep the thighs taut, keep the lines perpendicular. A whimper, barely audible, from Bruce's lips.

Exhale.

Nipples taut, caught, shot with lines of pain that sparkled and seared like electricity. A clamp pinched each of Bruce's nipples, fastened to a chain that barely reached the ground when he leaned forward as much as possible. Weights on the end of the chain -- ten pounds, maybe more, enough to feel like his nipples were being yanked off at the tips if he tried to rise upward. Ten pounds is four point five kilograms is two hundred and twenty two unladen European swallows, and Bruce almost giggled hysterically through the tears that were making his eyes swim.

Inhale.

Tony had mummified his arms in an armbinder, sleek leather from fingers to biceps, with a single D-ring attached to the end over Bruce's hands. A cord knotted onto the D-ring, looped over a sturdy hook high on the wall, and fastened around a tie point. A basic pulley, an Archimedean simple machine: power in equals power out. Earlier, Tony's arms had pulled the cord down and pulled Bruce's arms up, upward, higher, stretching his muscles to the razor's edge of pain, then knotted the rope before they could loosen an inch.

Exhale.

All Bruce had to do was maintain equilibrium. Easy. Quadriceps held his thighs in place, exactly perpendicular, and sphincter relaxed against the slow burn of ginger. All he had to do was maintain equilibrium, and then he didn't rise too high and torture his reddened nipples, didn't sink too low and jerk his shoulders excruciatingly out of joint. Something wet and salty dripped off the tip of his nose, sweat or tears or both. This was easy. He was going to fail.

Inhale.

Tony usually affected emotional distance for Bruce's punishments; they stung more that way. But this one was too short for him to step away, too intense, so instead he watched, fully clothed, as Bruce's naked body trembled. Tony's eyes burned into Bruce. Every part of him ached. His muscles quivered, succumbing to weariness and the temptation to shift up or down, relieving one pain at the cost of redoubling another. My Scylla and Charybdis, he thought wildly, and wondered which was which.

Exhale.

He couldn't. He couldn't. He had no courage against the slow certainty that his muscles would give out, and he would fall down or rise up, and the pain would drown him when it did. There was no shame in pragmatism. It hurt, everywhere hurt, and he felt soaked with sweat and ginger and precum and tears. He couldn't do it. He --

"I'm sorry." Words choked, barely audible, but loud enough for Tony.

Then gentle hands at his nipples, his arms, his ass. Then peace.