Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Before the Fever Breaks"

This poem was written outside the prompt calls, inspired by conversations with [personal profile] lynnoconnacht.  It also fills the "fever / delirium" square in my 7-31-14 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo  fest.  It has been sponsored by [personal profile] stardreamer.  This poem belongs to the Stalwart Stan & Antimatter thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"Before the Fever Breaks"

On Friday afternoon,
Lawrence made plans
for a study session
with Stan on Saturday.

Lawrence went home,
shoveled a fresh layer of snow
off the front steps of the house,
and helped his mother pack
for a business trip.

He felt sweaty and tired,
so he went to bed early,
thinking extra sleep would help.

On Saturday morning,
Lawrence felt worse.

He debated whether to
call off the study session,
but figured they could get
some work done and he could
send Stan home, then spend
the rest of the weekend resting.

He knew how to do speed healing;
everything would be fine.

Stan arrived bright and early despite the snow,
dropped his books on the living room couch,
and hugged Lawrence good morning.

Then Stan pulled back with a frown.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"You don't seem as bouncy today."

"I'm fine," Lawrence said,
pulling his mouth into a smile.

Stan touched the back of his hand
to Lawrence's cheek.
"I don't think so," he said.

"I'm fine," Lawrence gritted,
tossing his head out of reach.
He had forgotten about
that blasted First Aid badge;
Stan wasn't as easy to fool
as most other people.

"Please don't lie to me,"
Stan said quietly.
"Your skin feels warm,
you're sweaty and sluggish,
and you look awful.
I think you're coming down
with something."

"Okay so maybe I am,"
Lawrence said.
"I'll go through it fast,
you know I can do speed healing."

"And in the meantime,
you're miserable,"
Stan pointed out.

"I can take care of myself!"
Lawrence said.  "I always do."

It was the wrong thing to say,
Lawrence could see immediately
in the shift and set of Stan's face.

"When did you say that
your mother's coming home?"
Stan asked.  "I could ask mine
if I can stay longer."

"Sunday night," Lawrence said,
"but it doesn't matter,
I don't need the company."

"I really don't feel comfortable
leaving you alone while
you're sick," Stan said.

"Don't worry about me,"
Lawrence said.
"Besides, you don't want
to catch whatever I have."

"I don't think I can," Stan said.
"I haven't gotten sick since
I got this." He tapped his fetish.

Well, that might be true,
and there went the best excuse
to get Stan out of the house.
"Lucky you," Lawrence said sourly.

"If you really don't want me here,
you could pick someone else,"
Stan said.  "Doesn't have to be me."

Lawrence shook his head,
then stopped because
it made the room swim.
"I don't like having anyone
around when I'm sick, is all."

"What did you have for breakfast?"
Stan asked, out of the blue.

"Nothing, I wasn't hungry,"
Lawrence said, wondering
what that was all about.

Stan sighed.  "Lawrence,
you shouldn't be alone.
You are not taking
very good care of yourself.
What if you get worse?"
he said.  "Now I can stay,
or call your mother and --"

"Okay, okay!" Lawrence said,
his voice rising, frantic
to head off that angle.

Bothering his mother at work
would be a disaster, and
Lawrence didn't dare let
Stan start digging into
his home life again, for fear of
losing the only parent he had left.

"You can stay," Lawrence said,
defeated.  "I'd rather you
than anyone else, I guess."

"Okay then," Stan said.
"Go on back to bed."

"What?" Lawrence said.

"Go lie down," Stan said,
pushing Lawrence gently
toward the staircase.
"I'll call my mother and
make you some breakfast."

So Lawrence slunk away and
left Stan to do as he pleased.
The bed was inviting enough,
but Lawrence felt weird
having someone coddle him.

Ten minutes later, Stan showed up
with a bowl of oatmeal on a lap tray.

"You are seriously
bringing me breakfast in bed?"
Lawrence asked, staring at him.
"Who even does that?"

"I do," Stan said,
settling the tray carefully
over Lawrence's legs.

Lawrence vaguely remembered
having seen the tray in a cupboard,
and was impressed that Stan
had even found the thing.

Lawrence sampled the oatmeal.
It was different  somehow
than the way he made it --
thinner, creamier, with a spicy note
and some kind of chewy bits.

"What did you do to this?"
he asked as he took another bite.

"Is it not good?" Stan asked,
twisting his hands in the hem
of his blue flannel shirt.
"I didn't know how you liked yours
and you didn't want me to bug you
so I just made it like I do mine ..."

"It's fine," Lawrence said.
He poked his spoon in the bowl,
trying to isolate the small chunks.
"I meant, what did you put in it?"

"Oh," Stan said, relieved.
"I just made it with milk
instead of water, and I had
some dried apples in my backpack,
and you didn't have plain cinnamon
so I substituted apple pie spice."

No wonder it tasted like dessert.

There wasn't a lot in the bowl,
so Lawrence managed to finish it
even with his appetite absent.

As soon as he let go of the spoon,
Stan was there to pick up the tray
and set it on the bedside table.
Then he fussed around with
the pillows and the blankets,
tucking Lawrence down into bed.

It made the bed more comfortable,
but Lawrence less so.

"What would you like me to do next?"
Stan asked him.

"Stop smothering me,"
Lawrence snapped.

It was like stepping on a puppy.

"Okay," Stan said quietly
as he collected the tray.
"I'll just go wash the dishes."

"You don't have to --"
Lawrence began.

"If I don't, then you will,
and you should be resting,"
Stan said as he slipped out.

Lawrence felt like a dick.

He wallowed deeper into
the soft nest of blankets,
put his forearm over his face,
and tried to go back to sleep.

Some time later,
there came a quiet knock.

"Can I come in?" Stan asked,
peeking around the doorframe.
He had his sleeves rolled up
and thumbs tucked in his pockets.

Lawrence gave a vague wave.

The mattress shifted as
Stan sat down beside him.
"When's the last time you took
your cold meds?" he asked.
"Whatever you're using,
I can bring it when you need it."

Lawrence didn't want to lie,
so he kept his mouth shut.

Stan figured it out, though.
"You haven't taken anything?" he said.
A cool hand cupped Lawrence's cheek.
"You feel warmer than ever."

The bed creaked as Stan got up.
Lawrence heard him rummaging
in the bathroom, then returning.

"There's nothing in your medicine chest
but mouthwash and half a bottle
of blue chamomile," Stan said,
crossing his arms over his chest.
"Would you be okay for a little while
by yourself?  If you tell me your symptoms,
I can run to the store for supplies."

Lawrence weighed the pros and cons
of hiding his condition and provoking Stan
into pawing over him for information,
or revealing it and getting fussed over more.

Simpler just to get it over with.
"Fever, headache, body aches,"
Lawrence confessed.
"Queasy off and on."

Stan smiled at him.
"Thanks for telling me," he said,
then dipped into his backpack.
"I've got aspirin in my first aid kit.
You can start with that."

He handed Lawrence a glass of water
and a paper packet of aspirin,
the kind that gas stations always had.
Lawrence wouldn't have been surprised
if Stan pulled half a pharmacy from his pockets.

Lawrence swallowed the pills,
half because his head was killing him
and half because couldn't stand the thought
of Stan giving him sad puppy-dog eyes again.

"A bus stops at the corner in ten minutes,"
Stan said.  "I should be back in an hour or so.
I hope you feel better with the house to yourself."

It was quiet, at least, without Stan there.
Lawrence relaxed a little and kicked off
the covers that were making him too hot.

He concentrated on using his power
to burn off the sickness faster,
but it was hard to focus when
he felt like hammered crap.

He tried studying, but couldn't
keep his mind on history either.

Then he got cold as the sweat dried,
and didn't have the energy to reach down
to drag the damn blankets back on the bed.

Lawrence glanced over
at the black Kit-Kat clock,
its eyes and tail slowly
sweeping back and forth.
Not even half an hour had passed.

He lay on his back, listening to the clock tick
and the swish-slush of cars passing in the street,
waiting for Stan to come home, because
Lawrence liked him even if today
they were driving each other nuts.

Eventually the front door squeaked open
and then closed again, followed by
Stan's footsteps light and careful on the stairs.

Lawrence felt his shoulders tighten,
anticipating Stan's disapproval
for the blankets on the floor.

Instead Stan simply set a selection
of cold meds on the bedside table
along with bottles of water, Gatorade,
and Sioux City ginger beer.

"There you go," Stan said.
"This way you can pick what you like,
and maybe we can get you feeling better
before the fever breaks."

"Thanks," Lawrence said,
shivering a little in the faint breeze
from the open door of the bedroom.

Stan leaned down and gathered
the blankets from the floor,
then raised his eyebrows.

Lawrence nodded agreement,
and Stan gently spread the covers
back over his body.

"I'm going back downstairs for a bit,"
Stan said.  "Living room's a mess,
so I'll straighten that and then
come back to check on you."

Lawrence didn't have the energy
to protest.  "Fine," he said.

It wasn't as nerve-wracking when
Stan wasn't hovering over him.
Quiet sounds filtered up
through the floor and stairwell,
reminding Lawrence of
happy afternoons at Stan's house.

Lawrence helped himself
to the water and a few more pills.
He didn't feel as hot as before,
but the queasiness was getting worse.

Presently Stan came back upstairs.
"Need anything?" he asked.

"No," Lawrence said,
forcing himself to hold still,
not to hide under the covers
or cling to them like armor.

"I finished all my homework but math,"
Stan said.  "Mind if I borrow your books
and work in here for bit?  I promise
not to make any noise. Or should I
go sit in the window nook instead?"

The window seat in its narrow space
with bookshelves along the near wall
separated Lawrence's bedroom
from his mother's room.

It would be rude to make Stan
sit outside the door like a naughty student.

"You can stay," Lawrence said.

Stan deposited himself at the desk
that sat under the room's single window,
a stack of math books at his elbow.

Lawrence picked up his history book again.
It was a little easier to pay attention now,
and for a while the silence was punctuated
with the soft whisper of turning pages.

This, maybe, Lawrence could get used to
if he had enough time to learn how.

When his stomach got too distracting,
he set aside the history book
and just concentrated on breathing
as he surfed the slow waves of nausea.

"What do you want for lunch?"
Stan asked from the desk.

"Don't think I could keep anything down,"
Lawrence admitted.

At once Stan abandoned the math
and came over to the bed.
"That bad, huh?"

Lawrence's belly lurched,
and he dashed into the bathroom,
making it to the toilet just in time.

Well that was wonderful,
fleeing his still-very-new boyfriend
to go throw up.

Gentle hands gathered his hair
and held it away from his face.

Lawrence startled so hard
that he nearly lost his grip
on the rim of the toilet,
because what the fuck?

He'd forgotten to close
the damn door, is what,
and Stan had followed him.

Lawrence tried to elbow him away,
but the heaves wrung him like a rag;
he couldn't fight Stan and his body
at the same time.

When his arms started shaking
from holding himself in place,
one of Stan's hands slipped down
to brace against his chest
so that Lawrence couldn't fall.

It was humiliating as much as helpful,
a bizarre mix of sensations
that left Lawrence dizzy with confusion.

Eventually the spasms eased enough
for him to rest against the cool rim
of the toilet seat, panting for breath.

"You done for now?"
Stan asked quietly.

"Think so," Lawrence said.

To his surprise, Stan helped him
clean up and get back to bed
without another word.

That silent, matter-of-fact care was
much more bearable than the fussing
but it was like scratching a sunburn:
it hurt and felt good all at once.
Lawrence didn't know what to make of it.

This time Lawrence abandoned dignity
for the sake of clutching the blankets
around himself as a barrier.

"Feeling any better?" Stan asked,
after he finished tucking Lawrence
into bed like an apple in a dumpling.

"Never do that again," Lawrence said tightly.
"You don't follow someone into the can,
Jesus were you raised in a barn."

Stomped puppy look.

It made Lawrence feel like a dick again,
made him want to relent and apologize,
but he couldn't stand the thought
of Stan hovering over him like that.

"... okay," Stan said, his voice thick
as if it hurt him to say that.

"Good," Lawrence said.

"Listen, I'm worried about you
and I'm trying to be helpful,
but I'm used to caring for people
I already know really well," Stan said.
"With you I'm just guessing, and
I don't think I'm scoring very high.
I need to know what makes you feel better
and what just makes things worse."

Lawrence sighed.  "Can we not?
I do not have the energy
for this right now."

He sipped at the ginger beer
in hope it would help his stomach settle,
the cool bottle soothing against his fevered skin.

"Okay.  Whatever you need,"
Stan said.  "Will you at least
let me braid your hair for you?
That will keep it out of your way."

"I don't want it to be lumpy
when I have to lie on it,"
Lawrence whined.

"It won't be lumpy, I promise,"
Stan said.  "If you hate it,
I can take it right back out."

He petted the long strands,
not seeming to mind that they were
lank and stringy now from sweat.
Even the light looked dingy,
most of Lawrence's energy
devoted to healing.

"Fine," Lawrence said.

Stan used his fingers
to comb through the hair
and separate hanks to braid.
He wove them together swiftly
into a wide flat plait which used up
so much of the length that
the tip barely came over
Lawrence's shoulder.

"There you go," Stan said,
patting the end of the braid.

It felt looser than usual,
comfortable enough to lie on.
"This will never stay put,"
Lawrence said.

"Maybe it will if I ask it nicely,"
Stan said.  He pressed his cheek
against Lawrence's hair
and whispered, "Please stay,"
breath warm and damp
over Lawrence's ear.

Lawrence shivered.
It wasn't good or bad,
just unfamiliar, like having
someone under his skin
where he was only
used to himself.

But the next time that he
had to bolt for the bathroom,
the braid held fast,
and Stan didn't follow him.

There was only the quiet click
as the door was pushed shut behind him.

When Lawrence came out,
Stan was leaning against
the closed bedroom door
so that he could watch
the bathroom threshold.

Lawrence made it to bed on his own,
leaving the covers off because
he was broiling again.
He reached for the ginger beer
but the bottle was empty.

He weighed the usefulness
of ginger for suppressing nausea
against the bother of dragging himself
down to the fridge in search of more.

"Want a refill on that?" Stan asked quietly.

Lawrence nodded.  Embarrassing as it was,
he could still feel a certain enjoyment of
lazing in bed while someone else
did the fetching for him.

Soon Stan came back with the ginger beer,
handed it to Lawrence, and backed away.
Lawrence took a long drink, then said,
"You don't have to hide from me.
I'm just crabby because I feel like crap."

Stan drifted over to stand by the bed.
"Remember how you said that
your power has learned to go to me?"
Stan said.  "I've got an idea."

"Okay, what?" Lawrence asked.

Stan pressed one of Lawrence's hands
to his chest and held onto the other.
"I think you could sort of roll your power
over mine and pick up more energy that way,
kind of like making a snowball," he said.
"Up, across, and back down to you."

"It'll never work with the fetish on,"
Lawrence said.

"If I take it off, then your energy
will just stick to mine," Stan said.
"All I'm asking is that you try."

So Lawrence tried.
The first few times,
the energy just bounced
back toward him.
Then he figured out
how to angle it so that
it really would roll across.

Lawrence was surprised
to discover that Stan was right --
the little ball of healing energy
picked up power along the way.

Well, Stan was probably
pushing his own energy at it.
It was still a useful trick to learn.

Lawrence kept it up until
he got too tired to focus.
"Thanks," he said to Stan
as he pulled his hands back.
"I think it's helping."

Puppy-with-biscuit look.

Lawrence's fevered brain
just would not stop with the imagery.

Stan went back to his math,
leaving Lawrence in peace.
There was something restful
about the faint skritch-scratch
of pencil moving over paper.

The next time Lawrence got sick,
it didn't last nearly as long,
but by the end he was so exhausted
that he could barely wobble to the door.

Stan let Lawrence lean against him,
and all Lawrence could smell now was
the bright spicy note of Stan's pine forest soap,
his nose sensitized by the nausea.

When Lawrence stumbled despite
Stan's steady presence at his side,
Stan silently dropped one big hand
to cup Lawrence's hip and lift him up
so that his toes barely touched the floor.

Lawrence pretended to walk back to bed that way,
and Stan pretended to let him, then silently
returned Lawrence to the nest of blankets.

Stan's stomach growled.
"Excuse me," he muttered.

"You skipped lunch," Lawrence realized,
"and now it's almost supper time."

"Yeah, I'll go downstairs and make something,"
Stan said.  "It'll get me out of your hair for a while."

Lawrence tried to relax while Stan was gone,
only to discover that he felt more tired than ever.
He did manage to finish the history chapter, though.

Eventually Stan came back with two bowls.
He'd heated up a family-size can
of chunky soup for himself, and
brought applesauce for Lawrence.

"Supper is served," Stan announced.

"Thanks," Lawrence said,
sampling the applesauce.
"Hey, this is warm."

"Yeah, it just came off the stove,"
Stan said.  "You didn't have any applesauce,
but there were apples, so I made some.
Should I have chilled it first?"

"No, it's great," Lawrence said.
It tasted strongly of ginger,
velvety smooth with no lumps,
tempting enough to revive
his appetite a little bit.

Or maybe that was just because
Stan was back in the room.

They ate quietly, and afterwards
Stan took the dishes downstairs to wash.

Lawrence's stomach had finally
quit pitching around his innards,
but this time he was sure:
no Stan, less energy.

And now Lawrence was freezing.

When Stan came back upstairs,
he noticed immediately.

"You look cold," he said.
"Do you want another blanket?"

"No, just you," Lawrence said.
He might as well admit it.
"You go, I feel worse.
You come back, I feel better."
He rubbed his hands over his face.
"Gah, that sounds stupid out loud."

"No it doesn't," Stan said.
"As much energy work
as we've done together,
it makes sense that our powers
are starting to recognize each other
and respond to what's happening."

Trust Stan to think of that.
Lawrence hadn't paid a lot of attention
to the SPOON pages on power collaboration.
Maybe he should have.

Lawrence shivered and
huddled deeper under the covers.

"So, um ... body heat helps with hypothermia,"
Stan said hesitantly.  "I know you've been
pretty standoffish all day, but maybe
I could lie on the edge of the bed and
you could get as close as you feel comfortable?
It might help with the heat and the energy both."

Lawrence was torn between wanting
to shove Stan away or wrap up in him.
Maybe this would be an adequate compromise.
"Okay, we can try that," Lawrence said.

Stan peeled back all the blankets
but one and the sheet under it,
balanced himself carefully
at the very edge of the bed, and
pulled the covers over them both.

Lawrence felt warmer already.
He inched closer to Stan,
stopping where the need for heat
and the desire for privacy
cancelled each other out.

His body finally stopped bothering him
and he was able to drift down
from a doze into true sleep.

* * *


"It is often when night looks darkest, it is often before the fever breaks that one senses the gathering momentum for change, when one feels that resurrection of hope in the midst of despair and apathy."
-- Hillary Clinton

Lawrence's house is a tiny little two-story, two-bedroom cottage. See the outside, main floor, and upper floor.

Taking care of a sick friend is one type of nonsexual intimacy.  Lawrence is tiffy about it both because he's unaccustomed to that kind of attention and because it's early in their (friendly) relationship.  Know how to treat a fever and help a sick person feel better.

Negotiation is a vital relationship skill.  Understand how to manage a family meeting, communicate better, and share expenses.

Breakfast in bed is popular for courtship but also when someone isn't feeling well.  There are tips for how to make breakfast in bed.

Among the many recipes for oatmeal I found some for apple-cinnamon oatmeal mix and healthy apple-cinnamon oatmeal, which are somewhat similar to what Stan is doing.

See the original Kit-Kat Klock.  It's a classic piece of Americana.

Skin hunger and touch aversion can occur in the same person, as shown with Lawrence.  He really needs the contact, but past abuse has left him twitchy about people touching him.  That's one of several reasons for touch aversion.  There are ways to build trust and explore healthy vulnerability.

There are several ways to make a multistrand or flat braid, similar to this one by Bella Braids.

Ginger applesauce is good for an upset stomach.  Some people do find that either warm or cold applesauce works better for them.

Hypothermia spans the range of low body temperature from chills to life-threatening cold.  A chilled person needs to be warmed gently and slowly, not too fast or it can cause shock.  Body heat is one helpful method, with the advantage that it's always available.  A cozy snuggle and a good blanket can fix most mild cases.

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, romance, weblit, writing

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