Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Between Power and Vulnerability"

This poem is spillover from the March 3, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] rix_scaedu. It also fills the "disability (temporary)" square in my 5-22-14 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Frankenstein's Family, and is a direct sequel to "Man's True Nature" so you should read that one first.

Warning: This poem is nowhere near as gory as the first of the triptych. However, it delves deeper into the emotional and psychological issues. If the latter are more sensitive for you, consider your headspace before clicking through.

"Between Power and Vulnerability"

In the morning, Victor carefully extricated himself
from the cuddlesome pile of limbs that had
taken over his bed, leaving Igor and Csilla
entwined while he slipped into the bathroom.

When he came back out, though, they were both
sitting up anyhow, Csilla frowning over
the dainty wounds at Igor's elbow.

"You should let me heal these properly,
now that I can," she said. "I don't like
marking up my donors; it's crude."

"Be my guest," Igor said with a languid wave.

With the edge of her teeth, Csilla carefully
peeled off the scabs, and then lapped
her tongue over the oozing scratches
until they faded to the familiar faint lines.

Seeing them together still twinged a little, but
Victor was determined to overcome it. He'd seen
enough possessive nonsense from his father to have
no tolerance for such, especially after it had led to
his mother's estrangement from her brother. Her brother,
of all people, and not a male friend of the family.

"Csilla, thank you for your attention to detail.
Igor, I'm going to check on Fridrik. Do you
want to come along?" Victor said.

"I should start breakfast first, but I'll join you
after that," Igor said as he climbed out of bed.
A quick stretch showed his back in better shape
than it had any right to be after yesterday.

"I will come, if you don't mind," Csilla said.
"Fridrik is bound to be uncomfortable,
and that makes him quarrelsome.
I may be able to help settle him."

"I would welcome the assistance," Victor said.
He was rapidly coming to rely on the luxury.

Sure enough, they found Fridrik awake
and already bickering with his packmates.
The temporary disability left him trapped between
power and vulnerability. That made him defensive,
exacerbating the issues that Fridrik already had
with any authority outside himself.

"You are supposed to stay still," Shandor said.

"I don't want to stay still," Fridrik whined.
"I want to get out of this damn bed and run."

"Do you want to keep that foot?"
Victor asked mildly.

Fridrik jerked at the sound of his voice,
lip curling into a faint, silent snarl.

"Igor and I pushed the boundaries to save
what we could, but that means that you need
to take extra care with your body for at least
a few weeks," Victor continued as he sat beside
the bed. "The better you follow our directions,
the higher your chance of a complete recovery.
The choice is up to you, now that you're awake."

Fridrik gave an aggrieved whuff.

Victor ignored it, reaching over to lay two fingers
over the pulse point at Fridrik's throat.

The werewolf flinched and growled at him,
eyes narrowing in challenge as he
jerked his chin downward.

Victor withdrew his hand, not eager to get bitten.

A moment later, Csilla's power wafted past,
barely discernible to Victor, although
it made Fridrik go nearly limp.

"Obey," Janika reminded her mate.

Fridrik held Victor's gaze for a few more breaths,
then sighed and looked away. His chin
lifted upward just a fraction.

This time Victor made a show of taking out
his pocketwatch to count off a full minute,
pressing his fingers against Fridrik's throat
to get a good feel of his pulse. The beat
was strong and steady, better than hoped
after so much blood loss the day before.

"You have already survived the worst," Victor said.
"What remains is merely maintenance."

Victor moved methodically through the rest
of the basic checks, until Fridrik's stomach growled.

That reminded Victor of something else
they might do to help. "What would be
the best things for an injured werewolf to eat
for a speedy recovery?" he asked the pack.

"Whatever we can get," Shandor said.

"The more the better," Mircea added.

"We all share the burden, when a packmate
is injured," Janika said. "I don't have to
feed him all out of my own portion."

The litany hurt to hear.

"Those are minimum standards,"
Victor said gently. "I'm asking you
for ideal ones. I can't promise that
we'll be able to get everything you might
request, but we'll do our best for you.
What would you like to eat, if you
could have anything at all?"

"Live food, if we can get it," Janika said.
"Sometimes we catch small game and
bring them back to the den because
they're easy to keep and to eat."

"Mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, birds,"
said Mircea. "I'm good at catching birds,
I can go out today -- Janika's better at deer."

"Fat," said Shandor, "and organ meat."

Igor slipped into the room then, saying,
"I put some eggs on to boil, and biscuits
in the oven. What are we discussing?"

"Healing foods for werewolves," Victor said.

"Organ meat's cheap, and fat nearly so. I can
send to Reznik the butcher for those," Igor said.
"It's the steaks and roasts that really cost."

"We can ask the village children for help
procuring small animals," said Victor.
They'd done it for months, whenever
they needed something for the lab,
so it wouldn't raise awkward questions.

Fridrik licked his lips. "I like mice."

"Mice it is, then," Victor said. "You can
make do with egg for breakfast, I hope."

Igor had moved down to unlatch the support frame
that held Fridrik's injured leg above the bed, then
loosened the layers of bandage. The wounds, too,
looked better than expected, dark red but neither
oozing nor swollen tight and shiny.

"Any heat?" Victor asked.

Igor laid the back of his hand beside the cuts,
and then against Fridrik's good leg. "No more
than usual, the way werewolves run hot."

Janika took the opportunity to shift
into wolf shape and lick over the scabs.

"Do you feel strong enough for shift-healing?"
Shandor asked Fridrik. "Be honest."

"I think so," Fridrik said. He frowned.
"My leg hurts very oddly though."

"We had to glue the little bits of bone
back together," Igor explained.
"It's going to feel sort of stretchy
and strange until they finish knitting."

"Don't put any weight on your foot until
we tell you it's safe to do so," Victor added.

"I will try," Fridrik said, and Victor realized
that was probably the most they could ask of him,
given how much effort it took to balance out
the conflicting demands of man and wolf.

"Go ahead and shift," Victor said.
"Just keep still after you do that, until
we can feel out how much improvement
you manage to get from it. Hopefully
the healing factor of shifting will
help keep the seams intact."

Fridrik nodded, then flowed into the form
of a black wolf, lying somewhat awkwardly
with all four paws in the air.

Igor made a quick check and then said,
"You can roll on your side; we don't
need your belly for this."

Victor remembered that the belly-up pose
was a show of submission, although Igor
had a better sense of the subtleties.

A wolf's leg was very different than a man's,
but it still had a tibia and a fibula, which seemed
to be holding together adequately. In this form,
Victor could feel how the trap had closed over
Fridrik's leg, high above the hock -- he must have
landed with his full weight square on the trigger,
translating to wounds farther up the calf than
if he'd stepped in the trap as a man.

"Definitely better," Victor declared. "You may
walk to the bathroom, provided that
you keep that paw off the floor."

Shandor scooped him up before Fridrik
could jump out of the bed, settled him gently
onto the floor, then followed him to the bathroom.

Igor set a paper bag on the bedstand and said,
"I brought some broth, herbs for strengthening
the body, and a few things in case Fridrik
wants some pain relief, but I wasn't sure
how stubborn he would likely be."

Janika shifted back into woman shape, listening
attentively as Igor explained the different options.
The two of them conferred in low tones.

Mircea slipped off the bed. "I will go mind the cubs,"
she said. "Ena has watched them long enough."

The beautiful black wolf slunk back into the room,
head and tail drooping, injured paw held high.
It was heartbreaking to see such a noble animal
reduced to hobbling on three legs.

That icy rage began rising inside Victor again,
like cold springwater filling him from the heels up.
How dare anyone break the laws that he had
laid down precisely to prevent such a tragedy?

Csilla's power brushed over him then,
fleeting as a moth's wing, and her fingers
settled just as lightly on his forearm.
"Softly, my lord," she said to him.
"We here are not your enemies."

Victor pushed down his anger and
dredged up a faint smile for her.
"I apologize," he said. "I suppose
that for someone of your sensitivity,
being around me today is like walking
down a street whilst the maids are
emptying the chamberpots out of
the upper-storey windows, and
without so much as a gardez l'eau."

From the quirk of Igor's mouth,
Csilla wasn't the only one who had been
getting the short end of his temper.

It made Victor think less of himself.
A gentleman ought not to go slopping
his emotions about like that.

Still there were dark things stirring
within him that would not just go away.

Igor and Janika finished what they
were doing with the bowl of broth,
herbs now skimming its surface,
and she set it down in front of Fridrik.

He sniffed, snorted loudly, and backed away.

Janika coaxed him back, swiping her fingers
through the dish and then licking them.
"It's safe," she said. "It doesn't even taste
so bad, and it will make you feel better."

Csilla ran a soothing hand down Fridrik's back
and murmured something that Victor
could not quite understand.

Eventually the black wolf deigned
to lower his muzzle into the bowl
and lap up the drugged broth.

As soon as Fridrik finished it,
Shandor knelt down to lift him
back onto the bed, where he turned
in clumsy circles before settling down.

Victor prodded Fridrik's leg again, and yes,
everything still seemed in place. "I think we can
leave this with just a splint for now, which will
be easier to adjust for shifting back and forth,"
he said, finding some bandages and slats
to fit the new lupine shape.

Igor moved to dismantle the frame
that Vladimir had made, which they
were sure to need for someone else
in the future and were lucky to have now.

Ena came in with a plate of something
fluffy and golden-white. "I made it like
you said for the cat?" she whispered,
looking at Igor, then down at the floor.
"There was that chicken in the icebox,
with the last of the rice, and I put in
one of the eggs you boiled up ..."

Igor took the plate from her, tasted
its contents, and smiled. "This is perfect,
Ena, thank you for bringing it up."

When Igor set the plate on the bed,
Fridrik's nostrils fluttered but
he made no move to eat.

Victor frowned, wondering if that
was a sign of lost appetite and thus
possible illness, or if Fridrik was just
so sore and humiliated that he didn't
feel like doing much of anything.

"You know, I make a terrible patient myself,"
Victor admitted, hoping it would
help Fridrik feel less alone.

The black wolf rolled his eyes.

"He really does," Igor said earnestly.
"So do I -- in fact, most doctors do.
We're too opinionated to feel comfortable
giving anyone else charge of our bodies,
even when we need to do so."

"For anyone powerful, it is difficult to be
vulnerable," Shandor agreed. "All dominants
must find their own ways of dealing with it."

Ena gave an odd little growf
that made Fridrik lift his head
and sample the offering.

Once he got a taste of the egg and chicken,
he gobbled it up quite briskly, even
pushing the empty plate with his tongue.

Csilla smiled as she passed the plate to Igor.

"Would you like to learn some more about
the human style of cooking?" Igor asked Ena as
he gave her the dishes to return to the kitchen,
receiving a shy nod in reply as she left.

Victor had to tamp down his fury again,
thinking about how the delicate girl
had learned such skittish behavior.

"I would prefer to stay in the castle and keep
Fridrik company, if you don't mind," Csilla said.
"I think I should not like the village today."

That was as good an introduction as Victor
was likely to get for such a painful topic.
"Fridrik, I will be going down to seek justice
for what happened to you. I would invite you
to come along, but you are in no shape for it,"
he said. "Who would you send in your place?"

At once the black muzzle pointed to Shandor,
and then after a moment of hesitation,
to Igor who gave a startled gasp.

"Very well then," said Victor. "Both of you
will need to dress for the occasion,
after we have eaten breakfast."

They left Fridrik in Csilla's tender care
and headed down the stone steps.

Victor still struggled to get a grip on his temper, which
left him feeling less like a nobleman and more like
a wild beast. It seethed inside him, and under it,
deeper things still that he did not wish to examine.

"What's wrong?" Igor asked, leaning
into his partner, with one square hand
a reassuring pressure at the small of his back.

"I just kind of want to kill someone for this,"
Victor admitted. "First the boys, and now Fridrik!"

Igor sighed. "I sympathize with your outrage," he said.
"As no one has died, however, I believe this does not
qualify for capital punishment according to your texts
on village management and the lord's justice."

"You're right, of course," Victor said.
"It still does not stop me from wishing,
and that makes my filthy mood spill over
onto everyone with a bit of sensitivity.
That is beyond barbaric; it is bad enough
to have one beast in the village without
me adding to the mess when I know better."

"Ah, but it's not your head that wants
to have someone's hide for this,"
Igor said wisely, as he patted
Victor's back just behind his heart.

That helped thaw the ice a bit.

Breakfast was surprisingly delicious,
Ena and Mircea having peeled all the eggs
and put out the biscuits with a crock of butter,
the bottoms only a little burnt before the werewolves
had snatched them out of the oven. Everyone
started in on that spread while Igor briskly fried up
a rasher of bacon and forked it onto a platter.

Mircea and Janika were doing that thing again
where they fed the cubs out of their own mouths,
and they had got Adam to begging for it it too. Victor
had spent all of a week trying to discourage that, because
it was disgusting, but he hadn't the heart to keep arguing
when Adam plainly loved it and it wasn't hurting anyone.

It never ceased to amaze him how gentle
the werewolves could be, despite the reputation
of ferocity for both them and the permanent wolves.

Victor only hoped that he would prove as worthy
of them trusting him with their family
as they had with his.

* * *


"There has to be a balance between power and vulnerability. That's something I feel I have in my own life, something I struggle with and - on a good day - like about myself."
-- Idina Menzel

Jealousy is an emotion of perceived threat or vulnerability to loss. It has various causes, and can wreck relationships. There are healthy ways to handle jealousy.

Polyamory involves intimate relationships with more than one person, not all of which are necessarily sexual. There are tips for incorporating another person into an established relationship. Csilla's connection to her donors is both intimate and sensual, but is not sexual with Igor or Dénes.

Power can be used for good or evil. Appropriate use of power is an important quality in a great leader. The werewolves have a delicate balance of power in their patchwork pack. Victor and Igor have their own challenges in power dynamics. Understand how to gain influence and use it properly.

Vulnerability relates to different soft spots for different people. While helpful in hostile conditions, it can cause problems under more favorable ones. Vulnerability can be a sign of strength instead of weakness, and it aids intimacy. In this instance, the more vulnerable Fridrik feels, the more defensive he gets; the only person he can submit to willingly is his mate. There are ways to build rapport and to be more vulnerable in relationships. Victor and Igor cleverly capitalize on this by talking about their own weaknesses.

Consent refers to choices made freely with full knowledge. A problem is that sometimes people's consent is impaired when they are sick, injured, drunk, etc. Trauma survivors may also have difficulty thinking logically. This is a huge issue in health care, where it's quicker and easier to violate people's agency than deal with someone's complex psychological and physical needs. Abusing a patient's agency and emotions, however, contributes to the ruinously high rate of PTSD coming out of some health care tracks -- and it does absolutely no good to exchange one life-wrecking, potentially fatal condition for a different one. Supported decision-making respects people's integrity and freedom while shoring up areas they can't handle fluently alone. Here everyone agrees on the same goals (keeping Fridrik's foot attached to his body, and getting him well) but they are somewhat hindered by his psychological damage from previous conflicts. For the most part they solve this by removing obstacles and coaxing gently so that Fridrik reaches a point where he can go along with the good advice he's getting. Janika can get away with being a little more forceful because she's his mate. Teamwork and respect mean that Fridrik will come out of this with his body and relationships intact, hopefully making it a little easier on him the next time something goes wrong.

Diet can greatly improve recovery. There are foods to replace lost blood, knit bones, and heal injured muscles.

See the muscles and bones of wolf anatomy.

Poisoning wolves has long been a popular method of killing them. Historically, plants such as wolf lichen and wolf's bane were used prior to synthetic poisons. Fridrik is touchy about food additives because of this. He knows that it's irrational in this context -- that his friends aren't going to poison him -- but that doesn't make his instincts stop howling at him. So it takes a lot of work to overcome.

Anger can have negative effects on self and others. Victor's father wasn't exactly violent, but had a lot of anger issues, which has left Victor sensitive in this area. There are tips for self-control and anger management.

"Gardez l'eau" means "beware of the water" and comes from French, appearing in assorted versions.

Chicken, egg, and rice is one kind of homemade cat food.

An icebox is a wooden cabinet which holds a block of ice to chill food. They were popular long before refrigerators and freezers were invented. I don't know why the earliest online references only go back to the 1800s, as icehouses date back a lot farther. Maybe it's just the fancy cabinets and long-distance distribution they're focusing on.   Anyhow, the castle's icebox is a big fancy walnut model similar to this. The top two corner doors hold blocks of ice; the rest have shelves behind them. Special tanks capture the icewater as it drains off, so that it may be used for other purposes.
EDIT 3-27-15: [personal profile] librarygeek has helpfully added references for the hisotry of icehouses and a Babylonian icehouse.

Loss of appetite can happen with almost any illness or injury, making it difficult to tell whether it's just a side effect of what already happened or a warning of some fresh hell just arriving. Know how to tempt someone to eat when they don't really feel like it. Ena doesn't even know that's what Igor was doing with the cat food; she just knows that it sounded delicious and like something that Fridrik could be coaxed into trying.

It is well known that doctors make bad patients. This can be because some of them truly are arrogant and impossible to deal with, but it's also because almost none of them will tolerate the kind of manipulation and abuse routinely foisted on people less able to fight back. They are used to having control of their own lives and will not relinquish it without a struggle.  Practices which respect agency are better tolerated, so a place with a lot of doctors as patients is likely to offer excellent service.

Wolf communication includes a wide range of body language and vocalizations. An adult bringing back prey for the cubs will often make a soft woofing noise, which is what Ena uses here.

Justice includes an awareness of appropriate force and punishment. When either is out of proportion with the offense, either too harsh or too weak, that is both unjust and ineffective for managing behavior.

Wolves interact with each other and have complex social behavior. They show affection both physically and vocally. Feeding appears both in cub raising and dominance/submission dynamics. It can be either a display of care for a lower-ranked wolf (good providers are popular) or a way of currying favor with a higher-ranked wolf (subordinates may use food gifts to defuse tension).

The triptych concludes with "The Noblest of All Animals."
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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