Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Returning to a Familiar Sense"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"Returning to a Familiar Sense"

Ambrose waited patiently while
the guard unlocked the door
to Shiv's cell. Travis Vanburen
had made a point of taking calls
for this inmate, ever since
the chayne incident.

He's serious about making up for
pounding that boy,
Ambrose mused,
patting Travis on the shoulder in thanks.

After a minute, Shiv opened the door
from his side, a fall of white-blond hair
half hiding his face as he peeked through
the crack, then pulled the door wider.

As Ambrose slipped into the room,
Shiv dragged the chair away from
its desk and said, "Here, have a seat.
Did you bring it?" He spied the case
that Ambrose had tucked under an arm.
"You actually brought it."

People have lied to him way too often,
Ambrose thought. That makes it
harder for anyone to reach him.

"I promised to manage this for you,
so yes, I brought it," Ambrose said.
He sat down, carefully balancing
the case across his knees. "First,
we need to discuss safety rules."

Shiv dumped himself onto the bed.
"Never mind, then, I'm crap at
following rules and you know it."

"I won't ask for more than you
can give," Ambrose said. "I think
you do just fine with clear rules that
make sense to you. It's the murky
or arbitrary ones you balk over."

One corner of Shiv's mouth
turned up. "Maybe," he said.
Then he sighed. "Okay, hit me."

"In this case is the machete that we
think belongs to you," said Ambrose.
"So you're allowed to touch it, with
your hands and with your superpower,
as long as you don't hurt yourself or
anyone else. Dr. Bloch particularly
impressed on me the importance of
making sure you don't nick yourself
just from being out of practice
with handling sharp things."

Shiv snorted. "Like hell."

"Well, that's what I thought too, but
I didn't tell him so," Ambrose said.
"I think you know exactly where all
the edges are, although I can't speak
to your level of care since I haven't seen
it in action yet. Just make sure nobody
winds up bleeding, and we're good."

Shiv's fingers drummed against
the metal bed frame, a familiar habit.

"Here, let me see your hands first,"
Ambrose said, beckoning.

They closed into fists. "What for."

"So I won't mistake old marks for
new ones, in case you've scuffed up
your hands in the gym," Ambrose said.

Grudgingly Shiv complied, which was progress
of a sort -- it had taken several meetings before
he would willingly allow anyone to touch him.

At least he's getting occasional contact now,
Ambrose thought. I wish he'd reconsider
the Healthy Touch program, but well ...
I guess that's a lost cause

Ambrose looked over the slim bony hands
for any sign of damage, careful to keep
his grip loose enough to avoid
spooking Shiv any worse.

He shared Dr. Bloch's suspicion that
the boy was a cutter, even though that
was usually a feminine coping skill; but
there was no sign of deliberate injury.

"All right, you're fine," Ambrose said
as he let go. "Now I'm not asking you
to behave yourself indefinitely -- just while
we're here, looking over the machete.
It'll be the same in the craft room later.
What do you think about that?"

Shiv blinked at him, clearly thrown off guard by
something. "Just for now? Really?"

"Just until I leave," Ambrose confirmed.
"Please don't take that as encouragement
to act up as soon as I go, but I won't
ask the impossible of you."

"Guess you know me, huh Rosie," he said.

If only, Ambrose thought.

"I'm starting to ... ECR Boy,"
he said aloud.

A smile flickered, no more than the glint of
a snowflake caught in a momentary sunbeam.
It still gave Ambrose hope that Shiv found
the teasing a welcome bit of familiarity,
however unprofessional it might be.

The latches on the case clattered open
and Ambrose lifted out the machete.
Then he closed the lid and settled
the blade on the top of the case.

Shiv leaned forward, fingers twitching,
then visibly jerked himself back.
"It's mine," he said coolly.

Ambrose wondered who had
made a habit of offering him things
and then pulling them away.

Come on, kid. Trust me enough
to give this a try,
he thought.
I'm not doing it just to set you up.

"Go ahead," Ambrose said gently.
"It's yours. You can touch it."

Much more slowly, Shiv reached out
to drift a hand along the blade.
Then his face fell. "Aw, crap."

"What's wrong?" Ambrose asked.
"Did it get damaged somehow?"

Shiv shook his head, pale hair flying.
"No, but -- just look at it!"

Ambrose looked at the machete,
a long elegant curve of stainless steel.
He moved back and forth, letting the light
play over the blade. "It looks fine to -- oh."

From a certain angle, the light caught
faint outlines of the spoons and forks that
had gone into making it, like watermarks.

As much trouble as the bigot variety
of forks have caused recently, that
is not good,
Ambrose thought.

"Um yeah," Shiv said tightly.

"I can see why that would upset you,"
Ambrose said. "Is it stuck like that
once you finish making it, or could
you smooth out those lines now?"

Shiv gave him a look so openly distrustful
that Ambrose realized everyone had really
deserved Dr. G chewing their ears off
about stifling his superpowers.

Well, best start cleaning up the mess
we've made,
he decided.

"You won't get in trouble, as long as you
follow the safety rules," Ambrose said.
"You don't have to change anything if you
don't want to -- it's a handsome piece already.
I just bet it'd look better without forks on it."

Then he waited. Getting any kind of
response out of Shiv was like trying
to feed a feral kitten. You just had
to put down the food, back away,
and hope he was hungry enough.

Shiv's gaze flicked back and forth
between Ambrose and the blade.

His fingers stirred, hesitated,
and then reached out to it.

As Ambrose watched, the boy
picked up the machete and tilted it
this way and that to catch the light,
examining every inch of the blade.

He's smarter than he thinks,
Ambrose realized. He's just better
at practical things like weaponcrafting
than he is at academics. All right,
I can find ways to work with that

Then Shiv's eyes fluttered shut and
his hands moved over the surface.

A soft sigh stirred his bangs
where they hung low over his face,
relief at returning to a familiar sense.

Ambrose couldn't help wondering
what damage had been done by telling
him not to use his superpower, instead of
showing him more constructive things
to do than stabbing people with it.

Because it was beautiful to watch --
the quiet pleasure on Shiv's face, which
was the only time that Ambrose had seen him
really happy, and the way the metal flowed
under his fingertips, smoothing itself until
it shone like a freshly polished sink.

Minutes later, Shiv set down the machete
and stared up at Ambrose through
platinum lashes. "Better?"

Ambrose looked at the gleaming blade.
"May I?" he asked, waving a hand at it.

"You can touch it," Shiv said,
the ironic quirk of his lips
suggesting a deliberate
echo of the phrase.

Ambrose picked it up,
feeling the fine balance,
just a little toward the point
to make chopping easier.

Thank God it's been cleaned,
he thought, remembering its purpose.

The sharpened edge glinted in the light,
but the back side was flat. Ambrose
couldn't resist turning it over his finger
to search for the balance point.

"Quarter inch to your left," Shiv said.

"Hm?" Ambrose said, his attention
more on the blade than the boy.

Shiv snorted, then reached out
to grab Ambrose's hands and
the machete, shifting it slightly.

Just like that, the long knife
floated perfectly at rest.

"Extraordinary," Ambrose said.

Something flickered over Shiv's face,
to quick for him to identify. "If you say so."

He thinks I'm pulling his leg, Ambrose realized.

"Well, I'm no expert like you are, but
the craftsmanship seems very fine to me,"
said Ambrose. "Can you balance it too?"

Shiv shifted the machete from
Ambrose's finger to his own --
and then let go of it.

The blade hung in midair.

Shiv stared at him, open challenge
shining in his silver eyes.

"Well, that has to be the world's best way
of clearing brush without getting
poison ivy," Ambrose said.

The unexpected remark startled Shiv
into a laugh. "Nobody ever put it
like that before," he said.

"Then it shouldn't be too hard
for us to think of even more ways
you could use it," Ambrose said.

"If you're bored enough," Shiv said.
He held out a hand and let the hilt drop
neatly into his palm. Then he tilted his head.
"You're really not afraid of me, even with this."

The faintest shiver stirred through
the coins in Ambrose's pocket and
the metal zipper of his shirt as Shiv
brushed them with his fleeting gift.

No wonder he's fondling everything,
now that he has permission for once,

Ambrose thought. Is it like being blindfolded,
or like Dr. G said, more like chained to a bed?

The questions made Ambrose's skin creep
even more than Shiv's superpower did.

Ambrose held his gaze. "I'm really not,"
he said. "We both know that if you
want me dead, I'm dead. You don't
need a knife -- you could rip loose
the bars or the window glass or even
the floor. Other people may forget it,
but I know that I'm basically trusting you
with my life every time I see you."

"People don't -- don't trust me,"
Shiv said, looking away. "Shouldn't."

"Oops," Ambrose said dryly.
"To be honest, I don't think I'm
your preferred kind of playmate,
and I'm not threatening you, so
it just doesn't seem likely that
you'd want to hurt me."

"Reckon you wouldn't be much fun
to roughhouse with," Shiv said.
"It's just ... been a while, since
I had anything like this." He
stroked the metal fondly.

"I'll take good care of it
for you," Ambrose promised.

"Yeah, I know," Shiv said.

That was unexpected,
Ambrose thought, and
decided to explore further.

"Thank you for trusting me
with it," he said aloud.

Shiv frowned. "I don't trust anyone."

"You don't? Let's think about it,"
Ambrose said. "I'm supposed to put
your machete into a safety deposit box.
Do you think I'll actually do that? Do you
think I'll steal it, or sell it, instead?"

"You couldn't steal anything if
your life depended on it," Shiv said,
shaking his head. "It just doesn't
seem like your thing. Pathetic."

Ambrose set aside his unfortunate equation
of honesty with weakness. "Shiv, that's trust --
it's even characterological trust. You don't
suspect that I would mishandle your things,
because it doesn't match with what you
know of me and what else you've seen
me do. I'm so happy for you."

Shiv wrinkled his nose and fidgeted
with the blade again. "If you say so."

"Mind the edge," Ambrose warned,
just before Shiv's fingers could
stray into more risky territory.

With a sigh, Shiv put the machete
back on top of its case. "You should
probably put that away now, and get
the temptation out of reach. It's
better if I don't get too attached."

There it is again, that tendency
to push away things he wants or
Ambrose noticed. It was
doubtless borne of painful experience
that they wouldn't be there if required.
He'd seen it before in troubled youth.

Shiv had taken up the machete,
though, enough to confirm it was his
and even polish away subtle imperfections.

He was making such progress,
even if he couldn't see it himself --
even if he didn't want to be.

"I'll put this away for now," Ambrose said,
and latched the blade into the case. "Remember
that it's yours, and I'm just keeping it for now.
The safety deposit box is good for a year."

Shiv's forehead wrinkled.
"Still dunno why they'd do that."

"Probably because it's hard to make
good decisions in a hurry," Ambrose said.
He tapped the case. "This is worth real money,
or trade value, and you should think about what
you want to do with it. Sell it, donate it, barter it
back to the prison as a show of good faith ..."

"Yeah well, I suck at that too," Shiv said,
waving a hand at his cell. "Obviously."

It's hard to argue with that,
Ambrose admitted to himself.
Then he reached for a more
diplomatic way to put it.

"I think you've had a shortage of
good options," Ambrose said to Shiv.
"I can send you some worksheets
about how to make good decisions."

"Just what I always wanted," Shiv drawled.

"I aim to please," Ambrose said
as he stood up and stretched.
"Thank you for a nice visit.
You did very well today."

Behind him, Shiv's voice was so soft
that Ambrose could barely hear it. "Rosie ...
how come you're not afraid to die?"

Somehow, he'd made the subtle but
accurate leap from 'not afraid of
a supervillain' to 'not afraid of death.'

Ambrose weighed the usual platitudes,
but in the end he decided to give Shiv
the real answer, quirky as it was.
"Because I made friends with
Silence a long time ago."

"Oh," Shiv said. He got up
and put the chair away.

Then he tagged along as Ambrose
walked to the door, just out of reach,
but still close enough to feel in the
stir of air and faint body heat.

I think I actually got through
to him today,
Ambrose mused.

"You didn't have to go to all of
this trouble, just for me," Shiv said.

"I know," Ambrose said
as he slipped out the door.
"You're welcome anyway."

* * *


Travis Vanburen -- He has pinkish-fair skin, brown eyes, and dark brown hair buzzed short. He has a large frame and a layer of padding over his muscles. Smarter than he looks, Travis does best with emotional intelligence and also excels at convincing people to do what he wants. He is fair and honest. He works as a guard at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. On the downside, Travis often jumps into situations before he has all the information needed to make the right decision. He's serious about making amends for his mistakes, though. After beating up Shiv, he makes a point of apologizing.
Qualities: Good (+2) Conscience, Good (+2) Convincing People, Good (+2) Model Train Collector, Good (+2) Smarter Than He Looks, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Jumps to Conclusions

* * *

"I'm pretty horrible at relationships and haven't been in many long-term ones. Leaving and moving on - returning to a familiar sense of self-reliance and autonomy - is what I know; that feeling is as comfortable and comforting as it might be for a different kind of person to stay."
-- Carrie Brownstein

Distrust can stem from various behaviors, but is especially associated with past abuse as are other problems. These trust issues can damage relationships of any kind. Managing trust and distrust is a necessary life skill. De-escalation and confidence building skills can also help. Forgiveness helps people move on after mishaps.

Safety rules apply to many situations, including children's play and treatment of prisoners. There are tips on how to develop simple rules that work.

Tactile defensiveness can also come from abuse. Shiv actually varies between avoiding stimulation and seeking it out. Know how to help with touch aversion.

Bantering is a type of teasing which can have positive benefits, but is not the same as bullying. It's often used in flirting or to fix relationship problems with humor.

Connection, communication, and acceptance are vital relationship skills. Shiv isn't very good with any of them.

Different types of machete serve different purposes, but all of them are basically variations on the theme of a long chopping blade. Shiv made one similar to this.

Disappointment comes from not getting what you wanted or from not doing as well as you intended. There are ways to deal with disappointment and overcome it, including creative disappointment such as happened here.

Trust building is an important part of growing up and forming relationships. Rebuilding trust is necessary for sustainable relationships, because everyone makes mistakes sometimes and you need ways of regaining trust in each other. Here Ambrose and Travis are trying to make up for some ways they let Shiv down. Even though he has minimal trust in anyone, they still have expectations of themselves.

There are many types of Intelligence, as shown in this graphic. Look at some indicators for these types, and understand how to improve each of them. Shiv does best in visual-spatial and bodily-kinesthetic areas. These are not areas that schools typically support and appreciate, especially the crummy school that he went to -- and his weaker areas include the linguistic and mathematical areas that schools do emphasize. And then this happens.

Mimicking other people is a natural way that children learn, and they also learn when adults imitate them. These are experiences that Shiv mostly, missed, so he's trying to catch up now, not really realizing that's what it is. When it turns into mocking -- as often happens with teenagers -- that can become a problem. Ambrose and Travis are trying to show Shiv the difference between acceptable mimicking and unacceptable mocking. It's working, because he's a lot more malleable than he looks when he's mouthing off.

Testing boundaries is another necessary part of growing up, both for children and for teens. Despite the friction, teens actually want and need secure boundaries. Shiv is starting to push limits with the people around him, sometimes in safe ways like this, other times in less safe ones; and it depends on those people to give him good feedback now, to counteract the crappy feedback he's gotten for most of his life. This is essential because healthy relationships depend on good boundaries.

Personal boundaries come in different types. A common complaint now is Oppositional-Defiant Disorder. The vast majority of the time, this boils down to some variation of "damn brat won't do what I say" and/or "has no tolerance for bullshit." Look closer. It's only a disorder if it costs the person something he wants, and he can't control himself long enough to get it, including an inability to obey reasonable rules and people he respects. If he's simply picky about who and what he obeys, that's actually a good thing. And that's Shiv -- he has a subordinate mode, he just tends to reserve it for the one boss who has treated him decently. So then, adults need to establish age-appropriate rules and consequences, set boundaries with teens, negotiate fairly, and balance accounts.

Courage is the ability to keep going in the face of fear. There are ways to build it. Fearlessness is the quality of not being afraid in the first place, and at high levels, it can actually count as a superpower because it allows you to do things other people could not. There are ways to learn fearlessness and turn fear into fearlessness.

Roughhousing has many benefits, and it can boost intelligence. Understand how to behave so your children will too.

There are some harmful myths about masculinity. Talking about feelings, gentleness, and vulnerability are not signs of weakness -- but a lot of people treat them that way, and it causes problems. Ambrose may seem like a pushover to people who don't know what masterclass peacemaking skills look like, but he really is not.

There are many different aspects of trust. The trouble with trust is that people aren't always as reliable as securely-attached people like to think, which is exactly how Shiv wound up dismissive-avoidant. Relationships tend to move between different levels of trust. Traits may also be distinguished between characterological (inherent to a person and relatively immutable) or behavioral (rooted in actions and thus much easier to change). So characterological trust is based on who the person is, and also contrasts with general trust in people as a whole. Know the signs of trust and trustworthiness.

Decision making allows people to choose a path through life. However, you can only choose from the options within reach, and for poor or other disadvantaged people, there are usually no good options. So while it looks like they're making bad decisions, they're often making the least-bad decision out of a lousy range. Problem solving is a way to make good decisions. There are tools that can help, such as this pro-and-con worksheet, decision-making model, considering gut feelings, decision-making tree, ethical process, ethical worksheet, problem-solving worksheet, and ethical analysis.

Most Americans have an overwhelming fear of death, and in fact, they tend to think there's something wrong with you if you don't. You can take steps to overcome fear of death and make peace with dying.

Quaker beliefs are pretty eclectic, but also very wise. They have their own approaches to death and funeral customs.
Ambrose thinks of death as a mystery -- as a surprise. He's pretty sure that it is followed by the commonly held expectations of ascension to a higher realm, divine presence, and reunion with loved ones. But he's also okay with the idea of death as dissolution, because he has learned that Silence is not without sound and meaning of its own. Basically, everyone else prays by talking to God. Quakers pray by listening to God. Fortunately Ambrose stopped talking before he scared the crap out of poor Shiv, who is in no way ready for more than one sentence at a time of Quaker wisdom.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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