WARNING: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes a bond gone awry, relationship problems, boundary violations, severe communication trouble, domestic violence in its more controversial mutual mode, injuries significant enough to require a trip to the clinic, messy medical details, social disapproval from various angles, ignoring sound medical advice, grudging assistance, acute stress response, and other mayhem. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"More Hurtful Than Anything That Bleeds"
Cal drove home from work in
a foul mood, because the bond had
been a sharp chest pain for three days
and only this afternoon faded down
to a deep, unpleasant twinge.
The secret identity itched so much
that Cal finally stopped at a gas station
and shifted from Calvin to Calliope. All she
had to wear was the pink-and-blue uniform
in her go-bag, but it was still better than
pretending to be a man one more minute.
With a sigh of relief, Calliope finally
pulled into her garage, shut off the car,
and climbed out to stretch herself.
Then someone grabbed her around the chest.
Calliope lashed out with all her strength,
heard the wet smack of fist on flesh
and a pained yelp of surprise.
She found Vagary staring at her with
a shocked look, hand cupping his mouth.
Then he bolted through the unlocked house door.
Calliope stalked after him, her whole body
humming with the anger and hurt of
this fresh violation of her home.
She found that Vagary had locked himself
in her bathroom, the stained-glass door
mocking her with its elegant finality --
and Calliope couldn't just go outside
to water a tree like Calvin could.
"Well, fine then," she muttered,
and went to change clothes.
Her bedroom door, too, had a window
of stained glass set into the top of it
and a sidelite on the left, although
it showed a different design of
abstract circles and blocks.
Tracing the familiar lines of it
helped quiet her jangled nerves
and calm her down enough to think.
Inside, her bedroom was a soothing refuge
of robin's egg blue accented with gray, white,
and a few hints of peach. Overhead, the ceiling
held a skyscape with clouds of cotton-candy pink.
Her uniform was flecked with blood, so
Calliope shucked it off and changed into
a comfortable tracksuit, just in case
Vagary wanted to fight some more.
She dropped her dirty uniform into
the laundry closet on the way out.
Just as she arrived, Vagary
came out of the bathroom with
one of her good rose handtowels
pressed tightly over his mouth.
Then she realized it wasn't
rose after all, it was white,
and rapidly turning red.
Vagary shifted the handtowel
enough to mumble, "Hey, Cal ...
'y li' is cut alla way through. I need
a ride t'the clinic. Are you driving 'e,
or should I just call a ca' instead?"
"Don't you have people for
this sort of thing?" Calliope said.
She had thought Kraken took
good care of its minions.
"Yeah, 'ut ... I don't wanna 'ull
that string for this," he said,
his whole body slumping.
Calliope felt awful. Vagary
had attacked her -- again! --
but he looked so miserable that
she felt guilty for defending herself.
Peeking over his shoulder, she could see
the white sink spattered with blood.
"I'll drive you," she said quietly.
"Go get an ice pack from the freezer.
I need to use the bathroom before we go."
And clean up the blood before it stained.
A few minutes later, she loaded
her battered supervillain into the car
and drove to the community clinic.
"What happened?" asked the receptionist
at the window in the waiting room.
"I crossed a line and she hit 'e,"
Vagary said through the towel.
The receptionist glared at Calliope.
"If you want to press charges, sir,
then I'll need to call the police, but
first let's take care of the injuries."
"He has a split lip and probably
needs stitches," Calliope clarified,
"because he jumped me from behind."
"No 'olice," Vagary said firmly.
"Just 'ix 'y 'ace so I can go."
"This way, please," said a nurse,
but when Calliope tried to follow them,
the older woman added, "You stay here,
we won't let you take another swing at him."
"They want to 'ake sure you're not
'eating 'e," Vagary said. "So they
need to talk with 'e alone."
Calliope watched them go.
"Here, you can start filling out
the paperwork while you wait,"
the receptionist told her, handing
over a tablet computer.
"Wait, I don't have any idea
what to put!" Calliope protested.
"We are not together."
The receptionist sighed. "He's
going to give us a number instead
of a name and then scram, isn't he?"
"I don't know," Calliope said. "We
bump into each other sometimes,
but I don't really know him."
In fact it was strange to realize how
little she knew someone to whom
she had a mystical connection,
however unwelcome the bond.
Then the receptionist said, "Are you
injured too, or is that all his blood?"
Startled, Calliope looked down
and realized that her right hand was
dripping a slow trail of red on the floor.
The first knuckle had a half-inch cut
along the back of it, probably from
hitting Vagary's teeth earlier.
Of course, now that she could see it,
Calliope realized how much it hurt.
"Uh ... some of it's mine," she admitted.
That got her ushered into the back
and placed the care of an Asian doctor
who was as fierce as she was petite,
and had evidently heard all about
the split lip in Procedure Room 1.
Calliope sat down, answered
questions in a clipped monotone,
and repeated yet again that Vagary was
not her husband, boyfriend, or anything else.
She endured the stabbing cramp of
the tetanus booster and the sharper sting
of the local anaesthetic, but after that, the pain
melted away and she wound up feeling like
the damaged hand wasn't even hers.
But then she often felt that way about her body.
Dr. Yeung cleaned the short ugly cut on
the first knuckle, the ragged abrasions on
the second, and the smaller scrapes and
bruises that spread down Calliope's fingers.
The doctor decided that Calliope's hand
would heal better if glued and splinted rather
than stitched. So Calliope wound up with
a brace strapped over her first two fingers
and halfway up her forearm for support.
As the doctor worked, she explained
how to take care of the wound so it
would heal properly, and what
warning signs to watch out for.
Calliope listened with the half of her mind
that wasn't still seething at Vagary or
stewing in guilt. Or both. Fortunately
it was all stuff she remembered from
her first aid training at SPOON.
"If you have any problems, as defined
on this page of aftercare instructions,
call your regular doctor or come back
here," said Dr. Yeung. Then she gave
Calliope another stack of brochures about
domestic abuse and anger management.
"Read these while you're at it, please."
"Fine," Calliope gritted. "Anything else?"
Two bottles of pills rattled onto the tray.
"I'm prescribing enough painkillers for
tonight and tomorrow; after that, switch down
to over-the-counter ones," said Dr. Yeung.
"Take the antibiotic for the whole two weeks."
Calliope struggled to gather up the bottles
along with the sheaf of papers, until
Dr. Yeung took mercy on her and put
everything into a plastic bag.
Finally released from Procedure Room 2,
Calliope went in search of her nemesis, who
was just coming out of Procedure Room 1
with a frustrated physician trailing him.
Vagary had a line of tidy black sutures
trailing from a point near the right corner
of his mouth halfway down to his chin,
and his wobbly steps implied painkillers.
Calliope felt another pang of guilt, and
waved to him. "Over here," she said.
"Nothing 'roken, just cut'n 'ruised,"
Vagary said. "I'ready to go when --
what happened to your hand?!"
"I cut my knuckle on your teeth."
"Sorry," Vagary said.
His shoulders drooped.
"No, don't be sorry for that.
You are not responsible for me
hurting my hand on your face,"
Calliope said, shaking her head.
"If you want to apologize for something,
start with attacking me from behind."
"I wasn't attacking you, Cal, I
was hugging you," Vagary said,
hunching even further into himself.
"It had 'een so long, and I just --"
"Stop. Talking," Dr. Darzi said testily,
as if he'd been saying it for a while
with absolutely no impact.
Calliope could sympathize with
the poor man. Trying to talk to Vagary
was like shouting at a brick wall.
Surprisingly, this time Vagary shut up.
Dr. Yeung stepped into the lull.
"Since this sounds like a first incident,
I will give you one chance to clean up
your act," she told them. "If either of you
come back to this clinic sporting another
interpersonal injury, I will call the police."
Calliope and Vagary both leaned back.
The doctor was tiny but formidable.
"That just discourages people from
seeking medical care," Dr. Darzi said
as he rubbed the bridge of his nose.
Then he turned to Calliope and Vagary.
"However, I hope you two will choose
to work on being more gentle with
each other, and yourselves."
"Good advice," Calliope said, then
turned her attention to wrapping up
the technical details of the visit.
Vagary had more or less zoned out
while leaning against the wall beside
the window of the reception desk, so
Calliope snapped her fingers to wake
him up and pointed him toward the car.
They drove in silence for a few minutes
while Calliope tried to figure out how
to compensate for her limited dexterity.
"I think we should try cou'les counseling,"
Vagary said out of the broad blue sky.
"What?!" Calliope said. As she
turned a corner, the car thumped
against the curb. "For the last time,
there is no 'we' and no relationship."
"It's not just for 'arried 'eople,"
Vagary said. "I checked. It's for
anyone ha'ing trou'le -- coworkers,
si'ling ri'alry, that sorta thing."
"I have enough headwork on my plate
already, without you adding more,"
Calliope said, squeezing the wheel.
"Why are you even bringing this up?"
Then she flinched and eased up.
It was a fucking nuisance to drive
with two fingers splinted, and it hurt,
because the anaesthetic was wearing off,
and she couldn't take the pain pills
until she got back home.
"You thought I attacked you,"
Vagary said. "I didn't -- I ne'er
'eant it that way. You didn't
'eel it at all, did you?"
"Feel what?" Calliope asked,
struggling to make a turn without
bumping over the curb again.
"The 'ond," Vagary said. "I went to
Euro'e on assign'ent, and 'y the third day,
it hurt so 'uch, I couldn't work. Our healer
had to 'ut 'e to slee' on the ride ho'e. When
I got 'ack, it 'elt 'etter, 'ut I still needed to see
you. When you ca'e in, it was such a relief, I
hugged you ... 'ut you didn't e'en know it was 'e."
Calliope imagined seeing someone that she
desperately missed, and hugging hello,
only to get smacked for her trouble.
That image made her cringe inside.
"I felt like crap, and I was focused on getting
home," Calliope admitted. "You're right, I
had no idea who it was, just that someone
grabbed me, so I fought back instinctively."
"I won't let you hit 'e," Vagary said,
lifting his chin. "It's not right."
"What?" Calliope said. "We hit
each other all the time! You should
know that, because you started it."
Vagary shook his head, then winced.
"No. That's di'erent. Street 'ights
are one thing, 'ut you hit 'e at ho'e."
"It's not like we were arguing and I
belted you for disagreeing with me,"
Calliope said. "I thought someone
was trying to rape or murder me!"
"Oh," Vagary said. His fingers
picked at the corner of his brochures.
He had a lot of the same ones that
Calliope had gotten at the clinic.
She sighed. He'd scared her
half to death and gotten them both
hurt, without even meaning it.
"Well, at least the injuries
weren't serious," Calliope said.
"There are wounds that ne'er show
on the 'ody that are dee'er and 'ore hurt'ul
than anything that 'leeds," Vagary said.
"What do you mean by that?"
Calliope asked uneasily.
"That 'y associates are already worried
for 'e, 'ecause I hadda talk to the' a'out
so'e o' what's ha'ening," Vagary said.
"That's why I didn't want to tell the' a'out
today -- I was a'raid they 'ight take it out
on you, or worse, try to 'orce a se'aration."
"I would be okay with that," Calliope said.
"I wouldn't," Vagary said, looking out the window.
"Listen, I know you hate the 'ond, and 'e, and
everything. I'not ha'y a'out it 'yself -- don't you
think I asked a'out other solutions a'ter you
kicked 'e out? I wish it were di'erent, 'ut it's
not 'ading any 'urther, and trying to se'er it
would just do a lotta da'age to 'oth o'us.
I'not willing to take that kinda risk, Cal."
Calliope's stomach lurched at
the reminder that this was probably
permanent and could get worse
if they tried to mess with it.
"What do you want?" she said,
turning onto her own street.
"Like I said, can't just kee' hurting
each other like this. We need to work
this out 'etween us. We tried doing
that 'y oursel'es and it's not enou--ow."
He dabbed at his lip and came away
with fingertips smudged red.
"Stop talking," Calliope said. "If you
reopen that split, it won't heal properly.
Just ... table the topic for now, and
we'll talk about it tomorrow after
the scab is more secure. Okay?"
Vagary nodded, although he still didn't
look happy about it. He fished a packet
of gauze out of his pocket and pressed
a wad of it firmly over his split lip.
Calliope pulled into her garage.
"Here we are," she declared, then
shut off the car and got out.
Vagary fumbled with the door handle.
"When's the last 'us?" he asked,
almost falling out of the car.
He was talking again. Maybe
Dr. Darzi should have sewn
his whole damn mouth shut.
"Oh for -- I am not putting you
on a bus when you're drugged to
the eyeballs!" Calliope said. "I
don't have a guest room, but there
is a hide-a-bed couch in my living room.
You're staying here for the night.
Don't make me regret this."
Vagary just stood there,
blinking slowly at Calliope.
"Why are you still in the garage?" she said.
"You don't like 'e in the house," he said.
"You always yell, e'en when you don't hit."
Calliope didn't like the mental image
that brought up, so she shook it off and
took him -- carefully -- by the elbow
to guide him through the house
and into the living room.
"Your house is 'euti'ul.
I don't think I e'er said that
'efore," Vagary mumbled.
Calliope opened her mouth
to snap at him, because her home
was really none of his business --
-- then remembered that painkillers
disabled filters and made some people
say things they'd find embarrassing
after they sobered up later.
That left her feelings in a painful jumble,
so Calliope just said, "Thank you."
The living room wasn't set up
for guests, so they'd have to fix that
now, even if they both felt like crap.
"Drag that out of the way," she instructed,
pointing at the round wooden coffee table, and
Vagary gave her an owlish look before obeying.
Calliope tossed cushions from the couch
onto the nearest chair. Then she pulled
the strap with her one working hand, and
the bed creaked into its open position.
She put one of the wide yellow throw pillows
at the head of the bed and said, "There you go."
Vagary kicked off his shoes. Then he
struggled out of his overshirt and pants,
leaving only the t-shirt and boxer shorts. He
crawled into bed and under the thin sheet.
He made no move toward anything warmer,
even though he was shivering, probably
from the lingering shock of his injury.
Calliope grabbed the green-and-gold quilt
of Dorothy and the tornado from the back of
the couch and dropped it over Vagary.
"You may use the living room and
the bathroom," she said. "Do not
come near my bedroom or mess with
the rest of my home. Understood?"
The lump under the quilt nodded.
"Good. I'm going to bed," said Calliope,
and retreated to the safety of her bedroom.
She hadn't eaten supper, and probably
neither had Vagary, but she didn't have
the energy to cook, and just fuck it.
Calliope ate one of the meal bars
that she kept for emergencies, then
followed it with one of the pain pills,
and finally washed it all down
with a large bottle of water.
Then she lay down in her bed and
tried to imagine herself floating to sleep
through the cotton-candy clouds above.
Maybe the world would suck less in the morning.
* * *
Calliope (Calvin Sanna) -- Calliope comes from Oklahoma; the father's family is Greek-American, while the mother's family is American. Calliope has light olive skin with gray eyes and short hair in shades of lighter and darker blond. Cal is demiromantic demisexual. She speaks English, Greek, and Esperanto.
Origin: Sucked into a tornado.
Uniform: Feminine-styled costume of dexflan and capery in dusty shades of pink, blue, lavender, and cream.
Qualities: Good (+2) Consideration, Good (+2) Flexible, Good (+2) Handiwork, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) Word Puzzles
Poor (-2) Distractible
Powers: Expert (+4) Air Powers (meta-power including Flight, Phasing, Sonic Blast, Tornado Straws, Whirlwind, Windtalking), Average (0) Empathy, Average (0) Shapeshifting
Vulnerability: Air Powers are opposed by Earth Powers. Some Air abilities do not work on an Earth-powered opponent, and vice versa, typically those meant to affect a person directly. Others gain an upshift on damage, typically attacks.
Limitation: So far the Shapeshifting only works to switch between Calvin and Calliope. As the power improves, additional shapes may be gained.
Vagary (Abelardo Bennett) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and dark hair with a short beard and moustache. His very mixed heritage includes Jewish, Spanish, German, and Italian. He enjoys taking tours at museums, art galleries, caves, parks, monuments, anywhere he can be part of a group without people expecting him to be charming. He also loves strategy games, with a particular taste for area-control ones.
Vagary currently works for the supervillain organization Kraken. He is a competent spy, adept at both planting and stealing small items as well as eavesdropping. He specializes in fishing for information by hanging around places of power in semi-public or taking tours, and skimming for valuable thoughts. Kraken has considered him for officer training, held back primarily by his shyness and poor social skills; so far he has only taken the lead in a few small teams.
Origin: Abelardo was kicked out of his rather conservative home for "sexual confusion." A Kraken officer recruited him by providing acceptance of whatever he turned out to be. Abelardo never has really nailed down his sexual orientation or identity, but unlike his family, Kraken doesn't care. The organization offered him the gamble of taking a potent metagen; he accepted, and developed superpowers.
Uniform: Kraken uniform of dexflan and capery; the jumpsuits is sensibly designed with sleek fit, plenty of pockets and fasteners for equipment. It provides Expert (+4) Camouflage to a designated user, but if worn by anyone else, turns garish neon colors. The utility belt contains a multitude of small gizmos and other tools, along with a holster for the Confusticator zap gun which causes disorientation and short-term memory loss. Off-duty, Abelardo favors business casual, most often trousers and a polo shirt.
Qualities: Good (+2) Flexible, Good (+2) Gamer, Good (+2) Patience, Good (+2) Spy, Good (+2) Touring
Poor (-2) Social Skills
Powers: Average (0) Phase, Average (0) Telepathy
Limitation: His Telepathy is usually restricted to skimming strong signals from the ambient pitch pool, rather than reading another person directly. If he phases through someone, it functions at Good level and he can read them directly, but he feels very uncomfortable doing that.
Motivation: To explore while unobserved.
Dr. Ibrahim Darzi -- He has toffee skin and brown eyes. His hair and beard were originally dark, but now liberally sprinkled with gray and white hairs. He works at the Clara Barton Community Clinic in Stillwater, Oklahoma where Calliope goes. He's a good doctor, and assertive enough to make even ruffians mind him. If people don't listen, though, he gets impatient and tends to nag.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Doctor, Expert (+4) Stern, Good (+2) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Good (+2) Muslim, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Nag
Dr. Jia-li Yeung -- People tend to mispronounce her name as "Julie Young," but she figures close enough is good enough. She has golden skin, almond-shaped brown eyes, and long straight brown hair just past her shoulders. She works at the Clara Barton Community Clinic where Calliope goes. In addition to practicing medicine, Jia-li also assists survivors of family violence and other forms of assault. With fractious people, however, she can be assertive to the point of aggressive. As a hobby she enjoys playing traditional Chinese games such as mahjong and go.
Qualities: Good (+2) Chinese Games, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Doctor, Good (+2) Reading People, Good (+2) Survivor Support
Poor (-2) Aggressive
* * *
"There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds."
-- Quotes on Abuse, in poster
Cal's house is modest in size but beautifully decorated. The exterior has warm gray stone at the base with pinkish-gray siding above. The siding color is called "pigeon." Formerly owned by a municipal artist, the house has several stained glass windows and doors. See the first floor plan and the second floor plan.
This is the back door to the garage, and the garage side window.
Here is Cal's bedroom door, her bedroom, and the ceiling mural.
The washer and dryer are tucked into a laundry closet with storage cabinets.
This is the bathroom. The door between the bathroom and the rest of the house matches that same style of frosted stained glass with pink and gold accents. The toilet is in a little paneled alcove with a low privacy wall, and a medicine cabinet on the wall above it. The sink has a linen cabinet beside it. This is the bathroom ceiling fan with medallion mural.
The walls in the living room are painted "desert peach." This is the living room chandelier with medallion stencil. Here is Cal's Wizard of Oz quilt, with closeups of the tornado and Dorothy.
See the dining room and the kitchen.
This is the door to the bonus room at the top of the stairs. It has a reading nook in the dormer.
See Calliope's tracksuit.
A split lip may be minor or more serious, depending on the size and placement of the injury. It is a common wound in cases of domestic violence. Know the first aid for it. A split that goes all the way through the lip is unlikely to heal well without expert care.
Here is the Clara Barton Community Clinic in Stillwater, Oklahoma. See the outside and the floor plan. This is the reception desk. There are separate exam rooms for routine care and more elaborate procedure rooms for urgent care. This is the office. A notable feature of Terramagne-America's health care system is that it distributes facilities widely to spread out the workload, similar to the National Health Service in local-United Kingdom. That means things which need prompt care but are not life-threatening go either to community clinics like this or the urgent care section of a hospital, instead of clogging emergency rooms meant for problems that can cripple or kill within an hour. That distribution means people can get help more-or-less immediately instead of waiting for hours. They also figured out that some people don't have or refuse to produce identification, which makes that a barrier to care; they lowered it by offering the option of name or a randomly-generated ID number to tag cases. Community clinics are customarily supported by local, state, and/or federal funds. Some of them ask for payment on a sliding scale, but many are just plain free in the interest of public health.
Domestic abuse often leads to clinic visits. Here's a questionnaire about relationship health. Caregivers are encouraged to watch for signs of abuse and offer support, but are not legally required to report it except when someone has gun or knife injuries. In T-America, reporting knife injuries is also optional. However, health workers have the same right as anyone else to report a crime if they choose to do so, and it's not rare to see arguments like this where they disagree with each other over whether or not to report things and why. There are tips on how nurses can help. Most importantly, questions should be asked carefully and with attention to individual needs -- not as some institutions mandate, asked of everyone routinely, which is insulting to everyone not involved in domestic abuse and intrusive to those who are but prefer not to disclose it. Start with general inquiries and go deeper if the person is receptive, but respect boundaries if they resist.
Battered men have special issues, because they are the hidden victims -- people expect abuse survivors to be female, and most professional materials are worded that way. There are few resources for battered men, but the vast majority are for women only. Vagary is unusual in drawing a line and seeking help the first time. Most survivors wait much longer, and leave an abusive relationship an average of seven times before staying out. Leaving is a poor option for these two, so they have more incentive to fix the problem.
Finger injuries are common; a cut that goes over a knuckle is one reason to seek professional care. Human bites also merit a trip to the clinic, and cutting knuckles on someone's teeth counts as a human bite for health care purposes. Regarding first aid for messy hand injuries, listen to the people who get them all the time, and see mountain biker first aid tips. Health workers know clinical practices and treat many wounds, but may not see the follow-through. People who have had dozens of messy little injuries learn what works best by watching it over time.
There are plenty of brochures about domestic abuse, but they don't cover everything. Here are general, dating violence, and male victim brochures. This page explains different types of abuse. I found very little aimed at helping people recognize and stop their own violent behavior, and what bits I found were bad. So there's almost nothing for the person who realizes they're being too rough and wants to stop. Notice that there's a huge difference between people who recognize a problem and want to solve it vs. people who won't admit it and think their behavior is fine. Calliope and Vagary are both getting uncomfortable with the level of trouble they're having in this relationship. Happily, T-America offers a wider selection of materials and something like "Could You Be Hurting Someone?" or "When You Are the Abuser" are common inclusions in a packet.
Anger is a natural and necessary emotion, but too much can cause problems. There are brochures on expressing emotion, feeling angry, and anger management. For people who feel powerless to control their anger -- a very common condition -- support groups with that premise may help, such as Emotions Anonymous or Rageaholics Anonymous. Bullying brochures sometimes address questions of whether you could be hurting people. This is the most useful post I found on how to stop abusing others.
Gentleness is a virtue. That includes taking care of yourself and being gentle with your pain. Gentleness is also crucial for healthy relationships. Calliope and Vagary are downright clumsy at most of this, but at least they're trying. Know how to be a gentle person.
Acute stress reaction, or emotional shock, is a physical and psychological response immediately after traumatic experiences. Most cases clear up within a few days or weeks; if it lasts longer than a month, then seriously consider professional help. It is usually treated with emotional first aid for yourself or others in distress, which reduces the possibility of someone needing medication or more serious therapy. T-America also has Emotional Trauma Care, which is what a hospital Shock Room is equipped to provide, in the interest of preventing PTSD. You can see both Calliope and Vagary showing assorted symptoms -- they drift in and out of alertness, handling some things well and others badly.