WARNING: This poem contains some intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. Ricasso asks Gray to help with a voluntary punishment, because Zhonn finds pain a useful reminder but his African ancestry makes him very prone to scarring. The racial aspects are handled mindfully, but this is a real issue in the kink community and even worse among non-kinky African-American folks. The poem contains delicate racial dynamics, discussion of medical details, practicing kink, exchanging roles, a minor performance mishap, use of a switch replacer forcefully enough to draw blood, intense emotions, physical discipline, voluntary use of a superpower to cause pain, an Italian-American man petting an African-American man's hair, and other challenges. On the whole, it's a positive poem. Please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"For the Sake of Reformation"
Gray was stacking free weights
in the gym when his boss Ricasso
came in and said, "I'd like to see you in
my office after you finish that. I'm hoping
you'll agree to help me with something."
"Yes, boss," said Gray.
He racked the last few weights,
ran the broom over the floor,
then went to Ricasso's office.
Along with the boss was
another gangmate, Zhonn,
one of their enforcers.
"What can I do for you, boss?"
Gray asked as he went in.
"We'd like to make use of
your superpower, if you're
amenable," Ricasso said,
then looked at Zhonn.
"Ah, I need a whippin' today,"
Zhonn said. "I mixed up the days
in the new schedule, went to
the wrong position, and that
cost us an important contact."
"Okay," Gray said. "Why
not just ask the boss to do it?
He usually handles the discipline."
"I have done that for Zhonn before,
and I will again if you decline,"
Ricasso said. "Zhonn, you don't
have to explain, but if you do,
it might help Gray decide."
Zhonn sighed. "It's my skin,"
he said. "It looks pretty light,
but it's all African when it's cut."
"Scarring is a serious risk for him,"
Ricasso added. "We have to work
very carefully to avoid it, because
any significant break can scar."
"If it's that risky, then why do it
at all?" Gray wondered.
"Because it helps me remember,"
Zhonn said. "I know it sounds nutty,
but it's true. It always worked great
for learning new rules when I was
little, so I've kept doing it."
"Okay, if it works for you, let's
stick with that," Gray agreed.
"How bad of a scar problem
are we talking, though?"
He knew that dark skin had
more tendency to mark permanently,
and was more difficult to read for bruising
or other damage, because Ricasso had
covered those points in kink lessons.
"Easier to show than tell," Zhonn said,
then peeled off his t-shirt and turned around.
A thick, ugly band of scar tissue
marred his left shoulderblade,
standing up more than a fingerwidth
above the surrounding skin, which was
the color of white chocolate mocha.
"That looks unpleasant," Gray said.
"Yeah, it itches when my shirt rubs it,
and after while it gets big enough to hurt,"
Zhonn said. "Once or twice a year I have
to get it cut down, but it keeps growing back."
"May I touch the scar?" Gray asked,
his hand hovering over the dark ridge.
"It might help me get a feel for you."
"Okay," Zhonn said. "Just don't scratch,
that makes it itch even more."
"I'll be careful," Gray promised,
and he was, trailing his fingertips
lightly over the runkled skin.
There was a ... snag, or something,
in the nerves there, that he could
feel with his superpower but not see.
Maybe that had to do with why
the scar tissue piled up.
"No wonder you don't want to risk
more of this," Gray said. "Of course I'll
help you, Zhonn. I'm honored you asked."
"Thanks," Zhonn said gratefully.
On the inside, Gray felt a little hesitant
as the prospect of this activity.
Not only was this a new application of
his superpower, but also Gray was about
as white as they came while Zhonn was --
fair skin notwithstanding -- a black man.
Ricasso, being first-generation American,
had little background in local race relations
so had only advised Gray to consider
possible complications in play, without
going into any more detail.
It was a delicate situation, but if
Zhonn trusted Gray enough to make
this request in the first place, then
Gray would not let him down.
"What do you need me to do?"
Gray asked. "Anything specific?"
"A switch works best for me,"
Zhonn said. "My mama used to cut
willow switches out back. They'd sting,
but they didn't leave worse'n scratches."
"I don't have a pattern yet for
switch strokes," Gray admitted.
One of the things he had learned
about his superpower was that he
could copy a specific type of pain if
he paid attention when it happened,
whether to him or someone else.
Ricasso gave them a thin smile.
"I took that into account," he said,
laying a switch replacer on his desk.
As he preferred for disciplinary tools,
the handle was black, although the switch
itself consisted of some limber white polymer.
"So what's the plan, you lay a few strokes
on me so I can learn what it feels like,
and then I do Zhonn?" asked Gray.
"Actually, no," said Ricasso.
"You're going to whip me first."
"Aww, boss," groaned Zhonn.
Ricasso lifted a hand. "For you,
Zhonn, watching this will be part of
your punishment," he said. "For Gray,
it is practice. For me, a chance to assess
his skill before I let him lay it on anyone else."
Gray lifted his gaze from the switch,
moving up to meet Ricasso's gaze.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked.
"I'm sure," Ricasso said. "I've seen
you practice on the pillows. You're ready
to try your hand on a person now."
"Yes, boss," Gray said.
It wouldn't be the first time they had
traded roles, but it would be the first
with anyone else watching them do it.
Gray still felt nervous, and had
to focus so as not to fidget.
Ricasso took off his trousers
and folded them neatly on the desk.
Then he leaned against the wall.
"Gray, you may begin with flat strokes
across my thighs," Ricasso said.
Gray took a deep breath and
centered himself, then lay the switch
gently over Ricasso's legs to measure
the distance and the position.
Then he took the first swing.
It wasn't very hard, just enough
to leave a faint pink line behind,
and Gray picked up the imprint
quite easily with his superpower.
The next stroke was harder,
a nice medium zing, positioned
one switch-width below the first.
The third was quite hard,
enough to make Ricasso hiss
and Zhonn wince in sympathy.
"That's a good set," Gray declared.
"All right, now move up to my butt and
do some followthroughs," Ricasso ordered.
"You may as well get a complete set now,
and let Zhonn decide how much he needs."
Gray hesitated, because that would
hurt a lot more, but he understood
the reasoning behind the command.
"Yes, boss," he said again.
Gray gauged his position carefully,
drew back, and swung the switch.
He could feel the blow go wrong.
Instead of pulling through cleanly,
the end of the switch dragged
along the skin in a sloppy curve.
"Not good enough," Ricasso said.
"Don't hesitate when you swing,
or you'll just wind up hurting me more.
You need to commit to the stroke, Gray.
Do it again, and this time, do it right."
Gray shook himself and returned
to his stance, paying attention
to where he wanted to aim.
This time the blow struck true,
and Ricasso yelped at the impact.
The pain of it was a blaze
in Gray's mind, in his power.
Then he checked the skin.
"Shit, you're bleeding," he said,
looking at the long red stripes.
"Get the first aid kit, you know
where it is," Ricasso said calmly.
He stood still while Gray cleaned
the welt, which was really more of
a long shallow graze than a cut.
The tip had left a thumb-sized bruise
at the end of the line, though.
Gray sprayed a layer of liquid skin
over all the marks just to make sure
they would heal cleanly and not
get irritated by cloth later.
"All done, boss," Gray said, and
put the kit back where it belonged.
"Good job," Ricasso said, and that
warmed a spot inside Gray that
nothing else could touch so well.
"Zhonn?" said Gray.
The enforcer looked like
he was about to cry.
"Sorry, boss," he said.
Ricasso tugged him close
and touched his forehead
to the other man's, their eyes
a private line of communication.
Something about it settled Zhonn.
"That's better," said Ricasso.
"Now strip down so that Gray can
give you that memento you wanted."
"Yes, boss," said Zhonn.
He put his t-shirt back on
and dropped his jeans.
"It's more precise if I touch you,
so I'm going to lay the strokes with
my fingers," Gray warned him.
"I'll pause after each one,
and you can tell me whenever
you've had enough of this."
"Okay," Zhonn said as he leaned
against the wall. "Go ahead."
Gray took a moment to formulate
his strategy. This wasn't a session
meant for sensual pleasure, so he
didn't want to do a whole warmup, but
he did want to give Zhonn a fair chance
to gauge his talent and decide whether it
was acceptable before reaching full force.
Touching his fingertips to Zhonn's leg,
Gray made the first light stroke.
"Wow!" Zhonn said. He twisted around,
trying to see the back of his own thigh.
"It doesn't leave marks," Gray assured him.
Zhonn reached back and ran his fingers
over his own skin. "That's amazing,"
he said with a grin. "Hit me again."
"The next one will be harder,"
Gray warned him, and lay down
a medium stroke just below the first.
Zhonn's breath caught, but
he said, "Keep going."
Gray moved up to the hardest
of the flat strokes next.
"Ow!" Zhonn said. "Okay,
that's a good cruise mode.
Should take a minute or two
at that level to set the reminder."
Ricasso recited the current schedule
from memory to help Zhonn learn it.
Gray worked up a steady rhythm
of strokes against Zhonn's thighs,
enjoying the bright zing of pain
sparking through his superpower.
One of the interesting things that
Gray had discovered about his kink
was that he was more than one kind
of switch: If it was erotic for his partner,
then he got aroused too; but if it wasn't,
then he got a completely different and
more intellectual thrill out of the scene.
He rather liked the idea of
being a service top.
Zhonn panted, pressing his head
against the wall for support as
Gray laid invisible stripes
across his upper thighs.
"Getting close?" Ricasso asked.
"Yeah," Zhonn said.
"Notch it up," Ricasso told Gray.
"A few followthroughs should
push him past the threshold. He'll
tell you when he's had enough."
"Okay," Gray said.
Zhonn yipped and flinched
under the harder blows,
even though there was no
physical impact to push him
against the wall like that.
After the third stroke,
Zhonn yelled, "Enough!
I'm sorry, I'll remember now."
"Well done," Ricasso said.
"Gray, get him settled."
It was different, doing aftercare
for someone with no physical marks.
The emotional impact was similar,
but Gray was still working out
how to handle the differences.
Gray coaxed Zhonn into a chair
and smoothed his hands over
the larger man's damp skin.
"Do you want me to lift the afterglow,
or let it fade naturally?" Gray asked.
"Leave it," Zhonn said. "It's not
anything more than I can handle,
and it's a good reminder."
His breathing still sounded ragged,
though, not quite crying but
on the edge of it.
Gray wondered what else he
could do to help, then realized
that just because there was no
physical damage, didn't prevent
him from providing physical comfort.
He retrieved the first aid kit and
got out the tube of skin food.
"Zhonn, stand up for a minute
so I can put this on," Gray said.
Zhonn stood up, and Gray
smoothed the rich cream over
his thighs with gentle strokes.
The contact seemed to reassure Zhonn,
and after a moment he gave a deep sigh.
Gray looked up from his work
to see that Ricasso had stepped in
to give Zhonn something to lean
against, and now Zhonn was draped
over their boss' shoulder, limp with relief.
Ricasso cupped the back of Zhonn's neck
and then gently stroked the long, thin braids
that made a heavy fringe down his back.
"You did so well," Ricasso said.
"All is forgiven. You can rest now."
"Thanks for putting up with me,"
Zhonn said. "Most bosses won't,
or else they just hit me, and that's ...
not exactly what I need for this."
"All the punishment in the world
will not reform a man, unless he knows
that he who inflicts it upon him does it
for the sake of reformation ..." Ricasso quoted.
"... and really and truly loves him, and
has his good at heart," Gray finished.
"I'm done here." He patted Zhonn's leg,
then got up to put the lotion away.
That was what he liked most about
physical discipline, the way it changed
when you cared about each other and
the dynamics of the relationship.
Ricasso ran a tight gang, and he knew
what he was doing, and it showed.
"All right, then," Ricasso said.
"Zhonn, what's the schedule now?"
Zhonn grinned at them, and
rattled off the part he'd been given
without hesitation or error.
"Good job," Ricasso confirmed,
patting him on the shoulder.
"We can put our pants back on."
"Hmm," Gray said, looking at Ricasso
as the two men got dressed again.
"If pain helps Zhonn remember things,
then why don't we try using it that way
before he actually makes a mistake?"
"I never thought of that before," Zhonn said.
"Now that Gray has proposed it, what
do you think, Zhonn?" asked Ricasso.
"Would that work for you?"
"I don't know," Zhonn said. "It might.
It would be amazing if it did!"
"Would you like to try it?" Ricasso said.
"Yeah, but that's up to Gray,"
Zhonn said. "He'd be doing the work."
"We both would," Gray corrected
as he picked up the switch replacer
to wipe it with disinfectant, then laid
the clean implement on Ricasso's desk.
"I'll be happy to help if you want,
whenever you need me."
"Then it's settled," Ricasso said.
"When the next schedule comes out,
we'll start exploring this new option."
"Yes, boss," Gray and Zhonn chorused.
"All right. Zhonn, you may head out
to your afternoon position. Gray, you're
on flex, what are you doing?" Ricasso said.
"Kitchen duty, I'm helping Thriver
set up for supper. He wants to make
a shepherd's pie, and that takes
a while to start," Gray said.
* * *
Zhonn Ellison -- He has tinted skin, brown eyes, and long black hair usually worn in cornrow braids. He also wears a close-cropped beard and mustache. Gang tattoos cover his upper arms and chest. His mixed-race appearance puts him in a very awkward position between black and white cultures.
Zhonn works as an enforcer for Ricasso. The wrestling background comes in handy for bouncer-type activities. Zhonn finds that physical punishment helps him learn from mistakes, which Ricasso is happy to accommodate. However, they have to be careful because Zhonn's skin scars easily, sometimes forming keloid ridges. He has one bad scar on his left shoulderblade that keeps piling up and has to be trimmed down once or twice a year. There's also the whole complicated mess of issues for any bottom with African-American heritage, even though he's not into it for erotic reasons.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Wrestler, Good (+2) Enforcer, Good (+2) Follower, Good (+2) Pain as a Mnemonic Device, Good (+2) Sincere, Good (+2) Walking Cookbook
Poor (-2) Too Black to Be White, Too White to Be Black
* * *
"All the punishment in the world will not reform a man, unless he knows that he who inflicts it upon him does it for the sake of reformation, and really and truly loves him, and has his good at heart."
-- Robert Green Ingersoll
Race in gangs is evolving over time. Originally they tended to divide by race, but now mixed gangs are becoming more common. Zhonn belongs to a mixed gang precisely because of his mixed ancestry; he's not welcome in either white or black gangs, and he wants a place where people accept him for who he is.
State-dependent memory can include different factors. It influences encoding and consolidation. Dopamine, released during excitement and reward, acts as a mental "save button."
Domestic discipline, kink, and street gangs all tend to use physical punishment to shape behavior. This is acceptable to the extent that it is consensual and reasonable.
Race in kink is a very delicate issue due to the inescapable history of fractious race relations in humanity. It raises a lot of controversy, but people have a right to whatever consensual play they choose. The principle of Risk-Aware Consensual Kink applies. That said, interracial kink requires sensitivity to those extra complications. This includes being prepared for the fact that something you're doing together may trigger responses in either partner which are not related to your personal experience but to collective trauma, or which tangle up your personal history with global history. For example, chains and whips have disturbing associations from slavery. Know how to handle a panic attack in scene.
Another crucial consideration is that African-American skin differs from other types of skin in certain practical ways. One is simply that the darker the skin, the more difficult it becomes to detect damage. Particular to African heritage is a greater tendency toward keloid scarring. These concerns apply to anyone of African background who wishes to explore kink that may injure their skin. Make sure the top or dominant understands the observation and safety needs for darker skin types.
Caning covers all types of impact play with a thin stiff instrument. There are many types of cane, such as these canes and rods, of which White Lightnin' is a memorable example of a switch replacer. In this set of switch replacers, Ricasso's is similar to the black-and-white one. Caning is a popular form of punishment because it delivers a considerable amount of pain. To learn caning, first practice on a pillow. Understand that at some point, you will learn all you can from a pillow and need to practice on a person.
Wrapping a cane or whip is usually unintentional but may be intentional. Some people like followthroughs, others don't. A botched stroke makes nobody happy. Any flexible or semi-flexible implement has some tendency to stray. No matter how much you practice, you will make some mistakes. This is an inevitable part of acquiring any challenging skill. So take safety precautions, and make sure that your play partner understands what to do when things go wrong in a scene. Gray may feel like crap for fumbling a stroke, but Ricasso's calm response prevents it from spiraling out of control. Minor mistakes are often fixable without stopping; larger ones usually require stopping the scene. This flow chart neatly shows how to analyze a mishap in kink. Trace what happened in this scene, and you can tell that nobody violated any rules; Gray's skill simply isn't complete yet, he's still working on that, and he takes care of people quite well.
Touching foreheads and eye gazing are both profoundly intimate gestures. They draw attention to the bond that exists between two people. In this case, Ricasso uses it for grounding and support, to help Zhonn stay present. A good dom notices and can influence the state of consciousness in his submissive(s).
A service top delivers impact or other activities as requested by a bottom or submissive. It can be a very different thrill than doing your favorite devious things to your partner. Topping from the bottom means that the receiver is directing the scene. Here's a good discussion about role dynamics regarding service tops and topping from the bottom. Times when this dynamic is a good idea include: both people enjoy it as a play style, two switches are playing together, or an experienced bottom is helping a novice top learn new skills. All three of those actually apply to Ricasso-Gray as a pair. Zhonn just needs someone to hit him in a pretty specific way for a practical effect, which is distinct from the power exchange stuff also going on between him and Ricasso.
Aftercare is the process of tending someone following a kink scene. It includes physical and emotional aspects. Make sure you take care of yourself too. Some activities, such as spanking, have their own aftercare steps; skin food or other lotion is advised for whacked areas. Soothing touch is nice even if there are no physical marks to tend. Regular players should have an aftercare kit. Notice that Ricasso has appropriate supplies available and everyone knows where to find them.
Black people argue over whether their hair is political or not, but there's no escaping the historic context or current cultural dynamics, because other people care about them even if you don't. While most of the focus concerns black women, this affects black men too. Zhonn wears his hair in cornrows, a style that inspires a lot of love-hate. Cornrows come in many patterns. Polite manners mean that you do not touch a black man's hair (or anyone's hair) without his consent. Touching the hair or head conveys intimacy, dominance, and trust. Ricasso can do it because Zhonn has let him into some very intimate aspects of his body, and they have an established relationship with physical aspects and ongoing consent for certain things -- but Ricasso is still watching Zhonn's body language closely to figure out what would help in this moment.
Shepherd's Pie is a tasty dish. Enjoy a recipe.