Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Sharpest Dose of Reality"

This poem is from the December 6.2016 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from technoshaman.  It also fills the "breathe" square in my 12-1-16 card for the iPod Shuffle Music Fest, and the "WILD CARD: taking care of someone" square in my 7-16-16 card for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo fest.

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Warning: This poem is intense and intimate, containing some things that may not be to everyone's taste.  Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers.  It features Shiv's iffy self-image, consensual and effective sparring via superpowers, questionable consent and consequently much less pleasant sparring via superpowers because Shiv's head is a mess, showing off with sharp knives, patchy negotiation prior to kinky activities, unexpected nosedive into subspace, state-dependent memory impairment, abrupt discovery of past self-harm, but Pain's Gray is cool about it, recall of Shiv and a foster-sister self-harming together, bloodplay, with insufficient precautions because Shiv has a lousy background and also supervillains aren't the most cautious folks, graphic hardcore painplay using superpowers, breathwork, intimacy exercises, superpower orgasm, post-orgasmic semiconsciousness and paralysis for several minutes, graphic hardcore hurt/comfort, being taken care of is a serious squick for Shiv, confusion, worry, upper-body male nudity, which also makes Shiv uncomfortable, intimacy scares him too, smoking, Shiv being a rude little bitch, and his sexual experiences have mostly sucked, awkward discussions of sexual orientation, which he doesn't want to do either, serious subdrop is not helping, ECR Boy has mixed feelings about all the things, hand-feeding, awkward discussion of relationship status, body-shyness, simultaneous skin hunger and touch aversion, angst, and other challenges.  Also, this poem is probably Not Safe For Work; although it doesn't feature any genital action, the hardcore BDSM and amount of pleasure going on will put it beyond appropriate for most professional contexts.  Despite that laundry list, most of it is because Shiv is a mess; Pain's Gray handles him about as well as anyone could in this context.  So the overall tone is pretty sweet. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before clicking through.

The Sharpest Dose of Reality

One bright spot about getting stuck
with office work for several months
was the way it introduced Shiv to
a lot more of Boss White's allies.

"Shiv, this is Pain's Gray,"
said Boss White, waving a hand
at the slender man in the chair. "He's
on loan from a friend up in Motor City,
to help with sparring practice. I'd like
you to show him around, and take him
to the gym so he knows the way."

"Yeah, boss," said Shiv. He looked
at Pain's Gray, who was so pretty and
graceful that Shiv wondered what use
he could possibly be on the mats, but
it wasn't his place to argue the point.

They went to Buster Hump's Gym,
where Shiv described the different rooms
and Gray decided the mat room was
the most suitable for his practice.

Faster Blaster and his team were
already in the gymnastics room,
so Shiv flagged them down, and
they were happy to switch modes.

Shiv went off to the weight room
for his own routine, which was
pretty pathetic compared to what
most of the guys could do, but
he stuck to his coach's plan.

After that, he went back and
raided the vending machines
in the mat room. One offered
fruit juices and sport drinks, while
the other held various munchies,
with a water dispenser wedged
into the crack between them.

Shiv sat at the snack table
with a packet of Jumble Munch
in Fruity Health Foodie and
a piña colada smoothie.

He watched Pain's Gray
beat the tar out of Faster Blaster
and all the rest of his team.

No wonder Boss White had
bargained for this guy to come
and teach them a few lessons.

Faster Blaster was quick on his feet
with good aim, but Pain's Gray had
some kind of superpower that
Shiv had never seen before.

It felt like the air during a storm
and it made all of his hairs stand
on end. When it connected,
it made the other men yelp.

Eventually, the sparring match
wound down and Faster Blaster
herded his groaning gangmates
toward the shower room.

"That was impressive,"
Shiv admitted as Pain's Gray
sat down across from him.

The man ruffled a towel over
hair the color of pewter, making it
stand on end. "You want a turn?"

Shiv didn't, but neither did he
want to get his ass handed to him
(again) the next time he crossed paths
with Antimatter and Stalwart Stan.

Besides, Boss White had
made it clear that he wasn't
allowed to loaf around while
waiting out his six months.

"Sure," said Shiv, and they
stepped onto the mats together.

It was a disaster.

Shiv was fast and agile,
but Pain's Gray was tough
and also more experienced.

Up close, the superpower
was almost overwhelming --
it felt just like getting punched
or kicked, only without the contact,
and Shiv had a hard time hitting back
without resorting to live steel which
wasn't allowed in a sparring match.

Shiv was learning from him,
but it made him grit his teeth.

To his surprise, Pain's Gray
called a halt in just a few minutes.

"Worn out already?" Shiv snapped.

"No, but you look like you hate this,"
the other man said. "If you're not into it,
let's stop before someone gets hurt."

"You have no idea what
I'm into," Shiv muttered.

"Oh, really?" Pain's Gray purred.
"Why don't we go sit down
and talk about that?"

Shiv was more than willing
to flop into a chair and rest
his arms on the cool metal
of the snack table.

"So what are you into?"
Pain's Gray asked.

"I like sharp things," Shiv said
with a smirk, and took out his knife.

He'd spent a few days buffing up
with the trainer before going back
to the single butterfly, and he wasn't
quite confident enough to try the double
without using his superpowers to cheat.

He could handle the single, though,
and now he twirled it between his fingers
before tossing it in the air a few times.

Then he tossed it up, caught it
with his mind, and went through
the routine a second time using
nothing but his superpower
to control the shiny blade.

At last he let it fall back into his hand.

"Your turn," Shiv said to Pain's Gray
as he tucked the knife into his pocket.

"That was a formidable display of skill,"
said the other supervillain. "I freely admit
that mine is nowhere near that good."

Still he brought out a handsome knife,
a spring-assisted stiletto with a pearl handle,
which he flicked open and rolled over his hand
and flipped into the air several times.

Pain's Gray might not be in Shiv's league,
but then few people were that good.

Shiv still admired his handling,
which was better than average, and
he couldn't help staring because any edge
made him think fondly of pain and blood.

Watching the show, he wondered
how soon he could get away
to entertain himself a bit, and
licked his lips in anticipation.

Pain's Gray talked about how he
taught sparring, and Shiv listened
to the soft rhythm of his voice.

There was something oddly compelling
about it that he couldn't quite put a finger on,
but he followed along as best he could.

Shiv wasn't prepared for Pain's Gray
to catch his hand and tilt it just enough
for the oldest scars on his wrist to show --
or for the way those fingertips trailed over
the skin and made him catch his breath.

"I thought so," Pain's Gray murmured.
"It's not the pain you mind, after all.
It's the format that was wrong."

"I don't like getting hit," Shiv grumbled,
but he didn't pull away. Couldn't.

Wasn't that fascinating.

"Show me what you like,"
Pain's Gray said, and he
slid his knife across the table.

Shiv knew better than to play around
with somebody else's steel. "I don't
need it," he said, and pushed it back.

Then he used his superpower
to peel a piece of metal from the table,
as thin and limber as tinsel.

He let it crawl across his skin,
just enjoying the close contact
with the edge as it slid over him,
and then pulled it deeper.

White lines rose up behind it,
then pink, and finally red beads
welled up where the metal
had just parted the skin.

Shiv didn't usually do this
in front of anyone else, but
he'd had a foster sister once
who shared his interests and
that had been ... nice, in a way,
not to be the only one who did it.

The way Pain's Gray watched him
with the knife, and played with his own,
made Shiv think the man was no stranger
to playing with a little red now and then.

"Enough," said Pain's Gray. He frowned
a bit. "I thought we would have time for
more negotiation, but I can see that you're
already going down fast. I don't want you
dropping with no one to catch you."

"Huh," Shiv said, not following much of that.

"So, now that I've got your number, do you
want to play with me?" said Pain's Gray.

"Play?" Shiv said. It was getting
oddly hard to think, and he had
to lick his lips again just to get
enough spit to swallow with.

"Like this," said Pain's Gray, and
his power danced over Shiv's skin
exactly like the tinsel had, raising
fine lines of pain but no color at all.
"Energy only, nothing sharp, but
it will feel as if I'm cutting you."

"Please," fell out of Shiv's mouth
without bothering to go through
his brain along the way.

"Watch me," said Pain's Gray,
"at least for the first minute or two, so
you can see there's no funny business."

Shiv watched the long, slim fingers
trail over his wrist. There was no metal,
but there was pain, bright and vital.

It was the sharpest dose of reality that
he could imagine, and it woke him up
for a moment, but then the pleasure hit
and pushed him right back under again.

He shivered under the touch as
the superpower slipped under his skin,
gliding along his own like a knife
sliding into a matching sheath.

His eyes fluttered shut.

"I thought you'd like that,"
Pain's Gray said with a chuckle.
His voice trickled over Shiv like
warm water. "So tell me this ...
do you only like knives, or
do you like needles too?"

"Both," Shiv whispered.
"I like sharp things."

He felt the prick and pinch
of something sliding into his skin,
and managed to pry his eyes open,
but there was nothing there except
for the fingertips on his forearm.

The thought that Shiv could cut
as much as he wanted -- or at least,
however much he could convince
Pain's Gray to pretend with his power --
and not get caught was enough
to make him melt, boneless,
leaning against the wall.

"More," he said. "I want more."

"I believe the phrase you want
is 'Kelly fucking green' then,"
Pain's Gray said, laughing, and
it didn't sound like taunting at all.

Shiv's fuzzy brain vaguely recalled
reading something about colors and
power exchange, but he couldn't
remember what. He could, however,
repeat "Kelly fucking green" on cue.

Pain's Gray cut him deeper.

Shiv could feel a line of fine slices
laddering their way up his arm, and
then a row of stitches coming back down.

It made him hiss and catch his breath
in appreciation of the intensity. He bit his lip,
using that small addition to pull the rest of the pain
up and into himself, letting it spread out through
his entire body in long, luxurious waves.

"Don't hold your breath," said Pain's Gray.
"Keep your breathing slow and deep."

Dr. Bloch had said things like that before,
so Shiv tried to follow along, but it was hard,
because his body wanted to pant like it did
when he was pulling himself off, and this
was so much more fun than that.

"Come on, breathe with me,"
said Pain's Gray. Warm air riffled
over Shiv's face, disappeared, and
then returned. "Follow my rhythm.
I don't want you fainting on me."

It was only when the captivating pinpricks
took up the rhythm that Shiv managed to get
the hang of it, because he knew the trick of
breathing in and then breathing out to signal
that he was ready for the pain.

Pain's Gray seemed to recognize
the same pattern, and built on it, since
the stab and slice of his superpower
got more intense with every breath.

Shiv was whimpering, pleading, and he
never did that, but all could say was "Green."

His superpower was writhing inside him,
too, and he'd never felt it do that before,
but it felt so good that he didn't want
to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Pain's Gray stroked his ability
over and into Shiv, the two sparking
along each other like flint and steel,
kindling a fire under his skin.

"Ready for the big finish?"
asked Pain's Gray.

"Kelly ... fucking ... green,"
Shiv managed to say.

Something stabbed through
his shoulder, so sharp and wide
that it made his whole body buck
and then everything exploded into

a wild, white-hot fireworks display
of pain-pleasure-pain-ecstasy

... darkness.

As the rush faded, Shiv could feel
very dimly a sense of being moved,
and then something soft under him,
but he couldn't speak or even twitch.

It was as if he had melted his body off,
and it was frankly better than any drug trip
he could recall ever having taken.

Then his wrist was picked up,
and he felt a faint dabbing pressure.
Shiv tried to pull away, but he didn't
have the energy to move. The most
he managed was a grunt of protest.

"Relax, I just want to clean the scratches,"
said Pain's Gray. "You play with me,
that means I get to take care of you,
at least until you're back to usual."

It didn't hurt, or not that Shiv
could tell through all the fuzz.

Generally people flipped out more
when he cut himself. This was different,
and he wasn't sure how handle that.

When Shiv finally stopped panting
and quivering and managed to get
his eyes open again, he found himself
staring at the ceiling of the mat room.

He was, in fact, stretched out on a mat
not far from the snack table, on his back.

Pain's Gray leaned over him, bare to
the waist, attentive and a little concerned.

Shiv realized that he was wearing
the man's shirt as a blanket over him,
and once he thought that, he thought
that what they did with their superpowers
had left him feeling as if he had
shot up with Microfyne.

That made him laugh faintly,
and Pain's Gray patted him on
the cheek, saying, "Back with me?"

"God, I need a cigarette," Shiv said.

"Okay," said Pain's Gray. He produced
a pair from somewhere -- whole ones,
not just scoots -- and put them in his mouth.
A quick flick of a lighter, a few practiced puffs,
and he had both of them glowing at the ends.

Then he reached over and tucked
one cigarette between Shiv's lips.

It was a startling intimacy, but Shiv
accepted it, because he needed
the sweet menthol and the nicotine
soothing his superpower back
into its usual place inside him.

Only after he finished smoking
and flicked the remaining butt
into the nearby sandcan did
he ask, "What ... the fuck ...
did you do to me?"

"Powergasm," said Pain's Gray.
"Wait, you haven't done this before?
I was your first? Oh, wow."

Wow was a good way to put it,
but that didn't explain anything.
"What's that?" Shiv said.

"It's kind of like an orgasm,
only in your superpower,"
said Pain's Gray. "It happens
mostly in people with energy gifts,
and it's not all that common, but
it can be really special."

"That was nothing like an orgasm,"
Shiv said, trying to move again.
He could flop his hands and feet
but not much more than that.
"That was fantastic. Except
for the part where I can't move."

"Well yeah, you overloaded
your whole energy system, that's
how it works," said Pain's Gray.
"It doesn't hit everyone that hard,
but don't worry, it'll fade soon.
You don't like orgasms?"

"Not like that," Shiv muttered.

Sure, he pulled his dick sometimes,
because he was a dude and otherwise
the damn thing wouldn't leave him alone,
but he didn't hang on it night and day
like most of the other guys seemed to.

"Are you ace or what?" Pain's Gray said,
starting to look alarmed. "Dude, you
have got to tell people these things."

"No I don't," Shiv said shortly. He was
starting to freak over how far this had gone,
how fast, because it was so damn intimate
and he didn't do intimacy, he was too much
of a fuckup and it was too terrifying.

He shivered, and decided that
he really needed to get up
and the hell out of here.

Pain's Gray put a hand on his shoulder.
"Lie still," he said. "If you need anything,
I'll get it for you, that's my job."

"Get off me," Shiv said, but he
didn't have the strength to shake off
the other man's gentle grasp.

"Okay, you are crashing pretty bad,"
said Pain's Gray. "Don't panic, it's
just the endorphins and the adrenaline
starting to wear off. It'll go away in
half an hour, or a few hours, I don't
know your timespan for this yet."

There had been something about that
in the stuff Dr. Bloch sent him after
his release, but Shiv couldn't put it
together in his head right now.

With Pain's Gray leaning over him,
Shiv couldn't help noticing how
the man's nipples stood out,
darker pink against his pale skin.

"Put some clothes on," he muttered,
"and go get me a towel. I'm soaked."

Not the front of his pants, at least,
but the sweat was rolling off him
and pooling in unpleasant places.

"Of course," said Pain's Gray.
"Lie still; I will be right over there,
and come back in a minute."

Shiv couldn't move much yet,
so he had no choice but to watch
the man pad over to the rack of towels,
pick up several of them, and then return.

Pain's Gray put his shirt back on first,
then said, "Here, let me dry you."

Shiv hadn't thought about the fact
that not moving meant he couldn't
do that for himself. It sort of sucked,
and sort of didn't, and he wasn't
sure what to make of that.

But Pain's Gray dried him off
quite carefully, and then covered
him with a beach-sized towel
as if it were a blanket.

"Anything else?" he asked.

Shiv felt torn between keeping
his mouth shut to avoid encouraging
the attention, or asking for something else
to get rid of him for another minute.

He felt hungry, and a little light-headed,
and realized that fooling around like they did
had probably burned through the calories
and left him needing a reload now.

"I need a snack," he admitted.

"There are vending machines,"
said Pain's Gray. "I'll get something
for you and come right back."

He was weirdly obsessed about
specifying where he went and
emphasizing that he'd be back.

Pain's Gray returned with a bottle
of cranberry-apricot juice and a packet of
Screamin' Squirrel Yogurt-Strawberry Strips.

That's when Shiv learned that he hadn't
recovered enough to sit up and feed himself.

"Fuck," he grumbled, wallowing around.

"Let me help," said Pain's Gray, and
scooped Shiv into his lap as if
that was perfectly normal.

Shiv figured out that he had
a choice between letting the man
help or pouring juice all over himself.

He let Pain's Gray help.

It was weird, and it reminded
Shiv of when Nurse Espinoza
had taken care of him, but it
didn't feel the same as that
and he couldn't tell why.

Pain's Gray never spilled anything
on him, even catching stray drops
with his thumb. It was tender and
intimate and freaking Shiv out.

His stupid brain couldn't decide whether
to hiss and spit or to melt and purr.

By the time they got to the bottom
of the bottle, Shiv revived enough
to sit up on his own and fumble
his way into the strawberry strips.

Thank god Pain's Gray let him.

* * *


Shiv (Egon Harrison) -- He has fair skin and silver eyes. His blond hair is straight and silky, worn long on top so that it that flops over his face. His head is a long triangle ending in a narrow chin. He has a lot of small scars from fights, but he heals well, having survived several injuries that could easily have proven fatal. Egon is currently 20 years old.
He likes dark flavors -- coffee, cigarettes, dark chocolate. He loves fish, especially tuna and fried catfish, and anchovies on pizza. Pistachio ice cream is another favorite. He's fond of exotic sodas, whether for flavor or medicinal effect; he discovered strawberry-mint as a child and several people have been sharing others recently.
His superpower is a narrow form of telekinesis. It lets him create knives out of almost any nearby material, or take control of small bladed weapons from anyone else. He can't manage anything larger than a machete, though.
Origin: While in Juvenile Hall, he was stabbed by another inmate. Shortly thereafter, Egon developed his superpower. He believes that there was something on the knife -- or in the material itself -- which caused this to happen.
Uniform: Street clothes, but with several bandoliers of throwing knives.
Qualities: Good (+2) Ambidexterity, Good (+2) Crafty, Good (+2) Hoodlum, Good (+2) Recovering from Injuries, Good (+2) Streetwise, Good (+2) Fast
Poor (-2) Can't Keep His Mouth Shut
Powers: Expert (+4) Control Sharp Things, Average (0) Super-Immunity
Motivation: Puncture ALL the egos!

Pain's Gray (Gray Agamau) -- He has fair skin, gray eyes, and pewter hair swept up toward the crown of his head. He's on the slim side for a fighter, but still has nicely defined muscles; they're just not overbuilt. He is heterosexual, but omnisensual, and often mistaken for homosexual. He tends to take out his temper on the homophobes when they pester him. Conversely, he enjoys taking care of people whom he likes, especially after kinky play. He's prone to low blood sugar after stress or exertion, and needs to be careful to eat often enough.
Gray is quite popular among supervillains, not only for combat support and knife fighting, but also for practice to boost their own pain tolerance because it does no physical damage. It just hurts a lot. To supervillains, this is an awesome party trick. He even uses it to swat people if they annoy him while he's baking fussy pastries. He just doesn't turn the gain up all the way with friends. Against enemies, he really likes to take people down a peg if they're cocky -- and because his power isn't physical, it penetrates most types of protection. This is devatasting against people whose own abilities mean they rarely if ever get hurt.
Uniform: Charcoal dexflan suit piped in reflective silver, with a cape of Payne's grey capery. His utility belt contains a well-stocked first aid kit; he's known for treating both sides in a fight, and for having the best bleeding-edge equipment from friends in zetetics.
Origin: Torture. He was an ordinary mook until someone decided to get information out of him the hard way. That really did not end well for them. Gray escaped, returned to his boss, explained his new talent, and got a raise.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Supervillain Henchman, Good (+2) BDSM Switch, Good (+2) Pastry Cook, Good (+2) First Aid, Good (+2) Observant, Good (+2) Tough
Poor (-2) Low Blood Sugar
Powers: Master (+6) Pain Ray
Limitation: This is a gaze attack that requires eye contact for maximum effect. Without that, it's only Good, and drops down to Poor (-2) if the target is nearby but he can't see them.
Motivation: "You're not as tough as you think you are."

Omnisensual means that while Gray prefers to copulate with women, he enjoys nongenital activities such as cuddling and kink with partners of any sex/gender.

Gray carries a pearl-handled pocketknife in the spring-assisted stiletto style.  Watch the opening and basic tricks for a switchblade.

* * *

"Masters are those who by nature have suffered to get to where they are. They have experienced endless criticisms of their work, doubts about their progress, setbacks along the way. They know deep in their bones what is required to get to the creative phase and beyond. As mentors, they alone can gauge the extent of our progress, the weakness in our character, the ordeals we must go through to advance. In this day and age, you must get the sharpest dose of reality that is possible from your mentor. You must go in search of it and welcome it. If possible, choose a mentor who is known for supplying this form of tough love. If they shy away from giving it, force them to hold up the mirror that will reflect you as you are. Get them to give you the proper challenges that will reveal your strengths and weaknesses and allow you to gain as much feedback as possible, no matter how hard it might be to take. Accustom yourself to criticism. Confidence is important, but if it is not based on a realistic appraisal of who you are, it is mere grandiosity and smugness. Through the realistic feedback of your mentor you will eventually develop a confidence that is much more substantial and worth possessing."
Robert Greene, Mastery

Instead of a home gym, the Ebonies & Ivories have a membership at a local gym, built inside what used to be a warehouse. It's not fancy. The rough environment attracts rough customers, but the equipment is designed to take a beating. The concrete floors are on the lower storey, the wooden floors are above that. The weight training room has mostly free weights and a few machines. The crossfit training room includes many salmon ladders. The boxing room has lots of things to hit. The gymnastics room has old-school equipment. The mat room is used for tumbling and sparring.  It has a snack table and vending machines.

Post-workout snacks include granola, fruit, and other healthy choices.

Jumble Munch in Fruity Health Foodie includes dried white mulberries, dried goji berries, dried wild barberries, dried bilberries, dried yacon slices, dried dragon fruit, banana chips, cinnamon apple chips, organic mixed nuts, date energy balls, and paleo granola clusters.

Fruit smoothies are also good for post-workout refreshment. You can buy or make a piña colada type smoothie.

Consent is a complex topic, especially in the context of power exchange.  Most discussions focus on sexual situations, but consent applies to nonsexual situations too.  Pain's Gray asks properly, so he's in the clear, but that's not always enough to avoid problems.  While Shiv agrees to the sparring match, it's not something he actually wants to do; his past experiences have left his consent impaired in ways that Pain's Gray does not realize until after the fact.

Personal boundaries come in different types.  Ideally, people understand how to set and maintain boundaries which are flexible and semi-permeable. Child abuse damages boundaries, causing many problems that can linger into adulthood. Survivors often struggle with setting appropriate boundaries. Shiv's awareness and handling of his boundaries is erratic at best.  You can see Pain's Gray slam on the brakes during aftercare when he starts to suspect how much of a mess Shiv is.  Here's a more detailed exploration of boundaries and psychology.

A butterfly knife has a blade between two handles.  Despite their reputation as a danger, this is actually the safest type of folding knife to carry and use, because the handles enclose the blade when shut and your grip on the handles prevents the blade from collapsing in use.  It's the temptation to use fancy moves that poses a risk.  Read how to open a butterfly knife.  For experienced users, there are basic and advanced tutorials on tossing the knife.  Here is a toss routine with a knife very similar to Shiv's single butterfly.  He is actually better than this, but several months out of practice, so he is being cautious in refreshing his skill.

Back when Shiv first started using butterfly knives, he cut himself badly once, and afterwards bought a trainer for safe practice.  This is his single butterfly, which has a safe handle and a bite handle, so the dull edge may be allowed to hit skin.  This is his double butterfly, which has two bite handles and must be controlled entirely with dexterity and timing.  Shiv rightly considers it cheating to use his superpower to bolster a sloppy performance, which is why he tends to separate hand tricks from energy tricks.

Shiv has what's called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, a pleasurable feeling from audio stimulation, most often a person's voice.  ASMR is known as a "head orgasm" or "brain orgasm." Some dominants/tops have a particularly compelling voice, and some submissives/bottoms are particularly receptive to this type of stimulation.  The musical version is generally called a "skin orgasm."  These are related to the powergasm that some people can feel in their superpower, usually activated by rubbing against someone else's energy.

Leadership is about far more than the use of force, and power exchange in BDSM relies on a sophisticated grasp of both energy and interpersonal dynamics. It is crucial to use power gently instead of violently -- whether it is a superpower or institutional authority. A good dominant has certain qualities which make them appealing to a submissive. One of these is the "dom voice" which can compel obedience. It kind of flips a switch in a submissive's brain, producing pleasure as well as obedience. There are tips on how to develop a dom voice. Shiv may keep the safety cover over his submission most of the time, but he does have it, and once someone has earned his respect it becomes accessible.

(These links are intense, sometimes graphic and controversial.)
Self-harm can happen for many reasons. Shiv does it because he likes sharp things, and pain, and bloodplay. It also has practical benefits in terms of grounding and pressure relief. Self-injury is one way to accomplish that, but it has drawbacks.  It can also isolate people, especially if others around them react badly to discovery or disclosure of it.  Conversely, some people self-injure in groups. Sharing with others who self-harm can offer support and make people feel less alone with their issues. The Hurt Yourself Less Workbook was designed by and for people who hurt themselves and want to reduce it.

(These links are graphic. No likie, no readie.)
BDSM and Bloodplay
Not everyone who cuts actually wants to stop, or considers it a problem.  Plenty of people have a cutting fetish, which is not pathological unto itself.  It's your body; you can do what you want with it, even if other people dislike that. Bloodplay is edgy stuff, but following proper precautions makes it reasonably safe.  Pain's Gray and Shiv aren't following those guidelines; it's a spontaneous scene and they're supervillains.  You can and should do better, if you're into this.  In particular, education is essential.  So what distinguishes BDSM from self-harm?  Two things: whether or not it's actually harmful, and how people feel about it.  As noted, kinksters take careful precautions, which not all cutters do; and BDSM creates an atmosphere of caring and pleasure rather than shame and misery. A number of people have transitioned from self-harm to bloodplay; while not widely spoken of, it is quietly known in the kink community. Bloodplay is extremely intimate, and among people with this fetish, well known for causing spontaneous orgasms.  That's another type of nongenital climax related to Shiv's experience of powergasm.  Here is a detailed discussion of knife play and its variations, a reasonable parallel for what Shiv is doing.

(NSFW for most jobs.  Some of these links are intense.  The cartoon one is nekkid but really funny.)
BDSM has multiple benefits, and people may explore it for different reasons. There are beginner tips, but what Pain's Gray and Shiv are into goes far beyond that level. See text and cartoon lists of basic safety tips. It is vital that everyone understand endorphin levels and aftercare. (Shiv is actually overdriving his headlights in this scene, but Pain's Gray has far more experience and manages to compensate. This is why novices need expert partners.) These are among the most important factors that distinguish kink from self-harm: because when you know what you're doing, it is not harmful. In fact, some people begin with self-harm as a negative coping skill, but move on to bloodplay as a safer, healthier, more therapeutic way of working on issues or just having fun.

Submitting to pain is part of kink for most people who take the receptive role, although some people have other goals. Processing pain can be done in negative ways (which blunt the sensation) or positive ways (which don't). Shiv handles consensual pain in positive ways. Learning these techniques makes it easier to access the benefits of pain play. Some factors can still interfere with pain processing, which makes it difficult to enjoy a scene. Bottoms often seek to skirt the edge of what they can handle. Shiv is obviously a pain devourer, and he can channel quite a lot more than Gray was willing to give him on a first date. But that's okay since Shiv had a nice powergasm at this level of play.

Safewords offer a codified form of communication during BDSM. They can be standard or personal. Among the most apt examples, I once heard "Arch!" yelled through a hotel door at a convention; it's the holodeck command that brings up the control interface in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The set "red, yellow, green" works just like a traffic signal (stop, slow, go) and is widely used as a standard. It's also fairly common to hear "kelly fucking green" as vigorous encouragement. Conversely, not everyone wants or needs safewords; plenty of people just use ordinary conversation while playing. Safewords are most useful in these regards: 1) allowing the sub/bottom to yell "no" without stopping the scene, which some people enjoy or do reflexively; 2) distinguishing crucial communication from the general flow of vocalizations; and 3) standardizing communication in a public scene with monitors. This story uses red-yellow-green, and this one has a gorgeous description of when people don't need safewords. Within the realm of speculative fiction, see also Cecilia Tan's famous "Telepaths Don't Need Safewords." Here is a more nuanced discussion of safewords.

There are two kinds of subspace, physical and psychological; while the physical tends to come from deliberate painplay, occasionally a submissive will fall into psychological subspace without meaning to. This is what happens to Shiv, and fortunately Pain's Gray recognizes that and takes control of the situation rather than stand back and let Shiv go splat. What typically happens if no dom takes over is the ugly kind of subdrop, so it's vital for dominant people to watch out for this situation, even if you're just going to steer it to a safe landing instead of shifting into an impromptu scene. Pain's Gray is exquisitely sensitive to consent and connection, due to his unfortunate first experience with kink. Indeed, there is a domspace equivalent to subspace.  His is actually reflective -- if the scene is sexy for his partner, it's sexy for him; if it's nonsexual for his partner, it's nonsexual for him.  So Pain's Gray can follow Shiv easily.  Explore some ways to prevent subdrop, support a person in subdrop, and take care of yourself during subdrop.

Traumatic stress can cause a spectrum of effects ranging from acute stress reaction (a normal response that fades after a few days) through acute stress disorder (a "stuck" crisis state that lasts up to a month), PTSD (a "stuck" crisis state lasting more than one month), to PDSD (a "stuck" crisis state involving repeated traumatic experiences over time). Shiv has PDSD out the wazoo. This and other factors make him twedgy about intimacy, but in some ways, the pain helps him think clearer and stay in his body better. PTSD is fundamentally a failure of processing that happens inside the brain. When the mind cannot file traumatic memories properly, then they don't integrate into experience, which disrupts the ability to recognize context. The events get "stuck" in a processing loop within the mind, which turns those memories into triggers that cause flashbacks. Some new therapies focus on the body as a way to "unstick" those memories and thus heal the mind. Similarly, some people find that sharp things can cut the bad feedback loops in their head.

Kink is not a mental illness or injury, even though it has been listed as such.  Let's say the mental health industry has a poor track record in comprehending human sexuality and gender.  Studies show that kinksters actually have better  mental health on average than vanilla folks.  (I suspect this is because kink requires and rewards techniques, such as communication and healthy touch, which benefit other areas of life as well.)  Mental issues, such as PTSD or depression, can complicate scenes.  A significant problem in the BDSM community is ableism in the form of saying that people with mental issues cannot consent to sexual activity, and therefore refusing to play with them (or condemning people who play with them) due to their condition instead of their individual features. Given Shiv's overall resistance to people messing with his head, I wouldn't put any real faith in the laundry list of diagnoses that have come and gone over the years.  My best guesses include Prolonged Duress Stress Disorder, Prolonged Adaptation Stress Syndrome, Disordered Attachment, and Developmental Trauma Disorder.  But just because his head is a mess, doesn't mean that Shiv can't enjoy a good fling; this is probably one of the most healthy pleasurable interactions he's ever had.

BDSM can help people heal in many ways. It has been used in therapeutic contexts. Finding this type of therapy is a little easier in T-America than in L-America, but it's still not prevalent. Due to the context of trust and psychological awareness, kink can be useful in recovering from rape and other types of trauma.

A tracing wheel is similar to a Wartenberg wheel, but much cheaper and easier to get, as the genuine medical item is expensive.  Versions for kink are affordable, unless you want the kind with multiple wheels; you can get the craft kind for a few bucks.  This is a popular type of BDSM toy.  Pain's Gray likes to boost the natural impression by running his superpower through the metal, and by this point in time, he has the control to spark through the pins one at a time.

Deep breathing can make for better orgasms.  This is also the safer and shallower end of the breath play continuum.  Not all of breath play is about interfering  with anyone's breath, which is inherently hazardous; some is about improving  breath. Quite intense effects may be had in relative safety with breath exercises. As mentioned in yoga, the worst side effects are only headache, dizziness, brief fainting, or spooking yourself with a little more intimacy or cosmology than you were ready for.  As long as you don't tamper with the body's safety valves, it'll stop you if you try to go too far.  Meanwhile, you can have brain-melting sex or other interactions. Breath control is a basic skill for sexual continence. Synchronized breathing also intensifies orgasms and bonding.  It's an effective way for a top to influence a bottom's pattern if their breathing drifts out of focus.  Reflexive hyperventilation and breath-holding are both reasons why people may feel faint during kink scenes.  Alert tops watch for this and intervene.  The same problems occur in anxiety attacks or flashbacks, an excellent reason to learn mindful breathing. However, that synchronicity is one of the things that pushes the intimacy past where Shiv is normally capable of reaching; he doesn't know what it is, and it freaks him right the fuck out.  Here is a Tantric orgasmic breathing exercise for you adventurous readers to try alone or with a partner. <3

A climax does funny things to the brain and body. Neurons are receptive to stimuli, but after they fire, it takes time for them to recover. After orgasm, the refractory period is a span of time when sexual stimulation cannot produce another orgasm. Some people experience physical lassitude, or even temporary paralysis, after an orgasm. (Feelings of distress have also been reported, likely akin to subdrop.) Now multiply that to account for the greater intensity of powergasm compared to ordinary orgasm, spread throughout the whole body. No wonder Shiv can't move immediately.

A sandcan is a tall receptacle with a tray full of sand or gravel, useful as an indoor-outdoor ashtray. Terramagne-America allows private property to be declared as smoking or nonsmoking. Buster Hump's Gym allows smoking because so many blue-collar people smoke just to keep going, and that's their customer base.

Orgasm releases oxytocin, a bonding hormone.  Some people achieve similar bursts of pleasure from Tantra, kink, music, soothing speech, or other sources of stimulation.  This contributes to the nascent connection between Pain's Gray and Shiv.  However, the dark side is that climax and oxytocin can also enhance negative  feelings -- and Shiv has deep reasons to panic over intimate contact, because of his past abuse.

Powergasm is a pleasurable paroxysm caused by a buildup and then sudden release of energy within the superpower system. It overloads the nervous system in ways similar to a sexual orgasm, but more intense. This can leave people too wrung out to move for several minutes, although the severity of this effect varies. Not all soups can achieve powergasm; it's more common in those with energy powers, or sensitive to superpowers, because it requires having enough energy to create the surge. However, it is likely that more people could do it than have actually done it, similar to the state of female orgasms before the clitoris was widely understood.

Good aftercare -- and in fact, good care of any kind -- makes Shiv squick.  That's because reconnecting with people after abuse is difficult.  A discussion of hard and soft limits can help avoid this kind of problem.

Intimacy is a special closeness that comes in different types and aspects.  It is essential to both sexual and nonsexual relationships, in order to move beyond the shallowest levels of interaction.  However, vulnerability is the key to intimacy -- you can't get close to anyone without letting them inside your defenses -- which is why so many people resist vulnerability.  Shiv never had a chance to form healthy attachments growing up, often described as disordered attachment but more accurately connection disruption, which makes it difficult for him to develop positive relationships as an adult.  The early abuse and neglect left him with fear of intimacy and fear of vulnerability, because his experiences with those things have been consistently bad.  So he's freaking out over a perfectly good situation due to a preconditioned belief that everything good will go bad, just like it has before.  Traumatic stress leaves people "stuck in the past," which ruins the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.  Previously Shiv was surrounded by untrustworthy people, and had correct distrust; but now that he is surrounded by more trustworthy people, his trust is increasing far slower than their actions merit, which leaves him under-trusting and unable to take full advantage of new opportunities.  There are ways to overcome fear of intimacy and stop avoiding vulnerability.  Learn how to experience joy without fear. Understand how to handle a relationship with someone afraid of intimacy.

So basically, this is the inside of Shiv's head right now.

Cranberry-Apricot Juice is a high-calorie treat for folks who need to refuel after a workout. Screamin' Squirrel Yogurt-Strawberry Strips are gluten-free chewy granola bars with freeze-dried strawberries.  This is pretty typical of T-American vending machines.

[To be continued ...]
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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