WARNING: This poem features graphic scenes that may be disturbing to some readers. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes emotionally complex responses, reference to past deprivations and disadvantages, recalculation of social debt due to Skink having helped to take down the buzz-saw supervillain without thinking to mention it to his adjudicator, graphic and gross medical details, ~level 8 pain for several minutes, Skink has no idea what help is even available let alone how to ask for it, dietary issues, tentative bonding, discussion of adaptive clothing, and other challenges. This is hardcore hurt/comfort, but the overall tone is actually quite positive. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headsapce before reading onward.
"A Way to Make Right"
Bartley sat with Skink in the back
of the police car as they rode over to
the Dr. Mary Fulstone Visionary Hospital.
"I think you'll like this place," Bartley said.
"A visionary hospital is one that focuses on
innovation, and they're really soup-friendly here --
it's why Dr. Mary's gets the injured soups and
casualties from cape fights around Las Vegas."
"They have a soup wing?" Skink said,
rocking back and forth. Those could be
very helpful, or downright terrifying.
"Not as such," Bartley said. "They just
incorporated what special equipment they
could get around the hospital. So there's
a whole floor with privacy dampers in
the patient rooms, plus portable ones
in case people need them elsewhere."
That meant they might even have
the kind of equipment required to get
through the armor that Skink's scales
provided, if he needed medical care.
He probably wouldn't -- his body
could take care of most issues itself --
but it would be nice to have the backup.
As they pulled up, Skink could see glimpses
of a large plaza dotted with angular gardens,
and food trucks lined up along one edge.
The primary care wing was closer, and
the mental wing lay beyond that.
"I know it's not very big, but this is
one of the most progressive hospitals
in the city," Bartley said. "I hope you like it."
Skink just stared at him. This was bigger
than most of the hospitals he'd ever been in,
although he'd driven past larger ones.
His idea of a small medical facility
was a reservation clinic that consisted
of one exam room, the doctor's office, and
a waiting room with three chairs and a desk.
"I'm sure it's fine," Skink said, trying
not to feel overwhelmed by what
he had gotten himself into.
"Okay, today we're working
at speed, so I called ahead and
made all the arrangements I could,"
Bartley said as he led Skink inside.
"If you decide to do this again, then
expect that they'll want to go over
their usual procedures with you."
"Uh huh," Skink said. He wasn't
used to getting to skip any red tape.
Bartley had done an amazing job
of figuring out what Skink needed
and then setting it all up for him.
Indoors, the hospital was decorated
in soothing shades of sage and beige,
with a mix of natural and modern touches.
Plants perched on tables and desks, with
potted trees tucked between the chairs.
Bartley stopped at the reception desk,
collected two badges, and handed one
to Skink. "These let us into the staff areas,"
he explained. "Your partner and the nurse
who'll be taking care of Officer Peña are
waiting for us in the staff lounge."
"Partner?" Skink said as he followed
Bartley. The adjudicator moved briskly
through the hall and around corners.
"We're in luck," Bartley said with a grin.
"I think I've found the perfect partner for you,
so I really hope that you two like each other.
Nurse Bagong-gahasa has Cutting Powers,
and he's been exploring soup care here."
As terrifying as Skink had found
the whirling saw blades of doom,
this sounded so much better than
trying to explain what he needed to
an ordinary surgeon with a knife.
"I'll give it a try," he said as Bartley
opened the door of the lounge.
The ceiling was industrial, but
the left wall was all natural wood
with a fireplace set into it, and
the right wall held a full kitchen.
Two huge viewscreens hung
above the kitchen space.
Chairs in cheerful shades of
red, yellow, blue, and purple
surrounded the tables, some
rectangular and others round.
At the far end, a man and
a woman looked up when
they came in, and waved.
"Nurse Rizal Bagong-gahasa
will be assisting Skink," said Bartley.
The man had warm golden skin
and a round cheerful face. Skink
licked his lips, getting a taste of
something lemony and brilliant.
"Nurse Codee Rowland will be
looking after Officer Peña during
and after the procedure," Bartley said.
The woman was fair all over --
pale skin, blue eyes, blonde hair --
and she smiled at Skink. People
didn't usually smile at supervillains,
but the man was doing it too.
That smell clinging to Rizal
was distracting, though.
Something about it reminded
Skink of sweetgrass in the sun.
He had completely lost the thread
of the conversation and whatever
Bartley had said about him.
"What's that smell?" Skink said,
unable to ignore it any longer.
"What smell?" Rizal asked.
"That -- that -- it's like lemon
but not, it's brighter and
sweeter," Skink said,
licking his lips again.
"Oh, this?" Rizal said. He
reached into his pocket and
pulled out a twist of waxed paper.
"It's candied Buddha's hand.
My mother makes it. Here,
try a piece if you like."
The outside was crunchy with
crystallized sugar, the inside
tender and chewy. The flavor
exploded in his mouth, lemony
and spicy and sweet with just
a faint hint of bitterness to it.
"Thanks," Skink said. "Wow,
this stuff is amazing."
Bartley steered the topic
gently back on track. "Okay,
now that we've all met, is
everything set up?"
"Yes," said Rizal. "We
have Operating Room 1.
There's a surgical team for
backup if we need it, but they
won't get in our hair, just watch
on video unless things go wrong."
"Really?" Skink said. "Usually
people want to butt in more."
He'd been worrying about that,
because it was more likely
to screw things up for him
than to help in any way.
"Other places may not work
the same, but here we have
a pretty good system," Rizal said.
"The naries do their thing, we do ours,
and we stay out of each other's way.
We can team up if needed, though."
"So like ... the superheroes and
the cops stick to their own side of
the tracks unless there's a major raid?"
Skink said, feeling his way through it.
"Something like that, although we
have better cooperation," Rizal said.
"Are you sure you can get through
my skin?" Skin said. "The scales
are tiny, so they hardly show,
but they serve as Armor."
"May I touch?" Rizal said.
"Sure," Skink said, and
offered him an arm.
Rizal stroked a gentle finger
over the skin, sliding it around
to feel how the scales moved.
"No problem," he said. "I've cut
through Armor stronger than this, and
I can go through steel if I need to -- it's
why usually I work in the emergency room.
The paramedics can just leave car parts
attached for me to cut off here."
That sounded a lot better than
using a survival knife like before.
"What do you think?" Bartley said.
"You can still back out if you want."
"I think I can work with this," Skink said.
"All right, let's get this show on the road,"
Bartley said, rubbing his hands together.
"Hey, Bartley?" Skink whispered as
they left the staff lounge together.
"What is it, Skink?" said Bartley.
"I do like that guy," Skink said.
He wasn't entirely sure why,
that was just the way he felt.
"I'm glad that you found him."
"Then I'm happy to hear that you
have a good match," Bartley said.
Codee led the way to a row of beds
that held patients before and after surgery.
"Devera, this is Skink," the nurse said to
a Hispanic woman. "He's here to help you."
"Oh, I remember you," Devera said.
"You're the one who threw the brick
at the buzz-saw guy that knocked off
his concentration long enough for
the other supervillains to get him."
"That was you?" Bartley said,
turning to Skink. "You didn't
mention any of that before."
"Uh ... yeah, I was just trying
to keep him from killing me,"
Skink said, edging away.
Bartley sighed. "Well, now
I have to recalculate a bunch of
stuff, because saving lives counts
very much in your favor," he said.
"Sorry," Skink said. "I'm not
a superhero, so I don't really
think in terms of saving people."
"Don't worry, it's part of my job,"
Bartley said. "Meanwhile, let's leave it
that today's project clears the debt for
offenses in the preceding incident."
"Okay," Skink said, and then had
to sign the form for that on the tablet.
"Officer Peña, you're still interested
in this opportunity, and you understand
the risks of dealing with a supervillain?"
Bartley said, passing her the tablet.
She signed without hesitation.
"If he wanted me dead, Bartley,
he could've just scrammed out of
there and let the nutjob have me."
"All right, this is as far as I go,"
Bartley said. "I wish you all luck.
If you have any legal issues, call me.
Skink, I'll see you back at the station
whenever you're up to traveling."
"Okay," Skink said, trying not
to feel abandoned. "Thanks for
the chance to ... fix what I can."
Bartley left, which put Skink in
Rizal's hands now. It was unsettling,
but Skink thought he could get used to it.
It got easier when Rizal led him through
the locker room and showed him the showers,
explaining everything in case Skink was
unfamiliar with the fancier fixtures.
"I read that your ability prevents infection,
which is fantastic, but it's still a good idea
to shower and change when you come from
outside," Rizal said. "It gives me more leeway
to pack some things for aftercare, though."
"Okay," Skink said. He was just grateful
to have scrubs to change into so that
he wouldn't get blood on his clothes.
It didn't take long to get ready,
and then Rizal slung a bag over
his shoulder and led Skink
to Operating Room 1.
"Huh," Skink said, looking
around the large room. Codee
was already there with Devera,
the nurse hovering over her patient.
Someone had actually gotten
the chairs that he had asked for,
because he could not imagine
how to make this work on tables,
but he had never seen chairs
anything like these before.
"These are exam chairs,"
Rizal explained. "This pedal
controls the height, and this lever
adjusts the back in case you want
to recline -- it goes all the way flat."
"Wow," Skink said as he sat down
and fiddled with the controls on his chair.
It was all perfectly intuitive, and he
never again wanted to do this on
the ground or in folding chairs
after seeing a better option.
"This is going to be pretty awful,"
Skink warned Devera. "Rizal here is
going to cut my hand off, then remove
the scabs from the end of your stump.
I'll transfer some of the gel from my wrist
to your leg, and they'll both regrow."
"How long will it take?" Devera asked.
"Around five minutes for the gel to set.
My superpower is activated by pain, so
neither of us can have any painkillers until
that dries," Skink said. "For the regeneration,
about six months to regrow half a leg or twelve
for the whole thing, including some time for
physical therapy to relearn walking on it."
"I have three kids," Devera said wryly.
"I'm no stranger to pain or hard work."
"That should make it more bearable,"
Skink said. He was grateful for that too.
Dog Warrior had been stoic about it, but
not everyone was that impassive.
Rizal set up a pan to catch
the severed hand, which made
one less thing for Skink to worry over.
"Where do you want me to make
the cut?" Rizal asked then.
"I need good point control, and
regrowing bone takes more energy,
so not too high," Skink said. "Going
through the wrist bones is a nuisance,
though." He put his forefinger over
the knob of bone and his thumb about
an inch higher. "Anywhere between
here and here should be good."
"Okay, then I'll put this a little higher
and cut just below it," Rizal said.
"We can tell it's tight enough
when I lose the radial pulse."
He wrapped Skink's left forearm
with a fancy surgical tourniquet that
proved a lot less uncomfortable
than the usual boot lace had.
"Ready?" Rizal asked, laying
a hand above Skink's wrist.
"Go ahead," Skink said
Heat flared through him,
and he heard the soft thump
of his severed hand hitting
the pan, but that was all.
Puzzled, he gave his wrist
an experimental tap against
the arm rest, and then
the pain roared to life.
He gritted his teeth through
the first rush and waited for it
to fade as his power activated.
After a minute Skink asked,
"Is the end of the stump glossy?"
"Yes, kind of," Rizal said.
"Then loosen the band,
I think it's cutting off the flow
of the gel," Skink said.
The pressure let up, and
Skink could feel the flood of
gel pouring out to seal the end.
"Wow, that's amazing," Rizal said.
"It's not actually bleeding much."
"Yeah, it's like a lizard's tail,
only my whole body does that,"
Skink said. "Okay, do Devera now."
"Brace yourself," Rizal warned her,
then peeled off the bandages.
Devera hissed as some
of the scabs came loose
and the blood trickled out.
There hadn't been time to do
skin grafts over the stump.
"Not enough," Skink said.
"I need more access than that."
"Let me just trim the end and
this will be over quicker,"
Rizal said to Devera.
"Do it," she agreed, and
then muffled a screech.
That got the blood flowing,
though, so Skink leaned forward
to swipe the end of his wrist over
the stump of her thigh, smoothing
sticky gel over the raw flesh.
It was a lot easier to do
in a chair that supported him
instead of trying to fold up under
his weight and swallow him.
Devera was panting for breath,
some kind of pattern that sounded
like what women did in childbirth.
"It's okay. You've got this,"
Codee murmured as she patted
the policewoman's shoulder in
a different sort of pattern.
Skink finished off the edges,
then flopped against the back of
his chair and waited while his body
began to tidy up the loose ends.
The gel thickened and began to form
a film, pink closer to the stump and
clear farther out as it pulled the blood
back into their bodies to recycle.
When Skink could touch the dried gel
without any of it sticking to his fingers,
he said, "All right, that's long enough."
"Do you want painkillers now?"
Codee asked Devera.
"Yes yes yes," Devera hissed.
"Okay, here you go," Codee said.
"I'll put the back down so you can
lie flat. Then we'll get you out to
the recovery room for a rest."
Skink was just glad that he didn't
have to handle the cleanup this time.
Rizal had already disposed of the pan
and the severed hand and wiped the blood
off of Skink's skin with a delicate touch.
"What about you?" Rizal asked.
"Do you want any painkillers?"
"Nah, I'm good," Skink said.
"Once my superpower turns on,
the pain fades. I'm still sore, but
no worse than that unless I bump it."
"Okay, it's up to you," Rizal said.
"Tell me if you change your mind."
Skink shifted in place, winced,
and lifted his remaining hand
to cradle the stump. Letting it
point downward always hurt
until the raw end healed over.
Rizal was right there, putting
a warm hand on Skink's shoulder.
"Hey, you want a sling for that?"
"I guess?" Skink said. "If you have it?"
"Sure, we have all kinds of materials
for supporting injuries," Rizal said.
Skink could hear him rustling around
in a cabinet, then Rizal came back with
his hands full of something blue and fuzzy.
"It looks different," Skink said, frowning
over the unfamiliar contraption.
"This is a universal therapeutic sling, so
it's more sophisticated than what you find in
a drugstore," Rizal explained as he put it on.
"Okay, this strap goes over your shoulder and
this one goes around your waist. Your arm goes
in here, and everything's padded for comfort. Do
you want this level, or with your wrist tilted up?"
"Wrist up, please," Skink said, watching in
bemusement as Rizal adjusted the straps.
"Lift your wrist where you want it, then,
and I'll shorten the shoulder strap to hold it
there," Rizal said. Skink obeyed, and
the sling settled comfortably against
his ribs. "How does that feel?"
"Better," Skink said instantly.
"Better than ...?" Rizal prompted.
Better than holding it up himself.
Better than buttoning it into his shirt.
Better than forgetting about the injury,
whacking it on a doorknob, and seeing stars.
"Anything I've tried before," Skink said,
not wanting to go into embarrassing detail.
Then his stomach growled anyway.
"Hungry?" Rizal asked.
"Yeah, I always need extra food
after doing this -- the more protein,
the better," Skink explained.
"Here, start with this," Rizal said,
pressing a bottle into his hand.
"That's 530 calories and 22 grams
of protein. Just chug it, nobody
drinks those things for the flavor."
Skink followed the directions,
although the chalky taste
made him grimace.
"This will taste way better,
I promise, and I've got more
for you after it," Rizal said as
he gave Skink a banana.
It wasn't half-green like
most lunch-counter bananas,
but deep yellow with brown specks,
the flavor smooth and sweet.
Skink was tempted to eat the peel.
"Give me that and I'll toss it,"
Rizal said, taking the peel away.
He rummaged in his bag again,
then passed Skink a carton of
flax crackers and a handful
of nut butter packets.
Skink looked down at them.
There was Vanilla Almond Butter,
Vanilla Peanut Butter, and even
Chocolate Peanut Butter.
They were all as good as
promised, and he slit open
the pouches to lick the insides.
"Enough," Rizal said gently as he
collected the wrappers. "You've just
guzzled well over a thousand calories.
Give your body a chance to absorb
that before you add any more."
"But I'm still thirsty," Skink said,
although he didn't relish the idea
of another vanilla-chalk drink.
"Here, water should help that,"
Rizal said, handing him a bottle.
Skink sucked down half of it
in one long swallow, then said,
"Thanks for taking care of me."
"It's my pleasure," Rizal said. "Wow,
is your hand growing back already?"
Skink glanced down at it.
The end of the stump had gone
from perfectly flat to rounded
as the knobs on his arm bones
began to regenerate themselves.
"Yeah, it's starting to," he said.
"The cartilage comes in first as skin
grows around it, then the fingers divide
and the hand bones solidify later."
"You must go through calcium
like crazy," Rizal said, moving
the sling to get a better look.
Skink tensed, but it didn't hurt.
"I will in a few hours," he said.
"Most of that happens overnight."
"Better top up now, then,"
Rizal said. "I know you didn't
ask for this, but I figured it was
better to come prepared."
He dug into his bag again,
then passed Skink a package
of chocolate calcium chews.
"I forgot to list everything,"
Skink admitted. "I'm used
to taking whatever I can get."
"Then we should have no trouble
clearing that bar," Rizal said.
He really had no idea.
Once Skink got the first bite
into his mouth, his body hit him
with a wild craving for calcium, and
he gobbled down half the package
before Rizal got it away from him.
"A little at a time, please,"
the nurse said. "I know you
need extra nutrients, but it helps
to go slow enough that your body
can process what you're giving it."
Skink thought about the raging cramps
he'd gotten on a few occasions, so
he decided that maybe listening to
the nice medic was a good idea.
"Okay, I'll try to slow down," he said,
then shivered. The room felt cold.
"You're shaking," Rizal said as
he pressed a hand to the side of
Skink's neck. "Are you cold, or is
this a reaction to what you did?"
"Cold," Skink said. "I need
more heat, or it slows down
the rate of my regeneration."
"Oh, I can fix that," Rizal said.
"Let's go back to the locker room."
"Sure," Skink said. He heaved
himself to his feet, wobbled briefly,
then headed toward the door.
Rizal followed, bag in tow,
keeping a hand near Skink.
"I was going to offer you a ride,"
the nurse said. "The chairs roll."
"Maybe next time," Skink said.
"So you really want to keep
doing this?" Rizal asked. "When
Bartley approached me he said that
it might be one time or ongoing."
Skink thought about that.
He didn't enjoy being injured,
but he definitely appreciated all of
the attention he was getting from Rizal.
It reminded Skink of being home
and drunk off his ass and having
his cousins take care of him.
"I think so, yeah," he said.
"It's a good opportunity to fix up
my life, and I probably need that.
I've made ... a lot of trouble, and it's
late to be making amends for that."
"As long as you live, it is never too late
to make amends," Rizal said firmly. "Don't
waste your precious life with regrets and
sorrow. Find a way to make right what
was wrong, and then move on."
"I'm trying," Skink said. "I think
that I may have found a way now."
"I hope so," Rizal said. "It's just
hard to imagine doing this regularly.
It must cause you a lot of pain."
Skink shrugged. "Way less than I'm
used to," he said. "A knife or a saw,
that really hurts. What you did, I couldn't
feel anything but heat until I moved my arm."
"Oh, so that's why you moved like that,"
Rizal said, nodding. "I wondered. Anyhow,
my superpower doesn't generate heat, but
people's nerves can interpret it different ways."
Inside the locker room, Rizal led Skink
to the changing area, sat him down,
and helped him out of the scrubs.
"Just relax and let me do the work,"
the nurse said. "I can make this easier."
"Yeah, it still kind of hurts to move,"
Skink said. It was nice to sit there
and let Rizal handle everything.
"If we do this again, next time I'm
putting you in vrip seams," Rizal said
as he gently worked the top off
around Skink's injured arm.
"Huh?" Skink said. It was
getting harder to stay awake.
"People make shirts with vrip seams
so the front and back come apart
completely," Rizal said. "That way
you don't have to wrestle sore arms
through little holes in the shirt, you
just open and close the sides."
"I waaaaant one," Skink said.
He hated fighting with clothes
when he only had one hand.
"I'll take care of it," Rizal said, then
looked down. "I don't mean to pry,
but is your backside supposed
to be that bright of a blue?"
"Yes, I really have skink traits,
that's not just a cape name,"
the supervillain explained.
"No worries, then," Rizal said.
"I just wanted to make sure."
Instead of putting Skink's clothes
back on, he dressed them both
in wrap towels and bathrobes
and slippers of ivory and brown.
"Heyyyy," Skink whined as
Rizal took the sling away.
"It's okay, you can have it
back later," Rizal said as he
replaced it with a cleverly tied
towel. "Trust me, you'll want
something more absorbent
to wear in the sauna."
He guided Skink into it,
leaving their bathrobes on
the hooks just outside.
"Oh," Skink breathed,
looking around. The sauna
was cedar, a sacred wood, with
its two slatted benches already
covered in towels and pillows.
"Lie down now," Rizal said,
helping Skink to stretch out
on the nearest bench. Then
he sat on the other one.
Deep orange lights flicked on,
and their penetrating heat activated
Skink's basking reflex so that he
practically melted onto the bench.
It just felt so good to lie there
and not have to think about
anything, like sunning himself
on a rock back at the reservation.
"Go ahead and relax," Rizal said.
"The sauna's on a timer, and I'll take
care of you. I read your instructions."
Oh, right. Skink had tried to describe
how he acted and what he needed after
using this particular superpower.
"Okay," he said, and let go
the last bit of attention that
he was paying to the world.
It melted away, leaving him at peace.
* * *
This poem is long, so the notes are posted separately. Read the character, location, and content notes.