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Poem: "The Gossamer Threads of Trust" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "The Gossamer Threads of Trust"
This poem is spillover from the February 6, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer , [personal profile] daisiesrockalot , [personal profile] redsixwing , [personal profile] chanter_greenie , [personal profile] bairnsidhe , and [personal profile] callibr8 . It also fills the "Celts / Picts" square in my 10-1-17 card for the Fall Festival Bingo, and the "nonsexual touch" square in my 1-31-18 Platonic card for the Valentines Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by EdorFaus. It belongs to the Mercedes thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING: This poem contains some intense topics and graphic descriptions. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. Mark Hastings assaults Pips, and what would ordinarily be a minor bit of inappropriate roughhousing triggers a soup headache similar to a migraine. The poem includes changing family dynamics, discussion of shopping/budgeting challenges, unprovoked attack, rude remarks, broken glasses, graphic description of migraine-like headache intense enough to be disabling and require a lot of assistance, Joshua is upset seeing Pips so wrecked, carrying (with permission), Cove is also upset because Pips is hurt, dickering over where Pips is going to lie down, Joshua undressing Pips, messy medical details, role reversals, vulnerability, hand holding, Cove is still freaked out, talking about fear, the problem of evil (in toddler terms), and other challenges. This is hardcore hurt/comfort. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before moving onward. This is a major plot point for Pips and the Tulls, though, so skipping it would leave a gap.

"The Gossamer Threads of Trust"

Joshua and Pips strolled along
the Mercedes Rail path, having
left the car at one of the parking lots
for bicycles and road vehicles that
were scattered along the route.

Other people passed them,
joggers and bikers and teens
on skateboards or roller skates.

It was a lovely trail, wider in
some places and narrower in others,
flanked by native wildflowers or grasses.

As they walked, Joshua pointed out
the benches and Little Free Libraries
and assorted other amenities to Pips,
helping him learn the local resources.

They talked about the businesses
that they passed, restaurants and
repair shops and hair salons.

Pips had a sharp memory, but now
and then he took out his smartphone
to mark points on his PinAnt app.

It was one of many things
that made Joshua value Pips --
for his organization, his loyalty,
his competence, and so much more.

From the way Pips looked at him,
Joshua figured the feeling was mutual,
but he didn't have the same crisp sense
of it that Pips did, and that was okay too.

Sometimes they brushed together,
their shoulders or hips or hands
touching each other in passing.

It was still startling at times,
but they were getting used to it.

Joshua had so many new people
in his life that he was taking steps
to foster deliberate connections with
each of them, collectively and individually.

This walk with Pips was one more way
to build the gossamer threads of trust.

Pips' phone chirped. He read
the message, then chuckled.

"What's up?" Joshua asked.

"Griffin put the kids down for a nap,
except for Cove, who's all wound up
about something, so they're going
to practice Bom Bom Bunny for a while,"
Pips said. "Look, there's a picture."

Griffin had taken to alternating
who he sent snapshots to, so
Joshua leaned over to look.
Dylan was in her crib, while
Isobel and Michael curled up
on one of the twin beds.

At least they were on the bed
instead of under it this time.

"It's really nice of Griffin
to watch the kids so that we can
take a little time to relax," Joshua said.
"After we get dinner at the Trains Diner,
we should pick up a treat for him."

"That reminds me, I finished
the preliminary analysis of
shopping patterns," Pips said.

"Thank you," Joshua said.
"What does it look like?"

"We're spending between
two and three hours per trip,
at least twice a week," Pips said.

Joshua winced. "That's bad,"
he said. "Griffin and I used to take
half an hour, once a week, and we
could do a quickie in fifteen minutes."

"I know," Pips said. "As for costs,
we're averaging over $500 per trip.
The monthly total was $4264."

"That's even steeper than I realized,"
Joshua said, shaking his head.
"We need to do something."

"I'm working on it," Pips said.
"I looked for food box programs
as a way to save money, but there
aren't many options here. What
do you think about Devil's Food?"

"I checked them out a year ago,
when the Satanists started a program
because Angel Food Ministries couldn't
pull it together here," said Joshua. "They
really focus on adults -- the Basic Box is okay,
and I confess I was tempted by Sinful Sweets,
but the Red Meat package is mostly for grilling
and they don't have a children's package at all."

"So not quite what we need," Pips said.
"I'll check the hospital next. Those
usually have special diet boxes."

Joshua shook his head. "Nope.
It's been suggested repeatedly,
and shot down every time."

Pips snorted, and tilted his head
in a way that made Joshua think
he was rolling his eyes behind
the peacock-colored sunglasses.
"That's not very helpful."

"Oh, you should hear
the Doctors Finn complain
about it," Joshua said.

"If local resources are scarce,
we could always start our own
buying club," Pips said thoughtfully.
"You have a big family, and you also
have connections to other households."

"Now there's an idea," Joshua said.
"Please look into that further, and then --"

He broke off the conversation as
someone shouldered between them.

"Suck it, four-eyes!" Mark Hastings yelled,
swatting Pips on the head hard enough
to knock his sunglasses to the ground.
Then Mark laughed and ran away.

Joshua dashed after him, determined
to catch the teen who had just gone
beyond what he was willing to tolerate.

Mark was fast, though, and soon
he vanished into a cluster of people.

Joshua slowed, grumbled, and
headed back the other way. He
didn't want to leave Pips alone, and
he could always find Mark later.

When Joshua got back, he saw
the sunglasses on the pavement.
The peacock-colored lenses had
splintered -- Mark must have stepped
on them, because Pips had said
that they were pretty sturdy.

Joshua picked up the glasses and
tucked them into his shirt pocket.
Then he looked around for Pips.

The young man was leaning
against the wall of Home & Away
where the recessed entry divided
the travel agency side of the building
from the home decoration side.

"I'm sorry about that," Joshua said.
"I couldn't catch him, but I know who
that was and I'll deal with him later --
Mark Hastings just got himself into
more trouble than his uncle can get
him out of. He broke your sunglasses,
by the way. I don't know if they're fixable."

Pips didn't answer him, and Joshua
could see his shoulders shaking faintly.

"Pips? Are you okay?" he asked.

"No," Pips said. His voice was tight,
barely more than a whisper.

Joshua moved closer, one hand
hovering above the shoulder
but afraid to touch without
an invitation. "What's wrong?"

"Migraine," Pips said.
"Kind of. Soup thing."

"Because Mark knocked off
your glasses?" Joshua guessed.

"Sun was right in my face," Pips said.

"Ouch," Joshua said, lowering his voice.
"Migraines suck. How can I help?"

"Get me home," Pips said.

"Okay," Joshua said.
"Can you walk?"

"If I have something
to lean on," Pips said.

Joshua stepped closer. "Here,
put your arm over my shoulder and --
no, that won't work, the height difference
is too far. How do you want to do this?"

It was easy to forget how tiny Pips was,
because his personality made him seem
bigger, but he was only five feet tall.

"Grab my belt," Pips whispered.
"Let me hold onto you. Think
I can make it to the car."

"It's not far," Joshua said.

He got a good grip on the belt,
which let him take most of the weight,
and Pips clung to his side as they walked.

The younger man had his eyes closed,
face scrunched in pain, and his head
pressed against Joshua's chest.

He was shaking, too, a fine tremor
that made Joshua want to find
Mark Hastings and give him
the shaking of his sorry life.

"Passenger side," Joshua said
when they finally reached the car.
"I'm going to put my hand over
your head when you get inside,
so you don't bump anything."

Even that brief contact made
Pips whimper, but he didn't protest.

"Seatbelt next," Joshua said before
he fastened it. Then he used a clip
to keep it from tightening too much.

He wasn't sure how much of Pips was
hurting right now. Possibly everything.

"I have emergency sunglasses in
the first aid kit, for migraines and such,"
Joshua said. "Would that help?"

"Not dark enough," Pips said.

"Okay, well ... what about
a blindfold?" Joshua said.
"I have some bandanas."

"If you can block all the light,
yeah, it'll help," Pips said.

Joshua handed a bandana
to Pips. "Here, scrunch this and
hold it over your eyes," he said.

He folded another bandana
on the diagonal, as if making
a bandage. "I'm putting the knot
on the right side of your head, so
you don't have to lean on it,"
he said as he tied it on.

"Thanks," Pips said. "Helps."

"That's good," Joshua said.
He made sure that Pips' hands
and feet were safely out of the way.
"I'll close the door now, and go
around to the driver's side."

Pips huddled in the seat,
a limp ball of misery. It was
alarming to see him so still,
except for the quivering.

Usually he was so vibrant,
despite being quiet as a cat.

Seeing him vulnerable like that
made Joshua realize how much
he had come to rely on Pips.

It was unsettling to have that
yanked away, even temporarily.

Joshua drove as carefully
as possible, but he kept
one hand on Pips' knee
for mutual comfort.

"Here we are," he said
as he pulled the car into
the handicapped space
closest to the back door of
the Executive Rest hotel.

Joshua let go of Pips
just long enough to hang up
the generic "handicapped" sign
on the rearview mirror and then
walk around the car to open the door.

"How do you want to do this?"
he asked, offering Pips a hand.

"Just pick me up," Pips said.

Joshua froze. "You've told me
very firmly never to do that."

"Without asking," Pips said.
"I'm asking. Can't make it
up the steps like this."

Oh, right. The back entrance
had a few stairs, which made it
popular with the cane users,
because the front lot filled up
with the wheelchair users.

"We could go around
to the front, but that way
is a lot busier," Joshua said.
"I'm happy to help however
you want, I just need to be
very clear about consent."

"Carry me," Pips said.

"Princess carry okay?"
Joshua asked. "I really
don't want to drape you over
my shoulder with your head down."

"Princess," Pips said, and Joshua
carefully scooped him off the seat.

Pips seemed to weigh almost nothing,
so it wound up being less of a princess
and more of a one-man chair carry,
with Pips sitting almost upright
across Joshua's right forearm.

When they reached the door,
Joshua asked, "Can I set you down
for just a minute so I can open this?
If I yell or kick the door, it'll scare the kids."

"Down," Pips said. "I can walk."

Joshua let him down as gently
as possible, but Pips still clung
to him as he opened the door.

"Dad? What's wrong?" Griffin said
as soon as they came inside.

"Someone assaulted Pips and
broke his sunglasses, so he has
a migraine," Joshua said. "I can't
say much more about an active case."

"Peep hurt?" Cove said, clinging
to Griffin's leg and looking worried.

"Yes, he is, but I'm taking care of him,
so he'll be okay," Joshua explained.

Cove didn't look very reassured.

"Just put me on the couch,"
Pips said. "I'll be fine."

"You are not fine," Joshua said.
"I think you should be in a bed."

"Should he be in a hospital?"
Griffin s. "He looks awful!"

"He asked me to bring him here,
so I did," Joshua said. "I trust
that he knows what he's doing."

Although if Pips kept insisting
he would be fine on a couch,
Joshua might revise that.

"Put him in my room," Griffin said.
"I can sleep in the living room."

"Help sleeps in --" Pips began.

"We can make it darker,"
Griffin said. "My room
only has one window, and
the sitting room is more open."

"You win," Pips said.

Griffin turned to Cove.
"It's Bom Bom Bunny time.
Can you be a big boy and
sit still and quiet while Dad
and I take care of Pips?"

"Uh huh," Cove said,
scrambling onto the couch.
"Can I watch cartoons?"

"You sure can," Griffin said,
and turned on the television
as Joshua helped Pips
into Griffin's bedroom.

Pips kicked off his shoes,
then got tangled up trying
to wrestle his clothes off.

"Would you like a hand
with that?" Joshua asked.

Pips let his fingers fall away
from the recalcitrant buttons.
"Yeah, thanks," he said.

As Joshua started working
on the shirt, Griffin came in.

"I got Cove settled with
the cartoons," he said. "May
I call the help desk and ask if
they have blackout curtains?"

"I think that sounds like
a great idea," Joshua said.
"Pips, what do you think?"

"Yeah," said Pips.

Joshua carefully peeled
the shirt off of Pips, keeping
one ear on Griffin just in case
he needed help with anything.

"In the closet? Oh, okay. Thanks,"
Griffin said, and then hung up.
"Apparently all the rooms
have blackout curtains in
storage. I'll dig them out."

Joshua moved down to
the pants, then paused
at the boxers. "Underwear
on or off?" he asked Pips.

"Leave it on," Pips said.

"Okay," Joshua said, draping
a cotton throw over him.

"Pips, I need to take down
the old curtains," Griffin said.
"Hide your face or something if
that blindfold isn't entirely secure."

"Pillow," Pips muttered, trying
to move and not getting anywhere.

"Come here, I've got a better idea,"
Joshua said, helping him roll away
from the window. "Tuck your face
between my chest and my arm;
that way you can still breathe."

Pips burrowed into him. "Okay."

Griffin stripped off the curtains
and quickly replaced them.

The blackout curtains left the room
much darker, although some light
still came in through the door,
just enough for them to see by.

"All clear," Griffin said. "It's
pretty dark in here. I think
you can come out now."

Pips dragged off the bandanas,
looked around, and winced.

"Still too bright in here
for you?" Joshua asked.

"Yeah, for now," Pips said.

"Do you want your blindfold?"
Joshua said, folding the bandanas
and stuffing them in his pocket.

"Please," Pips said. "In my bag.
Don't try to open it. Just bring it."

"I'll get it," Griffin said.

"May I check your eyes?"
Joshua said. "I don't need
a lot of light for this."

"Okay." Pips opened his eyes
again, their peacock sheen barely
visible in the dim lighting. They
started watering at once, but
otherwise seemed fine.

"That's enough," Joshua said,
covering Pips' eyes with his hand.
"No sign of injury or irritation."

Griffin came back with the bag.
"Here you go," he said. "I'm going
to keep Cove company. Let me
know if you need anything else."

"We will," Joshua promised.

"Pips, I hope you feel better
soon," Griffin said, and then
closed the door behind him.

Joshua hoisted the duffel bag
onto his lap and then guided
Pips' hand to the pockets.

For a moment, Pips fiddled
with the zipper pulls, then
opened a front pocket. But
he couldn't get his hand inside.

"Is it safe for me to reach
in there?" Joshua asked.

"Yeah," Pips said. "Pull out
the blindfold. Remember what
I showed you? Push center and
hold it for five seconds, then push
right three times, and left twice."

Joshua took it out and felt for
the little bumps of liquid that
served as some sort of switch,
then followed the directions.

"Whoa!" he said. "It's humming,
or buzzing, or something."

"Means it's on," Pips said.
"Give me a hand with it?"

"Of course," Joshua said.
He settled the blindfold in place,
scooped Pips' head off the pillow,
then carefully positioned the straps,
smoothing his hair down afterwards.
"There you go. Comfortable?"

"Mmm ... less awful," Pips said.

"Do you have any medication for
times like these?" Joshua asked.

He knew that regular painkillers
rarely did much for an ordinary migraine,
and even less for superpowered ones.

"Yeah," Pips said, waving a hand.
"End pocket, red cross."

Joshua found the little charm
with the medical symbol on it.
"Is it safe for me to open this?"

"Is now," Pips said. "Unlocked 'em."

So that's what he was doing,
handling the fobs earlier.

Joshua unzipped the pocket,
marveling at the show of trust.
He had no idea what he'd done
to earn Pips' devotion so deeply,
so quickly, but it touched him.

Peeking inside, he said,
"Okay, I see a green pouch,
a red one, and a blue one."

"Blue first," Pips said.

Joshua took the blue pouch
and said, "Now what?"

"Blue vial, lightning bolt,"
Pips said. "Half a glass of
water, dump in whole vial."

Joshua found the tiny flask of
cobalt glass with a label that read
Blue Chamomile and a sticker on
the cap with a lightning bolt brain,
the symbol for migraines.

"I will be right back with
the water," he said, brushing
Pips' shoulder with his fingertips
before heading to the kitchen.

Griffin was curled up on the couch
with Cove in his lap, watching
an episode of Candy Corps.

Joshua filled half a glass with
cool water, and then returned
to the bedroom. He eyed
the vial, remembering that
blue chamomile was usually
dispensed in individual drops.

"This looks like kind of a lot,"
Joshua said, hesitating.

"Enough to knock me out
for eight-twelve hours,"
Pips said. "Hate that,
but I need it now."

"Okay," Joshua said.

He poured the tincture into
the glass, swirled it in, and
helped Pips sit up enough
to swallow the water.

"Gah," Pips said. "Peppermint,
please? Green leaf on the cap."

Joshua hurried to find the vial
of peppermint flavor and
dab a bit on Pips' lip.

He wished he'd known about it
earlier so he could have it ready.

"Other blue vial, raindrop on cap,"
Pips said. "That's blue chamomile oil.
Put a drop of that on both my wrists."

Joshua dabbed some of the dark stuff
on Pips' pale skin and rubbed it in.
As the oil warmed, it released
a familiar minty, musky smell.

"Anything else?" Joshua asked
as he put away the vial of oil.

Pips sighed. "Yeah," he said.
"Red case. Give it here."

Joshua passed it to him,
and Pips opened the case
to show an auto-injector.

No wonder he didn't sound
too happy. Those things
usually packed quite a punch.

"I have advanced first aid training,
and your hands are shaking,"
Joshua said gently. "Let
me do that for you?"

"Fine," Pips muttered,
hands digging into the bed.

Joshua moved the fabric out of
the way. "This will really bite, so I'm
going to put it in the top of your thigh,"
he said as he swabbed the skin.
"That way you'll flinch straight
down into the bed. It's safer."

He set the tube in place and
thumbed the button on top.

Pips yipped.

Joshua tossed the empty tube
into the trash, then rubbed over
the puncture to soothe the sting.

He stuck a bandaid over the spot,
then tugged Pips' boxers back down
and put the blanket over him.

"What next?" Joshua said.

"Wait for my head to stop
tearing itself in half," Pips said.

"Okay," Joshua said. "What
should I do with your bag?
Do you need to relock it?"

"Nah ... timer," Pips said,
already sounding drowsy.

"I'll put everything away and
leave it right by your bed,"
Joshua said, hurrying through
that process in case it, too,
had some sort of time limit.

"Thanks," Pips whispered.
"You're so good to me."

"No trouble at all,"
Joshua assured him.
"You've been taking care
of us for weeks, and now it's
our turn to take care of you."

Pips smiled through
the fading pain. "Mmkay."

"May I sit with you until you
fall asleep?" Joshua asked.

"Please," Pips said, and there
was that vulnerable look again,
like he wasn't sure if he could ask.

They were still feeling out the shape
of their relationship, which didn't
exactly come with a script
the way a romance did.

The gossamer threads of trust
wound a little bit tighter.

Joshua dared to scoop
Pips' hand off the bed, and
the small fingers curled around
his own, warm and welcome.

"Mind if I check on you through
the night?" Joshua said.

Pips wrinkled his nose.
"M'not helpless," he protested.

"Of course not," Joshua said,
stroking the hand he held.
"Just a bit under the weather."

"Maybe more than a bit,"
Pips admitted then.

"I don't want to wake you up,"
Joshua said. "How about if I
check on you whenever I'm up
checking on the little ones?"

"Mmm," Pips said agreeably.

"Deal," Joshua said.
"Get some sleep now."

It took a few minutes for
the tension to seep out of
Pips' body and his breathing
to stop hitching with hidden sobs.

It was still impressive, though.

In Joshua's observation,
even prescription medication
couldn't always control migraines.

Dropping off to sleep after
a few minutes was a blessing.

Joshua tucked Pips' hand
under the light blanket and
smoothed a stray lock of hair
away from the peaceful face.

Then he tiptoed out of the room
and closed the door behind him.

"Peep okay?" Cove said,
scrambling off of Griffin.

"Not quite yet," Joshua said.
"He still feels pretty crummy.
I got him to sleep, though,
and he'll be okay later."

"M'scared," Cove said,
clinging to Joshua's leg.

"What happened was scary,
wasn't it?" Joshua said. "I was
scared too. But that's all right,
because I've had lessons in
how to handle this stuff."

"You have?" Cove said.

"Yes, and you know what helps
me calm down when I'm scared?"
Joshua said. "A good cuddle."

On cue, Griffin patted the couch.
"We've got room for one more."

"I'll take you up on that as soon
as I grab myself a sandwich,"
Joshua said. "I managed to miss
supper in all the excitement."

"We had snacks earlier, but
not supper yet," Griffin said.

"Then thank goodness for
our sandwich cache," Joshua said
as he headed into the kitchen.

They had taken to making
sandwiches in batch lots using
cold cuts and cheese that would
store well in the refrigerator.

Joshua piled some on a platter,
added peanut butter and jelly
and finger sausages for Cove,
grapes and blueberries for everyone,
then carried it to the sitting room.

"Dinner is served," he said.

"Your pick for television,"
Griffin offered as he sat down.

"Princess Powerrr," said Joshua.
"I could really use a reminder
of friendship tonight."

"Why are people so mean?"
Cove said. "I don't like it."

"I wish I knew," Joshua said.
"I don't like that either."

"I think some people don't
want to look at their own messes,
so they pick on someone else and
then they don't have to think about
how they've messed up," Griffin said.

"Good answer," Joshua said,
picking up his first sandwich.

Cove wormed his way between
them, one hand full of sausage
and the other a bunch of grapes.

The Princess Powerrr theme
came on, making Joshua smile.

Even if there were mean people
in the world, he had his family, and
that was enough for him to hold onto
when he needed some comfort.

* * *


This poem is long, so the notes appear in another post.

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