Warning: This poem contains some sensitive issues. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. This is the aftermath of the assault, so Pips is back on his feet but still feeling a bit delicate. He and Joshua have some difficult topics to cover. The poem includes an unexpected special delivery that implies a level of monitoring with which Joshua is not entirely comfortable (but which belongs to Pips and he needs it), supervillain subculture makes life interesting, Joshua is protective, kids are messy, mild migraine hangover, coddling, so much coddling, blind navigation, Cove is still anxious and protective of Pips, teaching gentleness, Joshua grabbing Pips to keep him from tripping on toys, impromptu floor cuddles, discussion of Pips' equipment and protections for same, uncomfortable and delicate conversation about the assault and how to handle its aftermath, Pips feeling guilty and twitchy about letting Mark get the drop on them, brief mention of unpleasant family dynamics, and other challenges. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before moving onward.
"The Friend in My Adversity"
When Joshua woke at five
to change Dylan, he peeked
into bedroom to find Pips
still sound asleep.
Just before seven,
Cove woke him up with
Michael in tow. "We need
change," Cove said.
So Joshua took care
of that, then checked on
Griffin, who was sacked out
on the couch, still needing
more sleep than usual.
Pips was still asleep too,
but he had rolled over, so
he might wake up soon.
Joshua settled the boys
at the breakfast table with
dessert cups of Greek yogurt
with a selection of sliced fruits,
chopped nuts, and other toppings
that they could choose from.
Then he threw together
a breakfast casserole from
leftover ham, chopped vegetables,
cheese, hashbrowns, and nearly
a whole carton of eggs.
Just as he put the pan
into the oven, he heard
a soft knock at the door.
Joshua answered it to find
a Hispanic teenager holding
a package. "Special delivery
for Pips," he announced.
Frowning, Joshua said,
"He doesn't have anything
due that I know of, and you
aren't wearing any kind of
company patch or other ID."
"Our boss is more discreet than
that," said the teen. "My name is
Carlito Vivas, and I've got something
that you might recognize, but you really
need to take this package to Pips --
it has his replacement glasses."
"How did anyone even know that he
needed a replacement?" Joshua said,
getting nervous. "I know that he wasn't
in any shape to order anything yesterday."
"I'm sorry, sir, you'll have to ask Pips that,"
said Carlito. "Or I could just talk to him --"
"He's indisposed," Joshua said quellingly.
"Still passed out on the couch, huh?"
Carlito said, and then managed
to peek inside. "Holy shit, you
actually got him into a bedroom?
Dude, you are way ahead of me."
"You two know each other?"
Joshua asked, and then
"Yeah, for a while. Pips is
great but he gets around,
you know?" said Carlito, then
juggled the small package so he
could pull up a masculine chain
with a round pendant on the end.
Joshua recognized the red motherboard
from a piece of Pips' body jewelry. "All right,
that is familiar," he said. "Give me the package
and I'll pass it to Pips as soon as he wakes.
Where do I need to sign for receipt?"
Carlito laughed. "Dude, we
don't make trails like that."
"How do you know that I'll even
give it to him?" Joshua challenged
as he accepted the small box.
"Boss will know when the package is
opened, or if anything bad happens to it,"
Carlito assured him. "But don't worry,
we know you're solid with Pips. The way
you're blocking the door while he's down,
it's no wonder he's so sweet on you."
Supervillains could be scarily observant.
"Thank you for the delivery," Joshua said,
trying to hide his lack of composure,
and then he closed the door.
He put the package away
in an overhead cabinet,
then checked on the boys.
They were fine, aside from
Michael fingerpainting on
the table with his yogurt.
Thank god it had been clean.
"Here, Michael, let me get you
some colors if you want to play
that way," Joshua said, taking out
several packets of dried fruit powder.
"Look, now you have raspberry, mango,
and blueberry for your painting!"
Michael was enthusiastic about
the new colors and flavors, and
even Cove joined in the fun.
Joshua checked on the girls, then
got them changed and dressed.
Griffin came yawning into view
as Joshua was trying to juggle them.
"Let me wear Dylan for a while,"
said Griffin. "She's not squeaking
for her bottle yet, so that will leave
your hands free, and I'll feed her later."
"With Pips down, I can use all the help
I can get," Joshua said. He felt like
he had just lost his right arm.
When they got to the kitchen,
though, Pips was padding around
in the pajamas and robe Joshua had
given him, as if everything was fine.
As Pips turned around, Joshua saw
that he was still wearing the sleep mask,
but there was no telling which setting
it was on or how that affected Pips.
"Good morning," Joshua murmured.
"How are you feeling right now?"
"A little sore and tired, but not too bad,
all things considered," Pips said.
"I'm out of bed and mobile."
"How can I make your life
easier today?" Joshua asked.
"You just did," Pips said,
and leaned against him.
"Thanks for caring. I'm okay,
mostly -- not fully functional yet,
but no worse than a cold. As long
as I take it easy, I should do fine."
"No heavy lifting or sudden moves,
check," said Joshua. "Don't feel
obligated to do more housework
or childcare than you're ready for."
The timer on the oven dinged.
Pips took the breakfast casserole
out and set it on the counter.
"Okay, Picasso, time to clean up
the art gallery," Joshua said as he
wiped away the remaining yogurt.
"We need the table for breakfast."
Michael squealed in his ear
and licked the tabletop. Joshua
just wiped over the spot again.
Griffin brought out orange juice and
glasses, then poured for everyone.
"Anything else I can do?" he said.
Joshua glanced over and saw
that Dylan had fallen asleep
in the baby sling again.
"Well, since you're not on
bottle duty yet, why don't you
hit the complimentary buffet
and pick up a box of donuts
for us?" Joshua suggested.
"Oh, get the double chocolate
if they have any today," Pips said.
"Sometimes chocolate helps me
clear up the migraine hangover."
"Can do," Griffin said, and
let himself out of the suite.
"How much of a hangover are
we talking, here?" said Joshua.
"I gather light sensitivity from
the sleep mask, but what else --
nausea, brain fog, exhaustion?"
"I always need to rest my eyes after
they get stressed, but otherwise it's
not too bad," Pips said. "I wouldn't want
to go jogging or work in a lab today, but
I can do most household stuff. I'm
a bit fuzzy around the edges."
"Peep hurt?" Cove said, rocking
back and forth in his chair.
"Just a little today," Pips said.
"I can't do as much as usual, but
I feel a lot better than yesterday.
I'll be fine in another day or few.
If I get crabby, that's not your fault.
You can help by being gentle with me."
Cove crept over and hugged Pips
as if he were a balloon that might pop.
"That's perfect," Pips said, smiling.
"You're treating me tenderly, not
hanging back. I like that."
By the time they reset the table
and were dishing up the casserole,
Griffin had returned with donuts.
"Okay, I got three each
of the double chocolate,
coconut vanilla, strawberry,
and apple cider protein,"
he said, opening the box.
"Excellent," said Joshua.
"That's one for each toddler,
two for me, and you two can
split the rest however you want."
"Peep first," Cove said.
"That's very thoughtful
of you," Pips said as he
reached into the box. "I
think I'll take two chocolate
and one apple cider. Now,
what do you want?"
"Chocolate!" Cove said,
grabbing the last one.
"You may have that after
you finish your casserole,"
Joshua said. "It has eggs
and ham, which you like."
Cove sighed and put down
his donut to try the eggs.
"I'll just put temptation
out of immediate reach,
shall I?" Pips said, moving
the donut box to the counter.
The casserole was hearty,
and Joshua treated himself
to a coconut vanilla and
a strawberry donut.
Dylan finally woke up
and started making
the soft "mwa, mwa"
sound that meant
she was hungry.
"Here, suck on this
while I get your bottle
ready," Griffin said, taking
a bit of strawberry puree from
a donut to dab on Dylan's lip.
Joshua watched, and Pips
tilted his head to listen, but
Griffin didn't need any help
setting up the bottle -- then
Michael managed to dump
Joshua's juice on himself.
"Okay, time for a change,"
Joshua said, scooping up
his sticky son. At least
this time they had actually
finished the meal first.
When they came back,
Griffin said, "How about
I take the little ones into
the living room where we
can watch Semolina Lane."
"That would be a big help,
thank you," said Joshua.
So everyone else went
to watch television while
Joshua and Pips cleared
the table and washed dishes.
It was amazing to watch Pips
move around with perfect poise,
despite the soft dark mask that
completely covered his eyes.
"At some point, we'll need to talk
about yesterday," Joshua said as
Pips put away the last plate.
"Let's take this to the sitting room,
away from everyone else," Pips said.
Joshua followed him and watched
the quick light steps of the smaller man --
until Pips' foot swung over a toy truck.
Without thinking, Joshua grabbed him
and rolled both of them to safety between
the coffee table and the entertainment center,
taking the brunt of the fall on his own back.
"Well, hello there," Pips murmured as
he lay on top of Joshua. This close, he
smelled sweetly of peppermint and lavender.
"Sorry, I'm sorry, I know that you told me
never to pick you up," Joshua babbled.
"Never without my permission," Pips said.
"So I trust you had a very good reason.
What were you saving me from?"
"You were about to put your foot
on a toy truck," Joshua said, pointing
to it just as everyone else rushed into
the sitting room to see what was wrong.
"Dad? Pips? Are you okay?" Griffin said.
Cove wriggled out of Griffin's grip on
his hand and scrambled over to Pips.
"I'm okay," Pips assured him as he
rolled off of Joshua and sat up. "It's
just an unexpected bit of floor time."
"Okay, everyone, time for some tips
about home safety with someone who
can't see," Joshua said, getting up and
lending Pips a hand up as well. "First,
when Pips wears his sleep mask, he
has to remember where everything is,
so make sure all the tables stay put
and the chairs get pushed in."
"I'll do a loop around the suite
before I sit back down," Griffin said.
"Second, we need to take extra care
to put away all our toys and tools while
Pips is resting his eyes," Joshua said.
He noticed his tablet on the floor and
moved it to the middle of the coffee table.
"That goes for grownups as well as kids."
"M'sorry!" Cove wailed, wrapping himself
around Pips like a small legwarmer.
"It's all right, nobody got hurt
this time," Pips said. "When I
first started having trouble with
my eyes, then I had to learn how
to move around and keep my home
neat without seeing. That takes
practice, so we'll help you."
"Pips and I need to talk, but later
we can all work on picking up
the place together," Joshua said.
"There, you see?" Pips said.
"Problem solved, no need to worry."
Cove sniffled, but after a minute
he let Pips transfer him back to Griffin.
"Okay, show's over," said Griffin. "We
made sure everyone's okay, so let's give
Dad and Pips some space while we go
back to watching Semolina Lane."
Gently he led the toddlers away.
Pips lowered himself onto
the couch. "Oof," he muttered.
"Are you really all right?"
Joshua asked, sitting down.
"No significant injuries, I'm
just feeling a bit delicate,"
Pips said. Then he sighed.
"I wish I had my heat pack, but
that's in my bag in the bedroom."
"May I bring you your bag?"
Joshua offered at once.
Pips gave him a shy smile.
"That would be lovely."
Joshua went to the bedroom,
retrieved the bag, and
set it beside Pips.
With confident motions,
Pips opened the bag and
pulled out something that
looked like a thick capelet
made from fuzzy blue fabric.
"Here, you can microwave
this for a couple of minutes
to warm it," Pips said, and
handed the thing to Joshua.
Quickly Joshua went to
the kitchen and put the wrap
into the microwave to heat.
Bringing it back, he said,
"Here you go, all warmed up."
"Would you mind ...?" Pips said,
waving a hand at his shoulders as
he leaned away from the couch back.
"Of course," Joshua said, draping
the soft warm wrap over Pips.
The younger man sighed
and slumped into the cushions.
"Oh, that feels so much better."
"I'm glad I could help," Joshua said.
Pips didn't respond, just melted
a little deeper into the couch.
Joshua sat down beside him,
and Pips instantly shifted to lean
against his side and snuggle.
It was becoming a familiar pose.
"You didn't say 'don't fall asleep'
to me," Pips murmured eventually.
"If you need to sleep, then go ahead
and sleep," Joshua said. "We do have
to discuss some things, but you need
a clear head for that conversation."
Pips peeled himself off of Joshua.
"All right, I'm as alert as I'm going
to get for the immediate future, and
this doesn't sound like something
that should wait for too long."
"First, I was surprised to find
a delivery man on my doorstep
this morning. I inquired how anyone
even knew that you needed new glasses,
and he told me politely but firmly that
I needed to ask you," Joshua said.
Pips chuckled softly. "There's
a deadman switch. It sends an alert
if my glasses get broken, or if they're
separate from me for a certain time
without being turned off properly. Also,
he's good enough at computers to find out
what's going on and respond accordingly."
"What if you forget to turn them off?"
Joshua wondered. "I know I would."
"Well, if that happens, then I have
a really embarrassing conversation
with my former boss," Pips said.
"We practiced this stuff a lot during
the initial testing phase, before
setting the standards. I only
forget about once a year."
"Former boss," Joshua mused,
not quite asking, but hoping that
Pips might choose to share more.
"Anything I tell you about the people
I know, you can't use against them,"
Pips warned him in a careful tone.
"Understood," Joshua said.
"His name is Captain Kelvin,
and he's one of the bosses I still
keep in touch with," Pips said. "While
I worked for him, he invented both
my glasses and my sleep mask."
"That's impressive -- wait, isn't he
the one who built a giant robot as a kid?"
Joshua said. "You know, like when there's
a bully incident, people say it's the kind of thing
that leads to someone riding to school on
a fifty-foot robot with Laser Eyes?"
Which he had heard repeatedly
due to incidents in Mercedes.
"Yep, he is the proud progenitor
of that meme," Pips said with a grin.
"No wonder you're so concerned
about the local situation," Joshua said.
"Exactly," Pips said. "You see the issue."
"The first thing you need to know
is that the incident yesterday follows
a clear pattern of behavior," Joshua said.
"Mark Hastings has grown from a petulant child
into a troublesome young man. He has gone
from roughhousing to assault, and I can't
just ignore that level of offense."
"I know who Mark Hastings is,
and what he does," Pips said quietly.
"He's one of the people I came here
to watch, because of the bullying."
"Then we definitely need to discuss
how to proceed," Joshua said.
"We have some options," Pips said.
"I imagine that you would prefer to stay on
the white side of the cape. I can work with that,
as long as it brings effective justice. Without it,
people a lot scarier than me will step in -- and
they're running out of patience with this town."
"So am I," Joshua said grimly. "I've watched
Mark skate on more mischief than I can count,
because his family is locally important. I'm
tired of it, and I won't put up with any more.
However, I don't want to see him wind up
in a hospital bed, let alone ... worse."
Pips put a hand on Joshua's knee.
"We don't do that with young people
unless there's no other way," he said.
"Don't worry, Mark is just a bully, not
a supervillain. We can handle this with
plain old politicking, a little bribery, and
maybe someone to knock a bit of sense
into him if the conventional route lags."
"You sound like you've handled
this sort of thing before," Joshua said.
"Well, yes," said Pips. "I've done
all kinds of jobs, and one of those is
a 'fixer' -- someone who handles problems
so the boss doesn't have to worry about them.
Besides, the supervillain subculture is full of
wild young things; we have developed ways
to deal with them until they grow out of it."
"You don't sound entirely happy about
that, though," Joshua observed.
Pips sighed. "It's my fault that
the little twerp got the drop on me.
If I had been paying attention,
it never would have happened.
Talk about embarrassing."
"It was not your fault,"
Joshua said instantly. "You
have every right to walk down
a public sidewalk and expect that
to be safe. That's what happened,
isn't it? You were just hanging out
with me, not in defensive mode."
"Yeah," Pips admitted, hanging
his head. "I got careless. Stupid."
"No," Joshua said in a firm tone.
"You got healthy. You took time off,
which everyone needs, and you relaxed,
which not everyone can do that well."
"But I failed to protect you," Pips said.
"I'm a cop, so I can protect myself if I
need to, but I wasn't on alert either,"
Joshua said. "The fact that we're able
to let down our guard means that we
don't have PTSD or anxiety problems.
This is a good thing, so let's be grateful."
"I'll try," Pips said. "It's just ... hard.
I'm supposed to be more alert."
"Nobody can stay on duty 24/7
and not take damage from that,"
Joshua said. "At my job, we have
presentations on topics such as
work-life balance, hypervigilance,
and burnout. What about yours?"
Suddenly Pips seemed to find
his hands fascinating. "Uh, yeah,
mine too -- the better ones, anyway."
"Well then, think about that training
and what your good bosses would
tell you about the incident," Joshua said.
"That I'm in town as an observer, not
as muscle. My job is to watch, and help,
and only deal with threats myself if there
isn't time to call backup," Pips admitted.
"If you were in credible danger, then you
should have a bodyguard as well as a helper."
Joshua thought for a moment, then decided
that it was safe to share since the first round
had gone through a local company. "Did you
know that the Finns hired some protection
after several crimes against their family?"
"Yes, of course, I'm in touch with
their current crew so that we don't
trip over each other," Pips said.
"I hope nobody flips out over
what happened yesterday."
"If they're professionals, and from
what I've seen, the current ones are
very professional, then they'll have
an appropriate protocol and follow it,"
Joshua said. "I know Graham fired
the first set for unprofessional behavior,
so I trust they've hired someone better now."
Pips smiled. "Oh, they definitely have,"
he said. "A bit out of my league, even."
"Then you should trust them too,"
Joshua said. "We'll work this out.
If you need someone to talk with,
I can help make the arrangements,
or any other support you want."
Pips drummed his fingers on
his knee. "I'll have to go to
a hospital for calibration tests
before I can wear the new glasses,"
he said. "That always sucks, and
and I'm not supposed to drive
the first day I put them on."
"I'll drive you anywhere you need
to go until you're ready to drive
yourself again," Joshua said.
"Shall I make an appointment?
Would you like some company
at the hospital, just a chauffeur
or someone to hold your hand?"
Pips leaned against Joshua.
"How are you even real?"
"I know that you
may not have had
a great past, but where
I come from, that's called
being a good friend,"
"Then yes, you can
make some calls for me,
I'll key you into the rest of
my health info so you'll know
what to set up. Too much time
on the phone wouldn't be good
for me today," Pips said. "I'd love
to have your support for the visit."
"Okay, we can take care of that
whenever you're ready," Joshua said.
"Let's finish the earlier talk first,"
Pips said. "It's a pressing concern,
and I'll need to make a report in order
to move things the way you want."
"Thank you for agreeing to address this
the white-hat way first," Joshua said.
"If that doesn't work, I don't know what ..."
"We have a few options, but if they
don't pan out, then this is out of
my hands, and yours," Pips said.
Joshua shivered. The thought
scared him, but oddly enough, not
as much as the thought of living
in a town given over to forks.
"I'll need to call the police department,
report the crime, and make arrangements
to deal with it later," Joshua said. "Since
you didn't need medical attention at the time,
and you do need time to recover before
the official meeting, it's not urgent. They
can have someone pick up Mark Hastings
whenever you're ready to handle this."
"That sounds good," Pips said,
then yawned. "I should be ready
for the calibration tomorrow, and
then we can meet with the police
the day after, or even later."
"All right, we've got a plan,"
he said. "Let's see if we can
lighten up the mood a little here."
Pips snuggled up to him again.
"Like what?" he asked Joshua.
"How about I invite some Finns over
to help us out today?" Joshua said.
"Can you handle other people at all?
"Depends on what for," Pips said.
"I'm starting to run out of gas."
"That's why I want to call for
reinforcements," Joshua said.
"I know Graham will gladly check
the kids to make sure they're not
freaking out over what happened,
and Heron's available too. Would
a massage be fun for you now?"
"Mmm, yeah," Pips said dreamily.
"I love bodywork, when I can get it.
Sometimes it helps after a migraine,
like it clears out the crud from my body."
"Yes, I've heard that massage can
help flush toxins faster," said Joshua.
"I'll go ahead and make the call, then."
It only took a few minutes to arrange
for Graham and Heron to come over
to the suite shortly after lunchtime.
"That's all set," Joshua said as
he put his smartphone away.
"Can you think of anything else?
I'd like to pamper you today."
"I have a favorite comfort food,
but it's ... kind of obscure, so you've
probably never heard of it," Pips said.
"I can't wait to find out," Joshua said.
"Black currant cookies," Pips said.
"It's an old family recipe. They're not
baked in an oven like regular cookies,
you actually fry them in a skillet."
"That sounds like fun," Joshua said.
"If it's a family recipe, am I allowed
to peek, if I promise not to tell?"
For a moment, a dark cloud
flitted over Pips' mood. "Fuck 'em,"
he said harshly. "My family and I ...
don't get along all that well. I still love
the food, though, and there are variations
of it kicking around, so don't worry."
"Do we even have the ingredients
for the cookies?" Joshua said.
"Yeah, we do," Pips said. "I keep
black currants around for snacking,
and everything else is pretty common."
He pushed a few buttons on his vidwatch,
and Joshua's tablet chirped. "There,
I've sent you the recipe," Pips said.
"Okay, I'll get started on that,"
Joshua said, trying to get up,
but Pips clung to him.
"Later, okay?" Pips said.
"We just ate breakfast.
The recipe takes a while,
but we've got time, and
right now I want to cuddle."
"No problem," Joshua said,
snuggling deeper into the couch.
"I'm glad my presence seems
such a comfort for you."
"The friend in my adversity
I shall always cherish most,"
Pips said. "I trust those who
ease the gloom of my dark days
more than those who only want
to share the sunny ones."
Joshua draped an arm around
Pips' shoulders, feeling the warm fuzz
of the heat wrap. "In that case, get comfy,"
he said. "We have a whole lot of nothing
to do this morning, so we'd best get started."
"Mmm, yeah," Pips said happily, burrowing
into Joshua's embrace. "This is nice."
Joshua reached out to snag the remote
for the entertainment center, and then
put on the Graceful Nature channel.
He found a video of an Irish river with
singing birds, and turned the sound down
low enough that it wouldn't intrude, but
enough to cover the toddler noises.
Pips hummed approval, and Joshua
settled in to enjoy the snuggle.
* * *
This poem is long, so the links appear in another post.