Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "One Moment of Opportunity"

This poem was written outside the regular prompts calls in response to discussions with [personal profile] curiosity, [personal profile] dialecticdreamer, [personal profile] bairnsidhe, [personal profile] johnpalmer, and other fans regarding the disposition of Boss Batir after the events of "Beatdown." It also fills the "violence" square in my 5-1-18 General card for the Pro Wrestling Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] curiosity and [personal profile] bairnsidhe. It belongs in the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains intense scenes. Highlight to see the warnings, some of which are spoilers. Batir decides to pick a fight with Simon. This is possibly the worst idea in the history of ever. So Simon cleans his clock for him. Schadenfreud! Schadenfreud everywhere! :D The poem also includes prison sociodynamics, power imbalances, two guys kissing, education and rehabilitation, vulgar and otherwise offensive language, emotional abuse and counterattacks, discussions of stigma, mental issues, a pointed comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of different genitalia, mockery, description of past abuse, inadvertent self-injury, canon-typical violence, ethical debates, handling of a damaged wheelchair, Martinez has a big mouth, partial mobility issues, intimate discussions, Simon is running out of spoons, minor medical details, Batir is a whiny little bitch when injured, Tolli worries about Simon, and other angst. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"One Moment of Opportunity"

Simon rolled easily through
the prison, chatting with Tolliver,
until it came time to part ways.

They shared a thorough smooch,
to quiet applause from some
of the watching inmates.

"I have a self-defense lesson
in the gym for some of the guys in
the Way Back Program who passed
their de-escalation class," Tolli said.
"After that, I'm giving a presentation
on metalwork in the craft room."

"I've got the peer counseling group
in the small meeting room first, then
a followup with the guys I'm teaching how
to lead it," Simon replied. They always
took care to synch their schedules.

Mr. Hatrack peeled off to follow Tolli,
while Mr. Vanburen stayed with Simon.

Even though it had been months since
the hideous chayne incident that precipitated
the need for such therapy, most of the men
who had witnessed it were still coming,
both guards and inmates alike.

Some of the men favored
Dr. G's psychotherapy sessions,
others came to Simon's peer counseling,
and many chose to attend both types.

The small meeting room was
a cheerful yellow with big windows.
It had a long table with plenty of chairs,
although for peer counseling they usually
pulled the chairs into a loose circle.

As they approached, Simon could
hear an argument in progress.

"You're not such a big man without
that hammer, are you?" Alejándro said.

"Big enough to put you in your place,
hijo de puta," Batir shot back.

"Man, when I heard you hung with Shiv,
I thought you'd be cool," Verne said,
disappointment dripping from his words.

General agreement rippled through the room,
making Simon smile to hear how much respect
his boy still had here, even months after leaving.

Clearly Batir didn't measure up in the eyes of
the other inmates, much to the man's displeasure.

"Well, at least I'm not kissing ass for that cripple
in the wussy talk group," Batir snapped as
Mr. Vanburen opened the door wide.

"That's enough, Mr. Landron," Simon said
as he rolled into the room. "This session
is strictly voluntary. If you don't wish
to attend, then you may leave."

Batir glared at him, his eyes
dark and beady underneath
overhanging eyebrows.
"Easy points," he grated.

From the man's position
in the room -- directly across
from Sanquez Abarca and
Kincade King -- Simon thought
it was more likely an attempt
to horn in on their power structure.

Kincade had actually cleared
his debt to society by saving
Jimar's life, so he was staff now,
working closely with Sanquez for
the last few months of his sentence.

The two of them were following
the branch of the Way Back Program
that led through EFA and peer counseling
to learning how to care for troubled youth.

Simon looked at Verne, who held
considerable respect of his own in
addition to being Kincade's successor.

The young man had already earned
first aid credentials and was currently
focused on babysitting, but he found
the peer counseling helpful too.

Batir wasn't about to dislodge Verne,
no matter how much schmoozing he did.

"All right, let's begin," Simon said.
"Mr. Raybourne, Mr. Clement,
how are your sessions going?"

Guard and inmate looked at
each other, then nodded
in silent agreement.

"They're going pretty well,"
said Mr. Raybourne. "We've
been talking about patterns --
rules and etiquette, how to make
good ones or change bad ones."

"Useful skills," Simon agreed.
Mr. Raybourne was fair-handed
as a guard, Wade was bookish, and
they made a good team. "Wade?"

"I've been working with some of
the other bookworms," Wade said.
We take a story and talk about
social expectations, whether
the characters live up to them
and what choices they make."

"Good plan," Simon said.
"Does anyone have ideas for
what we should discuss today?"

Grant, one of his current trainees,
raised a hand. He didn't care for
psychotherapy, but when it came
to peer counseling, he thrived.

Simon wanted to train him up for
Equestrian Oratory Therapy, which
was based on personal experience.

"Go ahead, Grant," said Simon.

"Stigma reduction," Grant said.
"We got some new kids here, and
they're struggling with self-image."

Simon knew a lot about stigma,
from being black to being gay
to being in a wheelchair.

"All right, let's go around
the circle and share areas
where we experience stigma.
Then we'll talk about ways to cope,"
Simon said. "You've all seen my skin,
my partner, and what's left of my legs,
so those are my spheres of stigma."

Most of the men were either black
or Hispanic. Wade was pansexual.
Many of them struggled with addiction.

Of course, all of them were inmates.
Society didn't look kindly on that, but
the ones who bothered to attend therapy
were usually interested in making up for
past mistakes and becoming good citizens.

"It's a bit backwards for me," Kincade confessed.
"After I earned early release for saving Jimar's life,
I found it harder to relate to the guys on the inside.
They're leery of prison staff, although I'm not a guard.
We're working through that, but --" He shrugged.
"-- it's making my life a lot more difficult."

"That's a good thing to share," Simon said.
"It relates to issues that many other men
will face after they finish their time here."

"I don't like being called a spoon-licker
just because I appreciate people with
superpowers," Dustin said as he cast
a sidelong glance at Batir. "I think that
the stigma against soups also splashes
onto others around them, hurting everyone."

"Many kinds of stigma spread from those
directly affected to their friends and family,"
Simon said. "That makes it everyone's problem."

"Sometimes people mistake the stigma,"
Sanquez said, looking at Kincade. "I'm not gay,
but my primary relationship is with another man.
Most people don't know what 'queerplatonic'
means, so they mistake us for homosexual."

Simon nodded. "That's actually a big problem
in some places," he said. "A guy can be straight
as an arrow but get beaten up because somebody
thought he was queer and took it out on him.
Once again, that makes it a wider problem."

They continued around the room, with
each person sharing his own perspective.

"Ah, you got me beat," Batir drawled
"You may be half a man, but anyone
can see you know more about stigma
than everyone else put together."

"Bad form," Wade scolded,
glaring across the room at Batir.

"If you're not familiar with
your own areas of shame,
Mr. Landron, I can help you,"
Simon said mildly. "Let's see,
you're Hispanic, a soup, and
a prison inmate. You also have
a conspicuous scar on your face.
All of those can have harsh effects."

Batir opened his mouth to protest,
but Tremon jumped in and said, "I have
a hard time with self-stigma. You all
know I'm in here for dealing drugs,
but I don't like the street crap, I sold
hospital stuff. Sometimes it's difficult
for me to remember it could be worse,
so that's why I'm working my way through
the steps so that I can carry Narcan."

"That's a good plan, Tremon,"
said Simon. "If you can learn
to help other people, that should
shore up your self-image. This is
a good technique for stigma reduction
in general, because you can reassure
yourself and also show other people
that you're a trustworthy citizen now."

"Trying to be," Tremon said.

"We're all trying," Simon said. "Let's
move on to emotions. How do we feel
about the stigma in our lives? At this stage,
mostly I just feel frustrated about it -- like I'm
watching a skunk bump around with its head
stuck in a jar. Sometimes I can help get
the jar off, but other times I can't."

Wade looked at him, then down at
his own shoes. "Guilty," he said. "It
makes me think about stealing things
like I do, that I want to stop but can't help
myself, and then I just feel so ashamed."

"A lot of guys feel that way," Simon said.
"It's natural. It's also a great reason
why stigmatizing people doesn't help."

"I feel lonely," Verne said. "I'm afraid
that I'll feel this way forever -- that I'll
be cut off from my family and never
really have anyone in my life again.
I miss my girlfriend and our daughter."

"People need people. That's why we
have programs for family support, to help
everyone maintain ties," Simon said. "I can
tell you that long-distance relationships are
very difficult, but if you can get through that,
you can get through almost anything else."

"Working here, we kind of get tarred
with the same brush as the inmates,"
Mr. Vanburen said. "That's alienating,
and it leaves me feeling really vulnerable."

Mr. Raybourne leaned over to pat him
on the knee. "It gets to you, doesn't it?"
he said. "I went through a few months
where I couldn't feel anything, and
then I got so bored that my whole life
seemed like a total waste of time."

"When was this?" Mr. Vanburen said,
putting his hand over the other man's.

"Last year," Mr. Raybourne said.
"I was just starting to come out of that
when the chayne thing happened. I had
a therapist at the community clinic, but
Dr. G's sessions and the peer group
actually helped me a lot more."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence,"
Simon said. "As a veteran, I can confirm
that it's essential for survival to get support
when you're working a high-stress job. That's
especially true if outsiders look down on you
for doing that kind of work in the first place.

"Bunch of pussies," Batir muttered.
"If you can't take the pain, then
you're in the wrong business!"

"Mr. Landron, I think you'll find that
vaginas can take a great deal more pain
than testicles," Simon said wryly. "It's
called childbirth, and I myself would rather
charge a machine gun nest than face
twelve to eighteen hours of that."

The men tittered and hooted, but
some of them were nodding too.

The point had hit home for them.

"It's like Simon plays Major League Ball
and Batir sells corndogs in the parking lot
of the local middle school on game days,"
Dustin said in a low, admiring tone.

"Come on, Simon, you're not even
trying," Tremon heckled. "Let him have it!"

"This is not a game, Mr. Elliston,"
Simon said evenly, although he was
tempted to knock Batir through a wall.

Probably everyone else was too,
and they didn't need Simon setting
a bad example. He had a responsibility
as their peer counselor to model self-control.

Even if Batir was getting on his last nerve.

"I don't see what you're so wound up about,"
Batir said. "It's not like you've ever lost
your whole life the way we have."

Then again, Simon had spent
enough time around Graham
to learn oh so many ways of
taking someone apart with words
instead of with fists or weapons.

Simon leaned down and tugged
his trousers up, revealing the scars
where the IED had torn chunks
of flesh out of his lower legs.

Batir stared at the long furrows
and deep holes. Swallowing hard,
he looked away from them.

"Would you like to talk
about loss, Mr. Landron?"
Simon said, twisting the knife.

"Guess it's not such a loss
if I can take what I need from
somewhere new," Batir said,
turning his attention on Verne.

Simon gave the kings a dry look
and said, "Guys, I don't want to tell you
how to run shit in here ... but really?"

Sanquez chuckled and clapped Verne
on the back. "Don't worry, Simon,
our prince has his feet under him."

Verne smoothed his hands over
the orange-and-green sweater that
he'd gotten from Dr. G. "I do my best."

"It's not like anyone follows Batir,"
said Alejándro. "He isn't as big of a fish
as he likes to think. He just runs his mouth.
You get to where you can ignore it."

Nods and murmurs around the room
confirmed his assessment. Simon could
see how the other inmates leaned toward
Verne and Sanquez, away from Batir.
Dustin was all but hiding behind Kincade.

Of course, the ones nearest to Simon
were all fixed on him instead, and
even the kings had their eyes on him.

It was nice to see the respect.

Batir, of course, was freaking out
as he realized just how much clout
"that cripple from the wussy talk group"
actually had in the local subculture.

"Just means they don't have
what it takes to follow a real man,"
Batir said, shaking his head.

"You're cruising for a trip to
the private wing, Mr. Landron,"
said Mr. Raybourne. "Cut it out."

Batir snorted, but at least he shut up.

"Moving right along," Simon said briskly, "let's
talk about ways to reduce stigma. You can use
these for yourself, but you can also teach them
to other guys who might need them but don't
feel ready to attend therapy sessions yet."

"Don't worry, Simon, anything you
teach us is worth passing along,"
Wade said, and the others nodded.

"Thank you," Simon said. "Four ways
of reducing stigma include education,
mental health literacy programs, contact,
and peer services. Those are really all
aspects of the same core concepts --
showing people that a stigmatized trait
isn't as bad as they thought, and then
humanizing the people who have it."

"We're already doing the peer thing
in here," Grant said, looking around.

"Once you get the hang of group work,
it gets easier to drop in little hints outside,"
Wade said helpfully. "That lets the guys see
some good in it, so they quit making fun
and maybe think about coming in."

Simon nodded. "Dr. G does the same
in his sessions. You can't talk details, but
you sure can share tools that work for you."
He circled a hand in the air. "Now I've seen
my share of shitty programs, and I'm sure
all of you have too. If we want guys to come,
we have to show them we've got the good stuff."

"If you can stock it, I can sell it," Tremon said,
snickering. "That work's old hat to me."

"See now, that's what I mean when I tell you
to use what you have," Simon said, pointing
at him. "You know how to sell things, Tremon.
It doesn't have to be stuff like oxycodone."

Tremon looked thoughtful, so Simon
let him off the hook. "If you want to explore
mental health literacy, let me refer you to Dr. G.
I can help you with education that relates to
peer counseling and self-help. Contact
is another of my specialties, and all
of you can capitalize on that one."

"What kind of contact?" Grant asked.

"You have options, within prison rules,"
Simon said, tipping his head to the guards.
"For physical contact, talk with Wacker or
someone from the Healthy Touch program.
But mostly it's about personal relationships --
hanging out, telling stories, letting other guys
see how therapy makes you stronger, not weaker."

"Storytelling is important," Dustin said quietly.
"It's what pulls people together as a tribe, or
in here, a car. The stories people tell about you
will live on, long after you die, if you do great things."

"Exactly," Simon said. "The stories you tell about
yourself inform people how you see yourself, and
that influences how they treat you. Are you going
to talk about your past deeds as achievements,
or as mistakes? Will you tell people how you've
changed and what tools you've discovered?"
He waved a hand. "I won't tell you what
to do, boys, that's all up to you."

"Can we practice doing that in here,
where it's safer?" Dustin asked.

"Of course," Simon said.
"Do you have a story you
would like to share with us so
that you can get some practice?"

"Yes," said Dustin, carefully not looking
at Batir. "When I started out, I served as
a stock boy in a warehouse, then worked
my way up to quartermaster. I'm learning
that people aren't as easy to organize as
boxed goods, because you never know
if the contents match the packaging ..."

Dustin went on in that line for a while,
describing some of the ways people had
surprised him and the challenges that he
faced because of his mixed ancestry.

After that, some of the other men
shared stories of their own and talked
about what made them feel connected
to each other within the peer group.

Then Batir jumped in with, "I had a punk
once, couldn't keep his hands to himself.
He didn't even understand the importance
of medical neutrality. He roughed up
our only street nurse pretty bad, so I
had to give him a whipping and run him
out of town. You gotta show people
that even gangs got to have standards."

Now everyone was silently seething.

Simon had glimpsed some of the scars
on Shiv's back, and the boy had evidently
let slip enough for people to put the pieces
together now that Batir had given them
the last little bit about himself.

Tense and ready for action,
Simon looked around the room,
but nobody was moving.

The only motion was
a trickle of blood where
Dustin had bitten his lip.

Wade passed him a hankie
and launched a story of his own.

Simon heaved a sigh of relief.
They were good boys at heart,
or at least they were trying to be.

Presently Grant's vidwatch chimed,
and he looked at Simon for guidance.

Simon gave his trainee a little wave,
encouraging him to take over
the next step by himself.

"Ten-minute warning, guys,"
said Grant. "We need to start
looking for a good place to stop."

Verne wrapped up the story about
his daughter learning to climb stairs.

"Time for check-out," Simon said.
"Let's do One Word today." He set out
a stack of sticky notes and some pens.

Feelings went on Mr. Raybourne's
and Acceptance on Mr. Vanburen's.
They stuck their notes on the door
as they left the small meeting room.

Wade very carefully took one note,
wrote Patience on it, then just as
carefully returned the pad and pen.

Storytelling, Grant wrote on his,
giving Dustin a wide smile.

"Bullshit," said Batir as he
knocked into Simon hard enough
to rock the wheelchair in place.

Simon put a hand on his rim and
tried to back up to give himself
more room to maneuver, but
the wheels wouldn't turn.

Batir rammed him again,
even harder than before.

This time Simon felt
the surge of energy going
through the metal frame.

The crude display of power
was nowhere near as impressive
as Shiv's delicate precision.

Simon swiveled his hips,
shoving the wheelchair
out from under himself
to knock Batir off his feet.

Batir gave a loud squawk
as he lost his balance.

Simon twisted in the air
like a cat so that he landed
hard on the hapless crook.

Batir grunted under the impact but
still tried to wallow on top of Simon,
throwing uncoordinated punches.

With a snort of disdain, Simon
flipped the thug onto his back and
snaked an arm around his throat,
pinning him to Simon's chest.

All he had to do then was squeeze.

Batir flailed, a whimper vibrating
against Simon's muscled forearm.

A flutter of temptation followed it,
reminding Simon what this man
had done to Shiv, the urge there
and gone in less than a breath.

It was all over within a few seconds.

"Simon!" exclaimed Mr. Vanburen
as he rushed back into the room.
"What happened in here?"

"Mr. Landron unwisely decided
to make the conflict physical,"
Simon said. "He lost."

"Is he ..." Mr. Vanburen said,
his eyes huge and round.

"Just napping," Simon said as he
shoved the limp weight off his body.
One arm smacked into the floor, adding
to the loser's bruises. "He tried to take
me down, so I had to choke him out."

Simon sat up, tucking his scarred legs
underneath himself. He leaned over
to check the pulse and breathing.

"Don't worry about this fool,"
said Simon. "He will be fine in
a few minutes, although he'll have
a devil of a headache when he wakes up."

"Serves him right," Mr. Vanburen muttered
as he leaned down to straighten out
the crumpled form of Batir.

"You should probably call
the corpsmen -- sorry, nurses --
to haul him down to the infirmary,"
Simon said. "Get him a real checkup."

"I'll take care of this," Mr. Raybourne said
to Mr. Vanburen. "You stay with Simon."
He reached down and grabbed Batir by
the shoulders, towing him none-too-gently
toward the doorway of the room.

Remembering that Batir was
the reason why Simon and Tolli
couldn't wear belts around Shiv,
Simon felt no sympathy at all.

Maybe he should have put Batir
out of everyone's misery, after all.

Then again, Simon didn't feel that merciful.

Meanwhile, the other inmates hung back.
Verne had gotten to his feet, but then
he was a bodyguard. He had trusted
Simon to take care of himself, though,
instead of diving into the fray.

"Good boys," Simon murmured.
"Thank you for staying out of my hair
while I took care of that hassle."

"We figured you had it handled,"
Verne said. "Besides, the guards
were right there, if not -- and both
Mr. Vanburen and Mr. Raybourne
are plenty good at what they do."

"I'm glad you guys all stuck to
the action plan," Mr. Vanburen said.
"I'll emphasize that in my report to
Warden Lincoln. There's nothing
to be done for the safety record
this week, but we'll see about
getting you some other perk
for your fine self-control."

The inmates preened a little
at the praise. They worked hard
for what self-control they had.

Simon wanted to pick up on that.

"Did you all see what I did, there?"
he asked, looking around at them. "I let
Batir run his mouth and only stepped in
when he drifted into verbal abuse."

"He's a dick," Tremon said. "You
shouldn't have to put up with that."

"I don't have to," Simon said. "I made
a strategic decision to do so. That is
a totally different thing than having to take
badmouthing for lack of other options."

"Ohhh," Tremon said, enlightened.

"Once Batir attacked me, then I
had to decide how to respond and
how much force to use," Simon went on.
"I could have played the crip card and
broken a few bones -- and probably
gotten away with it. But I would know,
and my family would know, that I wasn't
really in enough danger to justify that."

"But he tried to hurt you," Alejándro said,
frowning. "Never Ever Tolerate Abuse!"

"That's your motto, not mine," Simon said.
"I approve the sentiment, but not always
your chosen methods. My goal wasn't
to hurt Batir -- although I don't mind that --
it was to neutralize the threat so he
couldn't hurt me or anyone else."

"Chokeholds are risky,"
Mr. Vanburen said. "We
aren't allowed to use them."

"Then you have good rules here,"
Simon said. "However, my training
in hand-to-hand comes from the army,
and our rules of engagement are different."

Grant chuckled. "Batir was so outclassed."

"Yes he was, and that's exactly why I didn't
hit him any harder," Simon said. "Remember
that. I'm trained to kill. He isn't. No matter what
you think you see --" Simon waved a hand over
his scarred legs. "-- any military veteran is
usually a very poor choice of victim."

"Yes, sir!" Verne said, grinning and
throwing him a credible salute.

"With that in mind, I invite all of you
to take part in an extra-credit assignment,"
Simon said. "What were Batir's mistakes?
What actions did I take, and why did I make
the choices I did? What would you have done?"

Wade wrote that down in his notebook.
"What about assessments?" he said.

"Next visit, I'll set aside time for a meeting
to discuss your thoughts and award points,"
Simon said. "You also have the option of writing
an essay, but then you would miss the pizza."

Happy murmurs ran around the room.
Some of them had gotten shares of pizza
from Shiv -- they loved the places where
Simon and Tolliver, or Dr. G, liked to shop.

"That's a good application of ethics
in education," Mr. Vanburen said.
"It'll help me make the case with
the warden that this was one guy
acting up, and nobody else did
anything wrong, so thanks."

"You're welcome," Simon said.
"I'm sure the fight looked exciting,
but it was never a real worry."

"What do you want us to do now?"
Wade asked, looking at Simon.

"Bring me my wheelchair," said Simon.

With care bordering on reverence,
Wade righted the chair, then frowned.
"The wheels won't turn," he said.

"I know, Batir did something to it,"
Simon said. "Lift it up -- it's light --
and carry it over to me. I'll see if
I can fix the problem here, or
if it has to go to the shop."

Wade lifted the chair and set it
in front of Simon. "Here you go."

"Thank you, Wade," said Simon.
He reached under the seat and
took out his portable repair kit.

"I did not know you had that,"
Mr. Vanburen said quietly.

"You didn't ask, and this
is a toolkit, not my gun or
my hunting knife," Simon said,
a smirk curling the corners of
his mouth. "Besides, do you think
anyone could take it from me,
even if they knew about it?"

"Hell no," Mr. Vanburen said,
shaking his head. "I wouldn't want
to get in an argument about it
with your lawyer, either."

"Very smart of you," Simon said.

He found where Batir had thrown
the brake and then bent the frame.

Deftly positioning a wrench, he applied
steady force until the brake popped loose.
Then he hammered gently with the heel
of his hand until it approximated normal.

When Simon pushed forward, the chair
rolled, although it gave off a grating sound
that suggested unresolved damage.

Simon put away his repair kit,
then hopped into the wheelchair.
It responded well enough to his hands.

"All right, this will do for now," he said.
"I'll call my mechanic about it later."

"Mr. Landron will be paying for that,"
both of the guards chorused.

Simon gave them a wicked smile.
"He may find that puts quite a dent
in his budget. I've had this thing for
a while, so my insurance company
might just decide to total it."

"That's his problem,"
Mr. Vanburen said firmly.

"All right, let's wrap it up,"
Simon said. "For those of you
training to become peer counselors,
I'm sorry to skip our followup meeting,
but I'm sure the guards would like you
all back in your cells sooner rather than
later. We'll make it up next visit."

"Understood," Wade said.

"I'm sorry about what happened,"
Verne said on the way out. "We
try to run a tight house here."

"I know you feel responsible
for the whole joint, Verne,
but you are not to blame for
Mr. Landron's bad decisions,"
Simon said. "He needs to take
responsibility for his own actions."

"Or he won't learn from his mistakes,"
Verne said thoughtfully. "I get that."

"Good," said Simon. "You can put
that in your report, if you're taking
the extra credit opportunity."

The other inmates offered
apologies or congratulations
as they filed out the door.

"You da man," Grant said,
clapping Simon on the shoulder.
"You done bust him up good!"

"Mr. Landron wasn't much
of a challenge," Simon said.

He allowed himself a small smile
at the thought of Batir spending
the rest of his sentence here.

Nobody would respect him at all, now.

Life in a prison would be absolutely miserable
with no one to order around the way Batir
was used to doing ... and no protection.

Mr. Vanburen hung back after
the inmates had left the room.

"Could I ask you a favor?"
Simon said, turning to him.

"We're the ones who owe you,"
Mr. Vanburen said. "Go ahead."

"Walk me to the infirmary," Simon said.

Alarm flashed over the younger man's face.
"Are you hurt?" he said, reaching for Simon.

"I don't know yet," Simon said. "I have
some numb spots in my legs, so I need
someone to help me check for injuries.
The most it's likely to be is bumps and
scrapes, but for me, those require
a little bit more attention than usual."

"I'll walk you there," Mr. Vanburen said.
He didn't say anything else, but he
kept flicking worried looks at Simon
as they strolled down the hall.

After a minute, Simon said, "Travis,
we've known each other for months.
Go ahead and ask your questions,
just understand that I might not
be willing to answer all of them."

"Will you be okay?" Mr. Vanburen said.

"I have survived a great deal worse
than Mr. Landron's pathetic attempt
at roughhousing," Simon said dryly.

"You could have killed him, couldn't you?"
Mr. Vanburen said. "You were never
really in any danger yourself."

"That's why I didn't kill him,"
Simon said. "There was no need.
I just wanted to make sure that he
couldn't hurt anyone else, which is why
I went so far as to render him unconscious."

Mr. Vanburen shook his head. "Wow,"
he said. "That poor sap never had a chance.
The victory was always going to you."

"I have a lot of advantages," Simon said.
"Victory happens when ten thousand hours
of training meets one moment of opportunity."

"He just couldn't see that," Mr. Vanburen said.
"He looked at you and saw ... well ..."

Simon patted the arm of his chair.
"I know what people see, son. That
doesn't make it the whole truth."

"I guess you weren't kidding when
you said that you see your wheelchair
as a weapon," said Mr. Vanburen.

"Now I know you weren't there
for that conversation," Simon said.

"I might have ... uh, heard it
around work," Mr. Vanburen said.

"Martinez has a big mouth," Simon said.

"Yeah well, that's why he doesn't
work here anymore," Mr. Vanburen said.

As they turned a corner, the wheelchair
made an even louder grating noise.
"I hope this thing holds up," Simon said.

"I'm really sorry that Batir beat up
your equipment," Mr. Vanburen said.

"Don't worry about it," Simon said. "I'm
lucky I managed to fix it enough for now.
It spares me having to borrow one, or worse,
resort to crutches and Tolliver's worry-face."

"You can walk?" Mr. Vanburen said,
his eyes going wide. "Then why ...?"

"Why don't I do it all the time?"
Simon said. "Because it hurts, and
it's bad for me." He stroked the rims,
pushing the chair forward. "Not only
does the wheelchair keep me active, it
gives me much better comfort and agility."

"You must hate it when people say
'confined to a wheelchair,' then,"
Mr. Vanburen mused. "You're not."

"Hate it like poison, and you're right,
for me this is a very liberating device,"
Simon said. Then he winked. "But
you should see me in my racing chair."

"You have more than one?"
Mr. Vanburen said. "Wow."

"I have several, but they're all
optimized for different situations,"
Simon said. "I have trail wheels and
beach wheels for this one. I also have
a much more articulated outdoor chair, but
that one's a custom build, and so it would be
much more expensive to replace than this one."

Mr. Vanburen looked at him, then looked away.
"Can I ask how much that's likely to run?" he said.
"You don't have to answer, but it's going to come up
for the incident paperwork, and I'm trying to learn
how to estimate things like that for work."

"You can buy a lousy wheelchair for
a hundred bucks, and a decent one
for five hundred, but they won't do
anything fancy," Simon said.

"Yours looks different than
the others," Mr. Vanburen said.

"It is different," said Simon. "This is
a sport wheelchair suited for everyday use.
It's lightweight but very strong, and it has
features that make it easy to weaponize.
I can break someone's foot with this --
or their neck, if I ever need to."

"I heard someone say that you
threw it at him," Mr. Vanburen replied.
"I thought they were exaggerating."

"That's pretty much what I did,"
Simon said. "Mr. Landron was trying
to knock me off balance, so I used
the momentum to push the chair
at him, throwing him off balance."

"That's amazing," Mr. Vanburen said.

"Well, that's a four thousand dollar chair
for you," Simon said. "It does tricks."

"Four thou--I could buy a car for that!"

"I have bought cars for less than that,"
Simon said. "It's worth every penny."

"That makes it a felony," Mr. Vanburen said.

"So it does, if the insurance company
totals my wheelchair," Simon said. "I don't
mind extending that man's sentence.
He is a menace to society."

"Yeah, we're starting to see
more of that," Mr. Vanburen said.
"At least in the private wing, he
won't be able to hurt anyone else."

"That's a good thing," Simon said.
"He'll have some time to think."

"Here we are," Mr. Vanburen said,
opening the door to the infirmary.

From the waiting area they could
see into the clinic room, where Batir
lay stretched out on an exam bed.

Simon stared at the motionless feet in
their shabby prison slippers and visualized
writing beth, ailm, tinne, ifin, ruis in ogham
on the target paper he used to practice
his shooting skills once a month.

Dr. Bloch left Batir in the hands
of a nurse and hurried over to them.
"What do you need?" he asked.

"Is Nurse Scott available?" Simon said.
"I need a scuff check, and he offered to help --
he's got an uncle in a wheelchair, so he
is familiar with the techniques."

"I'll get Nurse Scott for you,"
said Dr. Bloch. "Nurse Espinoza
will be disappointed, though -- he's
taking a course on disability care and
has been meaning to talk with you."

Simon weighed the stress of coping
with a second caregiver now against
the benefit of having a better-trained one
later. He came to the conclusion that he
was rapidly running out of spoons.

"Some other time," he said, shaking
his head. "Tell Nurse Espinoza that he
can watch the scuff check after I help
Tolliver with a self-defense class."

"Will do," Dr. Bloch said.

Mr. Vanburen simply sat down in
the waiting area and took a magazine.

Nurse Scott arrived promptly and said,
"Hi, Simon. Let's use a private exam room."

"Thank you," Simon said, following him.

The room had a desk and sink along with
the exam bed, and Nurse Scott washed
his hands while Simon climbed onto the bed.

"How do you want to do this?" said Nurse Scott.

"Help me get my pants off," Simon said.
"I wasn't warmed up for that much exercise,
so my muscles are starting to stiffen up."

Nurse Scott was gentle and practical
about peeling off shoes, socks, and pants.

"Upper legs I can check on my own, but down
below the knees it's harder to see, and I've lost
sensation in some places," Simon said quietly.

Nurse Scott went over both calves with care.
"There's a scrape here on the side of your knee,
with a shadow that's probably a bruise," he said.

Simon bent to look. "Yeah, that's a bruise,"
he said. "With skin any darker than mine, you
pretty much can't see them, and even on me
they don't show much. Clean it up first. Then
get a skin pen to mark the edge, date it, and
sign your initials. Finally, wrap over that."

Nurse Scott dabbed over the scrape
with antiseptic and then first aid cream.
Opening a drawer, he said, "Let's see,
I have white, pink, or neon green."

"Pink," said Simon. "It'll make Tolli smile."

From the clinic outside, they could hear
a rising argument as Batir whined about
his headache and demanded painkillers.

Simon cracked a smile. Chokeholds had
unpleasant after-effects, much like a hangover.

"Mr. Landron, the protocols for brief deprivation
of oxygen are the same as for concussions, so
you can't have any painkillers the first hour --
unless you want to go to the hospital for
a lot more unpleasant tests along with
their better monitoring equipment,"
Dr. Bloch said in a testy tone.

Nurse Scott waved at the door.
"Shall I turn up the music?" he said.

"Tempting, but no," Simon said.
"My schadenfreud is not an excuse
to violate someone's privacy."

"True, but he's shouting his 'privacy'
all over the clinic," Nurse Scott said.
Then he turned back to the scrape,
labeling it as instructed. "Would you
like a smiley face or thumb's up?"

"Victory sign?" Simon said, and
Nurse Scott doodled a V-hand.

Of course, that was when Tolliver
showed up looking downright upset.
"What's this I hear about Batir
attacking you?" he said.

"Well, we knew he was a moron,"
Simon said. "Batir roughed up
my wheelchair and tried to knock me
over, so I had to take him down."

"That explains the bitchfest
out there," Tolli said, shaking
his head. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, love," Simon said.
"One scrape, already checked."
He pointed to the pink label.

It did make Tolli smile.
"Ah, that's not so bad."

Simon wasn't fooled.

Batir had better stay away
from Tolli, or else Tolli might find
an excuse to take it out of his hide.

Nurse Scott wrapped a thin layer
of gauze over the scrape. It really was
a trivial injury, but the nerve damage meant
that things didn't always heal like they should,
which meant anything in that area had to be
monitored closely while it healed up.

"Shall I let your husband help you back
into your clothes?" Nurse Scott said.

"Yes, please," Simon said. "We'll be
out shortly to do the paperwork."

Simon would emphasize in
the incident report that Batir
had caused the whole problem,
neither the other inmates nor
the guards were at fault, and
Simon himself had handled it
with no real risk to anyone.

Meanwhile, Simon gave Tolli
a more complete description of
what had happened than whatever
Tolli had heard through the grapevine
that sent him hurrying to the infirmary.

Tolli grumbled a bit as he helped
Simon into his clothes, but he knew
better than to suggest that Simon
couldn't take care of himself.

Proof of that came from
the rising whine in the clinic.

"For a thug, that man has
a very low pain tolerance,"
Tolli observed with a smirk.

"Civilians," Simon said,
and they both cackled.

"I suppose it's not very nice
of me, but I'm glad one of us
got a piece of him," Tolli said.
"If anyone ever deserved it ..."

Simon chuffed a laugh as he
transferred to his wheelchair
and rolled toward the door.

"He wasn't much of a challenge,"
Simon said. "All I needed was
one moment of opportunity."

* * *


This poem runs long, so notes will appear separately.  Read the character and location notes, and the content notes.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing

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