WARNING: This poem continues some of the upsetting content from the previous one. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. The poem features complicated relationships, professional embarrassment due to a minor stumble, voluntary protective bondage connecting two people together in case of reflexive teleportation, asking for help and getting it, references to the earthquake, which is actually a moderately bad one on the San Andreas fault under San Bernardino triggered by a much worse one in the Cascadia Subduction Zone echoing around the Ring of Fire, news of massive cataclysmic event, lingering psychospatial disorientation of a teleporter after an earthquake, emergency response, evacuation, assistance with bathing and other personal care, "walking wounded" level injuries, messy medical details, lingering superpower overstrain, symptoms of major psychological injury, moving around in a haze due to emotional exhaustion and aforementioned trauma, dissociative symptoms due to exertion and trauma, feeling naked without makeup, use of advance care directives, and other mayhem. Anyone who has issues with earthquakes or other disasters, losing people in a rescue effort, accepting help while physically injured and mentally wrecked, and/or complicated grief may want to think twice about whether or when to read this. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether this is something you want to read. It's a major plot point, though, so skipping it would leave a big gap.
"The Sustaining Bonds"
Junket came down on the compass rose
hard enough to make him stumble, which
hadn't happened in years, and he barely
managed to keep Kay on her feet.
Walter hustled down the spiral staircase
with his butler Shawn a pace behind him,
her feet light and quick on the treads.
"My lord, Brandon, what's wrong?"
Walter exclaimed. "I've never
seen you slip like that before!"
"Must have twisted an ankle
on the rubble," Junket muttered.
Even just standing on it, pain speared
his left leg. "There's been an earthquake.
The West Coast is just ... gone. They sent
me off with an Emotional First Aide."
"Stay here as long as you need," Walter said,
even though the news made him blanch.
"You know that your suite is always ready.
Your aide can have the guest suite, too."
"Let's get you cleaned up before
bed, sir," Shawn said as she
offered Junket a solid shoulder.
"That's a good idea," Kay said. "I don't
think we need this anymore." She took
the hand-harness off Junket, then wrinkled
her nose. "Go wash. God, I need a bath too."
"There's a bathroom in the guest suite,"
Walter told her as Shawn helped
Junket limp toward the elevator.
Walter kept a basic staff rather than
a whole manor's worth of servants --
a butler, housekeeper, cook, gardener,
automotive chauffeur and Junket himself --
which meant that Shawn doubled as valet.
Junket found himself leaning on her
more than he really meant to as they
made their way into his bathroom.
Efficiently Shawn peeled off his clothes,
sat him on the edge of the whirlpool tub,
and used the handheld showerhead
to rinse off the dust and blood.
Junket watched the murky water
trickle down his skin and drain away.
"Close your eyes, sir," said Shawn,
and then gave his hair a quick wash
to remove the styling gel and brick bits.
She fetched the cold cream and
cleaned off all of his makeup.
Then she toweled him dry, wrapped
him in his fuzzy blue bathrobe,
and shifted him to the toilet.
"Wait here, I'll be back in
just a minute," Shawn said.
Junket took advantage of
the opportunity to use the toilet,
and by the time he finished, Shawn
had returned with the first aid kit.
He caught a glimpse of himself
in the mirror, his face terribly pale.
It made him feel naked and vulnerable.
Quickly he dropped his gaze again.
Junket hated the way he looked
without makeup, which is why
he took such pains with it.
Instead he watched while
Shawn examined the injuries
scattered over most of his body.
"I don't see anything that looks serious
according to any of my first aid training, sir,"
Shawn said as she prodded his tender ankle.
"Do you want a ride to the clinic tonight, or
would you rather wait until tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow," Junket said, unwilling
to deal with any more strangers today.
His left ankle ached, and on his right hand,
the forefinger with the missing nail was
a bloody mess, but he'd survived worse.
Shawn wrapped his ankle in
a sport bandage, then padded
the tip of his finger to protect it.
She dabbed something frigid over
the various scrapes and bruises.
"Drink this," she said, handing him a glass.
It looked like milk, but turned out to be
one of Walter's protein shakes, sweetened
with an obnoxious amount of honey.
Junket needed the fuel so desperately
that he finished it anyway. Only then
did he catch the faint, bitter aftertaste
almost hidden under the honey.
"What did you put in this?" he said,
frowning at the empty glass.
"The sleep aid that you keep
in your nightstand for when you
have nightmares or a horrible day
on the job," Shawn said. "I am
following your protocols, sir."
Oh, right. Junket had given them
emergency instructions back when
Walter had put him on retainer, even if
he couldn't remember all that stuff right now.
"Do you need the blue chamomile too?"
Shawn asked, looking worried.
"Yeah, probably," Junket admitted.
His superpower felt like the time
that he had torn up his rotator cuff in
an ill-advised exploration of rock climbing,
and he still felt like the world was shaky.
Shawn fetched the tiny bottle
and spread a few drops of
the bluish oil on his wrists.
Junket felt better immediately,
as the world started to melt away.
"Come to bed now, sir," Shawn said,
and let him lean on her sturdy form
while they walked slowly there.
Then she took off the bathrobe and
dressed Junket in soft flannel pajamas
before tucking him into the bed.
His fingertips traced over the stripes
of royal and navy blue on his pajamas,
then outlined one of the pineapples that
decorated the midnight blue bedspread.
Shawn's gentle touch and the familiar room
were beginning soothe Junket's nerves,
almost like the bandages she had
put over his physical wounds.
He felt grateful for the sustaining bonds
of community to help him through a crisis.
"I'll get your Emotional First Aide for you,"
Shawn said as she moved the dressing bench
from the foot of the bed to the side of it.
Then she slipped out of the room.
Junket stared up at the four-petaled fan,
blinked ... and Shawn was back with Kay,
the aide now freshly washed and dressed in
a white bathrobe over cloud-covered pajamas,
with her long black hair wrapped in a towel.
"I don't know about you, but I'd rather not
be alone right now," Kay said as she
settled onto the bench. "Shall I sit
with you until you fall asleep?"
Junket was half-asleep already,
but it still sounded good. "Yeah,"
he said, tilting his hand toward her.
Warm fingers enfolded his as
he finally let the world drift away.
* * *
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