Warning: This poem contains some sensitive and controversial issues. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features life in prison, ambivalence, aftermath of a serious beating, medical details, references to past abuse, trust issues, oblique discussion of kink in a medical context, including consent, Dr. Bloch offering to help Shiv with intense sensation, risk assessment, power exchange dynamics, boundaries and negotiation, honesty, plausible deniability, Shiv's questionable health, privacy issues, confusion, boredom, and other challenges. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"What Seems Like Surrender"
A week after the chayne incident, Shiv
got an invitation back to Dr. Bloch's office.
The fact that it was an invitation threw him
off track, but the message clearly stated
that he could either come for a checkup and
probably get excused from bed rest now,
or skip it and wait an extra week before
being excused from it automatically.
Shiv was getting cabin fever, and
Dr. Bloch was ... not as awful as
most medics seemed to be.
So he tapped the Accept button
and was rewarded with a time and
ten points just for agreeing to it.
Shiv knew the point system was
just one more way for the staff
to manipulate the inmates, but
he could work with it, so that
could have been a lot worse.
He kind of liked getting to see
an instant reward for his actions,
and it wasn't like the bad systems
he'd seen in schools -- the guards
almost never took points away,
even for stuff bad enough to get
you busted to a lower wing.
A guard came to walk Shiv
to the infirmary, and didn't try
to hurry him along even though
Shiv went slower than usual.
"Take your time, don't push it,"
said Mr. Bonaventure. "I got
beaten up more than once,
so I know what it's like."
Shiv didn't say anything,
just gave him a sidelong glance.
This early in the day, the infirmary
was fairly quiet, so Shiv didn't
have to deal with anyone else
before the guard parked him
in a private exam room.
"Good morning, Shiv,"
Dr. Bloch said, seeming
happy to see him again.
"How are you feeling?"
"Better," Shiv said.
"The bruises don't hurt
unless I bump them."
"That's good to hear,"
Dr. Bloch said. "Let's see
how your face is doing."
By now Shiv was used to
the whole routine of peeling off
the old layer of artificial skin,
numbing and cleaning the scrape,
then covering it with a fresh layer.
He knew what would happen,
and that made it a lot easier
than it was in the beginning.
"That's healing beautifully,"
Dr. Bloch said. "You still have
a long way to go, but I think that
any scarring will be minimal."
Shiv heaved a sigh of relief.
He really didn't want scars on
his face. "Thanks," he said.
"You're welcome," Dr. Bloch said.
"I want to do a more detailed exam
today, to check your kidney function and
make sure they're healing properly. Okay?"
Shiv frowned. "That's what I'm here for."
"Yes, I know, you signed the form,"
Dr. Bloch said. "It's still good practice
to double-check consent as we go along.
You might get overloaded and need to stop.
This isn't an emergency like it was last week,
so try to keep an eye on your energy levels."
"Okay, I guess?" Shiv said, baffled.
He wasn't used to that much choice.
Dr. Bloch just nodded, then
sent him off to pee in a cup.
At least it wasn't pink anymore.
That was always alarming
as well as uncomfortable.
Shiv liked the bathroom too --
a big dottie with a toilet, a sink,
and a shower with a solid door
that locked from the inside.
Sure, the doctors must have keys,
but most other people wouldn't.
When Shiv came back, Dr. Bloch
went through the rest of the exam.
For the most part, Shiv was content
to sit there and let the man work,
but when Dr. Bloch started poking
at the bruises, Shiv protested.
"Knock it off, that hurts,"
he snapped, leaning away.
"Sorry," Dr. Bloch said. "I need
to know how well you're healing,
and unfortunately some of this
is going to hurt a little. Do you
want to quit, or keep going?"
Shiv sure as hell didn't want
to spend another week in bed.
"Keep going," he muttered,
tucking his chin against his chest.
"Just maybe don't push so hard?"
"I'll be as gentle as I can,"
Dr. Bloch promised. "Will you
tell me how much pain you're in?"
"I don't know, some?" Shiv said.
"Way less than it has been."
"This looks like the center of
the bruise," Dr. Bloch said.
"How does it compare to
what it felt like before?"
The gentle pressure hurt,
but it wasn't unbearable.
"Maybe half of what it was,"
Shiv said. "I've healed in
a couple weeks from worse."
"Then the last thing I need
to check your kidney function
is a blood sample," said Dr. Bloch.
"Please roll up your sleeve and --"
Shiv was already on it, eager
to get to the good part. He was
antsy from the prodding, and
a little pain would calm him down.
He leaned back against the wall,
letting Dr. Bloch position him.
The cold stroke of a swab
gave him warning even before
Dr. Bloch said, "Sharp touch."
Shiv followed the metal with his mind,
sighing a little as it pierced his skin.
All the tension seemed to run out of him.
Another twinge, and the needle slid out,
replaced by firm pressure with a swab.
"Hold this for a moment," Dr. Bloch said,
guiding Shiv's hand into place. "Short tape."
He had remembered, somehow, that
Shiv didn't like being held down.
That was probably a first.
"Interesting," said Dr. Bloch.
"Your pulse is down from what
it was earlier. Does something
make you more comfortable?"
"Mmm," Shiv said idly.
"You got good hands."
"I'm good at what I do,
Shiv, but most people still
flinch when I poke them,"
Dr. Bloch said. "You didn't.
I'm thinking you don't."
Shiv blinked awake
all in an instant, abruptly
worried that he'd said or
done something wrong.
"What? I'm fine!" he said.
"Of course you are,"
Dr. Bloch said. "There's
nothing wrong with liking
a little intense sensation."
That wasn't how people
had reacted before, when
they found out some of
Shiv's stranger tastes.
Only Dr. Bloch wasn't
acting angry or scared or
disgusted, just interested
and maybe a bit surprised.
"I, uh ... like sharp things,"
Shiv hedged, watching him.
"That's perfectly fine, as long
as you're being safe about it,"
Dr. Bloch said, which was new
and weird, and still gave Shiv
a funny little flutter inside.
"That must be challenging
to manage in here, though."
"Maybe," Shiv said, and
looked away. He could
manage, all right, but he
didn't dare admit that.
"Then again, it would be
easier if you had someone
to give you a hand when you
need it," Dr. Bloch said softly.
Shiv jerked upright, staring at him.
"What -- what do you mean by that?"
"If you need a little extra stimulation,
there are ways to make that happen,"
Dr. Bloch said. One fingertip traced
the blue vein crawling up Shiv's wrist.
"Only if you're interested, of course.
Walk away, and I'll never mention
this again. It's your choice."
Shiv nibbled his lip. "And if ...
if I don't walk away, then what?"
"Then we talk," Dr. Bloch said.
"I suck at talking," Shiv grumbled,
crossing and then uncrossing his legs.
"I've noticed," Dr. Bloch said dryly.
"Don't worry, I can walk you
through the basics of it."
"Like what?" Shiv wondered.
"First, you need to understand
that this is risky," Dr. Bloch said.
"Someone might take advantage --"
Shiv snorted. "Doc, you're
just about the first one who hasn't,
'cept the ones who kicked me
out of the office in five minutes."
The steely glint in Dr. Bloch's eye
made Shiv lean away from him.
"Sorry," said Dr. Bloch. "You
aren't the person I'm angry with."
"Okay," Shiv said, although he
didn't know who else Dr. Bloch
might be pissed with or why.
"Second, this has risks for me too,"
Dr. Bloch said. "If anyone finds out
that I am helping you to scratch
this particular itch, I could get in
trouble -- even lose my license."
"Shit," said Shiv. "I don't want that."
"It's a risk I'm prepared to take,"
Dr. Bloch said. "I think you need
a hand with this, and would benefit
from it, or I would not have offered.
I just want you to know that we
need to be very discreet."
"I'm not a rat!" Shiv said.
"Some of us got standards."
Dr. Bloch chuckled softly.
"Honor among thieves?"
he said. "Give me your word,
then, and I'll call it good."
Shiv stuck out a hand.
"Deal," he said, and
they shook on it.
The handshake was
warm and firm, and
Shiv didn't hate it like
he usually hated touch.
"That brings us to another point,"
Dr. Bloch said. "If we do this,
I'll want you to follow my lead.
You don't have to follow blindly --
I'd rather you think things through --
but I am asking you to mind me."
Shiv frowned, trying to work
through what that even meant.
He generally went along with
Dr. Bloch because the man wasn't
a total dick and was useful. But
that didn't seem to be what
Dr. Bloch wanted here.
"You mean like ... a boss?"
Shiv said, groping for an example
that matched his experiences.
"If that's what works for you,
then yes," Dr. Bloch said.
A sudden stab of homesickness
made Shiv bite his lip in misery.
He belonged to Boss White,
but his boss wasn't here, and
that left Shiv at loose ends.
"I can try," Shiv offered.
"I suck at minding people,
or I wouldn't be here, y'know?"
"I know," Dr. Bloch said. "Still,
I believe that you can do it."
"I do try," Shiv said suddenly,
wanting Dr. Bloch to keep him.
"I just ... don't know if I can
always surrender like that."
"Sometimes what seems
like surrender isn't surrender
at all," Dr. Bloch said softly.
"I don't understand," Shiv said.
"It's about what's going on in our hearts,"
Dr. Bloch said. "About seeing clearly
the way life is and accepting it and
being true to it, whatever the pain,
because the pain of not being
true to it is far, far greater."
The words pierced through
the skin of indifference that
Shiv kept between himself and
the world most of the time,
making him shiver a bit.
He looked up, and then
back down very quickly,
because it was just too raw
and the dark light he saw in
the other man's eyes made him
feel things that he didn't know
what the hell to do with.
But he couldn't stop himself
from nodding, because it
was true, and he knew it.
Shiv liked sharp things, and
he had a doctor who would
maybe indulge him a little,
and if what it took to get that
was a bit of ass-kissing, then
he would damn well try.
"Let's discuss communication
and consent," Dr. Bloch said. "Given
our current context, both of us have
to follow certain minimum expectations.
Beyond that, you are free to request
or refuse whatever you wish."
"Yeah, right," Shiv muttered.
"People just do what they want."
"That is malpractice," Dr. Bloch said.
"You have a right to your body and
your own health decisions. All that
the state can demand is basic safety.
So I'll tell you what I want, you'll
tell me what you want, and hopefully
we can work out an agreement."
"But you told me to mind you,"
Shiv said, hopelessly confused.
"That means don't argue with me
just for the sake of being obstinate,
and especially, try to follow my lead
in front of other people so they don't
get suspicious," Dr. Bloch explained.
"It does not mean you have to agree
with everything I say or suggest."
"Okay, I guess," Shiv said.
He shuffled in place, trying to get
comfortable, but the problem
wasn't really in his seat.
"Good," said Dr. Bloch. "We
should cover specific boundaries.
"I remember that the other day, you
objected to the tape, asking me not
to go all the way around. Do you want
to discuss that limit in more depth?"
"Like what?" Shiv said, baffled
all over again. This discussion kept
going in circles, like a dog winding
his leash around a lamppost.
"Think about what makes you
uncomfortable," Dr. Bloch said.
"If you can tell me, I will avoid it
as best I can. We might not always
be able to find an alternative way,
but at least we can aim for it."
"I guess ... I don't like being
tied down, especially when I'm
already upset or I don't know
the person," Shiv said, trying
to feel it out in his head.
"Do handcuffs bother you
as well?" Dr. Bloch asked.
"Nah, not as much," Shiv said,
not explaining that he could control
the metal if he needed to. "Only
if the guards get really rough."
"But soft restraints or tape
make you uncomfortable,"
Dr. Bloch said. "Hands?"
"Yeah, sometimes," Shiv said.
"I don't like being touched."
Dr. Bloch frowned. "Really?
You don't seem to mind me
touching you most of the time."
"Most of the time you're not
pinning me down or trying
to grab my ass," Shiv said.
"The patdowns bother you
too, then?" Dr. Bloch said.
"Yes," Shiv gritted. There was
nothing he could do about that,
unless he wanted to break out,
and it wasn't that bad in here.
"Okay, I think I have a handle on
your limits in this area, Dr. Bloch said.
"We'll stick with this for now, and you
can tell me if you think of more later."
"Works for me," Shiv agreed.
He wasn't sure he understood
all of it, but maybe close enough.
"Now for one of my limits: I won't
fake anything," Dr. Bloch said.
"That means everything we do
needs a valid medical reason."
"Why?" Shiv said. "I mean,
you're the doctor, you could
just make up a reason -- or
not even tell anyone about it."
Dr. Bloch shook his head.
"No, because it will leave
'souvenirs,' marks on you,"
he said. "Also, I take my job
seriously. I will bend rules but
not throw them out the window."
"Well then ... how you gonna
do anything?" Shiv wondered.
"All we need to do is make sure
to give a good reason for what
we do," Dr. Bloch said. "It's called
'plausible deniability.' There are
plenty of tests that I can run,
regularly if necessary, which
will give us valuable data about
your health as well as cover."
"But I'm fine," Shiv said.
"Who's gonna buy that?"
"I think that your health is ...
passable at best," Dr. Bloch said.
"I didn't push earlier because you
bristled every time you came in here.
But you're skinnier than I like to see,
your self-control and moods are iffy,
and those can have physical causes."
"Really?" Shiv said. "Usually
people just say that I'm a fuckup."
A muscle jumped in Dr. Bloch's jaw.
"They should look deeper," he said.
Shiv shook his head. "Fuck no,
I don't want people prying into my life."
"All right," Dr. Bloch said. "It's not
an immediate concern. We can
worry about that later if it comes up."
"Why are you even willing to do this,
if it's so risky and complicated?"
Shiv said. "I don't get that. I'm
fuckin' grateful, just ... confused."
"I am here to help you," Dr. Bloch said.
"If a few extra punctures make you feel
more calm, less tense, and better grounded
in your body, then that's what I'll provide."
Shiv wasn't used to people actually
helping, instead of just jerking with him,
but he wouldn't waste the opportunity.
"I like sharp things," he agreed.
"Then we'll work with it," Dr. Bloch said.
"All right, based on today's exam,
I'm taking you off of bed rest."
"Finally!" Shiv said. "What can I do?"
"You've got provisional approval for
light activity," Dr. Bloch said. "So far,
that means walking or gentle stretches.
You may visit the social room or craft room
and take meals in the cafeteria as you wish."
"For how long?" Shiv said, fidgeting.
He didn't want people to see him
until he was fully recovered, but
he was so fucking bored.
"If your tests results come back
in good order, as I expect them to,
then tomorrow I'll expand the list of
permitted activities," Dr. Bloch said.
"You may add swimming, stair climbing, or
light weightlifting in an upright position only."
Shiv grumbled, shuffling on the table.
"That's going to take forever."
Dr. Bloch placed a hand on
his shoulder, pressing down gently.
It wasn't like when being pinned
made Shiv panic and thrash, trying
to get away. Dr. Bloch wasn't latched
onto him -- Shiv could have shrugged off
the hand easily. He just didn't want to.
Sometimes pressure felt comforting
to him instead, and Shiv didn't know why.
The desire to fidget softened, then
faded away to almost nothing.
"I know you feel restless, but you'll
recover sooner if you take it easy
on yourself," Dr. Bloch said. "Here
are some handouts for you."
"I hate reading," Shiv whined.
He could barely do it at all, is what,
but he wasn't about to admit that.
"Many people here feel the same way,"
Dr. Bloch said. "Look at the handouts.
They have pictures as well as text."
"Oh," Shiv said. "I guess ... that
doesn't suck quite as much.
He looked at the colorful pages.
Some were just illustrations, but
others were crystal-clear instructions
going through exercises step by step.
"You can earn points by reading each
of these handouts, then answering
a few questions," Dr. Bloch said.
"Payouts are considerably higher
if you at least try the routines."
Shiv took a closer look at them.
Some of the stretches and stuff
looked dead easy, and there were
even handouts on plain old walking.
"I'll think about it," he said. He was
running lower on points than he liked.
"Additional perks include more yard time
and unlocking new videos to watch on
the treadmills. We have a large library of
urban and wilderness routes," Dr. Bloch said.
"After you move up to the standard wing,
you're welcome to join the walking club --
I lead both indoor and outdoor walks
several times each week here."
"I'm not a joiner," Shiv said.
"Videos might not suck, though."
"It's up to you," Dr. Bloch said.
"I just get the impression that you're
more comfortable following a set pattern
than trying to figure it out on your own."
It really depended on finding guidelines
that weren't stupid or a boss he could
actually respect, both in short supply.
Dr. Bloch was ... interesting, though,
and he hadn't roughed Shiv the way
practically every other medic had.
"Yeah, maybe," Shiv admitted.
"Since we're agreed on this,
there's one more topic that you
have to cover," Dr. Bloch said,
giving him another handout. "It
deals with negotiation, which you'll
need if you want to do more than
just following my guidance."
"It won't get either of us
in trouble?" Shiv said.
"No, because I give this
to other patients who need
help with informed consent,"
Dr. Bloch said. Then he sighed.
"I'm sorry, I can't give you any
of the more specific resources
in here. If you want to know more,
you can ask me after you get out."
Shiv remembered that he was
supposed to be minding.
"If you say this one is safe,
then I'll try it," he agreed.
"That's all I ask," said Dr. Bloch.
"You've done very well today,
and I want you to know that
I appreciate it. Here, enjoy."
He handed Shiv a card good
for an hour in the craft room.
"Wow, that's a lot!" Shiv said.
"You earned it," Dr. Bloch said,
patting him on the shoulder. "Go on,
now, before the guard gets antsy
and comes looking for you."
Shiv scurried out of the room
and back toward the lobby.
He still felt a little weird,
but better than when he
came in -- more like himself
than he had in days, actually.
Maybe Dr. Bloch was right,
and some things that seemed
like surrender were really
about being true to himself.
Shiv would just have to wait
and see how it played out.
If it turned out that Dr. Bloch
was good for a quick poke
as promised, then that would
make Shiv's life a lot easier.
He felt surprisingly hopeful about it.
* * *
This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.