Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Cut With Our Own Dust"

This poem is spillover from the December 4, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] wyld_dandelyon, [personal profile] curiosity, and rix_scaedu. It also fills the "allergic reaction" square in my 6-23-19 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] ng_moonmoth, [personal profile] fuzzyred, [personal profile] mashfanficchick, [personal profile] erulisse, [personal profile] technoshaman, [personal profile] bairnsidhe, [personal profile] eseme, EdorFaus, and [personal profile] torc87. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. It is the first in a triptych with "How We Correct Them" and "The Courage to Admit Them."

WARNING: This poem contains intense and controversial topics which may disturb some readers. Highlight to read the detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. Shiv makes a serious mistake by following a plan that he made back in prison, without accounting for changes between then and now. The poem includes Stan and Lawrence patrolling in the Gene Leahy Mall, Shiv picking pockets, extremely awkward relationship dynamics among the three of them, a brief bit of hide-and-seek, Shiv being cocky and snotty, bloodsports involving nonconsenting parties, a knife fight ending with Shiv putting a scratch along Stan's arm, Lawrence having a flashback to their last knife fight ending much worse, Shiv licking the blood off the knife and then collapsing, Lawrence frantically trying to work through relevant first aid, Shiv smacking him away as soon as he regains consciousness, and also blaming them for his predicament, Shiv scramming as soon as he can, probable superpower allergies, minor medical details, and other mayhem. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward. This poem includes important plot points, so skipping it would leave a big gap.

"Cut With Our Own Dust"

[Saturday, March 21, 2015]

Lawrence enjoyed patrolling
the Gene Leahy Mall with Stan,
even on a raw spring day when
the damp breeze whipped his hair in
his face and chilled the back of his neck.

"It feels good to get outside after a winter
spent mostly indoors," Stan said, smiling.

"Yeah, it does," Lawrence agreed.

They strolled along the sidewalks,
now and then pausing to give directions
to lost tourists, pick up dropped items,
or otherwise help people out.

Stan was still way better at that,
but Lawrence was learning,
so it worked out well enough.

Stan was a good role model.

Lawrence felt incredibly grateful
to have him, because things hadn't
always been so smooth, and now
they were pretty fantastic.

They went down by the water,
where a few people threw food
to the Canada geese and
their gaggle of goslings.

Then they spotted someone
picking pockets in the small crowd.

"Trouble," Stan said, speeding up.

A flash of white-blond hair made
Lawrence sigh in equal parts
recognition and frustration.

Of course it was Shiv. He had
made it to the six-month mark after
getting out of prison, which Lawrence had
heard was a goal, and now Shiv was
evidently making up for lost time.

Lawrence liked Shiv, who had
been a real life-saver to him after
the awful breakup with Stan last year,
but Shiv and Stan did not get along
at all well, even when Shiv wasn't
actively breaking some law or other.

That was as much Lawrence's fault
as either Shiv's or Stan's, because
Lawrence had been stinging from
Stan's perceived betrayal and had
painted his then-ex-boyfriend
in the worst possible light.

As soon as they moved in,
Shiv sidled out of sight, using
the park landscaping as cover.

So long as the park didn't get
too crowded, it had plenty
of places to lose yourself.

That made it fun for kids
playing hide-and-seek, but also
for less wholesome activities.

It was a bit of a trouble magnet,
which is why they patrolled it often.

"He's trying to lose us," Lawrence said.

"Not gonna happen," Stan said. "Split up.
"You go left, I'll go right, and we'll
try to catch him between us."

Between them was exactly where
Lawrence wanted Shiv not to be,
but then Lawrence didn't want him
picking pockets in the park either.

Stan's plans were usually good,
so Lawrence followed his instructions.

They caught up to Shiv behind
the bushes, where nobody could see,
which was a good thing because they
didn't need to start a cape fight in public.

Shiv smirked at them, tossing his hair
out of his face with a casual move
that made Lawrence wonder if
he was looking for a fight.

"You stole a bunch of stuff,"
Stan said firmly. "Give it back."

"What stuff?" Shiv said,
spreading his hands.

That meant he'd already
ditched it, either in a cache
or by handing it off to a partner.

"If you won't give it back,
I'll take it back," Stan said,
evidently not noticing the ditch.

Shiv laughed, flirting his butterfly knife.
"Come and play with me," he invited.

"Stan, maybe we should --" Lawrence began,
but Stan was already taking the bait.

Shiv danced out of reach even as
Stan grabbed for him, using
the bushes to good effect.

Stan was slow and strong,
Shiv was fast and agile, and
no way could Stan catch him.

Lawrence could thicken the air
around Shiv, but Shiv was slippery,
and besides that was dangerous.

So Lawrence had to content himself
with blocking Shiv's possible escape.

Stan made another grab, and Shiv
swept the knife across his forearm.

Lawrence was suddenly, bitterly reminded
of the big fight that had upended all their lives,
but this was a slash instead of a stab.

It wasn't even bleeding all that much,
but it still messed with Lawrence's head,
and he struggled to control his superpowers.

Stan hadn't even stopped trying to catch
the supervillain who was taunting him.

Lawrence saw the moment it all went wrong.

Shiv lifted the knife to his lips, swiping
the blood off it with a long, leisurely lick.

Then he froze, face contorting in pain.
He dropped the knife to clutch at his stomach,
and then he slowly slumped to the ground.

"Shit shit shit," Lawrence chanted
as he dashed toward them.

"I know first aid --" Stan began.

"Don't move!" Lawrence said,
flinging up a hand. "Don't step
closer or farther away, and
don't touch the knife."

Stan froze where he stood.
"Okay," he said. "Lawrence ...
do you know something?"

"Not yet," Lawrence said grimly,
"but we're about to find out."

There were soup things that could
go wrong in ways so much worse
than the ordinary dangers.

Lawrence patted over
the limp body and found
that Shiv was breathing okay
and hadn't hit his head this time.

There were no obvious injuries,
but Shiv also wouldn't wake up,
not even when Lawrence dragged
a knuckle down his sternum.

"That's not good," Stan muttered.
"Should I be calling an ambulance?"

Lawrence glanced at his vidwatch.
"Not just yet. Give him a minute
to see if he bounces back."

Cautiously he checked the knife,
but it seemed normal too, other than
being sharpened with superpowers
potent enough to cut through
even Stan's usual Invulnerability.

Shiv groaned and pushed himself
up into a sitting position.

"The fuck you do to me?"
he snarled, glaring at them.

"We didn't do anything,"
Lawrence said. "You
took a swipe at Stan,
licked the knife blade,
and then fell over."

He tried running
a basic health check
again, only to have Shiv
swat his hands away.

"I'm fine! Get off me!"
the supervillain snapped.

"Stay put, you're not out of
the woods yet," Lawrence said.

Shiv narrowed his eyes but didn't move.

"Stan, take one step back," Lawrence said.
"If you feel any difference, step closer."

Stan stepped back. "Nothing," he said.
"What's going on here? You're scaring me."

Lawrence was scared too, because
what he'd read about accidental bonds
was damn well terrifying, but neither of
the others seemed to know anything
about it, so it was all on him.

"Just checking for some of
the obscure superpower shit
that can go wrong," Lawrence said.
"Take a few more steps back now."

Stan obeyed. Neither he nor Shiv
seemed to show any sign of reaction.

Lawrence heaved a sigh of relief.
It wasn't a bond, and he already knew
that Stan's bodily fluids weren't toxic,
so it couldn't have been that either.

"Okay, I'm pretty sure you're not
stuck together," he said. "I don't
know what went wrong earlier.
Maybe some weird energy thing?"

Sometimes superpowers didn't
get along. Opposed ones like fire
and water could backlash, and
it was possible for people to have
something a lot like an allergy.

"Don't know, don't care," Shiv said.
"You're the one into all that theory shit."

He grabbed his knife, swiped the blade
over his jeans, and then put it away.

"Well you should care, since it
happened to you," Stan said.
"Are you sure you're okay now?
Maybe you should visit a clinic --"

It was the wrong thing to say.

"Fuck you!" Shiv yelled.
"Why the hell do you
have to ruin everything?"

Lawrence heard the hairline crack
in his voice but didn't point it out.

It was a huge change from Shiv's
earlier happy, cocky behavior
and that was ... not a good sign.

Shiv had been so frisky over
getting to go out in the streets and
play again, but then it all went wrong.

Lawrence leaned toward him, hoping
that he could smooth things over.

Shiv scrambled to his feet and
headed for the trail out of the bushes.

Stan moved to follow, but Lawrence
held out an arm to block him.

"Let it go," Lawrence said.
"Let's not make this mess
any worse than it already is."

Stan heaved a sigh. "Okay."

"How are you?" Lawrence asked.
"I know he got a piece of you --"

"It's just a scratch. Literally," Stan said.
"I've gotten cut up worse while
rescuing cats from trees."

Because of course he had.

"Well, get out the first aid kit and
let's take care of it," Lawrence said.

When he got a good look at it,
he realized it really was a scratch,
so shallow it had already quit bleeding.
Lawrence cleaned it up anyway and
painted liquid skin over the length.

"Do you know what happened?"
Stan said, frowning at him.

"Not really," Lawrence said.
"Sometimes superpowers do
weird shit, is all. The thing I was
worried about didn't happen -- people
can get their energy tangled together.
My best guess, he's kind of allergic to you."

"That's ... not news," Stan said. He
never had gotten along with Shiv.
"Do you think he'll be okay?"

"As long as he's swearing and
slapping at me, I'm not too worried,"
Lawrence said. "If he goes quiet,
then I start worrying about him."

One corner of Stan's mouth
quirked up. "Sounds familiar."

Lawrence sighed. "Yeah well,
there's a reason we hung out."

"I'm sorry that we crashed into
someone you know," Stan said.
"That can't be much fun."

"It's not, but he brought it
on himself," Lawrence said.

"What do you mean by that?"
Stan asked, looking down the trail
where Shiv had disappeared.

"Whether we fall by ambition,
blood, or lust, like diamonds
we are cut with our own dust,"
Lawrence quoted softly.

"That's creepy," Stan said.
"It rings true, though."

"Yeah," Lawrence said.
"I wish it could be different,
I wish we could all be friends,
but ... that's not the path our
lives have taken, I guess."

"I'm glad yours runs along
with mine," Stan said,
taking Lawrence's hand.

"Me too," Lawrence said.
"We can't change the past.
All we can do is try to change
our understanding of it, and use
that to choose a better future."

Stan smiled. "That's what being
a hero is all about, you know."

"What?" Lawrence asked.

"Making better futures,"
Stan said. "Come on,
let's get back to work."

"Okay," Lawrence said, and
followed him back to the sidewalk.

He wanted a piece of that better future.

* * *


"Whether we fall by ambition, blood, or lust, like diamonds we are cut with our own dust."
-- John Webster

Here is the Gene Leahy Mall in spring. The Canada geese have goslings.

Pickpockets can create a serious nuisance. Among their techniques is handing off or stashing stolen goods to make it harder to prove a crime if they get caught.

The phases of trauma recovery are not linear. People often follow a pattern of "two steps forward, one step back." It is essential to adapt to failure and review goals periodically in case they change. Yet trauma damages the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, trapping people in the past. Learn how to restore resilience after trauma.

Many people say bad things about their ex-boyfriends, even though it is discouraged. Lawrence is discovering that his temporary upset is having permanent effects. Here are some alternatives.

Know how to handle common emergencies and do basic first aid. Fainting is generally attributed to low oxygen/blood flow but there are other possible causes. One is when the person's spirit flinches away from something hard enough to lose contact with their body for a brief time. Another is plain old "Have you tried turning it off and then back on again?" The bodymind has an emergency routine for that because certain problems are exclusively active functions and go away if interrupted. Learn the first aid for unconsciousness. Just be aware that it's limited to well-known mundane causes, which makes it very incomplete.

A soulbond can happen accidentally. Superpowers and other personal energy have a resonance frequency, rather like radio channels. If they're strong enough, and they have intimate contact with a compatible signature, the two may hook up. It's rare enough that there isn't much information about it yet; Lawrence knows because he reads everything he can get his hands on.

Conversely, incompatible energies may repel each other vigorously. It's a type of allergic response. Allergies are all about boundaries. In this case, Shiv's personal boundaries are a mess, but his immune system is souped up. When it encounters extremely incompatible energy, it reacts violently -- but shutting down consciousness briefly can short-circuit certain kinds of exchange. The effect is alarming, but not actually harmful.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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