Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "How Much Love We Put in That Action"

This poem is spillover from the January 8, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts and discussion from [personal profile] siliconshaman and [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "dissociation" square in my 6-4-18 Mixed card for the Winteriron Bingo Adventure. This poem is posted in thanks for [personal profile] fuzzyred updating the Shiv thread, to which it belongs.

Warning: This poem contains intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features emotional mayhem, the inside of Shiv's head, because Shiv's head is always a warning, surprise at keeping promises, inadvertent eavesdropping, discussion of touchy topics in a not-private-enough space, having a hard day, poor self-image, reference to past sexual assault, reference to past sexual behavior which was consensual but irresponsible, leading to unwanted pregnancy, schadenfreud, proposed (and declined) abortion, offered (and declined) adoption, incorrectly assumed rejection, extremely negative self-talk, emotional meltdown, physical symptoms of emotional shock, causing a problem at work, which is handled fluently, reference to using foster children as a source of income, past rejection and abandonment, past trauma impairing interpretation of current events, commitment issues, family issues, Shiv's foster experience was largely a garbage fire, age regression, telepathy can't fix everything, emotional first aid, carrying, emergency cuddles, nonsexual intimacies, embarrassment, abandonment issues, self-recrimination, confusion, reference to past bereavement at a young age, discomfort with compliments, emotional pain from suddenly needing to handle things that Shiv is not quite ready for, feeling unlovable, brief mention of edgeplay and bloodplay as things Shiv likes, asking permission to tell Dr. G what happened, privacy issues, impaired consent, assisted decision-making, trust issues, ambivalence, changes, and other challenges. Despite the ouchy bits, though, it's positive overall because it contains a lot of comfort and makes some good progress. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"How Much Love We Put in That Action"

[Friday, January 2, 2015]

Shiv was setting up tables
when Tolli and Simon came in.

He had learned that he was
actually rather good at this:
his ability let him sense when
the silverware was lined up or not.

They're here. They really came.
The thought made him grin.

He still got that little flutter of
surprise and pleasure when they
showed up exactly as promised.

Shiv didn't know why,
it just happened that way.

He didn't care to make
a big fuss over it, though.

So he didn't drop what he
was doing, because he knew
that Tolli and Simon would
wait until he was done with it.

They maybe didn't see him, back in
the corner of the club by the mixing desk.

"How are you doing?" Tolli's voice was
warm with concern. "You look stressed."

"Yeah, it's been a day, and it ain't
even noon yet," Boss White muttered.
"The shit that I have to deal with ..."

Shiv glanced up. Yeah, Boss White had
a bug up his ass about something today.
Shiv hadn't asked, because he didn't want
to get caught up in it, but Tolli had asked.

Tolli and Simon always seemed to notice
if something went sideways, although
sometimes they asked and other times
they just hung out quietly, in case
anyone felt like leaning on them.

Shiv was maybe making a habit of that.

He hadn't meant to -- it wasn't the sort
of thing he typically did -- but sometimes
he found himself blurting out answers
when Tolli and Simon asked him things.

He wasn't sure it actually helped, the way
Dr. G said talking was supposed to do,
but Shiv still wound up doing it anyway.

"Anything we could help with?" Simon said,
stroking his hands along the wheels so that
the moving spokes made a bright spangle
in Shiv's mind. "We're happy to pitch in."

"Funny you should say that," Boss White said.
"I was meaning to talk with you about this."

"Shoot," Tolli said. "We're listening."

Shiv swept a finger along the outside
of the salad fork, lining it up perfectly.
The table setting made him smile.

Everything's shiny, he thought,
admiring the gleam of forks and
knives against the midnight tablecloth.

It was stupid to feel proud of something
so simple a toddler could literally do it,
but Shiv liked the way that the silverware
felt in his head when he laid it out just so.

"Well, it's about that Chyou and Popgun,"
Boss White said in a sour tone.

Shiv flinched. It had been
over a week, and he still couldn't
hear her name without reacting like that.

It made him feel so fucking broken,
but he refused to show it.

She could screw him up, but she
couldn't screw him out of a job.

"Now what have they done,"
Tolli said, his voice grim with
the promise of ass-kicking if
the situation called for it.

"Hear tell, those two went at it
all night, and what didn't they do?
Use protection," Boss White grumbled.
"I got vending machines in both dotties
upstairs, and rubbers by the boxful
in the patch room downstairs, but
Popgun can't be bothered to put
some in his pocket. Somebody
oughta glue his fly shut, is what."

"Chyou got pregnant?" Simon said.

"Ayup, that's what I heard,"
said Boss White. "Seems she's
on some meds that don't mix with
bein' a momma. What a mess."

Shiv's first reaction was
a low, mean snigger because
Haha they are SO BUSTED.

His second reaction, following
just a moment later, was,
That poor fuckin' kid.

Nobody deserved Popgun
for a baby-daddy, and even more,
that awful Chyou for a baby-mama.

"Will the baby be all right?" Simon asked,
because of course he'd care about that.

"Should be now," Boss White said.
"Chyou don't want nothin' to do with it,
though. Popgun stood up proper and
offered to pay his half of makin' it go away,
which she wouldn't hear none of either.
So then, he don't want to raise it, but
allowed he might like a visit sometimes."

Shiv was surprised. Maybe Popgun
wasn't a total waste of space after all.

"With Popgun for a father, there's
a significant chance the baby could
develop superpowers," Tolli said,
sounding concerned again. "We've
seen enough of Luci to suspect that
her family isn't exactly supportive in
that regard. The baby needs parents
who can handle any ... surprises."

"I know it," Boss White said. "So far,
nothin's decided, but they got a big family,
so kinship care's a real possibility. Boss Quiwil
did ask me if I knew anyone who might make
good parents for a superkid, though."

"What did you say?" Simon asked.

"I told him I'd ask if you two
wanted it," Boss White said.

Shiv's throat closed like a fist was
squeezing all the air out of him.
He couldn't breathe a bit.

It's not fair! he wanted to shout.
I was just starting to get comfortable,
and now I gotta pack up again
.

He bit back angry tears.

When did that ever make
any difference?
Never, is when.
Shiv scrubbed the back of
his hand over his face.

Nobody ever hesitated to grab
an extra check when they had
a chance -- or get rid of him when
they could have a cute baby
instead of the fuckup.

"No," Simon said firmly.
"Thank you for thinking
of us, but the answer is no."

"I'm sorry," Boss White said.
"I never would have offered if I
didn't think you'd likely say yes.
It can't be the superpowers --"

"No, because no way will we make
Shiv deal with that kid in particular.
He can't handle any reminders of
that damn woman, and he shouldn't
have to," Tolli declared. "Some other kid,
later on, maybe, if he's ready ..."

Shiv's fingers went numb in shock.
He was so stunned that he didn't
even notice it until he dropped
the silverware with a clatter.

"What --" Simon began, then
spotted him. "Aw, hell."

Shiv cringed. Clumsy brat,
shoulda been more careful.


He tried to pick up what he had
dropped, but everything skittered
away from his tingling fingers, and
just reaching for it made him dizzy.

Shiv clutched the table with
his other hand, wrinkling
the midnight tablecloth.

"Leave it be," Boss White said,
pulling him gently upright.

"I didn't mean to," Shiv choked.
"Wasn't trying to eavesdrop,
just wanted to finish my job ..."

"Not your fault," said Boss White.
"I'm sorry, Shiv. I knew you were
on this floor, but I shoulda checked
just where before I ran my mouth.
Reckon that topic shoulda stayed
behind closed doors, too, but --"

But Tolli and Simon were right there
and they'd asked and they had a way
of making you want to tell them things
you hadn't ought to talk about at all.

So yeah. Shiv got that. He really did.
He didn't know why they made him
feel that way, but they sure as hell did.

The fuck I'm supposed to do now?
he wailed inside, but at least he
managed not to say that out loud.

"I'm sorry too," Tolli said, reaching out
to brush his fingertips over Shiv's shoulder.
"We should have been more careful.
You don't need to deal with this
on top of everything else."

Even Simon stretched up
to pat Shiv's forearm instead of
his hip, knowing how touchy Shiv
was about being touched but
clearly wanting to offer him
some reassurance anyhow.

"S'not your problem," Shiv said,
and oh fuck now his nose was running.
"I shoulda let you know I was there."

"No, Shiv, this was our mistake,"
Tolli said firmly. "It's our responsibility
to keep touchy topics in private, and
we failed to do that, so now you're
upset. That's our fault, not yours."

"You were at work, doing your job,
and we got in the way," Simon added.

Shiv's whole mind tumbled into chaos.

But I'm the fuckup, he thought wildly.
I'm the one who makes the mistakes.

"We'll make it up to you later," Tolli said.
"For now, let's just concentrate on
helping you feel calm again."

"But -- but they offered you a baby.
You acted like you wanted it, or you
would want one someday," Shiv said.
"Who the hell turns down an extra check?"

"Anyone who thinks of a baby as a way
to make money shouldn't have any,"
Simon growled with a fierce scowl.

"But that's everyone, that's just what
people do," Shiv said, scrabbling to find
something familiar in a world suddenly
shifting around him like loose sand.

"Not us," Tolli said. "That's not how we
think of a baby, or anyone else in our family."

"Why not just grab it while you could?
You might not get another chance,"
Shiv said. He knew how that went.

"Because we have already made
a commitment to you, and right now,
you need us in ways that mean we're
just not ready for a baby at this time,
however much we'd like to have one
someday," Tolli explained. "You're
too important to us to risk straining
the relationship that way, Shiv."

"But I'm such a wreck," Shiv said.
"You could have a real baby. Why not
take one that's not already messed up?"

"Because another baby wouldn't
be you, Shiv, and we're attached
to you," Simon said gently.

"But -- but -- why would you,
why me -- why --?" Shiv's voice
broke like a dropped glass.

His nose was running,
worse than ever now.

Shiv sniffled, then realized
to his humiliation that everyone
could tell he was crying even if
he wasn't doing it loudly.

Now they'll be all over me
for being such a crybaby and
why can't I ever act my age and --


His whole body shuddered with
the effort of staying silent, and
he couldn't breathe, and it hurt.

Shiv flailed for support, but he couldn't
seem to find anything in a world falling apart.

He lost his balance and stumbled against
Boss White, who caught him and held him up.

Warm pressure cupped the back of his neck.

"I can't get a grip on it," Boss White muttered.
"Damn it, I ain't trained for this kinda thing!"

"Let me try," Tolli said. "I'm no telepath,
but Simon and I do have EFA training."

"He needs more than EFA," Boss White said.

"We can call Graham for backup if it comes
to that," Tolli said. "You know his training goes
all the way up to Emotional Trauma Care.
Between us, we'll do whatever Shiv needs."

"All right, take him," Boss White said,
gently peeling Shiv away from him
and transferring him over to Tolli.

The moment Shiv's hands touched cloth,
they closed around it in a desperate grip.

"It's okay, Shiv, I'm here. I've got you,"
Tolli said, taking hold of him. "Let's
get you some place more private."

Shiv nodded, but as soon as he
tried to take a step, his knees buckled.

Oh fuck, he thought, what's wrong with me?

Tolli caught him easily. "I've got you,"
he said again, then shifted his grip.
"Shiv, I'm going to pick you up, okay?"

"Okay," Shiv said, or tried to. The sound
got lost somewhere in his throat, even though
he could feel his mouth shape the word.

"Put your arms around my neck,"
Tolli said, and Shiv obeyed.

A strong arm wrapped around
Shiv's legs just above the knees,
boosting him up high enough that
Tolli's shoulder dug into Shiv's belly.

Shiv didn't like the way that felt.

He didn't let go of Tolli's neck, but he
pulled his legs up and tried to wriggle
into a more comfortable position.

"All right, you don't like that,"
Tolli said. "Hang on a minute
and let me shift my grip."

Shiv wound up scrunched into
a ball, cradled against Tolli's chest.

Oh, that feels so much better,
he thought, heaving a sigh of relief.

"Take the guest room downstairs,"
Boss White said. "The door locks.
Stay there for as long as you need.
Our boy's off the clock for today."

"Can do," Tolli said. The swing
and sway of his body told Shiv
that they were on the move.

Simon's voice mingled with
another deeper voice, but
Shiv couldn't track what
they were saying.

It was getting harder
to focus on words at all.

Shiv pressed his face into
the side of Tolli's neck, breathing
the sweet-spicy smell of his aftershave,
and tried not to think of anything else.

Tolli was humming something
under his breath, the unknown tune
a warm vibration against Shiv's cheek.

Slow, careful footsteps on the floor.
Sound of doors opening and closing.

Shift and creak of Tolli sitting down
on something, scooping Shiv into his lap.

A different creak as Simon joined them.

"Let's get your shoes off," Simon said.
A soft tug. Another. "There, that's better.

Shiv tucked himself into an even tinier ball
so that he fit entirely on top of them.

Everything was awful, and he wasn't okay,
the whole world whirling around him.

He was dizzy and he still struggled
to draw a deep breath without choking.
Even his skin felt like it was on wrong.

Tolli and Simon held him close, though,
and that made it a little less awful.

Slowly Shiv's tight muscles began
to loosen, letting him uncurl from his ball.

As he relaxed, someone slipped a hand
between his knees and his chest,
gently rubbing his tummy and
encouraging him to stretch out.

Shiv lolled across them, basking
in the unfamiliar warmth of two bodies
wrapped around him in a comforting embrace.

He lay there for a long time as his mind
gradually stopped spinning and settled
enough that he could actually think again.

Oh fuck, now what have I done?
Shiv thought, his stomach sinking.

"Hey, don't tense up again,"
Simon said gently. "We just
got you to relax a little."

Shiv couldn't relax.
He tried to scramble
to his feet, only to find
that his floppy body
wouldn't obey him.

"Here, let me scoot over
and you can sit between us,"
Simon said, shifting position.

Gentle hands helped Shiv
to sit up and take a seat.

He found himself on the couch
in the guest bedroom, tucked
between Tolli and Simon.

"How did we get clear down here?"
Shiv said, looking around the room.

"I carried you downstairs," Tolli said.
"You gave me permission at the time,
although you may not remember it."

Shiv's memory of the whole episode
was hazy, and made far more of
feelings than it was of words.

"Then how did Simon get
down the stairs?" he said.

"Door carried me," Simon said.
"It's not my favorite method, but it's
faster than butt-shuffling. Turns out
Door has the training to carry people."

"Yeah, Boss White teaches everyone
stuff we need to know for our jobs, or
sends us out for special lessons,"
Shiv said. "Cook knows stuff about
food allergies and kitchen safety.
I got a thrash coach at the gym."

"Boss White runs a fine place,"
Simon said. "I'm impressed."

Shiv nibbled his lip. Simon was
always so strong, so independent,
and yet he'd asked Door to carry him
just so he could get down the stairs
a little faster because Shiv needed him.

He did that for me. It was a jarring realization.
It jangled against everything Shiv knew,
sending shivers down his spine.

"How are you doing?" Tolli asked.

He sounded worried, but he wasn't
trying to pin Shiv down, just had
an arm behind him, stretched
along the back of the couch.

"M'fine," Shiv muttered, feeling
his skin flush scarlet with shame.
It always showed so bad on him.
"I should get back to work."

"No, Boss White gave you
the day off," Tolli said.

Shiv's brain skittered again,
like a kitten on a kitchen floor,
unable to get a grip on anything.

"It's okay, Shiv, take your time,"
Simon said, patting his knee.

What the fuck just happened?

Shiv twitched, and they both
shifted just enough to let go
without really moving away.

"Why are you still here?"
Shiv whispered, looking down.

"Because we made a mistake, and
it upset you, so we're here for you
as long as you need us," Tolli said.

Something in Shiv clenched around
the words like it would never let go.

That was stupid, of course.
Shiv knew better than that.

Everyone leaves, he recalled.
It was just a basic fact of life.

Simon and Tolli hadn't left, though,
and that threw him for a loop.

He'd had a complete meltdown,
again, and yet ... here they were,
still holding onto Shiv as if he were
something special, something important,
and not a busted-up piece of trash.

Shiv's traitor body listed to one side,
leaning against Tolli like a horse
leaning on a blacksmith, which
he knew was a bad habit.

Tolli didn't elbow him
to stand up straight, though,
just dropped his arm from
the back of the couch to
the back of Shiv and
gave a tender squeeze.

Shiv's nose started running
again, making him sniffle.

I am such a mess, he thought.
I am so pathetic. He dragged
his sleeve across his face.

"Here," Simon said, offering
him a carton of kleenex.

Shiv grabbed a few,
blew his nose, then
tossed the wad into
the garbage can.

"Sorry," he muttered.
"I don't even know why I ..."

Tolli waited a minute for him
to finish, and when he did not,
delicately suggested, "... got upset?"

"Yeah," Shiv said. "I mean, it's stupid.
I got no right to tell you how to live
your lives, and then you did what
I would've wanted and I flipped out
like you did something wrong."

"Sometimes, the right thing
can feel wrong and confusing,
if you're not used to it," Simon said.

"Or if it gets tangled up with something else
that is very wrong," Tolli said in a darker tone.
"Shiv, did anyone ever push you aside for
a younger child, when you needed help?"

"All the time, duh," Shiv said. "Everybody
wants the babies, or the cute little kids.
Nobody wants the brat who won't mind,
let alone the teenage delinquent."

"Well, they're idiots," Simon said.

You don't know the half of it,
thought Shiv. Dr. G had said
that Shiv was raised by baboons.

"I just, I don't understand why
you're still he--ere," Shiv said,
his voice breaking on the last word.

"I had half my family torn away
when I was just a toddler," Tolli said.
"I'll never give up anyone willingly."

"But why -- why me?" Shiv said.
"I'm nothing, I'm nobody, I'm just
the foster kid nobody wants and, and
a freakin' supervillain! You could have
anyone you want, you -- you could get
a baby who won't even know you're
not his real daddy, so why me?"

"Because you're amazing,"
Tolli said in that warm tone which
made Shiv's whole chest ache. "When
I heard that a supervillain threw himself at
a terror weapon to save a friend, I wanted
to meet you before Graham asked me
to check if you were all right, and before
that machete made its way to my hands."

Shiv was shaking again. He mashed
his hands between his knees. He had
no idea how to come to grips with this.

"But that doesn't make any sense,"
he said. "You didn't even know me."

"I didn't need to know you in order
to admire you," Tolli said, shaking
his head. "Then I actually met you,
and you were so fierce and bright,
funny and tough and not taking
any shit from anyone -- of course
I wanted to get to know you better."

"How far does that go back?"
Shiv whispered, staring at him.

"He was attached before he
even left the room that first day,"
Simon said quietly, "and so was I."

"You're part of our family, Shiv," said Tolli.
"I know that you're not familiar with that, or
even comfortable with it, but I don't think today
is a day when we can get away with ignoring it.
We love you, and we're going to keep loving you
no matter what happens. What you choose
to do about that is your decision, though."

I can't do this, Shiv thought.
I don't know how to do this!

He gulped, trying to get some air,
and trying desperately not to cry.

It hurt, it hurt, like Tolli was trying
to stuff something in him that there was
no way in hell enough room for, but Tolli
seemed to think there was and Shiv couldn't
make himself pull away even though he
couldn't freakin' breathe around it.

Simon's hand was big and warm
between his shoulderblades,
rubbing gentle circles on his back.

That eased the pressure just enough
for Shiv to take a deep, sobbing breath.

"That's it, just breathe," Simon said.
"Don't try to take in everything
at once. It's a bit much."

No shit, Shiv thought wildly.

They couldn't love him,
because nobody loved him,
because he wasn't fuckin' lovable.

But here they were, holding onto him
like he was the most precious thing in
the world, or maybe like they were trying
to keep him from bleeding to death.

Shiv wasn't sure which, just that
it hurt like hell, mashing all of
his broken bits together like that.

And he still couldn't pull away.

How fucked up was that?
He liked sharp things, though,
liked the pain and the blood
telling him that he was still alive,
so maybe this was kind of the same.

Or maybe this time, the red ribbons
were tying him back together
instead of cutting him apart.

Shiv grabbed another handful
of kleenex and blew his nose.

Then he tried to concentrate
on his breathing the way that
Rosie had taught him to do.

It helped a little, although Shiv
still felt shaky and sore inside.

"This is so weird," he said. "I feel
like the world's biggest mooch.
You guys keep doing so much
for me, and I've done diddly
for you in return for that."

"Love begins at home, and
it is not how much we do ... but
how much love we put in that action,"
Tolli said. "Family doesn't keep score,
Shiv, we just keep in touch."

"I don't -- I don't think I can
do this love thing," Shiv admitted.
"I wouldn't even know where to start."

"That's okay," Simon said warmly.
"We'll wait while you figure it out."

And that was the hell of it, Shiv realized.
These two men would wait for him as long
as it took for his dumb ass to learn what
everyone else seemed born knowing.

Shiv took a long, shuddering breath.
"I guess -- I guess that's your choice."

"Thank you," Simon said, his voice rough.
"That means a lot to hear you say it."

More sniffles. More kleenex.

So this is my life now, Shiv thought.
What the fuck am I supposed to do with it?

Tolli and Simon didn't press him, though,
didn't push him to do anything in particular.
They just sat with him while Shiv trembled
his way through another identity crisis.

He was doing that a lot lately. He really
should get around to yelling at Dr. G
for messing up his head like this.

Shiv used to be able to stuff it all down
and function no matter how fucked up he was.

He couldn't dredge up the energy for that
either, though. The lazy part of himself
was too busy soaking up the heat from
Tolli and Simon on either side of him.

That was another weird thing about this,
and Shiv didn't understand it at all.

He felt like something had stripped off
his skin, and every touch hurt in a way
that he couldn't quite explain -- but at
the same time, he couldn't get enough
of it, like he was starving for it somehow.

"Yeah well, at least nobody else is here
to hear me messing it up," Shiv said,
pressing himself against Tolli's side.

"About that," Tolli said. "Simon and I
won't tell anyone about this unless
you say it's okay. I imagine that
Boss White will do the same."

"Yeah, he's good at keeping
secrets," Shiv agreed.

"That's why I'm asking for
your permission to share
something," Tolli said.

Shiv cringed. Yeah, right.
He'll just go blow it all over town
.

"You can say no, or later," Tolli said.
"I'm worried, Shiv, not angry."

Shiv peeked up at him through
a layer of damp hair, his fringe
messy with tears and sweat.

"Yes, really," Tolli said, just as if
Shiv had questioned him out loud.
"I think some of this is important,
but your privacy is more important."

Shiv's chest tightened again, but
he had to know. "What did you
want to ask?" he squeaked.

"I would like your permission
to tell Graham about some of
your so-called foster parents
dumping you in favor of
a new baby," Tolli said.

"What for?" Shiv said.
"It's over and done with."

"First, because they shouldn't
be allowed to foster any other kids,"
Tolli said. "Second, because you're
still hurting, and he might be able
to help you work through that."

"Yeah, Graham will put on
his combat boots and stomp
all over them, if you let him,"
Simon added. "It would serve
them right, after what they did."

Most of Shiv's placements had been
people like that -- ones who should never
have been approved in the first place,
who treated him like a walking check.

Getting them out of the system might
prevent some other poor kid from
winding up the way Shiv had.

Better get it over with.

He dragged in a breath.
"Okay, you can tell him."

It wasn't as if Shiv had to rat
on anyone in particular. Dr. G
could just go through his files.

"Thank you, Shiv," said Tolli.
"I appreciate what this cost you."

Shiv ducked his head. "Whatever.
S'not like I need anything, really."

"Remember, I think that Graham
can help you deal with this part of
your past," Tolli said. "It will still be
your choice to bring it up, or not."

Shiv snorted. "Like he knows
anything about this. The two of you
get along like peanut butter and jelly."

"We do now, but sometimes we
butted heads growing up," Tolli said.
"That wasn't what I had in mind, though."

Don't ask, don't tell. It was good advice,
but for some fool reason, Shiv couldn't
let things lie. He wanted to know.

"What, then?" Shiv whispered.

"I was thinking about some of
the early tension between
Molly and Heron because
their ages were so close
together," Tolli said.

"What do you mean?"
Shiv said, peeking at him.

"The doctors thought it would be
easier to conceive a second child
while Elisabeth's hormones were still
high from the first," Tolli explained.
"That pregnancy almost killed her."

"Shit," said Shiv. He wrapped
his arms around himself.

"Fortunately that part turned out
okay," Tolli continued, hugging Shiv
closer. "Molly was barely toddling when
Heron was born. She still needed a lot of
attention, and suddenly there was a new baby
who needed even more. That was very hard
on everyone in the family for a while."

"What did they do?" Shiv said,
letting himself lean on Tolli.

"I rearranged my schedule so
that I could spend much more time
with them," Tolli said. "That way,
both children got all the love and
care they needed to grow strong."

Pain squeezed through Shiv's chest
again, followed by a gnawing rush
of envy. "Nice for them, I guess."

"It was, but nice for me too, because
I got to bond with my niece and nephew,"
Tolli said. "It worked so well that we
did it again with the twins. After that,
it pretty much became a habit."

I wish ... Shiv thought, but it
trailed away, unable to form
a coherent desire even in
the privacy of his own mind.

"Go on, tell Dr. G if you're
gonna do it," Shiv said,
pushing Tolli away.

"All right," Tolli said. "I'll
come back in a few minutes."

He stood up, and his jeans
rode down his hips so far that he
had to hitch them up with his hand.

Shiv swallowed hard and looked away.

Neither of the two men had worn
a belt around him since that day in
the forge when Shiv had flipped out,
thinking Tolli meant to strap him.

This is all my fault too, Shiv thought.
He should feel guilty about that, but
he didn't. He just felt oddly warm.

Maybe that was just because Simon
was still sitting beside him, though.

Shiv turned and burrowed into
the offered warmth, trying not
to examine his motives too closely.

"It's okay," Simon said, brushing
his hand over Shiv's cheek. "You
feel cool to the touch, so you're
probably feeling chilly inside. Shock
can do that -- it pulls all your blood
into the core of your body. Is
anything else bothering you?"

"Dizzy," Shiv admitted.
"My stomach's doing flip-flops.
My chest hurts when I try to breathe."

He knew better than to show weakness,
really he did, but Simon was so fuckin' fearless
about it, and besides, maybe he could help.

"Okay, those are other signs of shock,"
Simon said. "Here, shift a little -- sit up
straight and lean your head over the back
of the couch. That should help you get
more air. Do you want your blanket?"

Oddly enough, not even the thought of
his Microfyne made Shiv stir. He didn't
want his blanket; he wanted Simon.

"Nah, I'm good," Shiv said.

I am so fuckin' screwed,
he thought, but he snuggled
against Simon anyway.

Then Tolli's voice came through
the door, sharp enough
to make Shiv flinch.

"Easy, Shiv, he isn't
angry with you," Simon said.

His fingers danced over his vidwatch,
pressing a few buttons. Then he
pulled Shiv a little closer.

Shiv snuggled under
the shelter of Simon's arm,
although he tried to keep
his back straight to help
his breathing stay open.

Outside, Tolli's voice cut off
and his footsteps moved away.

Shiv heaved a sigh of relief.

Coast is clear, he thought,
and couldn't help feeling better
even through he knew that
Tolli wouldn't hurt him.

Well, probably wouldn't.
As long as Shiv didn't
fuck up too much.

Simon rubbed his back,
and Shiv melted into him.

Shiv knew it wasn't normal
for him to be so clingy, but
his head was all weird today,
wobbling back and forth so he
couldn't keep anything steady.

What the fuck ever, he thought.
It feels good. Best get what
I can while it's here to have.


It helped, a little bit, just
to have someone to lean on.

Shiv's body calmed down enough
that his feelings started to follow it.

Then a soft rap on the door
made him scramble up again.

"It's just Tolli," said Simon,
giving Shiv a gentle tug.
"Come on, lean on me
again. You were starting
to unwind pretty well."

Shiv huffed and settled back
into the warm hollow he'd made.

Then Tolli sat down with them,
and that was even better.

Shiv wiggled himself into
the frame of their bodies,
trying not to think too hard
about why he wanted to do so.

"I'm sorry about spooking you
when I was on the phone," Tolli said.
"I was trying to keep my voice down,
and didn't realize it still carried. I wasn't
angry with you, Shiv, I was angry with
the people who hurt you. Graham will
deal with them now that he knows."

"Mmmkay," Shiv said, nodding
against Tolli's shoulder. He knew
that Dr. G would probably ask him if he
was okay, but somehow Shiv couldn't
find the energy to worry about it.

Burn that bridge when I come
to it, Shiv thought fuzzily.

At least they weren't
nagging him to talk about
stupid knocked-up Chyou.

No, Tolli had just gone out
to sic Dr. G on people who had
messed with Shiv so long ago
he couldn't even remember
most of their names anymore.

Shiv couldn't believe how much
love he had put in that action.

That weird warm feeling was
back in his chest, although
this time it didn't hurt as much.

Shiv knew that the inside of
his head was more of a mess than
the storage building next door.

He couldn't make sense of it,
and sometimes crap spilled out
when he least wanted it to, which
was disorienting and embarrassing.

Somehow, though, Tolli and Simon
could pull him out of the chaos
and settle him down better than
Shiv could do for himself.

He shouldn't want that --
it wasn't safe -- but he did.

"All right then," Tolli said. "Don't
worry about anything else for now.
Just focus on feeling better.
That's what family is for."

I wish ... I wish ...

"What you said earlier,"
Shiv whispered, looking down
at where his hands twisted in
the hem of his shirt. "I want,
I mean, we could -- if you --"

His throat closed again, and
he couldn't squeeze the words out.

He couldn't even think of repeating
some of what they had said to him.

"Shh," Tolli said gently. "It's okay, Shiv.
Don't try to force it. You're not ready yet, and
that's fine. Whenever you can say the words,
then we'll talk about making this more formal.
Until then, we'll just be here for you. All right?"

Exhausted, Shiv dropped his head onto
Tolli's shoulder and gave a soggy nod.

I really don't want to move.

"That's good," Tolli said. His hand
came up to cup the back of Shiv's head,
ruffling the fine hair. "Leave those worries
for another day. Just be here now."

"It's okay, Shiv," said Simon.
"We've got you. We will
take care of everything."

Shiv finally managed to take
a deep breath, and then he
heaved it out in a blustery sigh.

Everything was so messed up,
because that was the story of his life,
but Tolli and Simon were here, and
that ... changed things, somehow.

Maybe it would be okay after all.

* * *

Notes:

This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.</user></user></user>
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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