Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "A Treasure to Protect"

This poem is spillover from the March 17, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] erulisse. It also fills the "taking care of somebody" square in my 6-18-19 card for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes sudden appearance, teleporting to someone's yard without warning, aftermath of a beating, some complicated negotations of consent, messy medical details, trust issues, food as comfort care, minor trauma reactions, the dynamics of giving vs. receiving care, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"A Treasure to Protect"

[Saturday, November 1, 2014]

Ansel was cleaning his garage
when he heard a soft pop-pop
that made him look up.

Ethan stood framed
in the open door with
both arms wrapped
around his middle and
traces of blood on his face.

"What happened?" Ansel said.
He put down the broom and
hurried to Ethan's side.

"Got beat up," Ethan said,
trying not to move his face.
"A teleporter brought me here."

"Someone hit a healer?"
Ansel said, frowning.

"I didn't actually mention
that to them," Ethan said.
"Sometimes it attracts
the wrong attention."

Ansel sighed. "Do I need
to come arrest someone?"

"No, it's been handled,"
Ethan said. "I just need
a place to crash for a bit."

"You don't have anyone else?"
Ansel asked, worrying.

Ethan grimaced. "Sometimes
supervillains get overprotective."

"Okay," Ansel said. "There's
the couch in my office right
through here, or we can
go upstairs to the loft."

"I'll take the door that
locks," Ethan said.

"Office it is," Ansel said,
holding the door for him.

Ethan sat on the couch,
shifting around in search of
a comfortable position.

"I'll get the first aid kit,"
Ansel said, worried.

"I'm fine," Ethan said.

Ansel crouched down
in front of him, trying
to look nonthreatening.

"I hear you, but we have
a house rule," Ansel said.
"Injuries get treated."

Ethan made an attempt
to get up, but he was
too tired to succeed, and
sank back to the couch.

"... all right," he said softly.

Ansel fetched a big red tool box
the top of which was stamped,
First Responder -- First Aid Kit.

"Do you just want to borrow
my gear to do this yourself, or
will you let me help?" Ansel said.
"I have advanced first aid skills if
you want to see my certifications.
I also have both hands free and
could see what I'm doing."

"I could maybe use
a hand," Ethan said.

With a groan, he
peeled his shirt off.

His chest was mottled
with bruises, over his ribs
and down onto his belly.

"Shoot!" Ansel said, staring.
"Should you be in a hospital?"

"No," Ethan said. "It looks
worse than it is now. I had
someone else take care of
the deeper damage -- what's
left is just surface bruising."

"Why not all of it?" Ansel said.

"Because healers are in short supply,"
Ethan said. "We can't always spare
the energy for healing trivial injuries.
Besides, it's exhausting, so leaving
the surface to heal on its own
is often easier on the body."

"Okay then," Ansel said.
"I'll put some bruise balm
on these and get you
a set of cold packs."

Ethan blinked at him.
"You're not going to argue?"

"Ethan, you're a healer
and I'm not," Ansel said,
laying a hand on his knee.
"If you tell me your injuries
don't need expert care, then
I trust your judgment."

The healer looked down,
nibbling on his lower lip.

"Anything else I should
know?" Ansel said gently.
"I'm trying not to hover."

Ethan sighed. "All right.
The bruises are extensive,
but they don't go below muscle.
The cracked ribs are set and
sealed, but not fully healed yet.
My mouth is still tender and I
chipped a tooth that'll need
to be regrown later but not
today because I'm too tired."

"Thank you for trusting me
with that," Ansel said. "After I
patch you up, I'll see about making
something soft to eat for supper."

"You don't have to feed me
on top of everything else that
you're doing," Ethan protested.

"You can't eat snack bars if
your mouth already hurts,"
Ansel pointed out.

"You win," Ethan said.
"Maybe something easy,
like soup or fruit salad?"

"Soup for supper, and
fruit salad for dessert,"
Ansel said. "It's a plan.
I'll take care of you first."

He opened the first aid kit,
rubbed cleaning gel over
his hands, and put on gloves.

Even with numbing antiseptic,
though, Ethan flinched when
Ansel started dabbing at
the bruises on his chest.

"Am I hurting you too much?"
Ansel asked. "Do you want
some painkillers too?"

"It's not that," Ethan said.
"The pain is manageable.
It's just ... right after ...
sometimes I'm twitchy."

"Ah. That's a different issue,"
Ansel said, flattening his hand
over Ethan's ribs. "Here, try
reaching out with your power,
if you're not too tired. Feel
that it's me, maybe that'll help."

Ethan's energy was a ghost
of its usual glory, but it was
still warm and familiar.

It must have been enough
for Ethan, too, because
he smiled and relaxed
under Ansel's hands.

"Thanks," Ethan said.
"I didn't think of that."

"Turq taught me that
some superpowers can be
really useful for quashing
trauma triggers," Ansel said.

He blotted over all bruises,
then gave a thoughtful hum.

"You've got some scrapes
here, so I'm thinking we want
the arnica and comfrey gel, not
the bruise liniment," Ansel said.
"Do herbals work for you?"

"Yeah, and there's not a lot for
bruises in conventional care
anyway," Ethan replied.

The tube clicked open.
"This stuff is good, but it
feels like it's freezing when
it goes on," Ansel warned.

"Bonus," Ethan said. "I'll
need some ice later too."

"I have cold packs in
the refrigerator, as well
as the snappy packs in
the kit," Ansel said. "If that
doesn't cover all the bruises,
I can either put ice in a towel
or make a shopping trip."

"Ice is fine," Ethan said.
"Don't put yourself out."

"I'm not," Ansel said.
"I like helping people, or
I wouldn't be a cop."

With gentle strokes,
he smoothed the gel
over Ethan's skin.

"Do you want gauze
just to cover this, or
VetRap for support?"
Ansel asked him.

"Just the gauze, it's
healing fast enough that
I don't need extra support,"
Ethan said. "Thanks."

Ansel wrapped him in
gauze. When he reached
for the healer's face, though,
Ethan flinched again.

"I'm fine," he muttered.

Ansel sat back on his heels.
"I've got another idea," he said.

"I'm listening," Ethan said,
trying not to pull away.

"Think about how you feel
when you take care of someone,
especially someone skittish like
Turq," Ansel said. "Remember
what you feel for them and
what you wish they would do."

One corner of Ethan's mouth
quirked up. "You're telling me
I make a terrible patient."

"No, that would be about me,
and this is about you," Ansel said.
"It's a useful opportunity for insight,
if you can feel your way through it."

"And?" Ethan said. "You sound
like there's more to it than that."

"The other side is how you feel
right now, when someone else
is taking care of you," Ansel said.
"What do you feel in your body,
what are your emotions doing,
and how do you feel about me?"

"Sore, tired ... uneasy," Ethan said.
"I don't distrust you, personally,
I just feel anxious in general."

"Now compare the two inside
your head, how feel when you're
the healer and how you feel when
you're the client," Ansel said.
"Let each inform the other."

"I'll try," Ethan said. "I don't
know if it'll work when I'm
still this rattled, though."

"Okay," Ansel said easily.
"What kinds of things do you
offer your usual clients when
someone gets nervous?"

"That's the thing, I can
just turn it off in their body,
if they let me," Ethan said.

"Nice trick if you can do it,
but I meant things that I could
do for you," Ansel clarified.

"Oh, that's what you're doing
wrong," Ethan said. "I hadn't
noticed earlier, but you're reaching
right for the part that you want to fix.
Don't do that. Start by touching me
somewhere I'm not hurt, then walk
your way up to the injured area.
Then I'll know what to expect."

"Like this?" Ansel said, touching
the back of Ethan's hand, then
his elbow and shoulder, before
moving up to cup his face.

"Yeah, that's better," Ethan said,
clearly more relaxed this time.

Ansel could feel the heat and
swelling around the mouth as he
cleaned off the smudges of blood,
and Ethan was going to have
a shiner for sure by tomorrow.

"You might want some ibuprofen
for the swelling, even if you don't
need it for pain control," Ansel said.
"Your face is getting pretty puffy."

Power rippled under Ansel's hand,
then Ethan said, "Yeah, probably."

Ansel finished smoothing gel over
Ethan's face, then peeled off
the gloves. He fished out
a packet of pills and brought
a bottle of water. "Here."

Ethan managed to swallow
the pills and only dribbled
a little bit, but Ansel could
tell that it hurt him to move
his mouth even that much.

"Yeah, we really need
to get cold packs onto
those bruises," Ansel said.

He pulled out the instant ones
from the first aid kit, snapped
and shook them, then handed
the small stack to Ethan.

"Put those on your chest
and belly," Ansel said. "I'll
get the flannel one from
upstairs, and that should be
more comfortable on your face."

He hurried up the steps, then
came back with a bean bag
of purple flowers. "Try this."

Ethan cradled it against his face.
"Oh, that's nice," he said, closing
his eyes. "Smells like lavender."

"That one has lavender in it,"
Ansel said. "The hot packs
have rosemary instead."

"Mmm," Ethan replied.
He sounded sleepy.

"You rest here while I go
start supper," Ansel said.
"If you fall asleep, I'll wake
you when it's time to eat."

"M'kay," Ethan said.

Ansel tucked the afghan
around him and slipped out.

Upstairs, he heated olive oil
to fry the onions, ginger,
and garlic for the soup.

He peeled and chopped
the sweet potatoes, then
rinsed the lentils, adding
them to the pot along with
a few other ingredients.

Leaving the pot to simmer,
Ansel started the fruit salad.

The canned pineapple and
mandarin oranges provided
the liquid for the pudding mix,
and he dumped in a scoop
of vanilla protein powder too.

Chopping the fresh strawberries,
he added those and mixed
the ingredients together.

Then he put the fruit salad
in the refrigerator to chill.

Setting a timer, Ansel
headed back downstairs.

Ethan was nodding
on the couch but not
actually asleep yet.

"Do you want company
or privacy?" Ansel said.

"If it's not too much trouble ..."
Ethan said, looking away.

"Oh, I was planning to relax
down here anyhow," Ansel said.
"I have done enough work on
the garage to earn a break.
Shall I put something
soothing on television?"

"No comedy," Ethan said.

Ansel knew how much
it sucked to laugh with
injured ribs, all right.

"How about nature?"
Ansel said. He found
a show of a snowy creek
with relaxing water sounds.

Ethan sighed. "Perfect."
He shifted position.

"Want some pillows,
or would you rather
share the couch?"
Ansel asked him.

He got the sense that
Ethan didn't like asking for
things, but probably needed
more contact comfort than
he got in his usual day.

Ethan moved again,
making a space.

Ansel sat down and
let Ethan snuggle up
against him, pulling
the afghan around
both of their bodies.

It was warm and cozy,
and Ansel didn't know
about Ethan, but it
made him feel better.

They stayed there
until the timer chimed.

"Budge up," Ansel said.
"I need to go finish supper."

Ethan gave a sleepy murmur
and shifted just enough
for Ansel to get up.

Leaving the door open
a crack behind him,
Ansel went upstairs.

The kitchen smelled
fragrantly of supper.

Ansel added the cream
and blended the soup
until it was smooth.

He sliced bananas and
measured blueberries,
then folded them into
the chilled fruit salad.

Finally he piled everything
onto a tray and carried it
downstairs rather than
ask Ethan to climb up.

"Oh, hey, room service,"
Ethan teased gently.

"It's not quite breakfast
in bed, but I hope that
supper in couch will help
you feel better," Ansel said.

"Yeah," Ethan said. "It
smells good already."

"Sweet potato soup,"
Ansel said. "It's one of
my favorite comfort foods."

The soup was warm and
silky, savory with spices.

"If it weren't for the garlic and
onion, this would remind me
of pie," Ethan mused.

"Now there's an idea,"
Ansel said. "Drop those,
maybe replace the onion with
apple, increase the ginger,
and add other warming spices
such as cinnamon and cloves."

Ethan smiled. "Serve it in
those giant bowl-cups, with
marshmallows floating on top."

"I am so making that later."
Ansel put down his bowl
just long enough to jot
a note on his phone.

When Ethan's spoon
scraped the bottom of
the bowl, then Ansel
served the fruit salad.

"How is your mouth?"
Ansel asked. "It seemed
like a good idea earlier,
but then I saw you wincing
toward the end of the soup."

"Tender, but I'll manage,"
Ethan said. "It's my lips
that hurt, not my teeth, and
I think the heat is making
them puff up. Cold salad
should help, as long as
it's soft enough for me."

"Canned pineapple and
oranges, fresh strawberries,
blueberries, and bananas,"
Ansel recited. "The dressing
is instant pudding spiked with
a scoop of vanilla protein powder."

Ethan licked a bit off his spoon.
"Oh, that's wonderful," he said.
"Don't worry, it's pillowy soft."

"Yeah, I've had ambrosia with
marshmallow dressing, but that's
too sweet even for me," Ansel said.
"I want to taste the fruit, you know?"

"Me too," Ethan said. "I like
sweet dressings, but fruity ones,
not like they're made of candy."

He couldn't lick the bowl,
but he could and did swipe
a finger around it instead.

Ansel took it as a compliment.

Clearing away the dishes,
he said, "I hope that you're
feeling a little better now."

"A little," Ethan said. "It's
just ... hard, sometimes. I look
around at other soups and they're
so tough, it makes me feel soft."

"The soft heart is not a thing to harden
but a treasure to protect," Ansel said,
resting his hand on Ethan's knee.
"For soft hearts extend mercy,
compassion, care, refuge, and
God’s redemption to the world."

"You really believe that?"
Ethan said, voice wavering.

"I really do," Ansel promised.
"Come over here, I could
use another snuggle."

"Yeah, me too,"
Ethan said as he
curled up with Ansel
under the afghan.

Ansel wrapped his arms
around him and smiled.

Ethan really was a treasure.

* * *


This poem is long, so its notes appear elsewhere.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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