ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem was written outside the prompt calls, inspired by discussions with [personal profile] dialecticdreamer (on scouting) and [personal profile] lynnoconnacht (on rape culture), who have contributed a great deal to the development of this and other threads in Polychrome Heroics. It also fills the "Won't fall in love ... oops. In love." square in my 3-30-14 card for the [community profile] cottoncandy_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING:  This poem contains sexism, vulgar behavior, canon-typical violence resulting in minor injury, identity and orientation confusion, angst, and other challenges.  Consider your headspace before clicking through.




"Dare Not Speak"


Stalwart Stan was patrolling the Mall
on a beautiful Saturday afternoon
when he heard the sounds of a fight.

He ran forward to find Antimatter
brawling with several Huskers,
the star-bright gleam of his long hair
unmistakable even in broad daylight,
dripping water as he flailed at the men.

"Hey you guys, knock it off!" yelled Stalwart Stan.
"This is a park, not a boxing ring!"

He wedged himself between them and pushed --
carefully, because of his super-strength --
to separate the people fighting.

"This is none of your business, pipsqueak,"
one of the Huskers said, looming over him.

Oh really? Stalwart Stan thought.
He was above average size, but
nowhere near that of a college linebacker.

He smiled, closed his fist in the front
of the larger man's shirt, and lifted.
"You were saying?" he asked mildly.

The football player kicked his toes in the air.
"Let me go, you fuckin' freak!" he yelled.

And then every fastener on his clothes
came loose simultaneously.
Stalwart Stan put him down so that
he could salvage his dignity.

"We're done here," said Stalwart Stan.
"Go find something else to do."

The Huskers shuffled away,
casting hostile looks at him
over their broad shoulders.

Antimatter stood still, panting for breath,
weaving a little on his feet, fists clenched.
The warm August air kept him from shivering,
though water puddled under his tennis shoes.

Then Stalwart Stan noticed that his silver hair
was rapidly turning red on the left side.

He just managed to catch the smaller boy
as Antimatter's knees buckled.
"Think I should sit down now,"
Antimatter muttered.

"Okay. I've got you," Stalwart Stan said,
lowering them both onto the nearest slab of stone.
He found the inch-long cut at the hairline
and pressed his handkerchief over it.
"Are you dizzy? Seeing double?"

"No," Antimatter said. "Leave me be.
I'll be fine in a few minutes."

"I didn't think speed-healing was
a thing you could do,"
Stalwart Stan murmured.

"I'm working on it," Antimatter said.
"Metabolism is physics too."

Stalwart Stan sincerely hoped so.
His white handkerchief was soaking through,
and he knew that head wounds always
tended to bleed like crazy, but that
didn't stop the sudden spike of fear.

They fought all the time, sure,
but now with Antimatter wounded,
Stalwart Stan suddenly realized
how attached he had grown.
The little twerp could be annoying,
but Stalwart Stan didn't want him to die.

"Are you guys okay?" someone asked
as a large shadow fell over them.
"Should I be calling an ambulance?"

Antimatter squeaked and cringed away.
Stalwart Stan put himself more directly
between him and the stranger.
"I'm fine," Antimatter said at the same time
Stalwart Stan said, "I don't think so."

The stranger was as much bigger
than Stalwart Stan as he was to Antimatter,
even taller and wider than the Huskers.

He was watching them with worried eyes,
though, and when he saw Antimatter
all but hiding behind Stalwart Stan,
he dropped into a crouch that put him
below Antimatter's head.

"Hi, I'm Hefty," the man said.
"Sorry if I was looming.
I've got first aid training.
Will you let me take a look?"

Antimatter tolerated the brief touch,
letting him peel up the handkerchief.
"It's already stopped bleeding,"
Hefty said. "If you're not --"

"Today is Saturday, we're in the Mall,
and I'm not telling you my name,"
Antimatter said, rolling his eyes.

Stalwart Stan wondered how often
he'd been hit on the head to have
memorized the common questions
used to check for concussion.
Stalwart Stan knew them because he
had earned a merit badge in first aid.

"Be nice, Antimatter," he said.
"The guy's just trying to help."

Antimatter scoffed at him, shoving on one hip
so that Stalwart Stan twisted in place.
They were always roughhousing like that,
and it made Stalwart Stan feel funny
in ways he didn't want to look at too closely.

Hefty, on the other hand, focused right on it.
"You boys do this a lot?" he asked gently.

Antimatter gave a bitter laugh. "All the damn time,"
he said. "What else is there to do?"

"It looks to me like the two of you may have
feelings you haven't sorted out yet," Hefty said.
He fished his wallet out of his jeans and
offered them a pair of business cards
printed with little rainbows and suns.
"I think this place might be of some help."

Antimatter looked up at Stalwart Stan,
then back down at his hands clasped in his lap,
dark lashes hiding his pale blue eyes.
"I don't think that is Stalwart Stan's kind of place,"
he said quietly. "Besides, he wouldn't want
to go anywhere with me, let alone there."

What kind of place? wondered Stalwart Stan.
Curious, he took one of the cards, then grinned.

"Yeah, it is," he said, pocketing the card.
"Back when the Boy Scouts got sued
for discriminating against gays and girls,
I thought I'd have to quit. But they lost,
so the Boy and Girl Scouts merged into
the Activity Scouts, and now everybody
can go scouting together. I like that."

Antimatter glanced at him again, then away,
watching a pair of ducks in a nearby pond.
He opened his mouth, then closed it,
as if he dared not speak.

"Is there something you'd like to ask?"
Hefty prompted softly.

Antimatter just shook his head, but
Stalwart Stan had seen more than enough
boys tongue-tied over asking a girl out
that he could get the gist of the issue.

"I, uh, have a girlfriend," stammered Stalwart Stan,
feeling his cheeks heat with a terrific blush,
"but I'd rather be your friend than your enemy."

"I don't have any friends," Antimatter said
as he tucked his hair behind his ear.
The cut was already starting to close,
far too fast to pass for normal;
no wonder he didn't want medical attention.

"I thought you were in the chess club,"
Stalwart Stan said, frowning.

"I have some friendly opponents,"
Antimatter emphasized. "That's all."

Stalwart Stan suddenly wondered if that
had anything to do with the way that
the two of them interacted most of the time.
It made him feel like a gigantic jerk.
After all, he knew how to make friends;
he should have done something sooner.

"Why don't you boys start with small steps,"
Hefty suggested. "You can take it slow."

"There's a pop stand around the bend,"
Stalwart Stan said to Antimatter.
"I could buy you a Coke."

Antimatter wrinkled his nose.
"Vile concoction," he said.
"I never touch the stuff.
Sioux City's the only pop I like."

"They have it," Hefty said.
"I saw birch beer and prickly pear
when I came past the display."

Antimatter perked up then,
turning toward the distant vendor.

"So what started the fight?"
Hefty asked, straightening up.

Now Stalwart Stan could read
the gray t-shirt that he wore:
Property of Omaha Police Dept.
To protect and serve
.

"You're a cop?" Antimatter yelped,
leaning away from him again.

Hefty spread his hands. "Settle down,"
he said. "I'm off duty. The fight's over,
nothing got broken, and nobody's really hurt.
Today I can look the other way."
Then he caught their eyes, one at a time.
"You boys pick a fight when I'm working,
though, we're gonna have a problem.
See that it doesn't happen."

"Yes, sir," said Stalwart Stan.
Antimatter gave a mulish glare.
Stalwart Stan elbowed him.
"Understood," muttered Antimatter.

"Soups shouldn't fight each other,"
said Stalwart Stan. "We should get along."

Hefty threw back his head and laughed,
deep and booming as summer thunder.
"Naw, I'm no soup. That's my partner,"
he said. "I'm just the sidekick."

"I shudder to think," Antimatter drawled,
but he still seemed wary of the big man.

"You never did tell us how the fight started,"
said Stalwart Stan, wondering what
Antimatter had done this time.

A muscle jumped on the side of his face
as Antimatter ground his teeth together.
"One of the Huskers yelled, 'Wet t-shirt contest!'
and shoved me into the water," he said,
plucking at the soggy white cotton.

"Why would they think you're a girl?"
Stalwart Stan said, shaking his head.
"I mean, you have a beard."
It was a thin and scruffy thing,
barely shading the point of his chin,
but it was there.

Antimatter smiled at him,
wide and sweet and dazzling
in a way he'd never seen before,
which made his heart kick in his chest.

Oh, thought Stalwart Stan, do that some more.

"Which one?" Hefty asked.
"Did you see who pushed you?"

"It doesn't matter," Antimatter said with a shrug.
"It's not like they're going to get in trouble for it."

Hefty crossed his arms, which
emphasized his two-foot-wide shoulders.
"It matters to me," he said.
"I'd like to have a little chat with them
about how we don't treat women that way --
or men either, for that matter."

Antimatter sighed and said,
"Those four over there,
in the red Huskers t-shirts.
I ripped the sleeve of whichever one
pushed me into the pool."

"Well, I've got my work cut out for me,"
Hefty said, patting Stalwart Stan on the shoulder.
"Go find your pop stand, and have a nice day."

Stalwart Stan noticed that Hefty
was careful not to loom over Antimatter
or make any other alarming gestures
as he backed away from them.
That was useful to remember.

"Excuse me," Antimatter said,
then ducked his head under the water,
rinsing off the last of the blood.

He stood up quickly, droplets spraying
in a glittering arc through the sunbeams.
The wet white shirt clung to his chest,
two dark points showing through the thin cloth.
Then he wrung out the comet-tail of his hair.

Stalwart Stan watched the whole process.
I'm staring, he realized. That's a bit rude.
But he couldn't seem to tear his eyes away.

Antimatter just smirked at him
as he smoothed his hair back.
There was no sign of injury now,
a huge relief to Stalwart Stan.

"So um, what's your favorite flavor?"
asked Stalwart Stan.

"Birch beer," Antimatter said,
"but I think I want to try the prickly pear.
I've never had it, though I've heard good things."

"I've never had Sioux City anything,"
Stalwart Stan said as they walked
toward the pop stand he'd seen earlier.
"What would you recommend?"

Antimatter stared at him.
What did I say wrong now?
Stalwart Stan wondered.

Then he realized that maybe
Antimatter just wasn't used to
people asking his advice.

That made Stalwart Stan's chest hurt
for some reason, though he wasn't sure why.

Antimatter gave him a sidelong glance,
teeth nibbling his lower lip.
"Maybe the sarsaparilla," he said.
"It's like root beer, but sort of ... spicier."

So Stalwart Stan picked out
a prickly pear pop for Antimatter
and a sarsaparilla for himself,
then paid the vendor.

The two of them sat on a bench
and Antimatter peeled off the bottlecaps,
the metal soft as taffy under his touch.
After a taste, he nodded his approval
of the soft pink prickly pear.

Stalwart Stan's sarsaparilla tasted
dark and bright and complicated,
and he realized in that moment
he would forever associate the flavor
with Saturday afternoon in the Mall
with his new friend Antimatter

who was also dark and bright and complicated.

* * *

Notes:

Hefty (Gary Braddock) -- He has ruddy skin, light brown eyes, and brown hair in a buzz cut. His body is large and powerful. He is 6'7" tall, about 2' wide at the shoulders, weighing 395 pounds. His maximum deadlift weight is 980 pounds. Hefty is homosexual, active in Bear culture. Therefore he dislikes discriminaton of any kind, often sticking up for other minorities. He also resents police brutality because if another cop mishandles civilians, it makes everyone's job harder.
Origin: His mother comes from a military family and his father from an activist family. Hefty decided to split the difference and become a policeman. He volunteered to take on the rookie Fiddlesticks when nobody else wanted to, and they are steadfast partners now.
Uniform: Omaha police uniform with solid black short-sleeved shirt and pants.
Qualities: Master (+6) Strength, Expert (+4) Cop, Expert (+4) Big and Tall, Good (+2) Battlesuit Pilot, Good (+2) Cornhusker, Good (+2) Nice Guy, Good (+2) Smarter Than He Looks
Poor (-2) Swimmer
Expert (+4) Battlesuit with Expert (+4) Armor, Good (+2) Zatzer Field, Average (0) Extraction Equipment, Average (0) Search & Rescue Sensors
Motivation: To protect and serve.
Model: Terry Hollands, strong man

* * *

"The love that dare not speak its name" is a reference from a poem. Although the phrase has come to imply homosexual love, Oscar Wilde's description in the trial instead matches queerplatonic love. The lines of the poem could just as well fit homosexual, homoromantic, or queerplatonic love.

Omaha slang includes a reference to the Mall, which means Gene Leahy Mall, which is not a shopping mall but actually a park. It has many water features edged in brick or in stone, and some of the hardscaping doubles as seating.

Gentleness is controlled strength. This shows up in bodybuilding, but also regarding superpowers so that a person doesn't run into issues of power incontinence or not knowing his own strength. Stalwart Stan is very conscious of the difference between his own strength and that of ordinary people.

Superpowers add a whole new level of complexity to use of force and the continuum of appropriate force. Most superheroes -- and even some supervillains, because Antimatter is doing exactly the same thing -- adhere to the principle of using the least force necessary to reach a goal. Using unrestrained superpowers against an ordinary opponent typically constitutes excessive force, unless the nary has a gun or other equalizer. Some common rules include: 1) Use de-escalation if feasible. 2) In a fight, use one step higher force than your opponent is using. 3) As soon as your opponent stops resisting, you stop applying force. Hitting someone who's already down is excessive force. 4) Attacking someone defenseless is also excessive force -- which is why telepaths have ethics about staying out of other people's minds, because most people can't keep them out. Here's an excellent discussion of appropriate force for superheroes with regards to Batman. Note that many superheroes, and some supervillains, are either completely unwilling or very reluctant to use lethal force. When you've seen how MUCH damage your power can do, you tend to learn caution.

Head wounds are notorious for bleeding a lot. They also mean you should check for concussion and keep an eye on followup. There are general and sport-specific test questions for mental clarity after a head injury. The catch is that while all the questions are things that most people would know most of the time, they're also things that some people are routinely bad at. If somebody says "I never know that," then you need to find a mutually-familiar topic so you can test their condition accurately. (I probably couldn't pass the number section on my best day, and could probably pass the word one even if I was seeing triple.) So in a case like Stalwart Stan and Antimatter where they're both going to get knocked around a lot, it pays to learn each other's baseline performance so that changes can be noted as a sign of trouble.

Speed-Healing is one of several superpowers related to health. Antimatter can do it not as a singular power, but rather as an application of his meta-power to bend the natural laws. In order to that, however, he has to know exactly how the standard version works -- in this case, the healing process. For him, knowledge is literally power because learning a new point of science often unlocks a new application of his gift.

There are many ways to express affection, including roughhousing, which is especially popular with boys and men. Roughhousing has multiple benefits and it underlies many male friendships. Antimatter and Stalwart Stan don't have a really healthy relationship at this stage, but there is a playful edge to their squabbling that distinguishes it from downright toxic relationships.

Proud Horizons is a queer youth group in Omaha, Nebraska.

In our world, the Boy Scouts have had multiple membership controversies, including disputes over sexuality and gender. Here they won. In Terramagne, they got smacked down hard on both cases. The judgement stipulated that the Boy Scouts could be a religious group and discriminate, but then they didn't qualify for all the free perks; or be a public group and get the perks, but not discriminate. And they had to either match their actions to their published standards, or revise their standards to match their actions, but were not permitted to continue saying one thing while doing another. In our world, many former scouts repudiated the organization for its flagrant violation of Boy Scout virtues. The Girl Scouts have fared somewhat better but also have a trail of lawsuits on such topics as handicap accommodation. T-America resolved these issues by merging the two into Activity Scouts, which has improved the tolerance a lot and made the conjoined organization a much more respectable role model for young people. Folks still say things like "such a boy scout" or "girl scout cookies" although the official name is Activity Scouts.

Sioux City is a small-brew soft drink company popular in the West. Prickly Pear, Sarsaparilla, and Birch Beer are among their flavors.

Fear of police is an inevitable consequence of police brutality or other oppression. This has a negative impact on the populace, especially people of color or other disadvantaged groups. Stupid police want this to happen, even though it undermines a healthy society by discouraging citizens from intervening in a crime and from calling the police to deal with problems. This gets expensive both socially and financially, making everyone less safe and also making it harder for good cops to do their jobs. Smart police therefore make efforts to connect with their community.

A wet t-shirt contest is fun if consensual, but it can encourage people to pressure others into wearing wet clothes when they don't want to. That includes shoving people into water, which is just plain dangerous as well as vulgar.

Passing privilege refers to acceptance within a group. Although usually applied to people who aren't members but can seem to be, it also concerns people who are but don't seem to be -- it is not automatic. This is an issue for transfolk, but it also relates to the sliding scale of male privilege experienced by men who are not macho. Antimatter is male-bodied, firmly masculine in gender identity, but leans a bit more feminine in gender expression. You can see what that costs him. Closely related is the issue of passing as human, or in Terramagne, passing as ordinary for people who are extraordinary in some way. There's a lot of tension over soup discrimination precisely because not all talents are obvious, and it's equally possible for soups to pass as naries or for a nary to be considered a soup and harassed. This makes everyone edgy. There are many ways to respect a transperson, but among the most precious is validation. Even though Antimatter is cisgender, he's mistaken for female often enough that he really appreciates when people acknowledge him as a man -- especially if it comes with a side order of implying that you'd have to be blind to think he's a girl.

Falling in love is a common experience, but mysterious enough that people may miss the signs, particularly in the beginning and if it happens in an unexpected context. Particularly relevant here is overcoming difficulties together. This is all the more challenging for queer teens. For comparison, Antimatter knows that he's gay; Stalwart Stan still thinks he is straight and hasn't figured out yet that he likes guys as much as girls.

It is neither fair nor effective for society to teach boys to behave like hooligans and then blame them for doing exactly that. Somebody needs to teach boys to respect women and to date responsibly. So Hefty's going to march over to the Huskers and say things like this. While anyone can talk to young men about how to be a man, such lessons are far more effective coming from older men, because boys need male role models.

This is the Huskers t-shirt, referring to the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Hefty uses nonthreatening body language to compensate for his massive build and help Antimatter feel safer. There's a fascinating video on how real alphas don't threaten. Technically Hefty is a beta personality -- dominant to some, submissive to others -- but he's using exactly these techniques for exactly these reasons. When you have real power and you're a decent person, you don't throw it around, you use it to protect people.

Antimatter is caught off-guard by Stalwart Stan's casual friendliness, because he's used to being either ignored or taken for granted. It can be very disconcerting to be treated as a person if you're not accustomed to it.

Taste and smell are closely related to each other, and both linked tightly to memory. Usually we see this effect only in retrospect, but here's a glimpse of a potent taste anchor at the moment of inception.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-15 05:01 am (UTC)
thnidu: Lucy bright and bold. Lucida Bright font, boldface: backslash, small-o, slash: YAY!! (yay)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Oh, VERY good!

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-15 05:45 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Sweet.

Lovely, lovely lovely!

Date: 2014-07-15 06:00 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
They honestly remind me of my sons, especially the oldest. That's all I can really afford to say, but let me add that I reread the poem like six times, reminded of different events and different sons. GRIN.

Also, Hefty reminds me of the first-grade teacher I hand-picked for my oldest son, both in general appearance and attitude; I picked him /specifically/ because he was such a different personality from both my husband and myself, and /boys need MANY role models/.

"Dark and bright and complicated," yeah.... Perfect description.


Thanks for posting this one, too.

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