ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the February 7, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] redsixwing and [personal profile] technoshaman. It also fills the "odd couple" square in my 2-1-17 Romantic card for the Valentines Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] technoshaman. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some sensitive issues. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes anxiety, awkward conversations, references to Shiv's crappy past and the emotional fallout from that, frank discussion of kink, Shiv's head is full of landmines that Gray is just beginning to discover, and other challenges. But the hard candy relationship work is wrapped in a bunch of fluff.


"Shared Vulnerability"


It took Shiv half of the next day
to sidle up to Pain's Gray and say, "Hey."

"Hey yourself," Pain's Gray said.
"I was hoping that I hadn't
scared you away."

"I don't scare easy,"
Shiv said, glaring at him.

Pain's Gray laughed. "Good."

Shiv realized that the other supervillain
was teasing him, but not in a mean way,
more like Drew did, inviting him in on the fun.

It was weird, but not as weird as it
would have been last year, when
he'd had no clue at all about it.

"You got any plans today?"
Shiv asked, leaning on the wall.

"Nothing carved in stone,"
said Pain's Gray. "Why?"

Even now, having talked with
Dr. Bloch yesterday and opened
a conversation with Pain's Gray,
it was difficult to get the words out.

"You wanna come up to my place
for lunch?" Shiv managed.

"Just lunch, or something more?"
Pain's Gray gave him a look so intense
that Shiv glanced down to see whether
his fly was open. It wasn't.

"I thought we could maybe, uh,
about yesterday, you wanted --"
Shiv floundered. "I liked what you
did to me and I want you to do it again."

This was awful. This was unbearable.
This was making him dizzy and queasy.
He was doing it all wrong, even though he
had practiced it in his head a hundred times,
and Pain's Gray was going to walk away and
go fool around with someone who wasn't an idiot.

"I would be happy to come up and discuss
kinky activities with you," said Pain's Gray.

Shiv's breath whooshed out in relief.
He hadn't even realized he was holding it.
"Okay," he said. "That's fantastic."

"Were you serious about the lunch part?"
Pain's Gray asked. "I think I've already
imposed on Cook enough, but I could
go out and pick up something."

Shiv remembered something that
Dr. Bloch had suggested to make him
feel less panicky: putting them on
more of an equal footing.

"Yeah, I meant that," he said.
"Let's go Dutch -- you bring the meat,
and I'll bring a side. Doesn't have to be
fancy, you can just go to Burger Bash
for some mini meatball sandwiches or hit
Frisky Critters, everything there is good."

"Agreed," said Pain's Gray. "I'll need
some time to get ready. Meet you
upstairs in about an hour?"

"Sure," said Shiv. That would
give him time to make sure that
he hadn't left anything humiliating
out in the middle of his living room.

He also stopped in the kitchen
to beg Cook for a couple jars of
Anything Pickles to have for lunch --
gallon jugs full of mixed vegetables,
one hot-canned and one countertop.

Shiv fussed around his apartment,
putting things away and thinking he
maybe should've paid more attention
to his Life Skills classes back in prison.

He dithered over his word wall, but it
took a while to take down or put up, so
in the end he just left it there and hoped
that Pain's Gray wouldn't notice it.

Despite giving it his best hustle,
the knock on the door came before
Shiv had quite finished cleaning up.

He abandoned his housecleaning
and went to let Pain's Gray in.

"Nice," Pain's Gray said with
a low whistle of approval. "You've
got some great art in here. My boss
is more into rugs than paintings."

Shiv looked down at the plain black rug
and scuffed his foot across it. "The uh,
the papercuts are mine, I mean that
I actually made them myself."

Pain's Gray walked over to take
a closer look at then, like he was
in an art gallery or some shit.

"Impressive," he said.

"I got us some Anything Pickles for
lunch," Shiv said, pointing toward
the two huge jars on the dining table.
"What did you go out and get?"

"Fried Whatever," said Pain's Gray,
lifting the bag. "I brought a large bucket --
well, that and a small bucket of Rainbow Fries.
I saw those and just could not resist."

It all looked and smelled amazing.

Quickly they set out the food and
started dishing it onto their plates.

Pain's Gray marveled over the pickles,
and Shiv explained how Cook made
big batches of brine to pickle anything
that he could get fresh and cheap.

"We have a special," Shiv said.
"You can order a jug of these,
a basket of sweet potato fries,
and a pitcher of beer for thirty bucks."

"Sounds like a steal," said Pain's Gray,
"though I'm more a fan of wine than beer."

Shiv had tried wine, and found it mostly
tasted like grape juice with vinegar.
"Whatever floats your boat," he said.

"Here, try one of these," Pain's Gray said,
holding out a deep orange fry.

Shiv opened his hand, but
Pain's Gray held onto the fry.

"Don't tease me," Shiv growled.

"I'm not teasing you," said Pain's Gray.
"I'm offering to feed you. Lean over
and take this with your teeth -- it's
long enough that you won't risk
nipping me by accident."

Which basically meant trusting
Shiv not to nip him on purpose.

It seemed silly, but also kind of
interesting. Shiv reached out
and grasped the tip of the fry
with his teeth, then pulled back.

It wasn't sweet potato, it was carrot,
deep-fried to delicious crispness and
coated with fiery Cajun spices.

Shiv grinned and dumped a handful
of the rainbow fries onto his plate.
They went really well with the pickles.

"So, negotiation," Pain's Gray said.
"What do you want? What do you not
want? Do you know how to get it?"

"I talked to a guy I know," Shiv said.
"He told me to talk things out with you,
tell you what I like and don't like. I'm
not good at it, but I'm willing to try."

"That's all I ask," said Pain's Gray.
"Negotiation -- this is what we should've
done earlier, before we got involved,
so now we're playing catchup."

"Uh huh," Shiv said. He speared
a few pointy little lumps from the basket
and discovered them to be baby corn.

"We already covered consent last time.
Red means stop, yellow means slow --"

"Kelly fucking green means hurt me more,"
Shiv said with a smirk. "I remember."

"That's good," said Pain's Gray.
"Listen, you don't have to tell me
everything, but I hope you can
at least tell me that much. I really
don't want to hurt you in ways
that aren't fun for both of us."

Shiv wasn't used to that,
but he thought that he could
feel it out well enough to get by.
"Yeah, okay," he said.

"That's all I ask," said Pain's Gray.

Shiv picked up a slice of
something, bit into it, and
found it soft and fatty.
"What is this?" he said.

"I think it's tongue, probably
beef," said Pain's Gray. "If
you don't like it, I'll eat it."

"No, it's good, I just didn't
recognize it," Shiv said.
He'd only had tongue that
had been boiled; it was
good on sandwiches.

"There are salmon patties
too," said Pain's Gray.

Shiv helped himself to one,
then said, "Is that it for consent?"

"That's the basic framework,"
said Pain's Gray. "We can start
there and build on it as we go."

He picked up something that
looked like a fan in white breading,
and then offered it to Shiv.

It was almost instinctive
to lean forward and take
the tidbit from his hand.

Pain's Gray let his fingertips
trail over Shiv's lip, startling and
intimate. Shiv's eyes fluttered shut.

A sound shocked him alert again.

"What did you do that for?"
Shiv complained. "It was nice."

"You were starting to drift,"
Pain's Gray explained, hitting
the table again. "In order to negotiate,
we need to stay aware of what we're saying
and doing. You slipping into subspace
would rather defeat the purpose."

"Oh," Shiv said, disappointed.

"If you like hand-feeding, we can
still do that," Pain's Gray said.
"Just alternate between me
feeding you and you feeding
yourself -- and hold your fork
in your off hand, it helps you
keep your concentration."

"I'm ambidextrous," Shiv admitted.

"We can have some fun with that
later," said Pain's Gray. "Okay,
then flip your fork upside-down."

That certainly took more attention
to eat without dropping his lunch
in his lap, Shiv realized. "Huh."

"Something you should probably
know about me," said Pain's Gray.
"I'm a switch. I like to dish it out
as well as take it. That makes it
easier for me to know what I'm
doing when I hurt someone else."

"Yeah, I get that," Shiv said.

"You're a switch too, then?"
Pain's Gray said, eyeing him.

"I don't know," Shiv said. "I never
thought about it like this before. I
just know I like getting into fights
and messing with people, and ...
stuff. It's complicated."

He missed Mr. Vanburen almost
as much as he missed Dr. Bloch, for
totally different reasons. He recalled
the look on the guard's face as Shiv
had pushed staples into a chair
using his superpower.

"You've topped someone,"
Pain's Gray guessed.

"Maybe," Shiv said. "It wasn't
anything like what you and I did."

Pain's Gray shrugged, waving
a bluish fry in one hand. "There are
all kinds of kink, Shiv," he said. "We
can explore different ones too."

Shiv instantly wondered if
Pain's Gray would sit on him and
if it could be made all fun instead of
alternately exciting and horrifying.

"Yeah," he said, licking his lips
and tasting Cajun spices. "I'd like
to try more things. I just don't know
what the hell I'm doing, and uh,
that didn't end well last time."

"We'll be more careful,"
Pain's Gray promised. "I think
the worst problem is just that we
don't know each other well yet --
if we hang out, that'll fix itself."

"There's a movie this weekend,"
Shiv said. "Cowpunch in Space?"

"Not my usual genre, but I'm willing
to give it a try," said Pain's Gray.

"What do you usually watch?"
Shiv wondered. "I had this roommate --
Largo would watch just about anything."

"I like foreign films, romances if
they're not too frilly, and fantasy for
the swordfights," said Pain's Gray.

"I can go for swordfights," said Shiv.

"Imagine my surprise," Pain's Gray drawled,
startling Shiv into a laugh. "We can watch
for things in that genre to share, then."

"I'll check my list later," said Shiv.
"I keep a page in my notebook
about movie releases."

"That's a good idea,"
said Pain's Gray. "Coming
back to switches, we could
work on top skills or bottom skills,
or both if you're interested in that."

"What, like a class?" Shiv said,
wrinkling his nose. "I suck at school."

"More like practical exercises,"
said Pain's Gray. He pointed at
Shiv's hand. "The fork is an example."

"Really?" Shiv twirled it in his fingers again.

"It reminds you to stay alert and focus on
the conversation, not drop into subspace,"
said Pain's Gray. "It seems to work for you."

"Yeah, it does," Shiv said. "I do better
with things I can see and feel."

"Then that's what we'll do,"
said Pain's Gray. "I think it'll be
best to alternate things you can
already do and want to improve,
with things you need to learn."

"Like the powergasm," Shiv said.

"Yes, but another problem we ran into
is that you didn't have enough skill base
to handle a technique that advanced,"
said Pain's Gray. "You got there, sure,
but the aftermath spooked you. It's
a lot of trust, a lot of vulnerability,
and we weren't ready for that yet."

A shiver raced over Shiv's skin.
"Yeah, coming down was ... not good."

"It'll get better if we build intimacy
in little steps rather than climbing inside
each other's skin all at once," said Pain's Gray.

"Like what?" Shiv wondered. "I'm new at
this shit, I don't know where you're going."

Pain's Gray held out a deep red fry,
this time gripped halfway along its length.
"Come here and take this, gently."

Shiv leaned forward just enough
to take it. Beet flavor filled his mouth.

"Like that, one little step at a time,"
Pain's Gray said. "Get comfortable with
each phase before moving on to the next."

Shiv groaned. "It'll be Christmas
before I get another powergasm!"

"Nah, it won't take that long,"
said Pain's Gray. "You're
motivated, you'll catch on."

"If you don't get tired of me,"
Shiv said. "If we make progress
before you have to go home."

Pain's Gray sighed. "I really
want to smack whoever it was
that wrecked your expectations."

"That's basically everyone up to
the last two-three years," Shiv said.

He'd gotten into Boss White's gang,
which had helped a lot, but ironically
it was prison that had introduced
him to a wider support network.

"Maybe it would help to turn things
around a bit," said Pain's Gray. "I'm
here to learn, too. You could teach me
knife work. I've been wanting to learn
more of that, and my boss favors swords."

With a flick of his mind, Shiv pulled out
his butterfly knife and flipped it lazily
through the air. He didn't want
to handle it with greasy hands.

"Very pretty," said Pain's Gray,
"and so are you."

Shiv snapped the knife shut
as he jerked away. "Don't ...
ever ... call me pretty."

"Okay," said Pain's Gray,
spreading his hands. "I'm sorry.
I didn't realize that was a sore spot.
You didn't seem to mind when I
called you beautiful before."

"You're the first one who said that,"
Shiv muttered. "The other .. I've
heard it before, and not in a good way."

"Then I'll be careful," said Pain's Gray.

Oddly enough, Shiv believed him.
Now that he'd been around people
who tended to do what they said,
he was starting to recognize it.

There were still things that Shiv
wanted but wasn't ready to accept.
This helped, though, more than
he would have expected it to.

"That's nice of you," he said.
"Anyway, yeah, if you want
to learn knife work, I'll try
to show you more of it."

Shiv probably wasn't
a good teacher, but maybe
Pain's Gray wouldn't mind.
They could fumble together.

It reminded him of something else
that Dr. Bloch had recommended --
shared vulnerability, giving and taking,
instead of the one-way flow they had.

He still didn't feel entirely comfortable
with this, but that too was familiar.
He liked the little shiver of fear
that Dr. Bloch gave him.

"I look forward to it," Pain's Gray said.

"Why?" Shiv said. "I mean, I know
your boss sent you here, but you didn't
have to pick up someone with ...
all this baggage like I have,
let alone take care of me."

"That's just me being a good top,"
said Pain's Gray. "And so is this."

He reached into the bag again,
but what he pulled out wasn't from
Frisky Critters. It was a thick tray
made of styrofoam, bottom and top
fitted so snugly together that it
squeaked when he opened it.

Inside lay rows of glossy golden hearts
speared with weird yellow threads and
something that looked like red arrows.

"What are those?" Shiv said.

"Passionfruit hearts," said Pain's Gray.
"I thought that we could use something
to relax with, and passionfruit is soothing.
Also I was frazzled last night, and I cook
to calm myself down, when I can."

"I've never seen anything like this,"
Shiv said. "They're like tiny sculptures."

Pain's Gray preened. "Thank you.
I like to think of French pastries
as a form of edible art."

"I like art," Shiv said. "I'm still
a supervillain, but I enjoy drawing
and my power lets me work metal."

"Maybe later you can show me
more of your work," said Pain's Gray.
"In the meantime, try mine." He cut off
a bite of the passionfruit heart and
then offered it to Shiv.

It looked good. It smelled good.
Shiv leaned in to take a tentative nibble.

The passionfruit heart tasted about
like the powergasm had felt.

Shiv whimpered in pleasure.

"I'll take that as a compliment,"
Pain's Gray said happily.

Shiv realized that he was lost, as
hopelessly gone on this guy's cooking
as he had been on the Microfyne, and
he just couldn't bring himself to care.

He felt like he was sitting here with
his skin off, but Pain's Gray was
so gentle with him that it hardly hurt.

His gaze flicked down to the plate
that held the remainder of
the passionfruit heart.

"More?" he whispered.

Pain's Gray scooped up
the rest of the sweet and
tucked it into Shiv's mouth,
thumb dipping down to catch
a trickle of escaping sauce
and push it between his lips.

Shiv let him, because he
didn't want to miss a bit of this.

* * *

Notes:

“Intimacy is based on shared vulnerability…nothing deepens intimacy like the experiences that we share when we feel flayed, with our skins off, scared and vulnerable, and our partner is there with us, willing to share in the scary stuff.”
-- The Ethical Slut by Dossie Eastman and Katherine Liszt

This is Shiv's living room. The black-bordered blanket is spread over a large futon. He has a photoprint of saxophonist Mark Turner and some papercuts of his own making.

Conversation is an essential life skill. Shiv has poor conversational skills due to a crappy childhood, although he's improving in this area. Understand how to avoid or handle awkward conversations. Learn the skills of intimate conversation and some ideas for conversations that build intimacy.

Teasing is often thought of as negative, but it can play a role in friendship and romance. Most important, it offers a lighthearted way of testing a relationship, which is something that Shiv and Gray both need right now.

Burger Bash sells these mini meatball sandwiches in large quantities. They are a little smaller than typical sliders, really just enough bread to cover an average meatball.

Anything Pickles may include all kinds of vegetables or fruits. They can be fermented on the countertop. You can also can them. Canned recipes may be sweet, garlicky, or spicy among other options.

Fried Whatever is literally what the restaurant has extras of when you order it. Frisky Critters fries all kinds of things, often in specialized batters, although they do fritto misto with a variety of items. See recipes for crispy tongue, salmon patties, baby corn, root vegetable fries, rainbow fries, and pepper fries. There are many more recipes that you can learn to fry at home.

For reference, KFC offers 8-piece, 12-piece, and 16-piece buckets of fried chicken. They consider a serving of chicken to be two pieces, so the 8-piece bucket says it feeds four people. For heartier appetites, say four pieces each, the 8-piece bucket still feeds two people. Soups often need 2-4 times as many calories as ordinary people.

The Frisky Critters buckets come in small (3.5 lbs), medium (5 lbs), and large (10 lbs) sizes. The bucket'o'fries comes in small (24 oz) and large (48 oz) sizes. Typically, 1 pound of chicken wings ranges 8-12 pieces. Most menu items at Frisky Critters are small to medium in size, because many of them are vegetables, so this makes a good estimate. Some, such as chicken backs or corn on the cob, are bigger. Those probably range 4-8 pieces per pound. A bucket of Fried Whatever can include any of the fried items on the menu, but on average, will have more pieces than a bucket of fried chicken, closer to a bucket of chicken wings. Because the smaller pieces pack denser, they weigh a little more; but vegetables tend to be less filling than meat, so it averages out in terms of how many people a bucket should feet. A large bucket of Fried Whatever, a small bucket of Rainbow Fries, two gallons of homemade Anything Pickles, and a tiny dessert is a reasonable lunch for two soups, which will leave some leftovers to stash in the fridge or take downstairs to share.

Hand feeding, like other forms of food-sharing and food play, conveys intimacy. In kink, a dominant usually feeds a submissive. It also happens in vanilla romance. Getting food into someone else's mouth is a little tricky; this skill benefits from both research and practice. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a dom willing to give lessons! (That's a classical form lesson, by the way, teaching the submissive role before the dominant one, which is absolutely a great idea if you are switchy enough to handle both.) It helps to look at instructions for feeding a baby. Comfort feeding of elders may be done in several ways. Just as dogs may be "food reward" or "play reward," people respond in different ways to feeding. Shiv is definitely a "food reward" kinda guy, but at least he's starting to feel more comfortable about that.

Vulnerability is something that many people find frightening, especially men. Child abuse often leaves survivors with a fear of vulnerability and intimacy. However, vulnerability is the key to close relationships; without it, they tend to stay shallow. There are tips for overcoming fear of vulnerability, getting comfortable with it, and becoming more vulnerable in relationships. Shiv is still twedgy about this, but he's getting good support from Dr. Bloch and from Gray.

Trust comes in different types and consists of multiple elements. Here you can see the steps that Gray is taking to build trust, while Shiv is moving through the levels of trust and beginning to share more private information. A challenge of PDSD is that it tends to cripple adaptability so that people find it difficult or impossible to gauge current levels of appropriate trust; the inertia makes them continue distrusting even in a more trustworthy environment. I found this fantastic diagram of correct trust. If you were to map Shiv's path on this arc, you'd see his environment climbing rapidly out of the correct distrust quadrant and into the trustworthy quadrant, while his actual level of trust climbs much more slowly. So instead of staying close together like they used to be, the lines are diverging, and his current trust is well below what is justified. But it is improving.

Negotiation in kink covers consent and other topics. Here is a guide to negotiation and some advice on best practices.

Regrettably I could not find anything on how to stay alert during negotiation, which is disappointing, because many people get turned on by it and have a hard time holding their focus without sinking into a fog of sex and/or submission. Using your nondominant hand is a good general exercise for mindfulness, although sadly not an option for ambidextrous folks. Anything that deviates from your usual method in a way that makes you think about it can help. Here are some tips for staying mindful during sex.

Switches are people who enjoy both giving and receiving kink. That means they need to learn both top/dom skills and bottom/sub skills.

Passion Fruit Hearts are among the fancy French pastries, and they are beautiful. They're also insanely complicated to make. Gray finds it relaxing to fool around with things in the kitchen, though.

Edible art can go to extraordinary lengths. The appearance of food matters, because it helps stimulate the appetite, and in some contexts making elaborate food expresses love. Learn how to make and present beautiful food.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-28 04:33 am (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
...Yum!!!

And not just the pastries. *grins* Though those sound deeelicious.

I feel weirdly proud of Shiv, too. Having followed his journey this far from the other side of the worldwall (and word-wall), it's heartening to see him reaching a point where he's begun gathering momentum for himself when it comes to finding good things to do and good people to do them with, instead of being yanked out of his cat-carrier-equivalent box by the scruff of his neck. He'd probably cut me if I sounded patronizing, though, so maybe better to put it on the level of aesthetic appreciation, one person to another, for the sharp beauty of his character arc arising out of chaos - the wording might not be right, but I think he'd understand the imagery.
Edited (typo) Date: 2017-02-28 04:33 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-28 05:43 am (UTC)
technoshaman: (warm_puppy)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Yeah, seriously... those last six verses are just hotttttttt, nevermind you couldn't wring a PG-13 rating out of them.

Yeah, Shiv has come a LONG way... and Gray is very, very good for him.

Did I mention I like the way you think? :) (yes, you, I know damn well Ysabet knows alreddie ;)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-28 04:40 am (UTC)
thnidu: Lucy bright and bold. Lucida Bright font, boldface: backslash, small-o, slash: YAY!! (yay)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
«Oddly enough, Shiv believed him.
Now that he'd been around people
who tended to do what they said,
he was starting to recognize it.»

I am so happy to see Shiv growing, getting better, healing in this way!

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-28 07:02 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This was a delight. Shiv deserves so much, and he's come so far. Yay! -kellyc

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-28 12:04 pm (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
Grey is going to be Soooo good for Shiv... and I mean that in a non-sexual way... because a lot of the skills that you need to navigate kink-space with are useful in a general context to. That, and damn, that kid needs a repairtive relationship So. Damn. Badly!

(no subject)

Date: 2017-03-02 01:58 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Does T-America have The Princess Bride? I can see them both having a lot of fun with this movie together. Except maybe the scene with The Machine would be a bad trigger. But aside from that, there is awesome dialogue, fun fight scenes, and so much more.
-Roserapier

(no subject)

Date: 2017-03-03 08:12 pm (UTC)
kyleri: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kyleri
...all right, I'm apparently missing something in my diet, cos this one's leaving me HUNGRY HUNGRY too.

Re: Well...

Date: 2017-03-07 02:54 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
This is EXTREMELY USEFUL info.

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