ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls, inspired by the "shapeshifters" square in my 1-1-17 card for the Dark Fantasy Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. Nebuly follows Turq's trail and finds Ansel, then Turq finds them. ALL THE FEELS! It's about unexpected meetings, depression, searching for lost friends, divergent senses, self-consciousness, protective behavior, emotional breakdown, regressive behavior, parentification, past mad science torture, a raging case of survival guilt with self-blame, past thoughts of death, past adverse drug reaction, a really terrible end to helpful therapy, and the poor therapist still doesn't even know that Nebuly is alive, difficulty asking for help, backstopping, out of spoons error, desperate clinginess, and other challenges. Despite the cathartic spewing of emotions everywhere, the overall effect is positive and leaves everyone headed into better space. Please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward. Skipping this one would leave a big gap, as it has major plot import.


"The Face of Ruin and Despair"


Ansel was sprinkling kitty litter
over his icy driveway for traction when
he heard slow footfalls crunching
their way through the snow.

He looked up to see a young man
trudging toward him, long legs and
a lanky body with slumped shoulders,
and above that, the face of ruin and despair.

"Hi, I'm Ansel," he said. "Can I help you?"

"I was searching for a friend ...
but you're not him," the stranger said.

"If you tell me about your friend, then
maybe I can help look," Ansel offered.

The younger man stiffened.

"Or not, but then it might take you
a while," Ansel said. "This is
a pretty big neighborhood."

"I'm not from around here,"
the stranger admitted.

"I guessed as much," Ansel said.
"I'm sorry, I didn't get your name ...?"

"Nebuly," he said softly. "I'm
searching for ... someone I knew,
we got split up, but I know that
he's around here somewhere."

Ansel took a closer look at him.
He wore a slate-colored sweater and
gray pants, with lighter gray tennis shoes
and a blue hoodie over the sweater.

His hair was odd, short ash-white
on the sides with long black dreadlocks
along the top that trailed down his back.

His face showed numerous piercings,
and the earlobes had been stretched out
with glossy black tunnels -- a style that Ansel
professionally associated with rebels, although
Nebuly seemed more despondent than defiant.
Ansel trusted his observation of individuals
over general education and statistical trends.

"How do you know?" Ansel asked. "If you
tell me the clues you're following, then
that might help us find your friend."

As the wind shifted, it brought Ansel
his strong personal scent, which took him
a moment to recognize as musk. Ansel
had only smelled that once before, during
a raid on a poacher's warehouse, and
this smelled wilder and alive, instead of
the dead smell of harvested musk.

Nebuly shuffled in place. "I don't know ...
people think I'm weird enough already."

"As long as you're not hurting anyone,
including yourself, I'm smooth with it,"
Ansel said. "I've probably seen worse."

The wind reversed itself, blowing
the pink froth of Ansel's hair in his face.

"Yeah, I guess you have," Nebuly said.
He gave a broken laugh. "Okay then ...
I know he's around here somewhere,
because I can smell him on you."

Goosebumps danced down Ansel's back.
The wrecked posture, the odd coloring,
the unusually potent smell -- suddenly
it all reminded him of Turq.

"Is this friend of yours a bit unusual?"
Ansel asked Nebuly. "Because I
know someone like that, but he
wouldn't like being followed around,
or talked about behind his back."

Nebuly licked his upper lip.
"Yeah, we're ... different," he said.
"Things were pretty rough for us. I
couldn't stay with him. I never thought
I'd find him again, but when I caught
his scent at the Midwinter Faire, then
I had to come looking for him. I had to."

"So let's talk about how we can
put you back in touch, if he wants
to see you again," Ansel said. "Do you
have contact information I could give him?"

"You're protecting him," Nebuly said,
nibbling on his lip. "Okay. That's good.
Okay. But I don't have a fixed address
or a computer or anything like that.
I travel with a caravan now."

"Does the faire have a means
of getting messages to people?"
Ansel asked. "I know that
other events often do."

"Yeah, we have heralds
for that," Nebuly said. "They
make announcements, but if you
need to reach someone, you can
leave a message with them too.
They basically know everyone."

A gasp and a sudden motion
were all the warning Ansel got
before Turq barreled into them
hard enough that he almost
knocked them both down.

"Whoa, easy there!" Ansel said.
"Try not to knock people over."

It was clear that Turq was
beyond hearing him, though -- he
was clinging to Nebuly and crying,
wrapped around him like an octopus.

Nebuly spun them to put himself
in between Turq and Ansel.

When Turq's knees buckled, Nebuly
lowered him gently to the ground.

Turq curled into a tiny ball in his lap,
and Nebuly folded himself around Turq
so completely that Ansel could not see
any more of him than a tuft of blue hair.

Ansel watched them rocking and crying
on the ground, and realized that this was
a much more momentous reunion than
just two friends meeting up -- Turq was
acting much the way he had when he
reconnected with his foster family.

Nebuly really must be part of his cohort,
which meant that Nebuly was probably
as damaged as Turq, if not more so.

That meant Ansel would have to treat
both of them tenderly. He took a step back,
showing them that he was a safe person
and not a threat to either of them.

"Oh god, Dru, it's so good to smell you
again," Nebuly whispered into the blue hair.

"I go by Turq now," he managed to reply.
"I missed you too, Darian. I missed everyone."

"It's Nebuly for me," the other man said.

"Yeah, okay," Turq said. Then he reached out
and yanked Ansel into their huddle. "This is
Ansel, he's been looking out for me."

"Thank you," Nebuly said fervently.
"I'm so glad that Turq has someone
to take care of him when he needs it."

"I do as much as he feels comfortable
letting me do for him," Ansel said.

"Yeah, it's hard for me to let people
get close, after ... everything," Turq said.

Nebuly cringed. "What I did, it was awful,
I hate myself for it," he said. "I ran away
and left you there, abandoned everyone
in that terrible place because I was afraid
that if I didn't leave then, then I'd never find
the energy again. I know it was unforgivable,
but I want you to know that I'm sorry anyway.
I am so sorry for leaving you behind."

He started crying, and whatever else
he might have said was lost between
the gasps and the sobs, except for
the broken bits of "sorry" and "my fault."
His face was a picture of ruin and despair.

"Shh, no, it's not like that," Turq said.
"I forgave you a long time ago."

"What -- how could you --"
Nebuly stammered. "I thought
you all would hate me for it.
That must have been horrible.
I know they would've punished
everyone that I left behind."

"Yeah, that first night was awful,"
Turq admitted. "I just wanted to die.
But I got over that, and then I was
glad you got away, that someone
escaped from that hellhole. It gave
me strength, and hope, thinking of
you on the outside, alive and safe."

"Really?" Nebuly said hoarsely.

"Really," Turq said, rubbing his cheek
against Nebuly's. "I forgive you."

That made Nebuly start crying
all over again, but this time Ansel
thought they were tears of relief.

"Survivor guilt can be really rough
on people," Ansel said when Nebuly
began to wind down. "Do you have
anyone you can talk with about it?"

"Not ... right now," Nebuly said,
looking away. "I had a great therapist,
for a little while, but it didn't work out."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Ansel said.
"May I ask what went wrong? Maybe
it's something you could work through
if you had a little more support."

Nebuly shook his head. "No, it's
a biochemical problem. We were
trying antidepressants, and one went
so wrong that I lost my shit and bolted
out of town. That's not really fixable."

"You left, without warning and in distress,"
Ansel said carefully. "That sounds upsetting.
Did you send word to let your therapist
know that you were moving on?"

"No, I couldn't face him after that,"
Nebuly said, shrinking into himself.
"I was too ashamed to contact him."

"I know a lot of people in helping professions,
and one thing we all have in common is that
we tend to worry about our clients if they're not
doing very well and drop out of touch," Ansel said.

Nebuly winced. "Yeah, I know, Marjoram
fusses over me whenever I feel worse."

"Do you still have the contact information
for your therapist?" Ansel asked, leaning forward.
"If so, would it be okay for me to let him know that
you're alive and have some support now?"

"Yeah, I have it," Nebuly said. He took out
his wallet and produced a business card so worn
that it had turned as soft and flexible as fabric.
He hesitated to hand it over, though.

Ansel realized that Nebuly had probably
been clinging to it for comfort. "How about
I copy the information?" he suggested.

"Okay," Nebuly said softly. He held
the card where Ansel could see it,
but he did not let go of the paper.

Ansel keyed the information
into his smartphone. "I'm done,
thank you," he told Nebuly,
who put the card away.

"I know I'm a mess, but it's ...
hard, doing anything about it,"
Nebuly said. "What I went through
really screwed me up in ways that
make it difficult to reach out or deal with
anything that reminds me of my past. Knowing
an herbalist helps, but that's still pretty new."

"If you need anything, you can ask me
for help," Ansel offered, setting a careful hand
on Nebuly's shoulder. "You're part of Turq's family,
and that makes you important to me too."

Nebuly leaned over to press his face
against the side of Ansel's neck,
his breath whuffling over the skin.

"You smell trustworthy," Nebuly said.
"I don't know how I know, but I know."

"Thank you," Ansel said, nodding.
"I try hard to live up to that ideal."

Turq snuffled at Nebuly, then sneezed.
"What's that spicy smell?" he said.

"Marjoram calls it her Weal Wand,"
Nebuly said with a smile. "She makes
this herbal stuff in a solid stick with calendula
and clove and I don't remember what else.
I scuffed up my arms moving some boxes
this morning, so she put that on me."

"You don't have the quick healing
like Turq does?" Ansel asked.

"Oh, yeah, I do," Nebuly said,
turning his hands over to show off
his unmarked arms. "It's just ... nice,
you know, when somebody cares
that I've hurt myself. Otherwise
I tend to forget that it matters."

Ansel silently resolved to return to
the Midwinter Faire as soon as possible
and stock up on whatever first aid supplies
Marjoram was selling. If Nebuly liked them,
then Turq probably would as well.

"It's good that you have people around
who help you remember to take good care
of yourself," Ansel said. "Backstopping can
make a big difference to trauma survivors."

"Yeah, I'd be lost without you," Turq said,
bumping gently against his side.

"I'm here when you need me,"
Ansel assured him. "Don't worry,
you'll develop your own skills in time,
and then you won't need me as much."

"It's a nice thought," Turq said,
and gave a wistful sigh.

"I have faith in you," Ansel said.

Nebuly fidgeted, looking uncomfortable.
"Well, this is awkward," he muttered.

"What's wrong?" Ansel asked.
"If it's something we can fix,
I'm always happy to help."

"We've been sitting on the ground
so long that my pants are starting
to get wet," Nebuly admitted.

"I'm sure I have something
you can borrow," Ansel offered
at the same time Turq said,
"You can have mine."

Nebuly looked back and forth
between them. "Okay," he said,
without specifying whose clothes
he was comfortable borrowing.

He rocked forward, trying to get up,
but flopped back to the ground.
"Damn. I ran out of spoons."

"It's been a pretty intense day,"
Ansel said. "If you need to shift shape,
that's okay. Take care of yourself."

Nebuly gave him a sidelong look.
"Most people don't like that."

"Nah, Ansel isn't that way.
I change around him all the time,
because I'm better furry than human,"
Turq said. "He's smooth with it."

"I think I can manage," Nebuly said,
"if you can point me to a bus stop."

"Those are way in the middle of
the neighborhood," Ansel said.
He tucked two fingers under
Nebuly's elbow. "How about
you change into some dry pants,
and I'll give you a ride home."

"I'm not sure I can handle giving
my friends an explanation of
the day right now," Nebuly said.

"Before you left, did you tell
them that you were looking
for someone?" Ansel asked.

"Yeah, not a lot of detail, but I
mentioned that much," Nebuly said.

"Then I could just let them know
you found him and you're worn out
from the excitement," Ansel said.

Nebuly hesitated for a long moment,
not refusing, just taking a while
to work through the decision.
"Yeah, okay," he said.

He let Ansel lift him up
and accepted a spare pair
of sweat pants to wear.

Fortunately nobody else
had gotten as wet as Nebuly,
who had wound up on the bottom.

"Ready to go?" Ansel asked.

Turq clung to Nebuly.
"You'll come back again,
won't you?" Turq asked.
"You won't just disappear?"

"I'll come when I can,"
Nebuly said, stroking a hand
along Turq's back. "I don't ...
always have much energy, and
people can be hard to handle."

"You're welcome any time,"
Ansel said. "There's a couch
in my office and a futon upstairs,
if you ever need crash space, and
we're happy to feed our friends."

"Okay," Turq said, burrowing between them.

Ansel waited for Turq to let go before
he scooped Nebuly into the car, wrapping
him in the shop blanket that carried both
Ansel's scent and Turq's. A plain hoodie
just wasn't warm enough in this weather.

Despite the emotional upheaval,
it had been a productive day, and
Ansel felt grateful for the chance
to meet someone from Turq's past.

It didn't take long for Nebuly
to fall asleep as Ansel drove
carefully along the winding road
that connected the neighborhood.

In the warm golden glow of
the occasional street lanterns
mounted on their wooden poles,
Nebuly's face no longer looked
quite as haggard as it had before.

He seemed younger, and almost at peace.

* * *

Notes:

Officer Pink (Ansel Nicholson) -- He has ruddy skin and hazel eyes. His hair starts out light brown but he has it changed to pink by Paintrix, after which it also tends to stand straight up. He discovers that the pink color just feels right for him, and decides to keep it. Ansel is tall and athletic, with a rectangular face, wide shoulders, and trim hips. He is heterosexual and has a girlfriend. He sleeps so deeply that he's easy to sneak up on after he's asleep.
Ansel works on the Bluehill police force as a corporal. He often volunteers for youth outreach and other public speaking. His pink hair helps other soups identify him, breaks the ice at presentations, and encourages people to ask him for help. On the downside, it also makes forks and other bigots hate him.
Origin: Upset by the increase in bullying, Ansel starts doing presentations at schools in Bluehill. The kids give him the idea of coloring his hair pink so he can see firsthand how people treat someone who is visibly different.
Uniform: On duty, Ansel wears the Bluehill police uniform. Off duty, he likes casual, sporty clothes.
Qualities: Master (+6) Compassion, Expert (+4) Citizen, Expert (+4) Cop, Expert (+4) People Skills, Good (+2) Athletic, Good (+2) Catcher in the Rye, Good (+2) Cheerful, Good (+2) Jigsaw Puzzles, Good (+2) Kindness, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) Problem-Solving Skills
Poor (-2) Deep Sleeper
Powers: Average (0) Moral Compass, Average (0) Wild Pink Hair
Motivation: To make the world a kinder place.

Nebuly (Darian Cormac) -- He has pale skin and gray eyes. His hair is short and white on the sides of his head, while the top has a row of long black dreadlocks. His body hair is patched and swirled in black, brown, and white. He is tall and strong. He has a stretched lobe tunnel and upper lobe piercing in each ear. He has bridge, both nostril, and septum piercings in his nose. He has a labret, snakebites, and two pairs of corner piercings in his lower lip. Nebuly uses the occasional pain from piercings to break through the numbness of depression and remind him to take good care of himself. His BlackSheep handle is Bagwyn.
Darian grew up in a happy, healthy family until he and his parents were attacked by human traffickers when Darian was 10. His parents fought ferociously to protect him, and managed to kill at least one of the attackers. Due to all the blood spilled, Darian suspects that his parents were also killed, and doesn't really want to find out the truth. He is about 21 now.
Origin: Mad science torture. The supervillain Carl Bernhardt locked Darian in a strange metal chamber and bombarded him with mysterious energies that caused his body to warp. He escaped when he finally manifested Vaporous Form. Now he works as a rennie and occasionally as a hacker.
Uniform: Street clothes. He usually wears black. Sometimes he lightens up with white, gray, or brown. Rarely he wears brighter colors like blue or purple. He also has some medieval garb.
Qualities: Good (+2) Fortitude, Good (+2) Leader, Good (+2) Hacker, Good (+2) Historical Re-enactment, Good (+2) Tall
Poor (-2) Depression
Powers: Good (+2) Cryptid Shifter
In Nebuly's case, the metapower of Cryptid Shifter includes various abilities and variable enhancements to vision. Good (+2) Control Electricity (Signature Stunts: Average EMP, Average Lightning Bolt, Average Neural Disruption), Good (+2) Regeneration, Good (+2) Shapeshifting, Good (+2) Vaporous Form (Signature Stunt: Average Liquid Form), Average (0) Merle, and Average (0) True Sight. His alternate forms include myrstag.
Motivation: To put his life back together.

In heraldry, a line nebuly (or nebulée) is drawn with deep curves meant to resemble clouds. The term comes from the Latin word nebula, "a mist, vapor, or cloud." Here is heraldic shield displaying Barry nebuly of nine azure and argent.

The myrstag form has sharp antlers for defense, a heavy coat which sheds rain, hooved paws for walking on soft ground, and the ability to digest almost anything. The outer guard hairs are coarse and wiry; the middle hairs are silky; and the woolly undercoat is soft. Myr is Swedish for a bog, a moor, or a wetland. The myrstag has a musky scent.


Turq (Drustan Moreau)
-- He has pale skin and hazel eyes with hints of blue, green, and gray. His hair was originally brown, but is turning turquoise from the top down. His eyebrows, beard, and mustache are still brown. His ears are pierced. He is slim and muscular with a heart-shaped face. He is left-handed. Drustan is Scorpio with Pisces as a moon sign. His heritage includes Welsh, French, and German. Following incidents of child abuse and neglect, he grew up in the foster care system, so he had no real family support for years. The results of that have not been very good.
When Drustan reached the Liáng family, he finally found a comfortable home. This lasted until Mingxia's baby was born with severe medical problems, and Family Services dispersed the foster children to other locations. Drustan suffered through several bad placements, sometimes running away from them. Then his last foster parents sold him while pretending that he had run away again.
As a result, Drustan fell prey to a mad scientist whose disturbing experiments gave him superpowers. The body horror from his ordeal has left him full of dread and melancholy, making it difficult for him to connect with people. He also gets anxious about being tied up, locked in, or confined in any other way. That has given him a nasty set of striationary marks, more than once.
Turq has worked as a supervillain; he is a capable thief and a useful distraction, but iffy in a real fight. Most often he uses the shapeshifting, although his neural blast allows him to disorient people or shock them unconscious depending how much force he puts into it. He does his best to conceal the drawbacks of his superpowers, because he doesn't want anyone to take advantage of him. He is fatalistic about injuries and sometimes resistant to help. His cape name is a double tap. It's short for turquoise, in reference to his hair. It also touches on the Turk chess machine, which in Terramagne was not a hoax but an early gizmo.
Currently Turq lives in Bluehill, Missouri where he often interacts with Officer Pink (Ansel Nicholson). It has taken a lot of work, but Turq is starting to move back toward everyday society. He has also reconnected with the Liáng family, although that's an emotional roller-coaster of its own. His new support networking is helping him overcome the trauma he has survived.
Origin: Mad science torture. The supervillain Carl Bernhardt locked Drustan in a strange metal chamber and bombarded him with mysterious energies that caused his body to warp. He escaped when he finally manifested teleportation. Turq has since worked as a henchman for hire.
Uniform: Street clothes. He prefers clothes with stripes, spots, or other patterns because they hide bloodstains better. Usually he wears dark or neutral colors, but he also likes the blue-to-green range.
Qualities: Good (+2) Adaptable, Good (+2) Chess Player, Good (+2) Comforting When Fuzzy, Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) Finding and Fixing Things, Good (+2) Supervillain Henchman
Poor (-2) Body Horror
Powers: Average (0) Teleporting, Average (0) Neural Blast, Average (0) Regeneration, Average (0) Shapeshifting
His alternate forms include caney, deer, and ferret. In caney form he has a violet gland with a pronounced floral scent, which is less intense but still present in his other shapes.
Vulnerability: Turq has difficulty controlling his superpowers. Shapeshifting screws up his body in ways that leave him coughing and vomiting blood afterwards. However, he can heal the damage -- anything that doesn't kill him instantly probably can't kill him at all. Teleporting can leave him disoriented and twitching from misconnected nerves, or scrambled inside, or all of the above. He actually travels by disintegrating and then reintegrating somewhere else, rather than by blinking from one place to another the way most teleporters do.
Motivation: Get through the day without screaming too much.

Marjoram (Mary Jane Grader) -- She has fair skin with freckles, hazel eyes, and long hair of reddish-gold. She has a sturdy body with small breasts and hips and little waist definition. She uses her faire name most of the time. Her heritage is Irish, British, and American. Her father is a professor of literature and her mother is a bohemian shopkeeper. Marjoram is the wife of Amergin. She works the Renaissance Faire circuit as an herbalist, although she still has a room in her parents' house. She invented the Gypsy Moon Tea for her friend Nebuly to help him sleep. A dedicated rennie, she has the Caravan Driver skill. She loves people and has an impish sense of humor.
Qualities: Good (+2) Constitution, Good (+2) Extrovert, Good (+2) Herbalist, Good (+2) Kindness, Good (+2) Naturalistic Intelligence
Poor (-2) Academics

* * *

"The only true test of loyalty is fidelity in the face of ruin and despair."
-- Eric Felten, Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue

Kitty litter is one of many alternatives to salt for dealing with winter ice. Either natural earth (such as clay) or botanical (such as corn cob bits) litters will provide traction without causing other problems, but synthetic "clumping" litter is not good for this purpose.

Slumped shoulders can indicate depression or defeat.

This is Nebuly's mundane wardrobe. He's not fully equipped for winter, but he can get by.

Body modifications are popular with rebels, but there are many reasons why people seek them. Nebuly does it to reclaim his body. A little controlled pain helps him focus, find his edges, and remember that what happens to his body is now his choice.

(Some of these links are gross.)
Musk is an animal perfume produced by musk deer, harvested by poachers. Most modern perfumes use synthetic musk, but it is inferior to the original. Nebuly's musk is impressive stuff, and like Turq's violet gland, it carries over somewhat even in human form.

Heralds are announcers and recordkeepers in the Society for Creative Anachronism. They offer a way to pass messages at events. Another option is a Voodoo Message Board.

(Some of these links are sad, and others are kinky.)
Both curling into a ball and rocking back and forth are signs of extreme distress, but they're also profound self-soothing and comforting gestures. Seeing each other reminds Turq and Nebuly of their traumatic past, so they do what they've always done: they cling to each other. Hugging and rocking someone provides comfort. Covering someone else's body also conveys protection -- a willingness to shield them from attacks or fight to defend them. Furthermore, the sheltering person is dominant while the sheltered person is submissive. While dominance and submission are often thought of in terms of internal aggression or conflict (i.e. the lower-ranked individual submits to avoid harm) this dynamic also applies to seeking safety (the lower-ranked individual actively solicits protection, which the higher-ranked individual confirms through covering contact).

When I searched this topic, I was intrigued to find that Christians had the best resources on safe people and becoming a safe person. Just ignore all the religious stuff if it doesn't apply to you. For survivors of abuse, there are pages on safe vs. unsafe people and how to find safe people.

Ansel has training in emotional first aid, trauma-informed care and mental crisis care which also helps. T-American police have humane policies for handling emergencies involving people with mental illness and/or other disabilities.

Survivor guilt is a devasting emotion that can follow a traumatic experience where someone lived but others died. Survivors may feel plagued by questions and struggle to find meaning after the events. The moral logic of survivor guilt, or moral injury, cause particular anguish to survivors who hurt someone else or feel that they did. Nebuly feels like a bad person because he could only free himself, and abandoned the other victims. It is important to understand what does and doesn't help in coping with survivor guilt. While I could not find anything on how to support a friend who suffers from survivor guilt, these tips for supporting survivors of suicide loss seem like a reasonable approximation.

Both apology and forgiveness are necessary to repair a damaged relationship. The psychology of forgiveness is complex. One interesting thing here is that Turq felt bad about Nebuly's departure only for a brief time, and it was mostly focused on himself. After Turq got over that hump, he felt glad that Nebuly escaped. But that's going to be very hard for Nebuly to grasp. Learn how to forgive the unforgivable and forgive yourself.

Child abuse and neglect tend to cause emotional trauma. The effects can include guilt, shame, and self-hate. This can pose particular complications for male survivors. Nebuly suffers a lot of this, which contributes to his depression. For Turq, it contributes to anxiety. An essential step in healing involves placing the blame where it belongs, on the perpetrator. Cultivating self-compassion can also help to heal the shame, overcome the guilt, and relieve the self-hate of childhood trauma. Friends and family can help this process.

Parentification appears in the trope Promotion to Parent when one child has to look after another for lack of appropriate adult care. Parentification can have positive and negative effects, and it's important for counselors to understand that it can go both ways. Parentified children (and later adults) often benefit from help setting healthy boundaries. Foster or adoptive families face challenges in getting them to accept care. Being one of the older and larger members of the cohort, Nebuly tended to protect and comfort the others as much as he could -- which wasn't much -- despite being young himself. While this has put extra pressure on him that sometimes creates issues, on the whole it's a bond that they value.

(Some of these links are upsetting.)
Traumatic bonding refers to close human connections formed under stressful circumstances, most often used in regard to unhealthy bonds between abuser and victim. However, shared trauma and pain generally encourage bonding, and that context can impair the quality of the connection in ways that would benefit from healing. This happens often during disasters and war. While debriefing immediately after trauma tends not to help, and belongs to a list of therapies that can cause harm, some survivors nonetheless have found it appealing even though it produced no measurable reduction in the rate of PTSD development. This may be due to their greater affinity for talk therapy, in which case the intervention was simply mistimed; or it may be a near-miss where what they needed was social bonding and the offered intervention was as close as they could get. Another factor is oxytocin, which the body produces during some painful experiences (such as childbirth) but also during pleasant ones (such as sex) and which facilitates bonding. You can see this connection between Turq and his cohort comforting each other, then later with Ansel comforting Turq. A secure bond can help heal the damage of earlier bonds which were harmful or were hopeful but impaired by traumatic context. It also supports the process of naming and describing what happened, binding the memories with words to hold them in place so they don't drift around and cause problems. Even though the cohort bonds are complicated by trauma, they are more helpful than harmful, so Turq and Nebuly are very happy to find each other again.

Depression can be a mental illness (arising from within) or a mental injury (caused by an outside force). Under extreme circumstances, it can even be a survival strategy. Child abuse and neglect cause changes in the brain which increase the risk of mental issues in general. Torture is prone to cause PTSD, exhaustion, impairment, and depression. Nebuly's damage manifests largely as depression and lethargy. There are many different ways to overcome depression and to support someone through it. Depression is also notorious for causing fatigue. These are some ways that depressed people have found to push through the exhaustion.

Marjoram has an herbal medicine chest. See closeups of the top tray and bottom tray. Notice that it's a lot bigger than a simple first aid kit; this is the equivalent of a full-size household pharmacy. Explore what to put in an herbal medicine chest.

Weal Wand by Marjoram
This balm stick has antiseptic and healing qualities, with a spicy-medicinal smell. The calendula and chamomile give it a yellow-orange color.
2 ounces (~4 tablespoons) olive oil infused with calendula flowers, chamomile, comfrey, lemon balm leaf, plantain leaf, and echinacea root
2 ounces (~4 tablespoons) beeswax
2 ounces (~4 tablespoons) cocoa butter
2 ounces (~4 tablespoons) shea butter
2 teaspoons neem oil
1 teaspoon clove oil
1 teaspoon lavender oil
1 teaspoon rosemary oil
1 teaspoon tea tree oil

Bohemian Balm by Marjoram
This soothing balm stick has a rich reddish-brown color and an exotic spicy smell with earthy undertones.
6 tablespoons coconut oil infused with chickweed, cinnamon, nettle leaf, red clover, and goldenseal root
4 tablespoons beeswax pastiles
10 drops frankincense essential oil
10 drops patchouli essential oil
10 drops vetiver essential oil
5 drops helichrysum essential oil
5 drops peppermint essential oil

Warming Rub by Marjoram
This salve has strong warming, moisturizing properties with a reddish-brown color and a spicy-sweet scent. It's good for sore muscles.
1/2 cup cinnamon powder
1/2 cup ginger powder
1/2 cup dry white willow bark
1/4 cup dried arnica flowers
4 tablespoons ground cloves
3 tablespoons cayenne powder
1 tablespoon Panax ginseng powder
1/2 cup of sunflower oil
2 cups of olive oil
2 oz vitamin E oil
1/2 cup beeswax pastilles
1/2 cup carnauba wax granules

Ginger is a warming herb.

Arnica is a strong astringent.

Cayenne is a potent warming herb that also kills germs.


Winter's Kiss Salve by Marjoram
This pale, shimmery salve has strong cooling and drying properties with a minty-medicinal smell. It's good for sore muscles.
2 cups coconut oil
1/4 cup beeswax pastilles
1/4 cup carnauba wax granules
1/2 ounce dried arnica montana flowers
1 tablespoon American ginseng powder
1 tablespoon natural mica powder
8 drops grapefruit essential oil
8 drops peppermint essential oil
3 drops wintergreen essential oil
3 drops eucalyptus essential oil

Natural mica powder is lovely, shiny stuff.

American ginseng has general healing qualities.

Grapefruit is antibacterial.

Adaptogenic essential oils include peppermint, lavender, and lemon. Marjoram tends to put adaptogens into most recipes.


Three Wise Men Cream by Marjoram
This moisturizing cream eases wrinkles and scars. Calendula, chamomile, and mica powder give it a luxurious golden color. It has a rich spicy smell. Because it lacks the floral scent of many cosmetics, it's popular with men.
3 ounces beeswax
6 ounces avocado oil infused with calendula
6 ounces coconut oil infused with chamomile
1/2 ounce vitamin E oil
1 teaspoon gold mica powder
30 drops frankincense essential oil (find pure frankincense EO here)
30 drops myrrh essential oil (find pure myrrh EO here)

Sun Gold Mica Powder gives a metallic shimmer.

A Chinese first aid kit may include myrrh.


Buddha Balm
This rich green salve has grassy, spicy, and medicinal notes. It's an all-purpose healing balm based primarily on traditional Chinese medicine, particularly good for blisters.
1 cup olive oil infused with calendula
1 cup olive oil infused with chuanxiong, dong quai (Chinese angelica root), Panax ginseng (Chinese ginseng)
1 cup olive oil infused with white willow bark
1/4 cup tamanu oil
3 cups beeswax
3 cups shea butter
1/2 ounce vitamin E oil
1 tablespoon matcha green tea powder
10 drops frankincense essential oil
10 drops peppermint essential oil
10 drops sandalwood essential oil

Tamanu oil is good for skin complaints.

Calendula heals the skin. It comes in yellow to orange shades; Marjoram uses yellow for this recipe because that brightens the green.

Chuanxiong is a Chinese herb often appearing in blends for sore muscles.

Dong quai is a broad-spectrum herb appearing in many Chinese blends. Panax ginseng has stimulating and regenerative qualities.

White willow bark is a natural painkiller.

Matcha green tea powder has many benefits, and gives the salve its vivid green color.

Frankincense is spicy-sweet and has antiseptic functions.

Sandalwood is another spicy oil that lifts and soothes the mood.


Witch's Wand by Marjoram
This makes an astringent fluid with strong antiseptic and antimicrobial qualities, which has a spicy-medicinal smell. It's ideal for small blemishes such as pimples or bug bites. Put the essential oils in a roll-on bottle, add a pinch of sea salt as an emulsifier, then fill the rest of the way with witch hazel. Shake before using.
10 drops tea tree essential oil
5 drops neem essential oil
5 drops myrrh essential oil
5 drops thyme essential oil
5 drops rosemary essential oil
pinch of sea salt
witch hazel


Burn Gel by Marjoram
This gel has strong cooling and soothing properties, ideal for mild to moderate burns and hot rashes. It has a minty-medicinal smell.
2 cups aloe vera gel
2 cups gotu kola root powder
20 drops peppermint essential oil
10 drops lavender essential oil
5 drops eucalyptus essential oil
5 drops tea tree essential oil

Aloe vera gel is good for burns and dozens of other complaints.

Gotu kola has regenerative qualities.

Lavender is cooling for burns.

Eucalyptus is cooling and antiseptic.

Tea tree oil is a potent antiseptic.


Solar Aid Spray by Marjoram
This spray has cooling and healing qualities, helpful for sunburns or hot rashes. It has a nice minty-floral smell, popular with people who dislike medicinal odors.
5 ounces aloe vera juice
20 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops calendula essential oil
10 drops peppermint essential oil
5 drops blue chamomile essential oil
5 drops rose essential oil

Many essential oils are good for burns.


Burn Powder / Burn Bags by Marjoram
Almost all burn remedies are liquid or semiliquid, and most benefit from refrigeration. This one relies on ingredients which become emollient when wet; just add water to turn the powder into a gooey, soothing poultice for mild to moderate burns. It's ideal for camping. It can be stored in a jar or bag, or sewn into cloth bags that can be dipped in water and applied whole.
1 cup slippery elm powder
1/2 cup gotu kola root powder
1/4 cup Oregon grape root powder
1/4 cup white willow powder

Here are some more burn remedies.


Scar Soothing Salve by Marjoram
This nourishing salve helps wounds heal after the scab comes off, minimizes the chance of scarring, and soothes scars or stretch marks. It has a luxurious spicy-floral smell. The calendula and chamomile give this salve a cheerful yellow-orange color.
3 ounces coconut oil infused with calendula and chamomile
3 ounces coconut oil infused with chickweed, purslane, and yellow dock
4 ounces shea butter
1 ounce beeswax
1 ounce candelilla wax
1/2 ounce vitamin E oil
30 drops frankincense essential oil
30 drops sandalwood essential oil
20 drops carrot seed essential oil
20 drops geranium essential oil
10 helichrysum essential oil
10 drops neroli essential oil
10 drops rose essential oil
10 drops rosehip seed oil
10 drops tea tree essential oil
10 drops ylang-ylang essential oil

These are some scar healing herbs.

Backstopping means giving someone a chance to do things for themselves, then taking up the task yourself if they don't. It helps with a wide range of challenges including depression and self-destructive tendencies. Ansel does quite well at this.

Although written for physical illness, the Spoon Theory generalizes well to mental illness. "Out of spoons error" refers to a failure caused by running low on energy. This happens to Nebuly a lot.

Supporting a depressed friend includes a lot of practical tasks. Read about what depressed people say is helpful. Ansel's training gives him good ideas about how to help, even for someone he doesn't know well yet -- and when to push a little so as to avoid risks, like not wanting to let Nebuly stagger around the neighborhood alone while this wrecked.

The Island Resort neighborhood has street lights styled as lanterns.
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