BHM Skeptical [BHM]

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Ghostboo

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They did another sweep of the attic while calling Rick’s name, just to make sure that he wasn’t hiding in a dark corner, before going to exit. Freddie made it to the opening first, and Daron almost protested before he realized that she had already trusted him to not look up her skirt before. He’d have to do the same, and trust she wouldn’t watch or, at least, not judge, his struggle.

After glancing down to make sure Freddie was on the floor of the closet and away from the chair, Daron started down carefully. This was definitely more awkward than coming up, as he wasn’t able to see - even a little bit - where his feet were going. At least grateful that Freddie wasn’t in a position to watch his face flush with embarrassment, Daron took a deep breath to suck in his soft, expansive belly. Rather than pulling out a cork, this move was needed to emulate putting the cork back in.

At first, though, Daron’s belly fat just spread over the the attic opening. Disgruntled, he realized there was slightly more of a lip on the topside than there was underneath, making it just a smidgeon tighter to go through this direction. Slowly swiveling his hips back and forth, still holding his breath tightly, Daron even utilized a finger to poke some of his chub into the hole. Combined, this all worked, though it felt like excruciatingly slow going. And at some point, he had to pause to breath. He could distinctly feel the roll of fat below in the room, as the larger portion above puffed out and over the lip with his momentary expansion.

Running a hand through his dark curls in frustration, Daron quickly tightened his core and went back to squirming. His foot dangled, searching for purchase on the next rung, before he felt Freddie’s small hands gently guide his ankle to where it was supposed to land.

“Thanks,” Daron called, ignoring the heat in his face as he kept moving. To his annoyance, it turned out to be impossible to squeeze down without the opening first grabbing and lifting his sweater so that that the lower portion of his belly was revealed to the room below. Try as he might, the attic door didn’t allow him enough room to keep himself completely covered as he worked. So he gave up that dream, instead pivoting to an attempt to squirm down as quickly as he could.

Soon, his belly was entirely free of the door’s grip and in the room below, then his chest, then his arms - quick, pull down the sweater! - then shoulders, and finally head. Still holding the ladder, Daron took a careful step down to the chair, then released and stepped to the ground.

There was a moment of silence as he and Freddie looked at each other. Even with the limited vision from their flashlights, he saw her eyes were lit up in a playful spark.

“I definitely owe you that drink,” she conceded, half-grinning. Daron resisted a groan, having wanted very much to pretend that she hadn't watched his struggle of a descent. Instead, to cover his embarrassment, he went straight for the most daring joke he could think of following their time at the Garden Lounge.

“Truly,” he said, loftily looking from his belly to the attic opening. “Who wouldn’t be into me?”

There was a brief, charged moment where Daron wondered if he had put his foot entirely in his mouth, but then Freddie started to laugh. Hard. She ended up holding onto Rebecca’s chair for support as she doubled over, wheezing.

“Ahhh…” she gasped, wiping at her eyes as she straightened up. “Yep. So glad you get it.”

After putting Rebecca’s room back in order, the pair concluded their search in the master with renewed vigor. They combed through every inch, calling for Rick, but still with no response or sign of him.

“Damn,” murmured Freddie as the pair made their way back downstairs. In the living room, they saw that Terry and Laura were back inside, and had joined their daughters on the couch. Xander and Julie stood nearby.

“Any luck?” Freddie called out. Xander shook his head.

“We were about to ask you the same thing. At least the noise has stopped.”

“Why didn’t you tell us that you have an attic?” Daron asked as they stepped off the stairs, directing his dark gaze at the parents. They exchanged a confused look.

“An…attic? We didn’t know there was one,” Laura said. “Where?”

“In Rebecca’s closet,” Freddie said.

“So you just…figured the highest southern-facing window was attached to…nothing?” Daron asked, his patience running low. Terry and Laura looked at each other again.

“I guess we haven’t had much time to think about it,” Terry said, his voice tinging on defensive.

“Well, that window was open, and the wind on the pipes was bringing that god-awful sound through the house. Is that what you’ve been hearing all these weeks?”

“It…was,” Laura said, her entire family exchanging glances. “Tonight was the worst, though.”

“Well, wind had picked up a little with the rainstorm. I closed the window and stopped it, but you’re going to want to get someone up to check the rest of the attic soon, or you’re going to have a significant mold problem.”

We could just come back and take scrapings to check,” Freddie said, her voice conversational but low enough that only Daron, Julie, and Xander would likely pick up on it. “After all, we had such a good time in there.”

Daron didn’t react to this except to nudge firmly at Freddie with his elbow, which elicited a sharp grin from her that she quickly hid behind her free hand.

“But Rick wasn’t in there?” Laura asked, sounding understandably devastated. The team exchanged concerned looks.

“No, he wasn’t,” Daron said. “And unless there are other random pockets into areas of the house we missed up there, he’s definitely not upstairs.”

“We’re not hiding anything from you,” wailed Rebecca from the couch, burying her face in her sister’s hair, who glared furiously at Daron.

“Okay, wait a sec,” Freddie said, holding up her hands like a referee. “Did anyone check the cameras?”

There was a brief moment of silence.

“Not yet,” Xander offered. “We thought...perhaps it was just the flash that went off.”

“Okay, well, can’t hurt just to make sure, right?”

The group split up, with Daron and Freddie heading back upstairs with Laura and Terry while Hannah and Rebecca stayed on the ground floor with Xander and Julie. Terry went with Freddie, since he had his own large flashlight, and Laura begrudgingly went with Daron. They entered Hannah’s room, and Daron tried to explain what they were doing step-by-step as he took down the camera from its tripod. And as it turned out, the cameras had taken photos.

“Were there multiple flashes before the power went dead?” Daron asked Laura, who nodded.

“Yes. I’m not sure how many, though.”

“Looks like about...4,” Daron murmured as he flicked through the photos. Hannah’s room’s camera showed nothing unusual, just an illuminated room looking much as it did right now, but with Hannah under her covers, just starting to sit upright in the final shot. Daron couldn’t help feeling disappointed that nothing else stood out.

“Daron!” Freddie called from next door, at the same time as Terry yelled: “Laura!”

Daron and Laura hurried over to Rick’s room, where they saw the two bent over the camera.

“Rick wasn’t in bed when the cameras went off,” Freddie said, holding out the camera to Daron to show him. Laura looked over his shoulder as Daron flicked through and saw that Freddie was right.

“You didn’t know that?” Daron clarified, looking over to Terry.

“We weren’t sure - it’s been pure chaos tonight,” Terry replied. “It took us a little while to round everyone up.”

They didn’t address it, but the group moved together to Rebecca’s room next, then the master. They were just concluding that there was nothing unusual in any of them when they heard a call from downstairs:

“Mom! DAD!”

With the speed Daron suspected only parents could muster, Terry and Laura shot out of the room. Daron and Freddie followed down the stairs, and found Xander, Julie, Rebecca, and Hannah all crowded around a camera.

“This is from that hallway,” Xander said, pointing off to where the kitchen and half-bath were located. He tilted the camera so the new members could see, though they had to crowd in. To avoid pressing his bulk into Laura, Daron had to move against Freddie, whose head was slightly in front of his shoulder as she looked towards the camera. His arm was behind her back, and his belly softly pressed into her side despite his desperate core tightening. Freddie didn’t look back, but he did see a heated blush creeping up her neck (one that likely matched his own). Forcing himself to table the feelings that threatened to rise up, Daron looked closer at the camera display Xander was offering towards them.

“See it?” Xander asked as he flicked through the photos. And it took a second, but Daron did. The last two featured a small blurry leg walking out of frame, and a hand swinging behind it.

“It’s Rick, Mom! Look! Those are his pajamas!” Hannah cried, reaching out to point at the striped clothing on the frame.

“Careful, Hannah,” Laura murmured as Xander gently moved the camera out of her frantic tapping range.

“So we know he came through here,” Julie said. “We need to split up and cover every inch of this place.”

So they did. The group paired off, with Daron and Freddie sticking together as they combed the ground floor with the intense thoroughness Freddie had been so good at exhibiting lately.

“Doing okay?” Daron asked as they checked under the kitchen sink, wondering if any of this was triggering Freddie’s anxiety. To his surprise, she turned to him with a smile.

“Actually, yeah. I mean, I’ll be better when we find Rick - but - I’m okay.”

After confirming the under-sink area was empty, the pair turned their attention to the kitchen cabinets. The pantry was empty, the cabinets within reach were empty, but there were the bizarre out-of-reach cabinets above the refrigerator. Daron looked around for a chair or stool, but before he could find one, Freddie had started to clamber up on the kitchen counter.

“Fred!”

“What?”

“...Careful.”

Freddie gave him a thumbs up and a cheesy grin before making her way up the next level towards the refrigerator. Once she was there, Freddie held her iPhone’s flashlight in one hand and carefully opened the right, then the left cabinet in front of her. Almost instantly, she jerked backwards, dropping her phone and clasping both hands to her mouth in a stifled scream.

The clatter from the phone sounded as loud as a gunshot to Daron, and he immediately moved closer to get into position to catch Freddie below the refrigerator. But she didn’t fall, and she was able to grab onto her phone before it got too far way from her.

“He’s here, Daron,” Freddie gasped, pointing her phone back into the cabinet shakily. Daron followed her light with his own, and saw a small form curled up into the corner. His heart stopped in fear.

“Rick?” Freddie said, leaning closer. Daron resisted the urge to shout at her to get away. “Okay, he’s breathing. I think he’s asleep. Can you get the others?”

Refusing to leave her in that position, Daron stepped as far as the room’s entrance and boomed:

“Hey! KITCHEN!”

The first to arrive were Terry and Hannah, followed by Xander and Julie, and last were Laura and Rebecca.

“He’s up there,” Daron said, gesturing up to where Freddie crouched with his flashlight. “He’s asleep?”

“Don’t wake him up!” Laura cried. “He’s a sleepwalker, and he’ll lash out.”

Daron turned from looking up at Freddie to slowly stare at Laura. The other members of the team did the same.

“Sorry, you didn’t think that was relevant information?” Daron asked.

“Well, he….hasn’t sleepwalked since we moved here!”

“That you know of. Jesus, I wonder where the 'mysterious footsteps at night' are coming from,” Daron growled, throwing his hands up in frustration.

“Okay, Daron,” Xander said, stepping in and between Laura and his employee. He gestured at the blue-haired girl above him and continued, “Freddie, you can come down now."

“I’ll get him and hand him to you,” Laura told Terry, and began to counter Freddie's descent.

“Good work, you two,” Xander said to the watchful Freddie and Daron as the sleeping boy was handed to his father from the high-reaching cabinet.

“I did not think he’d be in there,” Freddie said, shaking her head. “And I think I cracked my phone.”

“We can replace that for you,” Xander assured. “As there’s nothing we personally can do about their electricity for now, I think it’s a good time for us to go."

Assuring the family that he would be back for the equipment in the light of day, Xander wrapped up the evening with the Sundquists while the rest of his team waited on the porch. Freddie sighed heavily, seeming to shrink before Daron’s eyes.

“Adrenaline crash,” she said wearily when Julie and Daron turned their eyes to her. “What a night.”

“It certainly was,” Julie agreed, missing the lightning-quick silent exchange Freddie and Daron had when their eyes briefly met and both then looked away, half-smirking.

“Do you need help with the equipment tomorrow?” Freddie asked when Xander re-joined the group.

“Only if you’d like to, Freddie. I don’t mind packing up myself. Either way, we’re going to take off Monday before finishing up our report about the Sundquists.”

The relief in the group was palpable. After final murmured farewells, they split off into their pairs to make their ways home.

Once in the car, Freddie stayed quiet at first, but did plug in her phone to the aux cord.

“Just to see if it still works,” she assured Daron as he looked over with a raised brow. He half-rolled his eyes, but didn’t protest as Motion City Soundtrack filled the car. He knew it was a little whiny, but he admittedly found the band to be surprisingly pleasant when Freddie would play them.

A little less than half of an album later, Daron pulled up outside Freddie’s apartment building. She unplugged her phone, and the silence that filled the car was deafening. She didn’t make any immediate moves to get out, and Daron wasn’t sure whether or not he even wanted her to.

“Daron…” Freddie started, quietly, cautiously. She turned her body just slightly in order to face him. “I want you to know that...if you don’t feel the same way about me, it’s okay. I’m sorry if it was selfish to tell you and this ruins anything, because honestly, your friendship means the world to me. But I do feel...lighter, now that I've gotten it off my chest."

“Freddie, I meant what I said earlier,” Daron replied. “I have no idea what I’m feeling because I had never considered, for even a second, that this was a possibility.”

“Sure, that’s fair,” Freddie said, nodding and staring at her hands in her lap.

“So let’s...reconvene later? After I’ve had a little time to think on it?” Daron had no idea what the protocol was here, but he hoped it wasn’t too uncouth to request to take a step back for the moment. Either way, the last thing he wanted was to hurt her.

“Of course. I meant what I said too. Whatever you need,” Freddie said. “Sleep on it, and we’ll talk later. Whenever you’re ready.”

“Okay. You sleep on it, too.”

“I’ve done plenty of that, Daron,” Freddie said, smiling ruefully at him before she opened the passenger door. “See you later, Professor.”

“‘Bye, Thornberry,” Daron replied, his mouth suddenly dry as Freddie’s door shut behind her. With the strangest combination of jacked-up adrenaline and a swirl of other emotions clouding his heart, head, and stomach, Daron pointed his car directly home. In what might be a first, he didn’t think he could even choke down one late-night taco.
 
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Tad

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The great white north, eh?
I don't think I've mentally said "Holy f***" so many times in a row (and meaning so many things) while reading a story before. Those new sections were intense!
 

Tad

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The great white north, eh?
Gosh I hope they were maybe 50/50 good exclamations! Or…I’d even take 30/70 :p
I was tired, it was how my internal monologue was expressing all of its emotional reactions from "She finally said it!" to "Missing child, oh no!" to "No, don't brush that off dude, how could you be quite that oblivious?" :D
 

Ghostboo

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I was tired, it was how my internal monologue was expressing all of its emotional reactions from "She finally said it!" to "Missing child, oh no!" to "No, don't brush that off dude, how could you be quite that oblivious?" :D
Oh hooray, just what I hoped for! I appreciate it, Tad 😁
 

loopytheone

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Omg, Freddie finally told him! =D

Ahh, I was half asleep and forgot to put the rest of my thoughts down! Which is, ahhhh, another stuckage scene! <3 Ah, I'm blessed, hah! It's really rare to see these written about guys, and written by a woman. I don't know how to describe it, but women right things a bit differently and focus on subtly different things and it just hits altogether better with me. Not to say I don't love our male stuckage authors, I do! But it's rare to see it from a female perspective, you know?

Honestly, the stuckage scenes kind of read like the type of stuff I write, only you have the talent to actually write a cohesive and engaging story! Like, the mysteries keep me hooked as much as everything involving Daron!
 
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fiestyMad

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Gotta say, I’m relieved this time it was just the pipes… still creeped out from the hex bag and Jeremy ! Also AHHHH Freddie finally told him!!! I love this story omg
 

Ghostboo

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It's really rare to see these written about guys, and written by a woman. I don't know how to describe it, but women right things a bit differently and focus on subtly different things and it just hits altogether better with me. Not to say I don't love our male stuckage authors, I do! But it's rare to see it from a female perspective, you know?

Oh, I know EXACTLY what you mean and I'm so glad it's landing!

Thanks a ton for your feedback, guys. Next couple chapters should be up soon!
 

Ghostboo

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I am so sorry about the delay y'all! Pandemic depression + seasonal depression collided in my brain to inform me to not write anymore because everything I do is bad. I finally beat it back and have everything mapped out and ready! Luckily, as we learned last year, November is still spooky season. I didn't miss it! Enjoy!

Chapter 35

Daron slept fitfully that night, and woke earlier than he would have liked. Still, he knew that he got at least some REM sleep, for he woke up with fleeting memories of a vivid dream. In it, Freddie told him that she was quitting her job and moving to Seoul, South Korea. Not long after, Xander and Julie informed him that they’d be visiting Freddie for Christmas, with no specific plans for when they’d be back, and he wasn’t invited.

The dream morphed quickly after that into a brief action thriller featuring Florence Pugh, and the whole thing drifted away in the light of day, well before Daron could study it too closely. He decided as he got up and dressed in sweatpants and a loose pullover sweater that that was probably not a bad thing.

After a breakfast of four eggs, scrambled on toast, Daron tried to get in some weight lifting before picking up his controller. However, his combined mental and physical exhaustion caught up before long, and his reps decreased well below his usual minimum before he finally stopped. Frustrated, Daron picked up 7 Days to Die, a zombie survival game that usually helped work out some of his aggravation. Freddie hated excess gore, so it was one he usually played by himself, or with long-distance friends from college.

Brushing away this thought as it threatened to linger on Freddie, Daron tried to focus on the screen in front of him. But soon it was blurring, and the next thing he knew, he woke up on his couch. Checking his phone, Daron saw that the afternoon was sliding into the evening, and he groaned and rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair. The weekend was getting away from him, and he felt just as stuck in place as he had the day before. He wanted to talk to someone about it, but the first person he always turned to was...well, not someone he could run these thoughts about them by.

After a brief hesitation, he scrolled to Julie’s contact in his phone and pressed the telephone icon. After a few rings, she picked up.

“Hello, Daron! How are you?”

“I’m okay. Little groggy, just woke up from a nap.”

“Oh, that’s good! It was quite the night last night, and rest is important.”

“Yeah, and, speaking of last night....do you have a few minutes to talk?”

“Sure! Would you want to come by the office? Xander went back to talk with the Sundquists after he and Freddie dropped off the equipment, and I offered to help him unpack while he did. If you put away even one camera, you could bill it to overtime.”

“Oh, yeah. Uh...so is Freddie still there?”

“No, she went home after they brought them by. I believe to get a nap of her own.”

“Ah. Cool. Okay, I’m gonna get dressed and head your way? Will you be there for a sec?”

“Yep! It’s quite the haul to put away. I’ll be here.”

“‘K. See you soon.”

“See you soon, Daron.”

Feeling a bit rejuvenated, if anxious, Daron hopped in the shower to rinse the last of the residual nap exhaustion off of him. Once out, he dressed in his jeans - probably the last use he’d get out of them before needing to wash - and a long-sleeved grey Henley. It was tighter than intended, specifically around the middle, but Daron figured there was only so much he could do. It was his day off, technically, and Julie wasn’t one to judge.

At the office, Daron entered to see an also comparatively casually dressed Julie surrounded by cameras, microphones, and their corresponding bags. She seemed to have made a dent in the pile, but it really was an impressive amount of equipment they had mounted for the Sundquists.

“I hope Xander charged by the item,” Daron said as he closed the door behind him. Julie looked up from putting a camera in the bag and smiled.

“Hi there,” she said. “One would certainly hope.”

“They didn’t pack everything before transporting it back?” Daron asked, seeing how about half of the cameras and mics were in their bag, and the other half weren’t.

“They started to, I believe,” Julie replied. “But the entire family was home, and still coming down from last night, and...I think it got a bit overwhelming to take that much time.”

Daron pictured Freddie frantically stuffing cameras into bags as Rebecca and Hannah alternated between glaring and simpering over Xander. He understood immediately.

“Okay, yeah, fair.”

“So what’s up, Daron?” Julie asked, continuing to put away the camera she was working on, but looking up at Daron with a smile. He hesitated and sat on the nearby couch, stalling by grabbing a nearby mic and empty bag. “You said it was about last night?” Julie prompted, a few seconds into the pause.

“Yeah, it is.” Daron avoided Julie’s gaze as he slowly took apart the boom microphone to fit into its carrying case.

“Did something else happen?” Julie’s concerned tone convinced Daron to hurriedly chime in.

“No, no, not at the case. I’m fine, it was just...something strange did happen earlier that night.”

“Oh,” Julie said, her brow furrowing briefly before smoothing out as she seemed to recall what he meant. “While you were out with Freddie?” Julie paused mid-action, trying to catch Daron’s eye. “She told you, didn’t she?”

“She…” Daron finally gave in and met Julie’s gaze, which was looking at him knowingly. “How did you know?”

“Everyone does, Daron,” Julie said wryly. “I’m pretty sure we could interview those insufferable teenagers from last night and even they would have picked up on it, even in between making googly eyes at Xander.”

“What?”

“Okay, okay, I’m being hyperbolic,” Julie said, half-smiling at Daron’s panicked expression. “To be fair, it did take me a little while to pick up on. Even then, I assumed - much as she did, I imagine - that it was just a crush. It took making a few remarks before Freddie took me up on the implied offer to talk about it. I don’t think she does, much.”

“Oh,” Daron said, blinking. “But then how would people…?”

“Know? Chemistry and the occasional longing glance, I suppose. The usual. It’s more of an educated guess for most. But, Daron...how do you feel about it?”

“I don’t know, Julie. I just...I had no idea,” Daron said, turning his attention to the light stand he was twisting apart in his arms. He took a deep breath before continuing. “And I’m not sure it’s a good idea, you know?”

“Because you work together?” Julie raised an eyebrow at him.

“Well...yes,” Daron admitted, pausing and blushing a little as he realized the implication. “No offense.”

“None taken. There was a reason Xander and I kept our relationship quiet as long as we could. It’s a fair point, and a tricky situation to have to figure out.”

“How did it happen? With you and Xander?”

“It sort of just...did,” Julie said with a half-shrug. “Sorry, I know that isn’t my usual lengthy insight. But after a lot of late nights and an obvious attraction, I finally brought it up, figuring it was best to get it out in the open - with no expectations. Much as Freddie did, I imagine. I never really thought Xander would feel the same.” She blushed a little, which was a fairly rare sight for Julie. “I got quite lucky.”

“Gotcha.” That strange jealousy reared again, and Daron frowned at the microphone bag in his lap. “Freddie said she’s ready to quit working here, though. I don’t want that.”

“Daron…” Julie’s coaxing therapist voice took over again. “If you aren’t interested in Freddie, or simply don’t want to pursue this for whatever reason, I’m sure she’ll understand. She’s worked with you, handling these feelings, for quite awhile. I’m sure she only offered to quit if you felt it was what you needed. If you can get past it, so can she.”

“Yeah…” Daron acknowledged silently that the feelings that reared up at this were decidedly negative.

“Or if you just have questions and concerns, I’m sure Freddie is ready to hear you out and provide answers for those as needed, too.”

“I feel like I should prepare to be billed for this time, doc.”

“Absolutely not, Daron,” Julie laughed, moving onto another bag of materials to break down. “I’m happy to help. I care about both of you, and just want the best.”

“What is the best? Do you know? Can you just…tell me?”

“Daron…” instead of laughing, as he had hoped, Julie just fixed him with another concerned stare. “Do you really not know?”

“I don’t know that either, Julie! I just… don’t get it. Freddie...” he stumbled, swallowed, and continued. “She could have anyone she wanted. So what is she thinking?”

“What do you mean?” Julie asked, cocking her head to the side as she watched Daron struggle with a microphone that did not want to collapse in order to get put away.

“I mean...Freddie’s 25. Sorry, 26. And she’s beautiful and smart and fun and has a good job and all of that shit. So what is she doing thinking about me? The 35-year-old fatass who hates almost everyone and everything? What would us being together do to her?”

“Daron,” Julie said slowly, her tone and look calm, but curious. “Of course, if you don’t want to date Freddie, you don’t have to. But do you have reasons besides not feeling good enough?”

“I…” Daron’s mouth went dry and his thoughts dropped to the floor, out of reach. He delayed his answering by yanking harder at the stubborn mic, grunting as it finally unscrewed in his hands. Julie watched, then finally continued as it became clear Daron was still at a loss.

“I don’t think Freddie wants just ‘anyone’. She seems to want someone she trusts, someone mature, also smart, also fun, and who - interestingly enough - also has quite a good job.” Daron chuckled, unable to help himself, and Julie joined him.

“Whatever you need, whatever you decide, I support you,” Julie assured him. “And I think you’ll find Freddie does too.”

“And Xander?” Daron asked, and Julie laughed.

“Yes. We’re all here for you.”

A few minutes passed in silence as the pair worked on putting away the equipment, Daron trying to parse out where exactly his heart had started pounding so hard. Some deep breathing helped, but didn’t alleviate all the pressure in his chest. Which was fine, since it was by no means bad. Was this...oh, God, was that hope?

“So, Jules,” Daron said as they began to wrap up. “How are you at dream interpretation?”
 
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Ghostboo

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After a long, delicious night of sleep on Saturday, Daron reached out to Freddie. He was about to call, then remembered despite his own preferences, Freddie would always take a phone call to mean something was wrong. So, he texted.

Are you free tomorrow?

Exactly three minutes later, Freddie replied.

Yes

Want to come by around 2 and we can talk?

Sure

Great, see you then!


Daron felt weird adding the exclamation point, but he felt weirder leaving no punctuation and even he, at his age, knew the faux pas of ending a text on a solid period. He didn’t want to terrify Freddie.

The next morning, Daron woke up even more refreshed and certain in his feelings. He was still nervous, however, and this increased as the hours ticked on. He caught himself snacking long past when he was full, but it provided a degree of comfort, so he didn’t stop. He did switch from candy bars to popcorn at one point, though. The button on even his loosest jeans was starting to protest.

At 2:02, Daron heard his doorbell followed by a hesitant knock. When he answered it, he saw Freddie in a lightweight, cropped black v-neck sweater over high waisted grey jeans. Her hair had transformed once again, from a blue cascade to fire engine red tips. Freddie took a rocking step forward, then quickly fell back, clearly unsure if her standard hug greeting was still appropriate.

“Hey, come in,” Daron said, standing aside and sucking in his belly to let her pass. “Nice hair.”

“Oh, thanks,” Freddie said, tugging at it self-consciously. “I hate it, I’m not a ‘red’ person, none of my clothes match my aesthetic now. But I had to do something to keep myself busy, so I just…went for it. Trying to sit with the discomfort, y’know.”

Daron cocked his head at this. Freddie still looked like Freddie to him, but girls were strange. Curious, he asked:

“What do you think your aesthetic is now?”

“I dunno, a demon?”

Daron burst out a laugh of surprise as they walked into his living room.

“And here I thought you’d feel right at home with that.”

“Yeah, yeah. Get the low hanging jokes in.”

“Well, I meant it. It is nice hair. Even if it turns you scarier than our clients.”

Freddie looked at Daron, her expression more curious than amused. Daron felt his cheeks heat up a little under her gaze, and he let himself fall back into sitting on his couch. After a brief hesitation, Freddie followed suit, keeping a full cushion length between them. She sat up straight, and her left toe tapped the ground, though she was clearly trying to keep her nervous twitches under wraps.

“So you wanted to talk?” Freddie said finally, her voice lower than before.

“Yeah. I still had some questions, and since we were interrupted on Friday…” Daron gave Freddie a half-smile, and she nodded.

“Sure, fair. Shoot.”

“If something were to start up, with us…a relationship…what does that look like to you?” Daron asked, carefully. Freddie cocked her head at him and blinked, looking as though she was trying to keep herself from hoping.

“Well - any number of ways, honestly. Talking about it and figuring out what works best for both of us.”

“That’s a nice non-answer,” Daron replied wryly. Freddie rolled her eyes briefly.

“It’s true, though. My ‘needs’ are pretty standard - affection, respect, care. My ‘wants’ vary by relationship and are compromisable. I’m just as happy alone, I’m ambiamorous-"

“You’re what? ‘Ambiamorous’?”

“Oh, yeah. Meaning I can be equally comfortable in a monogamous relationship or an open relationship.”

“See…” Daron sighed and leaned forward, setting his elbows on his knees. His soft belly squashed in between. “I’m completely out of the loop. I don’t know these new terms, I hate clubbing, middle age is right around the fuckin’ corner…” with a helpless shrug, Daron plunged forward with his real question. “Shit, Fred, why me?”

Freddie didn’t respond right away, looking in Daron’s direction with wide eyes. He didn’t meet her gaze, but could see her in his peripheral vision. In a surprisingly subtle move for the normally brazen girl, Freddie transferred over to the couch cushion next to Daron, her knees now nearly touching his.

“Daron…when I say that I’m equally happy alone, what that means is that I have a perfectly fulfilling life that I can incorporate a partner into as much or as little as we both want. I also don’t open up my life without damn good reason. I don’t expect you to come clubbing with me, that’s not what I need in a boyfriend,” Freddie said, her voice starting out evenly keeled but rising somewhat in intensity as she went on. At this, Daron did meet her eyes. The obvious unspoken question in his - but what IS the damn good reason - caused her to sigh and continue. “You’re one of, if not my actual closest friend. And that’s the most important part. Everything about you is fun, even if it’s just being at work or playing video games. But…I also can’t pretend I don’t want to kiss the shit out of you every time you say something funny, or wear a sweater with buttons, or just get within a certain radius of me at all.”

Daron knew it was ridiculous, but he suddenly could swear he felt heat radiating from Freddie’s nearby knees. In addition, he caught his breath starting to mirror her own - somewhat quick, somewhat shallow.

“But the buck stops with me,” Freddie said quietly. “And if that’s all too much, I can handle it. I’ll - well, I might need a LITTLE space at first, but -"

“Fred.” Daron cut her off, his volume matching hers. It came out almost like a growl. “Did I say it was too much?”

Momentarily (and rarely) speechless, Freddie shook her head.

“Does that mean you…?” As she trailed off, the silence ticked out a couple of seconds. They looked at each other

“Aren’t terrified? No,” Daron said wryly. Somehow, their knees had actually started to touch. It caused color to rise in his face, as much as he tried to fight it. “I am. But do I still want to try? Well…yeah.”

“I’m terrified too,” Freddie said, her voice barely above a whisper. She was close enough now that he could smell peppermint, likely the remnants of an anxious Altoid from her purse. “But at least we know we can fight and make up fine. Most couples don’t start with that.”

“No, they don’t,” Daron admitted, leaning slowly back into the couch. His breathing was shallow as he tried to hold his belly in as best he could.

“Does that mean we can take a quick negotiation break? So I can, um, kiss you?” Freddie asked. It was Daron’s turn to be momentarily speechless, and he nodded.

Freddie wasted no time leaning right in and connecting her lips with his. She was forceful but still soft, obviously feeling out his comfort as she moved closer. Her lips were small, comparatively, but not overly thin, and it was such a pleasant feeling Daron couldn’t help an imperceptible shudder.

As their lips opened softly to allow tentative brushing with the tip of the tongue, Daron felt Freddie put one hand on his shoulder to steady herself. The other hand, moments later, touched onto the roundest part of his belly. At first, it all but hovered, but she began to press into him with more feeling after a moment. After many months of being single, with only Taylor and her diligent avoiding of his chubbiest areas in between, Daron wasn’t used to it. Before he could stop himself, he gasped and broke away. Freddie quickly pulled her hands back.

“Bad?” Freddie asked, her brow furrowing in concern. Daron quickly shook his head.

“God, no. No. You feel great. But maybe we should get back to discussion before we get too sidetracked? Um…” Daron’s heartbeat picked up as he thought about Freddie’s hand on his middle. For all his other questions, the one that loomed largest now in his mind - just how much weight are YOU wanting me to lose? And now that you’ve felt it, was there more than expected? - rested on the tip of his tongue. But as he saw Freddie looking at him, Daron couldn’t muster the courage to ask. He wasn’t ready for the answer. Taylor was one thing, but Freddie was, above all, his closest friend. And now more. Hearing similar echoes to his last relationship from her might completely shatter him.

“So you said ‘ambiamorous’? That means you’re, uh, okay if I’d prefer monogamy?” Daron rattled off instead, and Freddie, her brow smoothing in relief, nodded quickly. Daron focused on her answer, trying to leave the nerves (and other, more pleasant, but still distracting feelings) behind.
 
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This has been such an intricate, interesting, super-sexy slow burn! You’re an incredibly talented writer. Thanks for the update!
 

loopytheone

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Yaaaay, update! =D I was thinking about this story the other day, happy to see this!
 

Ghostboo

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Chapter 36

“Immaculate conception?” Daron asked, staring at Xander in disbelief. “Are you joking?”

“Isn’t that fairly easy to disprove?” Freddie chimed in, also looking at her boss curiously while sitting next to Daron on the couch. Unlike in past months, though, she didn’t move away when their legs threatened to touch.

“You would think,” Xander admitted, Julie nodding beside him. “But Julie has spoken with their doctor, and the results seem…inconclusive at best. Still, I wanted us to have those tests to look over, which is why we’re coming in at a bit of the 11th hour. She’s 8 months pregnant, but they’ve been asking for us for over 3.”

“Damn,” Freddie murmured, flipping open the file in her lap and flicking through the papers quickly. “That’s wild.”

It had been some weeks since Daron and Freddie had had The Talk - he wasn’t certain exactly how many, as it had passed in a bit of a blur. Daron hadn’t wanted to make a big deal of the relationship update to Xander and Julie, but considering the conversation he’d just had with the latter, all it took was a wink from Freddie the next morning for Julie to nod knowingly. Not much had changed at work overall, since Freddie and Daron usually paired off anyway, and their coworkers knew not to tease. They’d only be inviting it back on themselves.

Daron and Freddie were still figuring things out to a degree, but the level of comfort he felt in this relationship so far was unrivaled. It wasn’t boring, it was just safe. He could be himself unequivocally, as he always had around Freddie, with the added bonus that now when he caught her staring, he could sweep her up in a kiss. She’d melt right into him, with no question of her feelings in every move and glance.

Still, kissing was where it stopped so far. For one thing, Freddie wasn’t exaggerating when she said she had a fulfilling life outside of any relationship. So rather than the expectation of her always being there after work like with Taylor, they had to schedule their evenings together a bit in advance. Freddie had spent the night at Daron’s a couple times, though, and when she had begun to kiss down Daron’s chest the last time, he had pulled her right back up. He remembered Taylor shaking her head after an attempt to go down on him, rising back up after a minute, maybe two.

“Your belly is in the way,” she’d said, her nose crinkling in distaste. Daron flushed, realizing the way her forehead had reverberated off his soft middle. “Can you just…do me? Or…?”

Daron knew he should ask Freddie about her own comfort level with various sexual things, or even just talk to her about what was going on in his head, but he froze every time he tried to do so. He felt, if anything, less equipped to hear potential criticisms about his body than he was that first day as he fell harder and harder for her. So he continued to bury his head in the sand, lift weights when he could, and pray Freddie wouldn’t be too disappointed when they got to that step. In the meantime, he slept in a t-shirt and boxer briefs while Freddie was there, when usually it was just the latter on nights he was alone.

To Freddie’s credit, she didn’t press the issue. During their initial discussion, she had admitted to being sexually forthright when she was single, but that she was more than happy to take it slow with Daron. That she cared, and wanted to do it right. So she followed his grip back up to his lips, never protesting or pushing for more.

On the work side, they had wrapped a couple haunted house ventures before Xander introduced this new and extremely odd case. A young couple, Francesca and Ross, had written in because Francesca was pregnant. Ross was not the father, but was planning to raise it with her. Francesca, meanwhile, insisted that no one was the father. That she had been blessed, or cursed, with a paranormal asexual reproduction.

“The first tests done did confirm Ross is not the father,” Xander continued. “Though it was like pulling teeth to even get them to participate in those.”

“So is she just…nuts?” Freddie asked hesitantly, still flipping through the folder. When she was met with silence, she looked up at Julie, who was cocking an eyebrow at her coworker. “Sorry, just like, between friends and all. Is she?”

“I suppose we’ll see tomorrow,” Julie relented, lowering her brow. “With the fights they put up over basic paternity, I had guessed they wouldn’t exactly submit to a pre-psych eval.”

“Familiarize yourselves as best you can with the documents we have so far, and tomorrow we’ll go for a talk and house sweep with the Jellicos,” Xander instructed. He moved from the desk at the front to the chair at the computer, and the group went quiet as they read through the information they had so far.

“Are we hangin’ out tonight?” Daron asked Freddie as the end of day approached, realizing he had read the same sentence over and over again four times now without absorbing it. Freddie lolled her head to the side to look at him, clearly in a similar state of info burnout.

“I have line dancing tonight, remember? Unless you wanna coooome…” Freddie’s voice was coaxing, but also teasing. She knew dancing wasn’t so much Daron’s thing. In truth, it was even less so now, as he knew from being previously dragged out that Freddie danced with a number of handsome, highly skilled (and lean yet muscular) partners. It had been irritating to try to bumble through comparatively as just a friend, but now, as a boyfriend, he definitely didn’t want to be stuck watching that. He trusted her, but feelings were feelings, and the thought of that situation rose up deeply unpleasant ones.

“Yeahhh…I’m good on that. Karaoke last week was enough of a step out of my comfort zone for a little while,” Daron replied dryly, but meeting his girlfriend’s eyes with a half-smile.

“You didn’t even sing!” Freddie protested, but laughed.

“Next time, promise,” Daron said, holding his hands up in a playful don’t shoot move.

“I’m holding you to that,” Freddie replied. “Anyway, we had plans for tomorrow after work, if that’s still good for you?”

“Oh, yeah, it is. Anything specific?”

Freddie gave a half-shrug, but couldn’t hide a wicked smile as she did.

“Mmm, I don’t know. Good food, good…” her voice dropped even lower, ensuring Xander and Julie wouldn’t be able to overhear even if they were straining. “…pop culture…”

Daron scoffed out a laugh at Freddie’s bait and switch, and Freddie grinned back before stabbing her finger self-importantly back onto the page she had been reading.

“Now shhh, it’s time to solve a mystery.”

“I’m pretty sure you already did with your insanity theory, Thornberry.”

“Oh yeah, probably.”
 
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Tad

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The great white north, eh?
Sorry to hear that you have been struggling, and all my sympathies on the various depressions ganging up on you. When someone is quiet on here it is always the game of "did they just get busy/lose interest, and we should leave them alone? Are they struggling and we should check in on them?" I'd noticed that it had been a while and was hoping that you were good-busy, and sorry not to have reached out -- the depression double-teaming was my last winter and early Spring, so I have a clue how much that sucks. So truly, much sympathy, and very much being impressed that you got these wonderful chapters written all the same. You just made my week!
 

Ghostboo

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Chapter 37

The woman sitting in front of them was so beautiful it was difficult to look at her directly. It was like staring into the sun. Honey streaks ran through long, caramel hair, curled gently at the ends (which Daron somehow knew, in his soul, was all natural.) Her tanned skin was flawless no matter how close they got, her hazel eyes somehow simultaneously shining and misty, her lips full and pink, her teeth white without looking unnatural. She was extremely pregnant, but that didn’t dim her shine whatsoever.

Next to Daron, Freddie crossed one leg over the other, then immediately uncrossed it and crossed the other leg over. She shifted in her seat, glancing up at Francesca for a couple seconds before sliding her gaze to the ordinary-looking man next to her. Daron followed her eyes and took in Ross again, a man so tall he stooped just a little in his seat, with light brown/dark sandy blonde hair and round glasses.

“So when did the two of you get married?” Xander asked from his seat, about ninety degrees to the left of Ross, smiling at the pair. As usual, he sounded less like a questioning professional, and more like a friend.

“We haven’t yet, technically,” Ross replied.

“We’re married spiritually,” Francesca added. “In every way that matters. He’s my person.”

Julie, who was ninety degrees from Francesca’s right, directly across from Xander, made a note on her pad. Daron and Freddie were seated on a vintage couch, attractive but clearly falling apart, directly across from Ross and Francesca. Freddie’s fingers tapped on the minimal fabric between them.

“We do intend to marry, though,” Ross followed up, looking at Xander for approval. Xander just nodded and smiled.

“How long have you known each other, then?” He asked, looking at the pair with comforting interest.

“Almost two years,” Francesca said dreamily. There was a brief pause as the working foursome exchanged glances - Daron’s dark eyes flicked over to Freddie, whose brow was furrowing as she met his gaze in confusion. So how is Ross not the father? rested in the air, and Ross, seeming to know exactly where this was headed, cleared his throat.

“I believe you mentioned a desire for your colleagues to see the house and grounds?” He said, still keeping his gaze on Xander, his port in this storm. “Francesca would be happy to show them.”

“Yes,” Francesca said, speaking over the end of Ross’s sentence. She stood, surprisingly graceful for being so far along in her pregnancy. Daron moved to get up to help, but he was still struggling with his own balance when Francesca was well planted and smiling serenely at him. From behind, Freddie placed a gentle hand on Daron’s mid-back, steadying him. Francesca’s eyes flicked to this curiously, then to Daron’s broad middle in his sweater, then up to his face. Her smile widened. “Shall we?” She gestured towards a narrow door to the duo’s left, leading the way.

The Jellico’s lived in an extremely old, and the less forgiving would call it “decrepit”, house about 45 minutes from the outskirts of town. They’d explained to the group how they were doing long-term housesitting and repairs for the owner, and had moved in not long after Francesca discovered she was pregnant. The timing of which made it seem unlikely that the house was responsible for Francesca’s belief about her pregnancy - but anything was possible.

As they moved into the next room, Francesca, despite her condition, was able to walk directly through the narrow doorway. Facing head on, especially in her dark shirt, you wouldn’t have even been able to tell she was pregnant until she turned to the side. Daron couldn’t help but feel envious of this as HE had to angle his body to the side and hold in a breath to squeeze through the passage. He could feel Freddie’s eyes on him from behind, and as Francesca looked back to make sure they were following, Daron’s face flushed with embarrassment.

“These old houses,” Francesca said, shaking her beautiful head softly as they stood in the adjacent dining room. “No consideration for the modern man, is there?”

There was a pause as Freddie and Daron realized that Francesca expected an answer. She looked at them with wide hazel eyes, waiting. At the same time, the pair spoke.

“Oh, uh, no. No consideration,” Freddie stumbled out.

“Oreos must not have been a thing then,” Daron gruffed. Francesca let out a delighted laugh, her voice like tinkling bells.

“Oh, I’m so happy you came,” she said. “Would you like to see the rooms again? Or start with the grounds?”

“The grounds,” Freddie spoke up before Daron could think through it. He agreed, though. The rooms had been shown when they first arrived, and with each one, they felt more dirty and claustrophobic. Daron, too, was ready for some air.

“A wonderful choice. They’re my favorite,” Francesca said as she led the way to the back of the dining room, through a hall, and out the back door. “They don’t look like much from the front, but in truth…we have a whole world out here.”

Outside, the clouds were dark grey and low. Francesca was right, the grounds behind the house were expansive. There were rolling hills with dull grass immediately behind the house, but in the distance Daron could see some trees and a dock out into presumably a body of water.

“It’s beautiful,” he said, honestly.

“Finally, enough space for you, hmm?” Francesca said with a smile, looking at Daron. Freddie stiffened next to him. This time, though, Francesca did not wait for a response as she turned around and began their foray across the land.

“So why did you and Ross wait to find a place ‘till you were pregnant? If you’ve known each other two years and all,” Freddie asked bluntly as they walked. Her hair tips were now a deep purple, having lasted barely two weeks with the red hair she so despised.

“Because I was engaged to someone else when we first met,” Francesca answered, casting Freddie a glance as they began to walk up a small hill. “Ross thinks this baby is his, my ex, Henry’s.”

“And you know it’s not?” Freddie asked, the skepticism apparent. If Daron hadn’t been struggling to keep up with the pair, he would have nudged her to tone it down. Still, Francesca only smiled serenely.

“No. I never slept with Henry. We were waiting until marriage. And then I met Ross.”

As they crested the hill, Daron tugged his dark sweater away from his now sweaty belly. The clouds may have provided cool air in the morning, but now it was beginning to feel a bit like it was trapping heat in. Daron could feel that his face was red with heat and damp, and he was frustrated he hadn’t layered better. But he still needed to make a trip for warm weather appropriate clothing that wouldn’t cling quite so much to his round middle. He was rapidly running out of band tees that wouldn’t prominently display his belly button to the world.

“Henry had been a dear friend for years,” continued Francesca. “Everyone assumed we would marry. I suppose I did, too. It just made sense. Until Ross appeared…it was all but love at first sight. He swore he’d take me to Italy, where my family is from. It was all terribly romantic.”

“Did you go to Italy?” Daron asked, trying to hide his embarrassment at the way his voice sounded breathless as they neared the trees. Even the impossibly pregnant woman seemed barely affected by the walk.

“After we finish this job,” Francesca said. “He’s promised. Us and Atticus.”

“You’re having a boy?”

“We didn’t check. But I can feel it.”

In front of the trio, looming impossibly large, was a tree. Daron imagined the reaching branches would be a relief on sunny summer days, but as spring unfolded into clouds, it was still sinister at best in the gloom. Right at the foot of it, Francesca stumbled, and Daron caught her before she fell. One hand firmly gripped her left arm and shoulder, the other hooked under her right arm. Even with the baby, she felt incredibly light as he made sure she had her feet under her before letting go.

“Thank you,” Francesca said, briefly placing a hand on the left side of Daron’s chest as she straightened up and studied him. Freddie stood next to the tree, staring with an unreadable expression.

“Daron, can you take some scrapings from this tree?” Freddie asked, her tone recognizable as strained only by those who knew her well. She continued, gesturing at the body of water that had become more apparent the further towards the trees they walked. “Francesca, can you show me the pond?”

“Of course,” Francesca replied easily, her gaze slipping back and forth between the pair before turning and walking towards the water.

Daron tried not to stare, knowing his girlfriend was trying to get some alone time with Francesca, whatever that may yield. Still, as he investigated the tree, he couldn’t help looking in their direction whenever possible. The pair walked about halfway down the dock, and he could see they were deep in conversation. Freddie’s expression conveyed concern, while Francesca kept her same lighthearted mask on the entire time.

After a few minutes, Freddie squatted down and began collecting pond water into her own test tubes. Francesca lingered behind her, peering over Freddie’s shoulder and creeping close enough at one point that Daron fully straightened up and prepared to move towards them, no longer caring if his staring was obvious. But Francesca paused, turning towards him and offering a wide smile. She took an obvious step back from Freddie, and Daron hesitated, unsure what to do. Moments later, though, Freddie straightened up and spoke to Francesca, gesturing back towards Daron.

“Did you two get everything you needed?” Francesca asked sweetly as they began to make their way back to the house. She still led the way, but glanced back at them frequently. Rather than keep up with her this time, Freddie stuck diligently next to Daron.

“For the grounds, yeah,” Freddie confirmed as Daron nodded. “We just need to collect a few more samples in the house.”

It took a little convincing from Xander once they made it back inside, but eventually Freddie and Daron were able to leave Francesca in the living room with the rest of the group and peel off. The pair headed up the rickety stairs behind the living room, with Daron stepping as lightly as he could. He didn’t like the ominous creaking that rose up whenever he put his full weight down.

They worked in relative silence in the rooms closest to the stairs, fully aware of how sound could travel as words rose from the living room below them. By the time they made it to the master bedroom, though, Daron was bursting with curiosity.

“So what do you think?” He asked, turning to his girlfriend. Freddie sighed, leaning against one of the four wooden posters at each corner of the bed.

“Honestly, man, fuck if I know,” she answered in a low tone, helplessly shrugging and glancing over her shoulder at the door. “But back there…look, I’m not a jealous person. I just…didn’t want her too close to you. I felt like she was seconds away from…something. I dunno. Caught a vibe.”

“I know what you mean,” Daron said slowly. “I didn’t love you being alone by the lake either.”

“But it wasn’t a sexual thing, right?”

“Right, no. Nothing like that. I just got…concerned. What’d you talk about, anyway?”

Freddie took in a deep inhale, then let out the exhale.

“Francesca told me that…she’s never slept with Ross either.”

“Wait, really? Even before they knew she was pregnant?”

“Yep. Not that that matters, but…”

“I know,” Daron said, putting up an agreeable hand, fingers spread wide. “But you know how stupid men can be. ‘Don’t wanna poke the baby’ and all.”

“Ugh,” Freddie said, wrinkling her nose. “Right. So then Francesca said…she wasn’t sure Ross could. But that it didn’t matter because he was her soulmate, and she’d keep trying. And she made these remarks…about…”

“What?” Daron asked, a few moments after Freddie’s sentence trailed off.

“I don’t know, but I got the impression she was trying to…manipulate me? But it wasn’t clear at all what kind of outcome she was hoping for. It was really, really weird, Daron.”

Daron got the impression that Freddie did know what remarks Francesca had made, but he didn’t push it.

“So a true virgin birth,” he mused under his breath. Freddie raised her eyebrows at him and offered another shrug. Turning to the corners of the room, they began to work. After they had each filled two test tubes with debris from the master, they paused and looked at each other again.

“Does this all look…off to you?” Daron asked, and Freddie nodded.

“Okay, yeah, is a lived in room ever this dusty?” She replied, dragging a finger down the side of the bedframe and then showing her boyfriend the collection of grey on her fingertip.

“No, but is there even another room with a bed?”

“No.”

The pair looked at each other, then finished up the room in concerned silence. Daron didn’t know what any of it meant, but he didn’t like it. As Freddie approached the bedroom door, he recalled one other piece of the conversation.

“Wait, Fred,” Daron called, and Freddie paused and looked back at him. “Did you say you’re ‘not a jealous person’?”

“Yeah, ‘cause I’m not,” Freddie said, looking at him skeptically.

“Oh, okay. And every interaction that you had with or about Taylor was driven by…?”

“A perfectly reasonable reaction to a terrible person,” Freddie retorted, holding up a finger in a listen here move. Still, she couldn’t hide the twitching at the corners of her mouth as Daron grinned at her. “God, you suck. Let’s get out of here.”
 
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Ghostboo

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“So…Freddie was right,” Daron declared, once the group was back in their office and he had settled deeply into the couch. “Right?”

“…maybe,” Julie answered, her brow furrowing as she thought. “I would say there’s almost certainly an undiagnosed personality disorder at play in Francesca. But that’s unlikely to explain potential delusions.”

“I mean, she can have that and a psychotic break, right?”

“Sure, but there doesn't seem to be any indication that has happened. What would’ve been the catalyst?”

“She seemed more than fine with her breakup,” Freddie chimed in wryly. “You guys hear about that?”

“Ross mentioned an ex-fiancé to us, yes,” Xander said. “He stopped short of saying outright that was the father, but it’s clearly what he believes.”

“Would Francesca give us his info to test it?” Daron asked the room. Freddie snorted.

“I think if you or Xander asked very nicely, she’d smile and give you a complete runaround that resulted in never finding Henry, but you feeling awfully close,” she replied. Julie’s expression, raised brows and a flick of her eyes to the side, suggested she agreed with this assessment.

“So…what was even the point of them hiring us, then?” Daron asked, some of his frustration at the unknown shining through.

“Each seems to want something different from us,” Xander answered thoughtfully. “Francesca to be supported in her claims of immaculate conception, and Ross, well…”

“For proof his wife’s off her rocker?” Freddie tried to chime in helpfully.

“Support for it, whatever that looks like,” Xander continued, expertly managing to appear to be both agreeing with Freddie and gently correcting her blunt statement.

“I mean, hell, maybe it is asexual reproduction,” Freddie said after a moment of silence, throwing her arms up. “Other animals have adapted to it. Why not her?”

“Come on, Fred,” Daron groaned.

“No, seriously. Maybe the zygote is a straight clone. Anything’s possible.”

“Anything is not possible.”

“You’re only saying that because you haven’t heard what I have,” Freddie shot back, her tone purposefully bratty enough that Daron immediately rolled his eyes. “But I’m not saying it’s paranormal.”

“Oh, so it WASN’T a ghost who caused a literal miracle, that’s SO much better.”

“It doesn’t have to be a miracle! Daron, all you have to do is supplant the DNA and nucleus of an egg cell with a somatic cell, we did it with Dolly…”

“And she just…FORGOT to mention this extensive medical procedure? Or she did it herself, like, with some tweezers and a headlamp?”

Freddie and Daron’s exchange had been growing steadily louder, words spilling over each other, and Julie quickly stepped in.

“Okay, okay. We really have no idea so for now, there are no bad suggestions.”

“Oh, but later on it would be a bad suggestion,” Freddie huffed, crossing her arms. Julie sighed heavily while Xander hid a smile near the desk.

“These are all very interesting ideas,” he said. “And I value you all. But it’s looking like we won’t know any more for certain today.”

“Yeah,” Daron muttered, giving Freddie a quick squeeze on her knee with his large hand as a sort of truce offering before continuing. “We’ll hit the labs tomorrow, but I really doubt we’ll get anything from ‘em.”

“Did Ross tell you when she first cried immaculate conception?” Freddie asked Xander and Julie.

“He wasn’t sure. Early on in her pregnancy, yes, but not right away,” Julie answered.

“So the announcement wasn’t a ‘oh, honey, I’m pregnant, and IT’S NO ONE’S I SWEAR’?”

Julie, in spite of herself, cracked a smile before continuing. “Francesca might have thought he wouldn’t believe her, or it could have been a thought developed later on.”

“Oh, so it could have to do with the house?”

“Ah…” Xander exhaled, his first own show of frustration at the lack of answers on this case. “It’s possible. We really don’t know much. Chances are, we’ll be back to talk with them sooner rather than later.”

“Yayyy,” Freddie muttered unenthusiastically. Daron leaned his head back on the couch, musing silently.
 
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Ghostboo

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This chapter gets a little raunchy!!! Nothing too explicit 'cause that's my own preference but if you prefer none at all feel free to skip!

Chapter 38

After the workday wore down, with a few more heated discussions about various theories, the group went their separate ways. Daron and Freddie rode together, the silence companionable despite their intense debates earlier in the day. Daron would be lying if he said he didn’t enjoy the barbs that flew back and forth while on the job.

“I really need a shower, so I’ll drop you at home first?” Daron suggested, glancing at Freddie as he drove. At first, the purple-haired girl merely raised her brows and smirked, and he realized with some dread barely covering excitement that she may just ask for an invite.

“That’s fine, I’ll get in a workout,” she answered instead.

“Great,” Daron said, relief and disappointment washing over him in equal measure. It was a strange ambivalence. “Want to stay over tonight?”

“Oh, can I? Honestly, I was 99% sure I’d wake up to Francesca at the end of my bed if I had to sleep alone,” Freddie said jokingly. “Or worse, at the end of YOUR bed. It’s better if I can be there to throw hands.”

Daron laughed.

“Yeah, okay, Thornberry.”

A few minutes later, as they pulled up in front of Freddie’s apartment, and she turned and said:

“I’ll bring takeout when I come?”

“Oh, uh, you sure?” Daron asked, trying and failing to sound chill.

“Well, yeah. I don’t have much at my place to eat beforehand, so unless YOU want to make me a veritable feast for after I work out…”

“No,” Daron laughed. “I guess I don’t. As long as you don’t mind.”

“You’re opening your home to me! It’s the LEAST I can do,” Freddie said, giving Daron an exaggerated head bow as she opened the door to exit. “Any preferences?”

“You know I’ll eat anything. Just text when you’re on your way.”

“I do. It’s one of my favorite things about you. See you later!” And with that, Freddie gave him a quick kiss and skipped away from the car. Daron stared after her, confused.

My eating anything is one of her favorite things?…Was that a joke?

Uneasy but trying not to hyperfixate, Daron pointed himself home.

After a lengthier than usual grooming session, in which Daron not only fully washed his hair and face in the shower but added various creams to bolster their appeal, he was faced with the decision of clothing. Something TOO fancy would look out of place away from work or a restaurant, but something too comfortable, he was sure, would make him look like a stereotypical fat slob.

One pair of sweatpants, one pair of corduroys, and two sweaters later, Daron was bordering on undoing all his work in the shower as nervous moisture pricked on his skin. After a few deep breaths, he finally decided on jeans that were in between cozy and stiff, with an admittedly irritating button but that were loose enough on his thighs to relax in. He had on a white v-neck shirt underneath a light blue button-up, left unbuttoned and with the sleeves rolled up his thick forearms. He avoided staring at his obvious belly button in the mirror as he made his way downstairs, just in time for Freddie’s text.

His girlfriend arrived soon after, hands full with two brimming bags of Thai food. A small army green satchel of an overnight bag also hung on Freddie’s arm, and Daron quickly took the food to lighten her load. Seeing how much there was, he couldn’t help but blush as he moved it into the kitchen.

“You always order too much, Fred,” Daron said. Freddie tossed her bag onto the floor and squinted at him, head cocked as he hurriedly looked away to grab plates. His tone had come out less joking, and more rueful, than he had intended.

“You know this stuff keeps great. I like having lunch for tomorrow too,” Freddie said casually, slipping an arm around Daron’s waist from the back and kissing his shoulder blade. Instinctively tightening his abs under her hand, Daron swiveled quickly to give Freddie a proper greeting (and coincidentally, move her arm onto his slightly less embarrassing back). As he kissed her, Daron felt Freddie grin under his lips before breaking away.

“You’re lucky I’m so hungry,” Freddie said. “Or unlucky, I guess. Otherwise we’d be doing that all night.”

“It can be Schrödinger’s luck,” Daron smirked back. “Good workout, then?”

“Yeah, it was fine,” Freddie half-shrugged as she began to load her plate with drunken noodles. Daron started with the curry on the other end, and then they met in the middle, with the Thai toast and fresh rolls.

“Was it your turn to pick the movie tonight?” Daron asked as they made their way to the couch. Freddie’s fixation on horror films and over-the-top comedies and very little in between exasperated him at times, but they were still better than constant rom-coms. And she partook in his grittier media without complaining on Daron’s nights to choose.

“I thought the choice was obvious,” Freddie said innocently, setting her plate and bowl down on the coffee table before flopping on the couch. “Rosemary’s Baby, anyone?”

“Oh, no,” Daron sputtered out after an involuntary laugh. “Absolutely not.”

“I kid, I kid,” Freddie winked at him. Daron’s lips twitched again at the pun. “We would have to bill Xander for that research, anyway. Ummmm…how’s What We Do in the Shadows?”

“You got it.”

Daron made several more trips to the kitchen throughout the horror-comedy, and soon he realized he was whittling down his girlfriend’s future lunch to a meager fare and getting absolutely stuffed. Embarrassed, he quickly turned away from the nearly empty to-go containers and deposited his plates in the sink instead during his 4th expedition into food territory.

“Did you get enough?” Freddie asked Daron as he returned, seeing him approach empty handed. Freddie had only made one additional trip to the kitchen, and her plate still had some noodles and rice left unfinished. Daron stared at her skeptically, wondering if she was trying to make a passive aggressive point, but Freddie just blinked innocently back.

“Yes,” he sighed as he sat down heavily. “More than enough.”

“Good!” Freddie said brightly, taking the lack of plates as an opportunity to snuggle up to her boyfriend. Daron’s arm had automatically rested on the back of the couch behind her, so Freddie quickly tucked a shoulder into his armpit and rested her head between his chest and shoulder. Hesitantly, her hand brushed his middle before resting on a thick thigh. Swallowing heavily, Daron looked at how tiny Freddie’s wrist became compared to his large features surrounding it, knowing with dread he was too full to adequately suck it in and give her more space.

“Could you hit ‘play’?” He asked, his voice slightly more hoarse than he expected. Freddie nodded and leaned forward, hitting the button on the remote and nuzzling back in. Daron felt the same strange mix of excitement and dread as before, and tried to focus on relaxing into the world of the film.

Freddie and her antsy movements, however, made that rather difficult. Even post-food and post-workout, it was nearly impossible for her to sit still, and she was regularly re-adjusting on Daron. He was more or less used to it, though soon, she began to lightly stroke his thigh, which was more than a little distracting. Tentatively up and down, and even hesitating close enough to his belly that he flushed, thinking if he didn’t know any better that she was tempted to rub it in its stuffed state. His heartbeat quickened, but he tried to hide it by resting his cheek against Freddie’s head, in a move he hoped came off as casual. Her breathing noticeably quickened at this.

The film ended and the pair sat in dark and quiet for a few minutes. Daron tried to get his heartbeat, his breathing, and honestly, one other rapidly swelling part of his body back under control as best he could.

“I’ll be right back,” Freddie said quietly, leaning up to give Daron a kiss on the cheek as she gathered her plate and moved into the kitchen to deposit it into the sink. Daron adjusted on the couch, regretting now not wearing sweatpants as his belly dug into his jean’s button no matter how he moved. He heard Freddie closing the containers, then the fridge open and close.

Freddie padded her way back into the living room, and while the lights were dim, Daron could still see her. Freddie had arrived that night in a sage green top, cropped and low cut with three quarter length sleeves over black leggings. It was casual yet sexy in a way Daron had meant to achieve, and it called the perfect attention to her shapely legs and incredibly curvy top. His breath caught as she approached.

Rather than sit next to him again, Freddie hesitated from her position next to Daron’s right knee, then quietly swung her leg over his and leaned down. Before Daron could blink, she was on his lap, her lips connected to his with a hunger that immediately undid all his work to calm his body down. But as he kissed her back, and his arms found the narrowest parts of her waist just below her breasts, Daron realized Freddie was not going to get nearly as good of a tactile experience. Yes, her arms gripped around his broad chest, but as she moved closer, her legs and pelvis fully connected with Daron’s broad gut. His objectively worst feature was being completely cradled by Freddie’s legs, wrapped as far around him as they could before hitting the back of the couch.

“Freddie,” he exhaled quietly, somehow both a question and an apology.

“Shhh,” she breathed back, taking the opportunity to nibble on Daron’s ear. He was electrified, and used the motivation to whip Freddie off of him and onto her back on the couch, this time being the one to lean in and connect their lips.

And yet still, this position had his gut pressing into her well before he thought it would be an issue. Daron nearly groaned as he ran a hand through Freddie’s hair and gripped the back of her neck, wondering if there was any way to salvage the mood in his current state. But surprisingly, rather than adjust away or cringe in ways he was familiar with, Freddie seemed to be melting under his touch.

“Oh,” she gasped as he kissed her, her hands clinging fiercely to his back so that he stayed even more connected to her, not less. Daron brushed his lips down her neck, and Freddie gasped again and wrapped her legs back around him. Now they were in the same original position, he realized with a blush, but with him on top. “God, Daron.”

“Do you want to go to the bedroom?” He asked quietly, his lips brushing her ear. He thought it would be a good way to disentangle and find a better position for his round form before they progressed further. Freddie was up from the couch before he had even finished speaking the last word.

“Yes,” she breathed, gripping his arm as she swayed slightly. “Please.”
 
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Ghostboo

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Exhaling a laugh, he followed Freddie as she lightly held a few of his fingers in her hand and led the way to the master. Once inside, he saw her hesitate at the light switch for the overhead, then begin glancing around for a less harsh lighting source. To distract her, he pulled her in close and began to kiss her again, one hand returning to the crook of her neck and the other wrapping around her back. Freddie melted rapidly in his arms, a response Daron still wasn’t quite used to, but very much enjoyed. She steadied herself and wrapped both arms around his middle, resting just above his love handles.

Daron swiveled them towards a wall, and began to lightly press Freddie into it. She responded very favorably, sighing out a moan and untangling her arms. Daron realized she had moved them to the front of his overshirt, and was working to tug it off. He half-smiled and helped shrug it down his shoulders, kissing Freddie’s neck to elicit more delightful noises. He wasn’t disappointed. His overshirt dropped to the floor.

But then Freddie’s hands gently cupped around his significant belly overhang, and he realized she was going for the button on his jeans.

“Wait,” he said quietly, taking her hands off and hoping his blush was hidden in the room lit only by moonlight. “Let me. I’m…I’m still pretty full.”

“Oh, okay, did you want to stop?” Freddie replied in a matching low tone, looking up at him with concerned green eyes. Daron shook his head rapidly.

“No, no. I just meant…it’ll put up a fight, so I’ll do it,” he rapidly explained, struggling with the pinching button more than half-covered by his soft middle. “But I did tell you that you always order too much.”

“It’s really not my fault you’re bad at leaving leftovers,” Freddie all but purred, leaning into Daron’s chest and nibbling just a little as he finally got the too-tight button undone. He gasped in relief, embarrassment, and excitement, bringing her mouth back up to his as he stepped out of his jeans.

But the eager Freddie quickly slipped her hands underneath Daron‘s white undershirt, her small fingers lightly digging into his soft flesh as she tugged the garment upwards. Daron nearly choked trying to suck it in, and took a step back.

“Hold on, hold on,” he said, placing one hand on his chest to catch his breath. Freddie stared at him with wide eyes, lifting her hands in a confused apology. “I can’t suddenly be in nothing but my underwear in front of my fully clothed girlfriend,” Daron added, his husky voice attempting to be playful as he saw Freddie’s expression contort into a pleased smirk.

“You’re right. Let me,” she said. “These are also a little...painted on.” Biting her lip, Freddie first stripped off her dark leggings, then carefully peeled off her shirt with her two criss-crossed hands. Even in the dim light, Daron saw the underwear set she was wearing was black, and held her softest curves together with lace, and holy shit.

“Damn,” he breathed. “Okay, Fred.”

“Okay, Daron,” she mimicked. “Your turn.”

Daron hesitated only a moment, since he knew she was right. He started to imitate her two-arm shirt removal, but he got about halfway done before remembering he was too big and unwieldy to do that now. His (hopefully hidden) blush deepening, Daron let the shirt fall back over his belly and switched tactics. He reached back with one hand, gripped the back of his shirt, and pulled it over his head in one fell swoop.

“Oh,” Freddie said, her voice still noticeably breathy, taking a step towards Daron to bridge the gap between them. “Can you get the light?” She motioned to a lamp in the corner, and then to the one on his bedside table.

“I think...this is kind of good, though, right?” Daron said, not doing as good of a job hiding his anxiety as he would have liked. His left thumb nervously traced a circle around his belly button, his other hand twitching its fingers at his side, resisting grabbing something to shield himself with. Freddie, her face in half-shadow, looked at him with an unreadable expression before nodding. Relieved that she didn’t fight him, Daron kissed her hard, and Freddie returned it with equal enthusiasm.

Not realizing where she was steering them until they were there, Daron watched Freddie fall back onto the back and then scoot back into the center. She grinned at him devilishly, and reached up to grab his hand and begin tugging him towards her.

“Wait,” Daron said, again. “I don’t want to crush you, Fred.”

“You can crush me,” Freddie said wickedly, scooting closer to try and entice Daron. He didn’t move. “I don’t mind.”

“I do. I’m too heavy right now.”

“How do you know?”

“Fred, being ‘crushed’ by 200 pounds of gym bro is different than...all this. No.”

“We don’t have to have sex tonight,” Freddie said, sitting up on the bed after a moment of hesitation. “If this is too fast.”

“Fuck, no, I want to,” Daron said, sitting next to her on the bed. “Just not how I might kill you.”

“And I’m the dramatic one,” Freddie mused. Daron exhaled a laugh, and the room went quiet. He was terrified he had ruined the mood for good, now. All thanks to his size. “I just don’t love being on top,” Freddie finally admitted, looking around for inspiration. “Hey, what about...stand up?”

Daron obeyed, and let Freddie steer him to standing next to the bed.

“How ‘bout here?” She asked, gesturing. Daron followed Freddie’s gaze, and saw her motioning from him to the bed. He had a somewhat tall frame, and the top of the mattress landed just above his upper thigh. Then Freddie laid back, and looked up at him hopefully. “If you’re up for using some of those well earned arm muscles to lift me to you…?”

“Oh,” Daron said, looking at her in surprise. “That’s...I’ve never done that before.”

“Really? Oh, on the right bed it’s lots of fun. I’d like to try if you do.”

“Please,” Daron affirmed, leaning down to kiss his girlfriend. His bare belly squashed somewhat between his chest and knees as he did, but he diligently ignored it as he worked to get them back to the fun and exciting mood they had felt. Luckily, Freddie easily re-melted into his arms, returning the attention with equal ardor. It wasn’t long before Daron confirmed they were ready, grabbed a condom, and they stripped the rest of the way down.

It was the best sex of his life. Especially for the first time with a partner, Daron didn’t go in with particularly high expectations, but this newfound standing position was a marvel. The angle felt incredible, he was able to see Freddie’s gorgeous top half lying back on the bed, and as he lifted and moved her lower half, he felt more strong and capable than ever before. He focused on the feeling of his bulging arm muscles, and a tightening of his core to stabilize. He did have to look past his broad, jiggling middle to get a good view of his girlfriend - but Freddie was enjoying herself so much that her eyes stayed mostly closed, so he tried not to worry too much about how that looked. He was somewhat regretful it was in the way of him being able to see himself inserting her - that sounded incredibly hot - but he just gripped Freddie’s soft hips harder and moved his thoughts along.

Freddie eventually orgasmed with a near-scream, every muscle in her body feeling like it was expanding and contracting to Daron. Feeling close himself, Daron leaned into it and kissed Freddie as she grabbed at him. It all felt too good for him to pause and realize he was rapidly beginning to lie on top of her as she grabbed at his back, moaning. Feeling his legs give out as he came too, Daron rocked forward onto the bed and Freddie, softly groaning himself.

But quickly, what the experts call “post nut clarity” kicked in, and he rolled off of his much smaller girlfriend and landed next to her on the bed. They both, in unison, exhaled deeply.

“Sorry Fred,” Daron gasped. “You okay?”

“Yes,” Freddie said, rolling onto her side to look at him with raised eyebrows. “I told you I’d like it.”

“…I don’t think that was even my full weight.”

“Uh huh.”

After they had each taken the requisite trip to the bathroom to freshen up, Freddie curled up on Daron chest as he sleepily ran his fingers up and down her bare back. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt this way - not just happy, but comfortable. Freddie hummed against him as he half-dozed, and soon, another feeling emerged.

“Can I be honest about something?” Daron asked, and Freddie looked up.

“Of course,” she said seriously, resting a hand lightly right below his chest. He watched it sink in a little, ruefully smiled, and admitted:

“I think I’m hungry again.”
 
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