"Oh, perfect timing," he heard Kai say. "He's just waking up."
Xander opened his eyes to the dim glow of twilight in the guest room. Kai's head and shoulders were silhouetted against the pale cornflower of the sky through the sheer curtains, and the yellow light from the hallway fixtures spilled in the open door as Ling entered the room. He instinctively checked the covers and, satisfied that he was completely covered, maneuvered himself into a seated position. "What time is it?"
"About 4:30," Ling answered. She sat down on the edge of the bed and placed the steaming mug she was holding onto the night stand beside him. "How are you feeling, Xander?"
"Umm, okay, I guess..." His voice trailed off as his stomach gurgled, but the usual flood of shame that would overwhelm him in situations like these was miraculously only a trickle.
"Hungry," Kai supplied.
"That's good!" Ling exclaimed. "We're ordering pizza for dinner since the Argyrises are still here. I know we just had it, but no one wants to cook. What do you like on your pizza?"
"Anything is fine. Whatever everyone else wants."
Ling smiled at him, giving her head a little shake. "Sure, anything might be fine, but what's your favorite? I was just going to get you your own pie."
That was too much. "No, you don't - I don't n-need -" he rushed the words out, as if their speed would somehow lessen his embarrassment.
She took his hand in both of her own. "Xander. Shush. We get free pies from Vito's: we cleared out a Trilk infestation they had last year. If a week goes by when we don't order, he calls and asks why and starts thanking us again. It's embarrassing. So what are your favorite pizza toppings?"
A quiet sigh left him before he answered. "Garlic, spinach, and extra cheese."
"Thank you." Ling patted his hand before she rose from the bed. "You're sharing the veggie pie with your mom and Cee?" she asked Kai.
"As usual," he replied. "Cee's up and around?"
"Yup," Ling said. "Almost back to normal." Her eyes flicked towards Xander, and he knew without knowing how that Cee hadn't asked about him.
Kai nodded, his shoulders relaxing just a bit. "Good."
"I'll go call the order in. Xander, wait about fifteen minutes for that to cool and then drink up, okay? I think I timed it pretty well: the pizza usually only takes about twenty minutes, so it should get here not long after you finish it, about when you'll probably start getting hungrier."
"How many more doses will I need?" Not that you should be drinking it anyway, you whale, if it's going to make you eat again, the nasty voice piped up.
Ling tapped her pursed lips with a delicate finger. "At least two more. Probably three, just to be safe. It's a multifaceted blend, so it's quite a bit more complex than what I made for you before."
"And there's a lot it has to work on, so try to be patient," Kai interjected.
"What do you mean?"
"I'll let you explain, Kai. I'm going to go order the pizza. Remember, Xander, fifteen minutes." She left the bedroom, closing the door softly and taking the golden light from the hallway with her.
Cee's brother leaned over and switched on the bedside lamp, and Xander caught a glimpse of his own reflection in the mirror above the dresser in the soft light. "Whoa," he murmured. His eyes stared mournfully back at him, framed by deep, bruise-like crescents, and his skin, normally pale, was tinged ashen and ghastly. "I look like moldy crap."
"You're actually starting to look a little better," Kai told him. "Some of the life is starting to come back to your eyes. Why did you do this in the first place?"
Xander pretended he hadn't asked that question. "So what's the deal with this stuff?" He tilted his head in the direction of the still-steaming mug beside him.
Kai propped his legs up on the mattress before answering. "There are some illnesses or afflictions that are strictly physical. Some are strictly emotional. Most are a combination of your physical being, your emotional being, and sometimes your spiritual self. What you've been going through started as emotional - the appetite suppressant tea messed with your feelings and thoughts - and was then exacerbated by spiritual issues, which have been bothering you for a while, I think, but were really blown up by the work demon kind has been doing on you, and...other things. Family stuff? Love troubles? I'm not exactly sure."
He felt the familiar reverberation in the empty place where his heart used to be, but remained silent.
"All that combined and escalated to the point where your symptoms became physical: the dizziness, the vision problems, aversion to food, etcetera. So," he continued, nodding at the mug, "the remedy has to work on all of that. It starts by helping the physical symptoms, because they're usually the most dangerous. I imagine you're feeling a whole lot better physically than you were, right?"
"Maybe a little bit better emotionally?"
Xander let out a quiet huff of laughter. "I'm not in imminent danger of leaping off a cliff, if that's what you mean."
Kai grinned. "I'll take it. It should continue to help with that, kind of get you back to a better place."
"What exactly do you mean by...spiritual stuff?"
"The longstanding beliefs you have about yourself and your place in everything. Whereas your emotions are the expression of those beliefs in your thoughts and feelings."
Xander became very still.
"The remedy unfortunately can't fix the spiritual - nothing we can make can do that - but it can usually quiet the emotional noise that shouts over them enough to help you deal with them on your own."
A few silent moments passed before Xander spoke. "Well that sounds like fun." He sighed, suddenly very aware of how heavy and soft his belly felt resting on his thighs.
"Talking about it sometimes helps."
He scoffed. "I'm not much of a fan of therapy."
Kai laughed. "I'm not a shrink yet."
"I don't really...know you."
"We should change that. I'd like to get to know you. My sister thinks you're worth knowing, and we're going to be spending a lot more time together."
Xander didn't respond.
"You should probably drink that now," Kai said, gesturing to the mug. Xander complied, gulping the hot, gingery liquid all down at once as he had before, but this time having to fight the urge to rub his belly contentedly as a delicious warmth spread out from his stomach to the tips of his toes. "So," Kai said, "what do you think of Darshan?"
My number one goal for 2016 is to finish this damned story. Sorry for the unforgivable length of time it's taking me, and thanks for sticking around, friends.
He almost expected her to cross her arms and start tapping her foot, with the look she was giving him. "Absolutely not. What did I tell you?" she scolded as she set a tray of sandwiches, salad, and chips on the bedside table and picked up the mug that he'd emptied twenty minutes ago.
"I know that you have more than enough money to survive. But I'm another mouth to feed, and I'm going to eat you out of house and home."
An unhappy noise, too elegant to be called a grunt, left her mouth. "You are one of us now. I'll simply adjust the grocery budget accordingly. And don't say such things."
Xander tried to expel an exasperated sigh, but it turned into a yawn. "I'm not being mean, just practical. I've been buying my own food for a few years now. I know how much I eat, and I know how much it costs. Please." He held out the check to her again.
"Where are you getting this money, anyway? You're not working, and I'll not have you spending your savings on food when we have a steady income that can easily take care of that for you."
He rolled his eyes. "Both sets of grandparents are loaded. And if I don't spend it by the time I'm thirty, it goes back to them or gets donated to some terrible political organization."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "Then buy yourself something fun. And rip up that check. Not one of us pays for our food here out of our own money. Now, I think one more dose after this should do the trick, though I'm going to have you take a less potent blend every night before you go to sleep from now on. This is kind of a long-term thing, I think. You promise the physical symptoms are gone?"
"Promise. You saw the breakfast I put away this morning, and I'm going to clean that tray as soon as you leave. I'm just tired now."
Ling sat down beside him, reaching for his hand. "That's to be expected. And everything else?" she asked gently.
"It's...getting better." He watched his reflection in the mirror as he spoke, noting the round cheeks and the double chin without fixating on them, instead focusing on the color that had returned to his skin and the now-faint smudges of darkness beneath his eyes. "Before it was like...like there was a voice in my head. I mean, it was me, but...the worst part of me. It's quieter now."
Slender arms surrounded his shoulders, and Ling whispered, "I'm so glad." She pulled away from him and quickly brushed a tear away from her eye. "I'm sorry." She laughed. "I'm just so relieved. We were really worried about you."
"Thank you, Ling," he said, "thank you so much for everything."
She smiled. "You're welcome. Remember, you're family. Actually...you even remind me so much of my brother."
"Really? I didn't know you had a brother."
She nodded, and Xander smelled a sudden rainstorm in her energy. "He died."
"I'm so sorry..."
She gave him a small smile. "Thank you. It was six years ago, when he was twenty three. His name was Jake. He was brilliant, so talented...quiet. Sweet. Very much like you." She patted his hand again before rising to her feet. "Okay, I've got to go give Aislin a call to see if she's heard back from anyone. Do you need anything else?"
He shook his head. "What are they planning?"
"We've put the word out to as many hunters as we could, and asked them to do the same. We're waiting to hear back from at least thirty before we begin to form a more concrete plan."
"Thirty? That seems like a lot."
Ling sighed. "It's actually the bare minimum. We're hoping to get several dozen. A hundred would be preferable. Three hundred and I'd be sleeping better. I don't mean to scare you, but this is big, Xander. If they succeed in opening a portal...the Fuom that first brought you to us will seem like a gnat."
Xander swallowed hard. "What about...what about the thing that...took...Cee?" He felt a small swell of pride that his voice barely cracked when he said her name.
Ling gave him a sharp look. "Do you know what that was?"
"Not...really. I mean, I heard one of her brothers...he called it..."
"There's no need to think on it now," she said, her tone reassuring despite the whiteness of her knuckles as she clenched the mug in her left hand. "Just focus on getting better. Eat. Rest. Remember that none of us would still be here if it weren't for you."
He felt an irrational surge of embarrassment at that, but he couldn't stop the next words from tumbling out. "How is she?"
He felt the shift in her energy before she opened her mouth. "She's...alright," she said cautiously. "She and Kai just left to get groceries."
"Oh." The nasty voice broke through - to feed your fat face you huge pig she's gonna know you're eating everything in sight again and getting even more massive - and he bit the inside of his lip to silence it with the pain.
"Xander -" Ling sighed again. "Get some rest, okay? I'll be back to check on you in a few hours."
Thank you so much for your kind words, everyone. I'm so grateful you guys are still enjoying this after all these years. :bow:
He awoke in the dark hours of the morning to moonlight shining through his window, and gazed at the silvery smudge through the sheer curtains as his thoughts came into focus. He'd been dreaming, though he wasn't sure precisely about what, and a calm contentment enveloped him like a warm blanket. It didn't even budge when he realized his hands were softly kneading his belly, his shirt pulled up to his chest to grant access to his expansive torso. I can't do this anymore, the simple thought came. I can't let everyone else dictate how I feel and how I think. I can't let my fear control my happiness. He loved being fat. He loved the soft heaviness of his round body, jiggling in his hands. He loved the warm expanse of flesh that gushed out into his lap when he sat, loved feeling his belly bounce on the tops of his thighs when he walked. He loved his wideness, and the feeling of squeezing his ass into a space that was almost too small. And he loved to eat, loved to feel his stomach fill up and swell out in front of him. And he'd known it for a long time. But a lifetime of being told that he was wrong, disgusting, and shameful had built up a carapace of self-loathing so thick and black around his heart that he hadn't been able to see what lay at the center. He loved being fat.
The joyous wonder he felt at the simplicity of that acceptance gave way to sadness. He glanced at his phone, still dark and silent on the nightstand, knowing that dozens of messages from his parents awaited him when he decided to power it back on. Weak, echoes of the nasty voice replayed, pathetic, disgusting freak, eating yourself to death...we can't be seen with you like this...why can't you just be normal... Anger momentarily burned white-hot through the sadness, and he felt the full weight of every comment, every raised eyebrow, every scheduled doctor appointment, every withheld meal, every awful thing his parents had ever done to him in the name of his size, and he finally knew that the people who had brought him into this world were not capable of giving him the love and acceptance he'd so desperately craved from them.
And he mourned. He mourned the death of the hope he'd held fast to all these years, the hope that someday, somehow, his parents would be what he'd needed. He mourned the time he had lost hating the way he looked, hating himself for enjoying food, hating his supposed weakness for not being able to be "normal" like everyone else. He mourned the acceptance he'd wanted, the social ease he'd craved for so long. He mourned his hopes for love. He knew that accepting his desire to be fat effectively steamrolled the possibility of any of those things ever happening for him. But I can't go back, he thought. I can't go back to spending every waking second wishing I didn't exist because I can't be what everyone else wants me to be. I don't want to be what everyone else wants me to be. I just want to be what I am. And maybe...maybe more, too.
Not quite ready to confront the implications of that yet, he rose from the bed and stretched, relishing the feeling of the smooth, cool wood under his warm, bare feet. He flicked on the bedside lamp and fished a clean shirt, a pair of shorts, and a pair of boxers out of his bag and inched the bedroom door open. The hallway was dark and quiet as he padded softly down the hall to the bathroom. His last dose of Ling's full-strength medicine had been about ten hours ago, and he was finally feeling up to standing for a shower. While the tea had cleared his mind and calmed him immensely, it also knocked him out cold. Most of his last two days had been spent sleeping, and he was eager to feel clean again. So he retrieved a towel and turned the water to lukewarm - he hated hot showers - then peeled off his clothes and stepped into the tub.
He sighed happily, feeling the last traces of tension in his muscles dissipate as the temperate water rushed over his skin. He shampooed his hair and began soaping up his body, acutely aware of every jiggle. Grasping the gush of his belly to lift it up so he could wash underneath the thick roll, he felt that familiar warm tingle below it as he grew hard. So...this is more than just preferring being fat, he admitted silently. He squeezed his soft fat harder, then with two hands, and a small shudder shook his entire body as his fingers dug in. He let go with a small gasp, but the resulting bounce of his gut made him shudder again.
His parents had never had "the talk" with him, probably figuring that, as he was already close to 200 pounds at thirteen, he'd never need to know about sex. As a result, the process of taking care of his own needs had always been rushed, somewhat timid, and drenched in guilt. When he was younger his guilt was simple - "I don't know if this is an okay thing to be doing" - but as he grew older layers of complexity formed around his feelings. He started to realize that, no matter what he thought about when his hand was pumping away, the feeling of his belly jogging up and down, his love handles sliding from side to side, and his ass quivering all increased the intensity of the experience. Once he had experimentally grasped a roll of flab on his side during the act and exploded. His shame was so profound afterwards that he'd cried, and he'd made an unspoken pact with himself to never allow it to happen again.
He put all of it aside now and slid his right hand under the soft overhang of his belly again. Lifting slightly caused his blubber to ooze between his fingers, and his left hand automatically sought the epicenter of his arousal. Rhythmically kneading and jiggling the dough of his soft, slick belly brought him to the edge fast, and he bit his lip as he roughly grabbed the biggest handful of fat he could manage and orgasmed. Indigo waves crashed behind his eyelids as he gasped, the reverberations of energy so powerful he could barely remain upright. He forced his eyes open a few moments later after he started to sink down to sit but remembered there was no way his ass would fit in the tub, and pulled the shower curtain aside so he could plop on the edge to catch his breath. Well, he thought, that's...I guess that settles that.
His breathing soon returned to normal, though a pleasant tingling still coursed through his body, and he stood and finished his shower. Drying himself almost sent him over the edge again as his flesh shook beneath the towel, and he reasoned that he must now be so sensitive to these feelings because he'd been suppressing them for so long.
He managed to reign in his reactions enough that by the time he shaved and got dressed he was more focused on the empty feeling in his belly. The little silver clock over the door told him it was 3:32am, but hunger prevailed, so he deposited his dirty clothes back in the bedroom and snuck down the stairs as quietly as he could. A few minutes and some rummaging later, he found the stash of new groceries and a box of the chocolate peanut butter cakes he loved. After a moment's hesitation - surely they hadn't been purchased with the intent of allowing him to eat the entire box - he shrugged, telling himself he'd just go buy more to replace them, and grabbed the box. He carried it upstairs, crawled back into bed, settled the box on his belly, and proceeded to devour the delicious morsels one by one, sleep creeping closer with each bite.
A cool draft tickled his skin, and he felt the mattress sink down next to him. His eyes flew open and he looked around wildly, deep blue energy automatically pooling in his palms as he tried to place the scent in the air.
"Pudge! Pudge, it's only me!"
Fire, and rosemary.
His heart thudded in his throat as he reigned in his energy and his vision adjusted. A slight form was crawling into bed next to him.