Discussion in 'Recent Additions' started by Undine, Jan 6, 2012.
Yes, exactly! ^^^^^
It was about time
Thanks for the Update!
You realize no matter how long between posts we will always love an Update from Undine!
"Your color is beautiful, Pudge." Her warmth instantly awakened goose bumps on his skin, and he stared at her as she pulled the covers back up around them, his breath and about a thousand words caught in his throat. "I knew it wouldn't take you long to find it."
"Cee," he managed to choke out.
"Sorry for scaring you. You looked so adorable, zonked out with all these wrappers on your belly - I didn't want to wake you."
He just stared at her.
"But...since you are awake..."
His eyes involuntarily clenched shut.
"Thank you," she told him, her voice wavering. "Thank you so much, Pudge. I wouldn't be...you were amazing. You...you saved me."
"You're welcome," he managed.
"And I am...I'm so, so sorry. I'm so sorry for what I did to you."
He had to start over a few times before he could croak, "It's okay. I know it wasn't you."
"But I...I was there. I was there, and I couldn't stop it." Tears glimmered on her cheeks in the moonlight.
"I thought you didn't remember?"
Cee rolled her eyes. "That's what I told them so they wouldn't worry. But I remember. I remember all of the horrible things I said to you, everything I did, everything I-"
Xander couldn't stand it. He wrapped his arms around her, enfolding her in an embrace. "It's okay," he told her simply. Silent sobs wracked her body as she clutched him, and he stroked her hair.
Finally she pulled away and wiped her eyes with her fingertips. "There's more."
He swallowed hard and made the words come out clear. "You have nothing to apologize for. You were possessed. None of it was you. I'm just...I'm just glad you're okay."
She gave him a watery smile. "Not that. I'm sorry for everything. I'm so used to knowing what everyone else is thinking, sometimes I forget that people don't know what I'm thinking, too. It never occurred to me that you didn't know. So...I'm sorry for not explaining. I'm sorry for misleading you."
As surely as he'd been expecting this, the pain was still nigh unbearable. It took him a moment to regain his breath before he could respond. "You don't have to apologize. I mean, I appreciate your being honest, but...I know. I couldn't even...even with Ling's help...I couldn't do anything... I'm a mess, I know it. I never really expected you to..."
Confusion and pain were not emotions he'd expected to see on her face now. "What?"
"I know that you don't...have feelings for me. Like that," he muttered. "You didn't mislead me. It's okay."
"Oh, Pudge. I most definitely misled you." She kissed him then, gently, and he couldn't stop himself from twining his fingers through her hair and inhaling deeply as her scent warmed and deepened with their contact.
But then he pulled back. "What are you doing?" he asked, his voice breaking.
"Trying to correct a huge mistake," she told him. "I thought it was obvious, but I never just came out and told you, and I should have. I like you, Pudge. A lot. I'm so sorry I made you think otherwise."
"But-but...you...but I'm...I'm so fat," he sputtered helplessly.
Cee bit her lip and glanced down at his body, then back up at his face. "I know," she said simply. "I like that you are."
His voice failed him and he mouthed the word "what."
"I love that you're fat. You're so big, and soft..." She reached out a hand towards his belly, but let it drop back into her lap. "I think you're gorgeous."
Xander stared at her, and felt his chest begin to tighten and his breath begin to catch.
Her eyes filled with tears again. "I'm so sorry, Pudge. I should have told you sooner, then they wouldn't have been able to make you think that I - it's just - it knew everything when it was inside me and it made it seem like...no, it's not just that. I was afraid to tell you. I was afraid I'd upset you or that you'd think I was crazy or...I don't even know. But I should have told you, because then those demon bastards wouldn't have been able to use something I love about you to hurt you." She wiped at her eyes angrily before continuing. "I know what they did. I saw everything, everything here in the basement, and everything in then bathroom at your dorm. That wasn't me, but I saw it later. None of it would have happened if I -"
"Stop," he said. "You're telling me that...that the reason those demons tried to use my...size...to mess with me is because you secretly...like it?"
Cee nodded, her face shadowed in misery.
"It's not...it's not you, I mean...I...it's...it's more..." He clammed up, afraid to admit his earlier revelation aloud. But as her face lightened hopefully in front of him, he realized he didn't have to.
"I know," she began, her tone delicate, "that you've realized some stuff, and it's still pretty new for you. You don't need to say anything about it at all, if you don't want to. I am really glad, though...I hope this means you can start being nicer to yourself... Anyway, I just...I can't help feeling responsible."
After a moment, he replied, "It's not you. They used what I hoped for and...the impossibility of it...to hurt me. It's not your fault."
Cee's fingers brushed his cheek. "There are a lot of things to unpack in that statement."
A deep, shuddering breath left him then. "I know." He locked eyes with her, losing himself in the way the moonlight caused her irises to shimmer electric green.
"And I hope you realize now that it's not impossible."
Xander squeezed his eyes shut, some part of him still trying to protect himself from what he still believed would be an inevitable backlash over his deviant desires.
"Deviant?" She snorted.
He opened his eyes and looked at her guiltily.
Cee sighed with a smile. "Pudge, I know what I like, and I don't give a crap who thinks it's 'deviant' or anything else. And neither should you. Like I told you the last time I was actually myself, other people are usually too worried about themselves to care about what everyone else is doing, and the ones who do care what you're doing fall into one of two camps: those who actually care about and love you, and those who are just trying to deflect the attention from themselves and how genuinely awful they are. And screw them, seriously. What matters is what you think, and if it makes you happy and makes you feel good and brings you some peace, how can that be bad?"
A wry smile turned up the corners of his mouth. "I wish I could have known you when we were younger."
"So do I. But I think we can make up for lost time." She reached over to tuck his hair behind his ear. Her fingers trailed down over his soft jaw and double chin and kept drifting south, over his shoulder and down to his upper arm, where her hand stopped and lightly squeezed his flesh.
"I..." he began.
Cee looked at him questioningly.
Xander swallowed past the dryness in his throat. "I really like you, Cee."
Her nose crinkled adorably as a huge grin spread across her face. "I'm so happy to hear you say that. Like, stupidly happy." She wriggled herself closer to him, her hand still lightly grasping the softness of his arm. "Can...can we snuggle?"
Xander laughed. "I never thought I'd hear you sound so tentative."
She looked down, almost shyly, still smiling. "I've been told that I come on a little strong. Thought I'd try toning it down a bit. But really...I don't want to make you uncomfortable."
"I...appreciate that. Um, yeah, we can...we can snuggle."
Cee gently pushed his shoulder until he was laying on his back, looking up at her apprehensively. She scooted in close to him and laid her head on the space where his arm connected to his shoulder and fit her body into the round curves of his side. She started to lift her arm but stopped, and he felt her unspoken request for permission. Instead of verbalizing it, he took her hand in his own and placed it on the squishy mound of his belly, shuddering slightly as her slim fingers pressed into his yielding flesh.
"Are you sure this is okay?" she whispered.
It was more than okay. He could feel the steady pulse of her energy, see the brilliant emerald of her aura melding with the indigo of his own, smell the fire and the sea meeting in the most intoxicating brew of salt and skin and rightness as they lay there, the individual rhythms of their breath slowly syncing. The heat of her hand invoked a matching warmth deep in his belly, and he exhaled shakily.
Cee did the same, and clutched him tighter. "This," she whispered, "was more than worth waiting for."
EEEEEEEEEE~!!! Oh my gosh!!! This was so so sweeeeet and so perfect! Yay for Xander and Cee! Yay for Undine! <3
It is Friday, and payday, but you still managed to make the day much better!
This is great. I'm glad to see new chapters to the story. This has to be my favorite story in a long time.
I've been looking forward to this update. Totally worth the wait. Thank you.
"Xander, would you please answer your pho- ohhhh." Ken's words drew out in surprise as he took in the scene in the guest bedroom.
"His phone isn't ringing, Ken," Cee mumbled into Xander's soft chest, where she was tightly snuggled. Xander jumped guiltily and tried to sit up, but tanned, freckled arms resolutely held him down. He watched helplessly, blinking in the morning sun, as Ken's expression shifted from surprised to smug.
"Cee," he implored, nudging her.
"What? Too comfy to care. His phone is off, Ken, I don't know what you're talking about." She nuzzled his moobs with her face and lightly squeezed one of his love handles under the covers, making him jump again.
Ken, shaking slightly with suppressed laughter, replied, "I know it's off, but I also know that it's been ringing for the past forty-five minutes and it's driving me crazy. And before you ask, it's not your parents, so do you think you could answer it?"
"How do you-" Xander started to ask, but Ken interrupted him.
"I know things sometimes, remember? Especially with electronics. So please turn the damn thing on and answer so I can game in peace."
He turned and closed the door behind him, and Xander relaxed back into the pillows and Cee's embrace and, with his free hand, reached over to pick up his phone. He switched it on and looked down at the tousled mess of bright, coppery curls pressed beneath his chin and smiled. Gently stroking her hair with one hand, he scrolled through his missed call notifications with the other and saw seven recent calls from his sister. Crap, he thought, and, just as he was about to tap on her number to call her back, the phone started ringing - it was her again.
"Lexi? What's wrong?
"Xander!" his sister exclaimed, "Finally!"
"What?" He inched his arm out from beneath Cee's sleeping form and sat up. "What's wrong? What happened?"
"Everything's okay, brother, don't worry. We're just like only an hour away and I knew you said you weren't staying at your dorm but I didn't know where you were and you weren't answering your phone and I didn't know how we would find you..." she rambled.
His stomach clenched. "Who's we?"
"Chill out, just me and Jared. I told you I wanted to come see you, so we're coming to see you."
"Oh, okay. Where are you?"
He heard her ask Jared what exit they were at, then she said, "We just passed Newtown. Where are you?"
Xander looked down as he felt the covers shift and saw Cee drape herself across his lap, attempt to wrap her arms around his waist, and press her cheek into his belly, eyes closed and a contented smile curling up the corners of her lips. "I'm, uh...with friends." He gave his sister the address and directions to the hunters' house from his dorm.
"Okay, I'll put it in my phone and just call if we need help. We'll be there in about an hour, is that alright?"
He felt Cee nod into his abdomen, making his flesh quiver and warmth bloom throughout his torso, and he gave silent thanks that his gut was big enough to cover his crotch. "We have no plans for today," she told him, and gazed up at him with a smirk.
"Uh, y-yeah, that's...f-f-fine," he managed to stutter as Cee giggled. Way to forget she knows everything you're thinking, he scolded himself.
"Sounds good. See you soon!"
He dropped the phone into the fluff of the comforter at the foot of the bed and looked down at Cee, who was still smirking at him, and shook his head.
I thought I was dreaming. Is this even real? I didn't think you'd still be here. Nothing he could think of seemed capable of adequately expressing the level of awe and gratefulness and pure contentment he was feeling just then.
Her expression softened and she sat upright, throwing her arms around his neck and pulling his face close to hers. "Same," she whispered. A small, happy noise escaped her as he kissed her, and he felt a glowing sensation in his chest.
"Oh..." He pulled away. "Is it going to be okay that my sister and her boyfriend are coming here? I mean, will Darshan...and what should I tell her? I mean about all this demon stuff."
"Darshan can literally go out in the back yard and suck on rocks if he has a problem with it. It's technically my family's house, so it's my call. And as for what to tell her, you don't have to tell her anything. She may have some abilities - they tend to run in families - but she may not, in which case there's really no point in telling her just to freak her out. Like I said, we have no plans today. There are no hunters coming, my parents and Talos and Costas have gone back to the city to try to recruit other hunters, and Mei and Thomas have done the same, so it's just the six of us. And we'll all be super-safe: my and Ling's parents quadrupled the shields and trips, and I can even show you how to shield another person so you can put up some shields on your sister and her boyfriend."
Xander nodded with relief.
"I was hoping to have you all to myself today," she told him with a slight pout, "but I'm glad you'll get to see your sister. It sucks when you can't see your family for the holidays."
"Yeah..." Xander trailed off, frowning.
"But," Cee continued, "we're your family now, too. Your dysfunctional, demon-slaying family. Not that our holidays were exactly great this year... Anyway, I'm excited to meet her. Her boyfriend is with her?"
"Yeah, Jared. They've been together since middle school."
"Wow, and they're seniors now? That's impressive. What do you think of him?"
Her hands snuck under his arms to embrace him as she replied. "What do you think of him? You're a good judge of character; I want to know."
"Oh. Um..." He stroked her back for a moment before answering. "He's actually a great guy. Laid-back, funny, respectful. He's kind of a jock - he plays lacrosse and soccer - but he's cool. He's good to her. My parents can't even find a good reason to dislike him, other than the fact that he isn't an asshole to fat people."
"Ah. Your sister's chubby? I remember you saying that girl at the movies reminded you of her."
"I guess so. I mean, she's not scrawny...but she's nothing like me," he finished, a familiar twinge of doubt shaking his thoughts.
Cee disentangled herself from him and looked him in the face. "Well, if she looks anything like you," she told him, trailing the backs of her fingers down his cheek, "I'll bet she's gorgeous. Now, as much as I'd love to stay in bed with you all day, we should probably get dressed. I want to make you brunch before they get here."
Any day that starts with a new 'Xander' chapter has to turn into a good day....
I was just rereading this last night and apparently my Xander prays were answered! <3 This is so cute, I can't wait for Lexi to meet the demon-slayers!
I love the line about him feeling her nodding into his pudge. As well as everything else
I love this! Shame their bedroom time got interrupted but I'm looking forward to meeting his sister and bf in the flesh so to speak!
So I went back and re-read this, and it's even better to me now... Xander and Cee's intimacy is so visceral now, yet there's this whole big story around them. So well-crafted while staying sexy.
Re-read this again. Just as good (better) than the first time...i hope we can get another taste soon...
Hi, friends. Thanks for sticking with me for this - if I could personally hug every one of you who still reads this and checks up on it, believe me, I would. <3 <3 <3
"Xander!" Lexi shrieked, not even bothering to shut the door of Jared's tiny Honda before she rushed to the porch and attacked him with a bear hug, her light freesia scent filling his head.
"Hey, Lexi," he said, returning her embrace.
"I missed you so frakkin' much," she told him, her usage of a slang term from their favorite show muffled by his shirt. She finally pulled away and jumped up to ruffle his hair.
He grinned at her, shaking his head as he raked his fingers through his now-messy hair. "I missed you, too." His grin faded as he caught her eyes momentarily fix on his middle before rising to his face again, and he tugged the thin, stretched fabric of his t-shirt away from his belly in an automatic gesture.
"How are you, brother?" she asked, and he could see the sadness evident as a twisting grey smoke in the lavender sparkle of her energy.
His cheeks warmed, but he answered her with all the confidence he could muster. "Good. Really good. Having a pretty nice vacation from...everything....here. How are you?"
"Also having an awesome vacation from our asshole parents," she said, reaching for Jared's hand as he approached.
"Hey, Xander, nice digs," he said, nodding at the big old house. "How's it going?"
"Alright. How about you?"
"I'm awesome. I finally heard back from Cornell about my lacrosse scholarship: I got a full ride," Jared said, flipping his sandy hair off his face with a wide grin.
"Holy crap, man, that's amazing. Congratulations!"
"Thanks! I still half don't believe it, but I'll take it."
Lexi wrapped her arm around her boyfriend's slender waist and leaned into him, beaming. "So now I can finally officially accept my admission there, too. I'm so excited!"
His sister's promise ring glowed in the sunlight as she brought her hand up to Jared's chest, and Xander couldn't help but smile. "I'm really happy for you guys. I'm so glad you'll get to be at the same school."
"Us, too. Not that Jared's parents haven't been completely gracious and wonderful about letting me stay there, but having that to look forward to really helps."
Concern wrinkled Xander's brow as he answered. "You still haven't spoken to them?"
She shook her head, and the delicate freesia of her energy drooped even though she maintained her outward composure. "Haven't even seen them. I went over to get more of my stuff when they were out for New Year's Eve. You?"
A knife of guilt buried itself in his stomach. "Nothing. There must be twenty voicemails from them that I haven't listened to. I...I can't."
"Hey." He felt her hand slip into his. "You're doing the right thing. They're the ones who are being completely unreasonable and awful. You don't deserve that. There's nothing wrong with you."
He felt blood rush to his cheeks as he looked at the ground and remained silent, his resolve to be who and what he wanted to be wavering as he pictured his parents suddenly losing both their children.
Lexi sighed, but changed the subject. "So whose house is this? Or should I say mansion? This is kind of crazy."
"Um, it belongs to the family of my...my...friend..." His explanation stammered to a halt as he led them inside the dim foyer and hung their coats on the rack for them.
"Okay," his sister drawled, "does your friend have a name? It's not Rhys, is it? I thought he lived out of state."
"No..." They entered the big living room to see Ling and Kai moving furniture. "Oh. What are you guys doing?"
Ling blew a stray lock of hair out of her face and smiled. "Good morning. Cee told us that you were having visitors, so we decided to reconfigure things in here to make it a bit more comfortable." She and Kai gave a taupe sectional one more shove before approaching Xander, Lexi, and Jared. "You must be Xander's sister, and her boyfriend," she said warmly as she shook Lexi's hand and then Jared's. "I'm Ling. It's so nice to meet you both."
"Likewise," Jared said, and introduced himself and Lexi.
Kai introduced himself similarly, and Lexi spoke up. "So how do you all know each other?"
"My sister Cee goes to school with your brother," Kai explained, "so he's been spending a lot of time here. I'm just visiting for the holidays, but Cee, Ling, and two other guys - Ken and Darshan, who aren't here right now - all live here."
Xander felt his sister's curious glance when Kai said that he'd been spending a lot of time there, and, unsure of how to react, resolutely ignored it. "Where is Cee?" he asked.
"She's in the kitchen making brunch for everyone," Ling said. "She said she didn't get a chance to make something just for you, so she figured she'd make something for everyone. Go ahead out, we can finish up in here. I know Cee's excited to meet them."
"Brunch..." He gulped, eyes darting to Lexi and Jared before he motioned for them to follow him. He swung the kitchen door inwards and was immediately ensnared by the aroma of melted butter and cinnamon. Cee was at the stove, the flyaway coils of copper at her hairline curling wildly in the steam wafting up from the enormous frying pan full of scrambled eggs, griddle, and several towers of French toast spread out around her. She whirled around at the sound of their entrance and grinned.
"Good morning!" she exclaimed. She rested the spatulas she was holding on an empty plate and embraced both Lexi and Jared. "I'm Cee. It's so nice to meet you! I hope you guys are hungry."
Xander stared wide-eyed at Cee as the trio exchanged greetings.
"We totally are," Jared confessed, gazing longingly at the feast-in-progress. "We only had Pop-Tarts this morning before we left. That looks so great."
"Scrambled eggs and cinnamon raisin French toast. And there's fresh coffee, and I'll put some tea on as soon as I'm done here. Your brother said you guys had kind of a long drive?"
Lexi answered her but kept looking at Xander. "It's a little over four hours from Jared's house, but it's not a bad drive. It's nice scenery, and we listen to podcasts and play stupid games to pass the time. And that does look awesome, geez, thank you. It's so great to meet more of Xander's friends."
"Well I'm glad the drive went well - I'm glad you came! This will be ready in just a minute or so; you guys can have a seat. Puh-" Her teeth sunk into her lower lip, biting off the word before she finished, and she turned back to the stove. "Xander, could you get some glasses out of the cabinet next to the fridge, please?"
Cheeks burning, he silently opened the cabinet and set out six glasses as Lexi and Jared seated themselves at the kitchen table. "Um, do you guys want orange juice?" Both said yes, so he opened the refrigerator door to retrieve the carafe, hiding his face for a moment in the cool air blowing softly from inside and trying not to panic.
He shakily poured for them and was returning the carafe when he felt a soft tendril of Cee's energy reaching out to him. "Come here," it seemed to say. He looked at her, and she did speak aloud. "Hey, can you reach the big blue serving platter in the cabinet above the stove here for me?"
"Uh, sure." He moved over next to her, taking care not to get too close and to turn his body so that Lexi and Jared wouldn't see his left hand clutching the hem of his shirt in place beneath his belly as he stretched up to grab the cabinet knob with his right.
"Are you okay?" Cee murmured.
He didn't know if he could answer her, so he instead focused on maneuvering the large plate out of the cabinet one-handed.
"I know you're worried about the chairs. It's okay, I fixed one for you. The one to the left of where my mug is."
"You 'fixed' it? What does that mean?" he muttered, noticing the frantic edge to his own words.
"I'll show you later. But it'll be okay, I promise." Her fingers grazed his left forearm, and emerald- and coral-colored, rosemary-scented warmth flowed from her touch and into his pounding heart, and he relaxed fractionally. "Alright, eggs are done. Would you let Ling and Kai know the food is ready?"
He nodded, and ducked his head through the door to tell Ling and Kai to come in. With another gulp, he turned back to face Jared, who was rubbing his hands eagerly and complimenting the delicious smells as Cee placed the food-laden platters on the table, and Lexi, who was watching him, her head tilted and her eyes fixed on him in that way she had of making him feel completely transparent. But then she turned to Cee, smiling. "This looks so yummy, Cee. Is that homemade cinnamon raisin bread?"
The others entered the kitchen, and Kai poured coffee for Lexi, Jared, and himself while Ling prepared tea, Cee divvied up the plates and utensils, and Xander stood back, trying to stay out of everyone's way. But in a few moments everyone was settled at the table but him. "Come sit, Xander," she said, gesturing encouragingly to the chair at the head of the table.
At least she knew better than to try to put me between people, he thought ruefully. At least I won't hurt anyone when my hippo-ass destroys the chair and possibly puts a dent in the floor.
He felt Cee's stern frown before he saw it, and, resigned, reached out to pull the chair back from the table. A faint buzzing emanated from the wood, and he felt energy course beneath his hand. With a gulp and a wordless prayer, he lowered his bulk. He grimaced when he felt the way his ass and thighs eclipsed the entire surface area of the seat and hung over the sides, but - magically, extraordinarily, unbelievably - it held, without so much as a creak to protest the burden of his four hundred-plus pounds. He exhaled in shock, releasing a bit of the tension he'd been holding in his core, and glanced at Cee, who said nothing but smiled.
The congenial chatter of everyone getting to know each other floated around him as he focused on keeping his breath even and taking small, slow forkfuls of Cee's rich creations. He could tell she'd used heavy cream in both the French toast and the eggs, and he was having a difficult time controlling himself. Three of each, he told himself again and again, only three. Three is reasonable. That looks like three eggs, and three pieces of French toast. Three is reasonable. Only three. Ling and Jared seemed to be hitting it off, bonding over lacrosse, and Kai and Lexi were already deep in discussion over some recent archaeological dig in Turkey. Three is reasonable, then you stop.
Cee's hand grasped his thick thigh chub beneath the table, and he looked up from his plate to see her forehead scrunched with worry, and she tilted her head inquisitively. He shook his head and set his fork down, snatching up his glass and downing half of his water. He didn't pick his fork up again.
Soon everyone was groaning contentedly, claiming they couldn't eat another bite and thanking Cee for the meal. Cee hopped to her feet to clear the plates, her worried frown returning as she picked up Xander's, which was still-half-full, but saying nothing.
"Why don't you all go and chat? Kai and I can take care of the cleanup," Ling offered.
"No, come on...at least let us watch the dishes?" Lexi said.
Ling waved her hand dismissively. "Nope. You should go spend time together; I know Xander was disappointed he didn't get to see you for Christmas."
Lexi acquiesced, giving her brother a quick, sad glance, and Xander, conscious of the precise reason they hadn't been able to see each other for Christmas, looked away. You let yourself get so huge that you couldn't even go home, he reminded himself. You can't go home, probably not ever again, all because -
Cee's fingers pressed into the firm roll of love handle fat that swelled over his jeans waistband. "Would anyone like some more coffee, or maybe some tea? Jared? Lexi? Okay, you guys head in and have a seat, I'll bring some out. Xander, would you help me?" She pulled him around to face her as their guests exited the room. "You know that's not your fault," she whispered. "Please, don't start beating yourself up again...please." She smoothed her hands across his, their warmth heating his own cold, clammy grip.
"I know," he sighed.
"I know you know it's not your fault, but you need to believe it, too." Her grip tightened, then released. "Let's go enjoy our time with them, okay?"
Xander nodded, and helped Cee prepare a tray of coffee, tea, cream, sugar, honey, and lemon, and carried it into the living room, where Lexi and Jared were seated together on Xander's usual couch. He saw with relief that the largest piece of the taupe sectional, which had previously been languishing in the mostly-unused front corner of the room, had been situated adjacent to the green couch, and the wooden side chairs moved against the wall. He placed the tray on the enormous chest that served as a coffee table, and lowered himself onto the large sofa, thoughtlessly grabbing a throw pillow to shield his round torso as he settled.
"There we go, help yourselves," Cee told them. "Ling just made a fresh batch of her rose mint tea, it's incredible. There's lavender in it, too."
"Ooh, that sounds amazing," Lexi said, leaning away from Jared to take a mug. "She makes it herself?"
"Yeah, she's great with herbs and spices. She makes a homemade chai blend that is literally like drinking a mug full of autumn," Cee gushed as she plopped down next to Xander and scooted close. "Why do you have that? You're a better pillow than a pillow," she told him, as if he should have known better, and pulled the small cushion from his protective grasp. She settled into his soft side, and he was almost too preoccupied by the feeling of half the blood in his body rushing to his face to notice her curious glance at Jared before she finished getting comfortable.
Lexi opened her mouth and closed it, then opened it again. "So, how did you two meet?"
Cee sipped her tea before responding. "We had a class together last semester. British literature. It was ridiculously boring and I probably wouldn't have passed if it hadn't been for your brother helping me keep all those stuffy Englishmen straight."
"Oh, so you're in, like, a study group together?" She raised an eyebrow, and Xander felt her energy harden to a diamond-like cast.
"No, not really." Cee patted his thigh with her free hand, allowing her fingers to linger there, and a bit of her own power flowed into him as a warm, crackling swirl. His own force responded automatically to meet hers in sparks of emerald and indigo behind his closed eyes.
He heard Lexi make a small noise, and he opened his eyes to look at her. She sat back and snuggled into Jared, who wrapped his arm around her waist. "That's Xander, always keeping his poor little sister in the dark," she said lightly.
"I didn't..." he trailed off, not knowing how to explain when he wasn't even sure what the situation was.
Lexi laughed at his distress, twisting her long, dark braid between her fingers. "I'm just giving you shit, brother."
"It is her specialty," Jared added, grinning. Lexi dropped her braid and gave his head a gentle shove, and they both laughed, then kissed.
"So," Cee said, "Xander tells me there's a ring I should see?"
Lexi blushed prettily and held out her hand to show Cee and Xander the iridescent gem on her left ring finger, and Jared's smiled widened proudly. "It's exactly what I wanted."
"Oh, it's gorgeous! Is that scorolite? Did you pick it out, or did Jared?"
"Wow, you've got a good eye," Jared said. "Yup, it's scorolite, and we picked it out together a few weeks ago. There's a little artisan jeweler the next town over who does really unique stuff, that's where we found it."
"He told me we were going for ice cream. I still made him take me for ice cream afterwards, of course," Lexi explained, laughing.
"You know I would never deny you ice cream," he told her, and squeezed her in his arms again.
Xander felt Cee's energy flare up slightly as she wriggled closer to him, shifting so that the tops of her fingers were just touching the flab that gushed out onto his lap. Warmth clashed with the sickening thud of shame in his chest as he saw both Lexi's and Jared's eyes perceive the contact as they turned their heads back, and his mind blurted, Please no don't draw attention to how enormous I've gotten please don't I'm disgusting I already know you don't have to tell me please don't tell me please -
Cee twitched next to him and cleared her throat, keeping her hand where it was. "I'm really happy for you guys. So did you have anything planned for while you're here? I guess you've probably done most of the touristy things, right? The museum, the campus sculpture garden..."
"Yeah, I honestly just want to hang out," Lexi said.
Xander felt her gaze on him, but resolutely stared at the steam still rising from the spout of the teapot on the tray in front of him. You can't even lean forward to make yourself a cup of tea, the nasty voice jeered, because you'll have to struggle over your massive fucking gut and get out of breath and everyone will see and they'll be revolted by what a damn pig you are -
"It really sucked not getting to see you for Christmas..." she trailed off before continuing. "I feel like it's been forever since I've seen you. I mean, it kind of has. The last time we really got to spend time together was back at the beginning of August before I had to leave for camp."
"Oh, wow, I didn't realize you hadn't been back home at all this semester, Xander," Cee said.
"I...couldn't go." The voice's volume increased until it was a roar in his ears, so loud he barely heard what Lexi said next.
"I know you couldn't. It's okay. I just missed you, is all, so I want to spend time with you now. You know we wouldn't have had a good time at home, anyway. Mom doesn't even bake cookies anymore, not even snowflake sparkles."
"Your mom doesn't make Christmas cookies?" Cee asked incredulously. "We were up to our ears in de- um, our drama final and we still made Christmas cookies!" She gently rubbed his thigh, her fingers dipping farther beneath the roll of his belly for a moment before returning to the same spot. "Hey," she said, turning her face to his, "did you get to have your tea yet?"
Ling had determined that, to start, he should drink two mugs per day of a less potent version of the tea she'd been making for him, her "adjusted tri-level," she called it. He shook his head, embarrassment bubbling up inside him.
"Ooh, you get a special tea? Haha, special-ty," Jared cracked.
"Oh my gosh, you are the corniest," Lexi scolded him, giggling.
Cee patted his thigh and hopped to her feet. "Yeah, he was getting a cold, and Ling makes something that'll knock it right out of you before it gets bad," she lied easily. "I'll go grab it for you, and I'll bring out our Christmas cookies. I think we've digested enough for a few, right?" She gave him an encouraging smile before disappearing into the kitchen.
"I like her," Lexi stated, smiling softly and twisting her braid between her fingers as she tucked her legs beneath her. "You get the little sister seal of approval."
"Yeah, she seems great," Jared added. "I'm happy for you, man."
"We don't - I mean, I d-don't know..." he stuttered as his cheeks reddened further, "it's...there's n-nothing...official. Or whatever."
His sister scoffed. "Please. She's crazy about you. It's obvious. And Xander...please," she told him, "please stop blaming yourself. I don't blame you for staying here. You know it would have been completely miserable at home. It was miserable, that's why I left."
"Yeah, but if I hadn't -"
"Stop," she interrupted fiercely, leaning towards him. "No. Stop doing that. You deserve to be happy. I deserve to be happy. And our parents don't care. They want us to be what they want us to be because they're not happy. And making them happy is not our responsibility. But it is our responsibility to make ourselves happy, and I'm done feeling guilty for wanting that. You should be, too."
Xander stared past his sister and out the window at the perfect blue of the winter sky beyond the slightly rippled glass in the old panes as the truth of what she said found a crack in the wall of self-loathing that had automatically begun building itself up around his heart again after it had collapsed last night and resolutely started chipping away. He knew she was right. Of course she was. But he'd spent his whole life doing precisely what she'd called him out on, and he knew it would take another lifetime of constant vigilance and Herculean effort to stave off continued inner mutinies against himself.
But. Wasn't it worth it? He thought of waking up that morning, the scent of fire and rosemary filling his awareness and the warmth of Cee's hands gently vibrating into his skin even before the pale, golden light of the cold sun outside revealed her slight form wrapped around him. As if summoned, the kitchen door swung outward and she appeared, a steaming mug in one hand and a green ceramic plate piled high with cookies in the other, and smiled at him, and he thought, yes, I suppose it's worth it.
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