One packet of oatmeal for breakfast. Coffee with half and half. Two cups water.
An apple and a hard boiled egg for lunch. Three cups water.
Two cups black eyed pea soup in front of dad, to seem normal. Three cups water. Ignore it when he goes back for seconds, complaining of being hungry. Ignore it when he adds buttered bread to fill out the meal. Pretend you don’t know that a bowl of this stuff is only 357 calories.
Bury your head in the food diary app on your phone. It records everything you do, every movement, every indulgence, like an old testament god. Tell it all about the hike you took that afternoon, for 30 minutes at a 70% incline. Don’t tell it how shakey you felt. There’s no input option for that anyway. It doesn’t care.
Visit a forum online for similarly afflicted people. Understand, deep in your soul, that you are all of you sick. Understand that even with the sickness, you envy many of them.
Every day of Stiles’ life had become the same, a swirling chaos of recipes and calories and sprawling Pinterest boards dedicated to clean eating and veganism and water fasting. It was so much, so fast, with such a loud voice that it drowned out everything else in his life. For once, the supernatural took a backseat. For once, he had something new and important to focus on. Or, well, not important. Physical beauty was frivolous, everyone had always told him that, and anyway what kind of man wanted to be slender rather than muscular?
It was just that his skin didn’t fit right. He didn’t feel fat, exactly, but he felt wrong. He didn’t want to be thin, exactly, he just wanted to look like himself. He wanted to be himself. The self he imagined he’d been as a child--carefree and unconcerned with his food intake--but couldn’t actually remember experiencing. Even then he’d skipped meals, trying to take up less space and lessen the burden on his father after his mother passed. Even then he’d hoarded snacks under his bed, and then eaten them all in one go until his stomach hurt. He couldn’t identify a beginning to his eating issues, and that made it harder to identify an end.
Today was no different, except that he was trying out a new oatmeal. Extra protein, the label said, and it fit his macros, as pitiful as they were, so he poured the powder in the bowl and added water before microwaving. There were better ways to make oatmeal, more wholesome, nutritive ways. But he didn’t care about that. He cared that each packet had 10 grams protein, 41 grams of carbs, minus 5 grams of fiber leaving 36 grams of carbs, and it fit his goals but just barely. It left no room for error. He’d have to weigh his apple, later, at lunch, and if it wasn’t 100 grams in weight he’d have to cut some off.
There was no other option. Either it fit his goals, or he didn’t eat it. Either the apple was the right size, the exact right weight, or else he was skipping lunch entirely.
He felt the low thrum of anxiety under his skin, but stared fixedly at the microwave rather than do anything about it.
Gods help him, he would not binge that day.
There was a pack meeting, later in the afternoon, and he was debating not going. The evil presence that sat deep in his gut was urging him to walk to the 7-Eleven (walking was good anyway, it burned calories, a 20 minute walk there and back would burn 70 calories) and buy as much as he could afford to buy. Noodles, peanut butter, cookies, donuts, questionable deli items. After that, if he listened to the voice, he would take his bags of food into his bedroom, and turn on some mindless show he had no intention of watching on his computer, and he would eat all of it. His record was 10,000 calories in one go, but usually it was more like 5,000. He especially liked refrigerated cookie dough. One tray of that was around 2,000 just on it’s own and it tasted like heaven and reassurance going down.
He couldn’t do chips, or popcorn. Those hurt coming back up. And if they weren’t coming back up, there was no point to eating them. Binge food needed to be purged, and if you didn’t purge it then it had no right to exist.
Then he would go into the bathroom, turn on a shower he had no intention of entering, and purge all of the food into the toilet. He wouldn’t stop until the vomit turned bright blue, the color of the slushie he always made sure to drink first, even though he suspected it all sloshed together in his stomach rather than sit neatly in layers. Still, it made him feel better, to reach the food he’d eaten first. It was like he’d wound back time.
And then, if he listened to the voice, if he did that, he would go to the pack meeting an hour or two hours late, after it had already wound down into movies and idle chatter, with puffy cheeks and a stuffed up nose, and he would apologize for losing track of time, but you know him and Wikipedia, man, it’s a sickness.
If he listened to the dark voice, it would be so easy.
But instead he beat it back with a ruthless internal fury as he watched his oatmeal packets spin and cook in the microwave. The voice telling him to starve was dark too, but it felt lesser. Gray instead of black. He knew a few bulimics from that online forum who would hate him for thinking that, but his brain was his brain and he couldn’t change it even when he wanted to. So he’d listen to the impulses that seemed the least destructive, at least for that day, and he’d eat his oatmeal and drink his coffee, and then eat his apple and egg, and then go hang out with werewolves and hope beyond all hope that they couldn’t smell his electrolyte imbalance.
He would start drinking Gatorade to cover it up, except the lowest calorie one at the 7-Eleven was Lemon Lime, and that was still 50 calories and disgusting to boot. He could always blame the smell on Adderall, he thought.
He’d say he picked a bad day to restrict, except that almost every day was a restricting day so statistically this was bound to happen. A group of dark druids passing through town had started a scuffle with a few of the betas, and one threw a powder white package at him in the middle of the chaos, fist sized and tied up tight with cloth. It looked like a hacky sack at first, confusing him and making him stand still over it rather than running away as soon as it bounced off his chest and onto the forest floor. As he stared it exploded into a cloud of white powder and suddenly his stomach felt like the waves of an ocean, constant motion and no equilibrium. He fell to his hands and knees, both gratified and terrified that Scott was instantly at his shoulder, and began to retch in a way he really hadn’t in years.
Purging was normally neat, or at least neater than this. He’d ruined his esophagus, sometimes regurgitating bile at random points in the day, and all he had to do to rid himself of a meal was agitate the back of his soft palate and it was like he’d called “Open Sesame”. His throat would just yield. This was much more violent, much more angry, and his whole body shook with tremors from it. Boyd and Erica ran ahead, following the druids past the treeline into a clearing, and Allison broke off to circle around and head them off. Her crossbow was loaded with elm arrows, and she was not fucking around, not that day. The only ones remaining were Derek and Scott, each wearing matching expressions of concern, as Stiles brought up his meager lunch and then collapsed, coughing, into the dirt.
“It’s okay,” Scott said, in that infuriatingly calm voice he’d learned from Melissa, his nurse voice, “It’s okay, just let it out.”
“I think--” Stiles coughed hard, and the coughing led into gagging again before he managed to settle himself down, “I think I’m done.”
Derek shook his head, but his expression was more grim acceptance than anything.
“That was the Puram Omnia curse. I’ve seen it before. It won’t stop until it gets rid of every drop of nourishment you have inside you.”
Stiles grimaced, but didn’t contradict them again. The remains of one apple, rind still partially intact, and one egg, yolk smeared in the middle of the pool of vomit like an artful accent, sat below him on the ground. It was conceivable that the curse would try to bring the oatmeal back up too, but he’d eaten that at 5:30 in the morning, and it was going on 3:00 now. Digestion took 7 hours. He knew this. He hoped they’d leave him alone. His gut felt like it had been wrung out like a wet rag.
“Go ahead,” Scott said, smoothing a hand down his back, “Don’t fight it.”
There was nothing to fight, though. His pale hands stood out below him against the dark soil on either side of the pool of vomit and there was nothing to fight. The curse had passed.
Slowly, the circles Scott was rubbing into his skin slowed, and stopped. He could feel Derek’s eyes on him, and Scott’s too, but he just swallowed thickly and kept his own eyes cast down.
“Hnn,” Scott made a noise like he was thinking, and then started up his comforting ministrations again, a moment too late, “The medication fucking with your appetite again?”
Stiles grunted something vaguely affirmative and finally pitched back onto his heels. The look Derek was giving him could cut glass, but he ignored it, instead choosing to stare at Scott’s knees beside his own.
“It’s okay. At least it means this attack wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. We’ll go out for pizza tonight, make up for it.”
Anxiety and panic seized his throat, but he managed to keep it controlled, to sit motionless and let Scott interpret it as compliance, as he started to spiral down over the unknown restaurant with its ambiguous and probably guesstimated calorie counts and the number of slices he’d have to eat to remain socially normal.
There was always purging, he reminded himself. It burned like fire, but he could always purge.
After that, Derek got more persistent in his observation of Stiles. He’d always watched over the pack’s token human (Allison didn’t receive the same designation, not with her body count), in a half hearted sort of way. Perked his head up when Stiles arrived and then buried it in a book again. But now it was more earnest, more thorough, and Stiles couldn’t help but feel offended on behalf of his human nature, even when he knew the cause was deeper than that.
More than once he left his house on the way to a pack meeting or weekend lacrosse practice to find Derek leaned against the hood of his Jeep, the Camaro nowhere in sight. He always demanded a ride, he always had an excuse for attending when it came to sports, and he always brought food. It made Stiles feel itchy, and exposed, like a nerve ending was poking out of his skin somewhere and he couldn’t quite find it.
So he started visiting the forum more often. Got advice and condolences from people who knew what it was like to be watched like that, and he made plans. Hummus was 70 calories, half a cucumber was 22.5, and low calorie bread could be had for decently cheap. It looked like more, volumewise, than his apple and egg, but at the end of the day it only had 2.5 calories more and that was acceptable, especially if he at it in front of Derek, his consumption conspicuous and messy. It was the same with salads, and with low calorie soups, and with diet fountain sodas he pretended were full sugar. If Derek wanted to be in his space, he could deal. He just had to be proactive about it.
Still, it didn’t trick him as often as Stiles would like. Too often as soon as he finished eating Derek was digging into the pocket of his jacket and throwing a Cliff bar into Stiles’ lap. He didn’t say anything, didn’t even show signs of having heard whatever rambling excuse Stiles gave that day, he just glared straight ahead out of the windshield of the Jeep and gave off an aura of oppressive judgement until Stiles gave in and opened the wrapper.
He was purging a lot more lately as a result.
The dark druids had passed on, finally driven back by Deaton who had threatened to file a grievance with the Elder Council (of all the fucking things) who he claimed could induce total separation from the World Tree and all source of their power. Stiles was about 75% sure that was made up, and Deaton was just fucking with them, but he wasn’t about to voice that thought out loud and, hey, it had worked.
Things were quiet in the absence of the druids. No new monster had popped up, not a lot of running through the woods to fill out his fitness goals, so he spent a bit more time on the trails by himself, in the early morning or after dusk. His running shoes were kind of garbage, and he was convinced the fitness tracking watch he’d bought online for a bargain wasn’t counting his calories or steps accurately, but it was what he had and he could usually kill a half hour running that way before he was too exhausted to keep going, and that was a solid 450 calories gone, out of the 777 he’d eaten.
He liked that number a lot. He’d stumbled on it, what with the new oatmeal, and it felt pleasant to see in his food app. Lucky.
There was a killer hill, though, just next to his house, and at the end of every run he had to climb up it again, usually huffing and puffing and cursing to the wind, in order to get into his back yard and crash. He stared at that hill, one day a few weeks into their new period of peace, with all the fear and loathing he used to reserve for Alpha Packs and werebats.
His heart felt like it was up in his throat, pounding under his skin. He could do this, he’d done it before. He just had to put out the effort.
He was just being lazy.
His legs were almost numb they were so tired from overexertion, but it would be fine. He’d be fine.
He just needed to go.
Why wasn’t he going?
A hand traced along his back before settling at the base of his spine, and he whipped his head to the side to see Derek--basketball shorts, fancy running shoes, and earbuds slung around his neck--glaring at the hill right alongside him.
He looked back, at the hill. He was just being lazy. It was fine.
“What, you gonna carry me up a gentle incline?” he scoffed.
Derek turned toward him and cocked his head, gears spinning, and then he crouched down and shoved a shoulder against Stiles’ hip, quick and efficient. Stiles crumpled like a pile of leaves, folding over the mantle of Derek’s shoulders until he had him in a sort of fireman carry, one arm pinning his thighs and another holding both his hands at the wrist. He squawked, in protest, but Derek pretended not to hear, and started up the hill at a steady pace.
“I was kidding, you ass! Put me down!”
“You remember when you held me up in the pool?” he asked. Stiles blinked, his head spinning a little from the vertigo.
“Yeah? What does that--”
“Was I heavy?”
“I…” Stiles frowned, “Yeah, man. You were dead weight.”
Derek shrugged, as much as he could without dislodging Stiles, and hefted them both up and over the crest of the hill and onto Stiles’ lawn. He didn’t put him down until they’d reached the back porch, where he dumped Stiles without ceremony onto the beat up old couch they kept out there and planted his hands on his hips.
“You said 140 before but now I’m guessing...120? If that. Just barely underweight and probably banking on the fact that you’ve always been skinny to keep people from looking.”
His blood felt cold in his veins. Of all the people to finally see him, to finally see it , he hadn’t imagined it would be Derek. Sure, he’d been suspicious of his food, but Stiles had been so careful. He’d worked so hard. He’d thrown up so many motherfucking Cliff bars into motherfucking ziploc bags in the back of his Jeep.
It wasn’t fair .
He stayed quiet, but that didn’t seem to deter Derek much. He plowed ahead, seeming almost rehearsed. He'd probably just stumbled onto Stiles in the woods during a run of his own--that much Stiles was willing to believe--but he’d clearly been waiting for something like this to come up for a while.
“When you eat in front of people it’s like you’re an alien putting on a play about how humans eat. You smell like vomit, mostly your hands. You smell like panic, all the time. And your heart, it…”
He dropped his head, one hand flitting up to wipe across his eyes like he was wiping away tears. No way Derek was crying, though. No fucking way. Stiles told himself that it had to be rehearsed, had to be part of his campaign to nanny the weak human, to make sure he didn’t become a liability in the pack. When Derek’s head came back up, his eyes were tinged red and glassy.
“Stiles, I can hear your heart. Every other werewolf in this town might act like their extra senses are a burden but I pay attention, and your heart is... It’s unsteady.”
He stared into Stiles eyes, waiting for him to understand, but he just didn’t. His heart had always raced and skipped and done weird shit, it was a product of the Adderall he took, which dispensed his stimulants in spikes every four hours rather than the steady all day flow of Vyvanse.
“Unsteady?” His voice sounded rough, croaking, coming out of his throat. Like he was crying too, only he wasn’t. He wasn’t .
“It doesn’t have a rhythm. It just sounds…random. I looked it up and--”
“You researched this?”
Derek glared at him, hot and fierce, and he shut his mouth with a click.
“It said arrhythmia associated with eating disorders can lead to sudden cardiac death. At any moment, and you might not get warning. You could just die."
That was it, Stiles thought. The words were out there. He wasn’t eating less or taking too much medication or just overstressed. He could maybe get away with saying those things to others, for a while, but Derek looked ready to tear up heaven and earth to deal with the problem and he had no doubt that his dad and Scott would know soon enough.'Eating disorder.' He almost cared more about that than the content of Derek's speech.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked, barely above a whisper. But, then, he hadn’t really gotten his breath back yet from the run, not completely.
“Because it’s my turn to save your life. And with everything else out there ready to kill us, I absolutely refuse to let it be this that finally does it.”
Stiles huffed a laugh, false and hollow, and turned his face away. He stared at the wood siding, green as it was with lichens and moss.
“Not like I could afford therapy even if I wanted it.”
“I’ll pay for one,” Derek said, “and a home nurse and a dietician and even inpatient if you want it. All that money, the vault, the buildings I own, it’s pack money. You’re entitled to whatever you need, whenever you need it. You’re pack Stiles. You have to know that.”
When he looked back Derek had gone to his knees, kneeling in front of the couch to try and meet Stiles’ eyes. He was crying, undeniable now, and the part of Stiles that starving quieted, the part that binging and purging numbed, that hysterical wailing that he felt like made up the core of who he was nowadays, was suddenly present just under the skin. He wanted to tear himself open and let it out, scream until his throat couldn’t take the strain anymore. He wanted to cry with Derek. He was so tired.
He clutched at his own arms, trying to cling to the walls he was so used to protecting him, but nodded anyway, a sob caught in his throat.
Nothing was fine. Nothing had been fine for a long time, probably since before Scott had been bitten. But Derek had saved him a dozen times over and maybe it wouldn’t be a stretch to trust him with Stiles’ life again. One more time.
God knows he didn’t do a good job looking after himself on his own.