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"I'm Not Hungry"

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Luz woke to her stomach grumbling. Again.

Not to the soft light that poured in from the stained glass of the attic window, or the brushing of fur against her legs as King shifted and stretched, or even the irritating singing voice of Hooty. But instead, her day began with the sound of her stomach's indignant complaints accompanied by a sharp pain in her abdomen.

But it was fine. She knew that if she ignored it, the hunger would pass and her stomach would forget its upset. So she laid there and tried to think of other things. Things other than the fact that she stayed out later than usual last night, so she could say she had dinner while she was at Willow’s (which she didn't), bringing her grand total of meals yesterday to one - that being a peanut butter sandwich at lunch. It's not that she didn't want to eat; she just knew that she didn't need to. And eating less food meant there was less food Eda needed to buy for her. So why not lower her daily meal count from three to one, right?

She also definitely didn't need to think about the fact that Mami always used to make the best tostones for her when she came home from school. Luz often found herself craving her mom's cooking while she was homesick, but as she had been eating less the past few days (3? 5? She didn't quite remember.), she had come to think of those past meals more and more often, and in greater detail. The golden, crisp edges, the burst of savoury flavour that would sink into her tongue each and every bite…

She wasn't doing a good job ignoring this, was she?

"Luz!" King got her attention, pulling on her pajama pant leg. "Aren't you going to give me my morning belly scratches?"

A welcome distraction, Luz smiled down at him, reaching forward to scratch the demon's tummy. "Morning, King."

She picked up her phone. 8:36. Oh, no - she had overslept again! Luz dragged herself off the floor and started her morning routine. She hadn't realized it when she first woke up, but she already had a headache. This wasn't looking to be the best morning, huh?

Despite feeling sluggish, she knew that there was no time to waste. She brushed her teeth, pulled on her uniform, and slung her bag over her shoulder before lumbering down the stairs.

"Morning, Luz. Grab some breakfast," Eda called to her from across the kitchen, her eyes never leaving the papers she was pouring over. Probably bills, Luz presumed.

Luz took a breath, preparing her tone to be energized and cheery. “No time. Gotta get to school.”

Her mentor looked up. “Again?”

She simply shrugged. This was the third day in a row that she had skipped breakfast, and she really didn't have any answers if Eda decided to question her further on it. Like, why had she been waking up later lately? Why didn't she just take some breakfast for the road? All valid questions, to remain without valid explanations.

Luckily for Luz, Eda thought of something else. “Oh, wait. Real quick before you go, I have to tell you: Greg finally paid us decently for those bounties, so we’re stopping by the market on the way home from Hexside."

“Nice!” This is just the opportunity Luz had been waiting for. Since they weren’t going to need as much food for her, she could convince Eda to get some things for herself. “Let’s get some apple blood! Or those chocolate beetles that you like.”

Eda let out a laugh. “He didn’t pay us that much. It’ll probably just get us some more griffin eggs, dragon meat, and peanut butter.”

“We don’t need more griffin eggs," Luz was quick to tell her, "We still have at least half a carton.”

“What? No, we-” Eda opened the fridge. Sure enough, the egg case was nearly full. She scratched her head. “We haven’t gotten any for nearly two weeks. How are there still this many?”

Luz made a small noise with rising intonation to mean 'I don't know'. Then, a sudden worry came over her. “They don’t go bad, do they?”

“No, not as long as they stay cold. Why?”

“No reason,” Luz replied, casting her eyes to the side. She had purposefully not been eating the eggs, and if there was a chance they’d go bad, her efforts would be pointless. She was trying to save food, not waste it. “Anyway, I’ve really got to go now.”

“Alright, alright. Have a good day” Eda smiled, ruffling her hair affectionately. She directed her eyes back to the papers on the table. “Sorry again that I can’t fly you over.”

“It’s fine. I know you’ve been busy.” Because of me, Luz tacked on in her head.

“I’ll see you after school.”

“Bye!”

As soon as the door closed behind her, Luz felt her faux energy dissipate. She was grateful to have Hooty willing to give her a ride to the Hexside and didn't even mind his excessive rambling.

She spent her school morning spacing out and scrawling notes she couldn't bring herself to understand. During her “History of Demonic Cross Pollination” class with Willow, her plant track friend had needed to nudge her a couple of times when she didn't catch herself mindlessly scribbling. It wasn't that bad, though. Luz kept telling herself that. She just hadn't been sleeping as well, that was all. She could take a nap when she got back to the Owl House. And sure, maybe she was still kind of hungry, and maybe it was making her feel a tiny bit worse, but she’d have dinner that night. It was fine.

Still, by the time lunch rolled around, her mind was foggier and her mood hadn’t improved.

Luz took a seat across from Willow, grateful that she wouldn't have to take notes, or practice glyphs, or pour the absolute whole of her currently waning attention into academics for at least the next 45 minutes. Amity was doing an extra credit project with one of her professors and Gus was prepping for some event to welcome incoming illusionist track students, so it would be a nice, simple lunch period with Willow.

She thought. But Willow was looking at her expectantly. "Aren’t you going to eat your lunch?"

"I’m not hungry," Luz replied quickly, hoping that the subject would be dropped. She reached into her bag to grab her notebook.

"Luz."

She paused with her arm halfway in her bag. "What?"

"I've noticed you aren't eating."

She finally looked up to Willow, at the way her brows were knit with concern. "What do you mean?" Luz asked much less casually than she had hoped she would. "I ate lunch yesterday."

"But not the two days before that. Or on Friday," the witch across from her countered. Seeing Luz's look of surprise, she shrugged. "I pay attention. Now, what's going on with you?”

"I'm just…" Her initial impulse was to lie, to try and keep up the facade that nothing was going on. But Willow would never buy it. Seeing the look on Willow's face, her eyebrows raised in disbelief at the excuse that hadn't even left Luz's mouth yet, she knew she wouldn't get out of this without an honest explanation. "I'm just trying to save food. I really don't need to eat as much as I have been. If I skip lunch, that's one less meal Eda has to buy me."

"Luz…"

She tried to brush it off. "It's not a big deal."

"It kind of is, actually. You're hungrier than you're letting on, I can tell. You've been tired lately, staring off into space. I'm a little worried." Luz didn't respond, so Willow continued, "Look, if it's about saving food, just have some of mine."

Luz shook her head. "I couldn't-"

"Actually, you can," Willow interrupted, not wanting to hear it. "I'm offering. I actively want you to take some. It's rotsiglie with presto sauce."

"I've never heard of it, but…" She eyed the meal that Willow had pulled out of her bag. It mainly consisted of round, brown rings the size of acorns. It was topped with a white sauce that had small red bits in it, as well as a stringy substance coming from the outer layer of the brown rings. It was odd, but just the sight of it made her mouth water. "It does look good."

"I knew it. You're hungry." Willow summoned a small bowl made with a plant base and scooped half of her rotsiglie into it. She pushed it toward her. "Here."

With a closer look, Luz studied the meal for a moment. It did look pretty normal for a food on the Boiling Isles. The standard Luz had taken to using was: Does it seem like it's alive? This didn't always mean it was safe for her to eat, but at the very least she could ensure there wouldn't be screaming coming from her mouth after the first bite, because that wasn't something she wanted to experience a third time. The rotsiglie also didn't look like it had any dairy in it. (Though let's be real - it wouldn't be the first time she had ignored her lactose intolerance.) There was always a risk with food here, but she was kind of willing to take it. And if Willow was offering…

Her stomach grumbled.

“Alright…” She took a fork from Willow. "Thanks."

Willow nodded with a smile, but didn't take her eyes off Luz until she took the first bite. The food was… really good, actually. The sauce was savory with a surprising (but not unsatisfying) hint of tang. Granted, Luz's hunger probably would have made anything taste like it was crafted by a professional angel chef, special for her taste buds.

Satisfied that Luz was eating, Willow began her own lunch, and the conversation drifted to classes and glyphs.

It wasn't until ten minutes after she had finished that Luz got an inkling that something was wrong. She started to feel irritated. And hot. Why was it so hot?

"Luz… are you okay?" Willow asked, concern seeping into her tone. Clearly Luz's discomfort was visible.

“I'm-" The human was cut off by a pain in her stomach. She tried to keep herself from groaning, but was largely unsuccessful. A deep breath. "I'm fine."

"Okay, no you're not. What's wrong? Do you need a healer?"

"It's probably just… Y'know…" Luz tried to reply nonchalantly, despite a sudden wave of nausea and the pain in her stomach not subsiding. "Because I’m human, there are some things I can’t really… digest… here…”

“What?!" Willow exclaimed, "That feels like something I should have known by now!”

“Sorry… I'll be fine though. Don't worry about it.”

“No, no. Here, come on.” She took Luz's arm. “Let’s get you to the Healer’s.”

Luz could hardly argue, as she was using all her energy to process these sudden pains and frustrations. When Willow had dragged her to the Healer's, one of the school healers, Ms. Peftis, greeted them.

"Can I help you?"

Willow wasted no time in trying to explain. "I gave her some of my lunch, and I think she was allergic or something because she's human? Or, um," she turned to Luz, "I forget how you explained it."

Ms. Peftis seemed to quickly take in Luz's agitated and pained condition. "Bring her to one of the empty beds over there."

There were six beds in the room of the wing, only one of them currently having another student - an unconscious biped demon with spiked purple hair. Willow brought her over as Ms. Peftis grabbed a file from the cabinet along the wall.

Opening the file, the healer asked Luz, "How are you feeling? What are your symptoms?"

"Well, I'm nauseous and hot and there are these random, intense jolts of pain in my stomach, and I just overall feel absolutely horrible," Luz answered with tired, sarcastic enthusiasm.

Ms. Peftis turned to Willow. "What did you give her?"

"Rotsiglie with presto sauce."

"Okay…" The healer thumbed through the files, scanning them briefly before one seemed to catch her attention. She read for a moment and nodded.

“From what we know of human digestion, per our newly necessary research and your guardian's instruction," she began, "the human digestive system does not have the proper organ aspects or general capacity to process spirit essence."

“You don’t?” Willow turned to Luz with surprise.

Luz stared back at her. Still feeling generally irritable, she answered in exasperation with another question. "Why the heck would I need to digest that?”

Ms. Peftis cleared her throat and the two students turned their attention back to her. She continued, “Presto sauce, of course, has spirit essence as one of its primary ingredients, which would explain Luz's… reaction."

"Yes. Right." The plant track witch ran a hand through her hair and looked at her friend again. "Oh, Luz, I'm so sorry. If I had realized-"

"It's alright, Willow," Luz tried to assure her, "There was no way you would have known. I didn't even know."

"Still," the healer said, again looking at the papers in her hands, "your reaction should not have been this extreme. Your immune system must have already been weakened for such an overwhelming reaction to occur so quickly."

She brought a hand to Luz's forehead and frowned, then prompted her to open her mouth. She examined inside with a small light. Ms. Peftis made a spell circle around her mouth which read her temperature - 101 degrees Fahrenheit. "Your mouth looks dry," she noted. "Have you been hydrating?"

"Um…"

"I'll go get you some water." Ms. Peftis crossed the room and ducked through the doorway.

"I'm really sorry, again." The bell screamed, but Willow ignored it, instead walking closer to Luz. "Did you hear what Ms. Peftis said about your immune system? You can’t keep doing this,” she told her gently, “Not taking care of yourself, I mean. It's not good for you. You know that, right?"

She was right. Luz knew she was right, even if she didn't want to admit it to herself. She brought one knee up to her chest and pouted slightly.

Willow sighed. "Talk to Eda about what’s going on in your head. When it’s all out in the open, you can work it out together."

Luz considered Willow's words. She wasn't entirely convinced, but she could definitely recognize that she had a point. "Maybe…"

Ms. Peftis came back into the room with a bottle of water, which she handed to Luz. "Here you are." She then turned to Willow. "What are you still doing here? Unless you have suddenly broken out into hives, it is time for you to go."

"Oh, come on, Ms. Peftis. Can't you let me stay for ten more minutes?"

"Ms. Park." She placed her hands on her hips. "You must go to your next class. The warning bell has already shrieked."

"Willow, it's fine," Luz assured her, "Go."

"But-"

"There's something special with your class today, right?" she reminded her, "Like a guest speaker or something?"

"Oh, right!" Willow remembered, her eyebrows raising. She gave Luz a sympathetic look and a hug before heading to the door. "Bye, Luz! Feel better! I'll see you later, okay?"

"Okay."

"And take care of yourself," she added, sweetly but with enough force to make it clear that it was not a suggestion.

"Okay," Luz repeated, both touched and a tad uncertain.

When Willow was gone, another healer came and placed a few glyph patches on her head and stomach, which mostly aided with her temperature and agitation, calming her down. This helped her be less tense, so that the pain wasn't quite as bad when it came, though it still hurt a fair bit.

The human leaned back against the wall. She tried closing her eyes and visualizing that she was somewhere else, someone else. Well, maybe not someone else, but just a different version of her. One that wasn’t having stomach pain, whose eyes weren’t burning beneath their lids. Her ever present headache certainly didn’t help either, the tension shooting through her temples like two metal rods. She vaguely heard the healer talking to someone, her ears perking up a bit at Eda’s name, but she couldn’t bother to pay it much attention. Though now, she had a sudden longing to see Eda. She felt like a child who, after having spent a long day at the park, feet sore from walking and irritated by the sun beating down, wanted nothing more than to be in the soothing presence of their mother. Eda’s presence was hardly soothing in the traditional maternal sense, but the longing to see her remained.

To Luz’s surprise, she wouldn’t have to wait long.

"Where is she?" Luz looked up from the healer's bed to see her mentor rushing into the wing. When she saw her lying there, Eda's eyes widened. "Luz! What happened?"

"Uh… I ate some of Willow’s lunch, and -" Luz groaned as a particularly sudden pain shot up through her gut. When she could speak, she finished, "It didn’t agree with me."

"Oh, kid. You have to be careful. You know that your digestive system is different."

“I wasn’t thinking super clearly,” Luz muttered. Discomfort, and exhaustion, and guilt pounded in her ears as she took in a breath.

Eda seemed to notice. “Okay, what’s wrong? Besides the obvious fact that you’re in the Healer’s Wing.”

Luz thought back to her conversation with Willow. She heard her words echo in her mind: When it’s all out in the open, you can work it out together. If she told Eda, it was going to make her worry, Luz reasoned with herself. That was the last thing she wanted, what she was trying to avoid by eating less food. Then again, seeing the way she had just rushed in and the look on her face right now, it seemed as though her efforts hadn’t been very successful. Would telling her make her worry even more, though? What would be the point either way?

Before Luz could properly make up her mind, the confession flew out of her mouth, "I didn't pack a lunch today."

“What?”

"Actually, I haven't been packing lunch… a lot… lately...” she admitted, stretching the space between each word as if the extra seconds could put off the rest of this conversation forever.

"What? Why not?"

Luz bit the inside of her cheek, trying to find the words she wanted to use. "I figured that if I wasn't eating as much food, you wouldn't have to buy as much for me. I thought maybe I would be less of a burden that way."

"Is that what this is about?" Eda asked, her frown deepening. "We've talked about this. You’re not a burden."

"It sure feels like I am," the human muttered, nearly under her breath.

"That doesn't mean you don't eat lunch." Eda paused, the gears in her brain turning. "Or breakfast, now that I'm thinking about it. Was that on purpose?"

"Uh…" Luz hadn't expected that to get brought up. "I- I just thought- I mean, I know that this has been difficult."

"What?"

"Me! Taking care of me. Especially when things get tight." Luz sighed and cast her eyes down. "Look, this isn’t new to me, okay? Back on Earth, it was just me and Mami. She worked really hard, but… there wasn’t always enough. And having me there just made it harder."

"Luz…"

"I just can't help but think if I wasn't around… If you didn't have to spend so much just to feed me…" she trailed off.

"Just to feed you? That's pretty damn important."

"Okay, yeah, but," she sniffed, turning her head as she tried to hide her face, "but when it's always you feeding me, and taking care of me, I just-" She let out a long, shuddery breath.

Eda looked at her in disbelief. "Luz, please don’t tell me that that’s how you think of yourself. You do your part to help take care of us. Hell, you’re currently the best magic user in the house. You help with catching bounties, shopping, cleaning all the time. Don’t sell yourself short and act like you don’t.

"And even if you didn't," she went on, "you would still deserve to have the things you need, like food. You shouldn't feel like you have to earn those things. You're worth that, inherently."

Luz let out a bittersweet hum. "You sound just like my mom."

“Well, based on how you talk about her, if I can be anything like your mom, I'll be honored."

"But I don’t want you to be giving things up for me, like apple blood. Mami does that, too, and I always feel guilty."

"But I want to do that for you, just like I’m sure she does. It brings me joy to be able to take care of you." Eda cringed. "It sounds weird to say that because just a few months ago, I wouldn't dare get so gushy, but… you've changed me. For the better. And I don’t care about not having apple blood. What I care about is you."

Luz bit her lip. Eda was right - she would never have gotten that gushy. So she must have been being honest. Despite that, Luz couldn't help but feel her guilt rise. "Still…"

"If anything," Eda continued, "I haven’t been doing enough. I should be taking better care of you."

Luz felt a sudden rise of indignation on her mentor's behalf. "You take care of me just fine."

"Luz, you’re lying here, sick as a sun-singed gargoyle, because I haven’t been doing that." She sighed. "I wish I was paying more attention."

"I-" Luz began to protest but was overcome with another bout of intense stomach pain. She cringed and brought her knees up closer to her chest.

Eda sat down next to her on the healer bed. "Oh, look at you. We shouldn’t be having a conversation like this while you’re sick. All you need to know is that…" She brought her hand to Luz's cheek, and Luz felt herself soften at the maternal gesture. "I care about you, kid. And taking care of you is something that I want to do, something I can only do if you realize you deserve it and let me. Okay?"

Luz's eyes, which had already been burning, began to brim with tears. It was hard to think that she wasn't a burden to Eda, but she honestly couldn't bring herself to disagree after hearing her be so heartfelt. Maybe there was truth to what Eda was saying. Luz leaned into Eda's touch as tears began to roll down her cheeks. "Okay. Thanks, Eda."

"Come on," the witch said, lifting the sick, young human up with one arm and her staff with the other. "Let’s get you home, so you can rest."

"Weren’t you gonna go to the market on the way home?"

"Kid, I can do that whenever. You are far more important."

And as Luz buried her face into Eda’s hair and inhaled the scent of bread, raw honey, and musk that reminded her of the home they were headed to, she let herself believe that Eda was right.