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Written for 14 valentines challenge, theme "Health"

"Are you, uh--" Ryan wasn't looking at Summer, which wasn't a surprise. He almost never looked at a person when he was uncomfortable, and his body language was screaming the fact that he wanted be at least one billion miles away.

Summer frowned. Last she checked, she didn't make Ryan into bumbling-idiot-Ryan, but maybe it had been a while since she'd checked. "Huh?"

Ryan made his "fucking-dammit-why-can't-you-read-my-mind?" face, which was very similar to his "I'm hungry" face, or his "fuck-I-meant-to-TiVo-that" face, but Summer could tell the differences at this point. "Just, uh. You've been--" he made a vague gesture with one hand that correlated to nothing in Summer's experience, "and I thought you might--"

Summer tilted her head and waited. When it was clear that was all he was going to say, she said, "For fuck's sake, Atwood--"

"Are you pregnant?" he blurted.

She blinked. "Uh. No. At least, not as of two days ago. Why would you think that?"

And then Ryan's face changed, and Summer didn't know the expression, not really, but it was one he'd gotten a lot around Marissa, and sure, she had loved her best friend, but most of Ryan's expressions around Marissa had been concerning the fucking mess that Marissa had been. Summer didn't like having it turned on her, not one bit. Ryan wasn't awkward this time when he asked, "Then why the fuck are you throwing up all the time?"

Summer should have seen that one coming, given the pregnancy question, but Ryan had always been able to throw her for a loop. Damn Seth Cohen and his fucking friends. Friend. Whatever. She managed something weak, something that might have been, "Maybe I just do that when I see your face," and fled.


Ryan hadn't told Seth. Summer wasn't sure why she'd expected it, even given their bizarre but nonetheless present symbiosis--Ryan wasn't really one to squelch. But Seth wasn't acting weird, or at least, no weirder than his usual weird, which was a weirdness she was long accustomed to by now. He left to go get dinner for them at some point and Summer texted Ryan, "thx."

Ryan texted back, "not. over."

She tried to keep dinner down that night, she really did. But Seth had gotten Italian, fetuccini alfredo, and she could feel it sticking to her digestive tract, heavy and complex, and in the end she gave in, not even noticing the burn of her throat for the lightness in the rest of her.


Summer said, "It's just, like, a nervous habit."

"Since when?" Ryan asked, looking pretty fucking unconvinced.

"College." While you were as dead as-- But she didn't finish the thought. It wasn't fair, not really. Only a little.

She regretted her honesty when Ryan's eyes went his special brand of blank and he asked, softly, "College? You've been bulimic since college?"

"It's not bulimia." It wasn't, not really. She just got tired of never looking like the endless parades of women her father nipped and tucked, like Marissa, like the other girls on her street, like every woman in her world. "It's just-- I told you, it's a habit."

"It's a sickness," he said, his voice flat and like she remembered it being that whole year after he'd walked away from the car like he was still alive, still whole.

"You're a boy. You don't get it." The feminists at Brown roared in her head, like a vast, violent headache, but she pushed them away. It was her body, dammit. Her choice. They would have said something like that.

"I get that you care more about your fucking figure than you do about how Seth would feel if he knew you were slowly killing yourself," he said, and this time, it was Ryan who got to have the dramatic exit.


Three nights later, Seth kissed her and pulled back. She smiled at him, a question of a smile and he asked, "You feeling all right?"

"Fine. Why?"

"You just...taste odd."

She brushed her teeth four times that night and couldn't stop tasting her own bile.


She woke somewhere between two and three and shook Seth awake. He batted at her, mumbling until he caught onto the fact that she needed something, and then he was awake, with a, "Hey, hey, what's wrong?"

She wanted Ryan there, someone else to deal with the way Seth's face crumpled even beneath it's smooth facade, his eyes dark even in the night-lighting of the bedroom, nothing but street lamps illuminating either one of them. She wanted Ryan there to help her explain, finish her sentences, but she did it herself. She said, "I'm sick. I'm really sick." And, "I need help."

Seth had a million questions, too quick and too long and too precise, and she said, "Seth, just-- I need help."

He stroked her hair and asked one more question. "Why... Why would you ever think you weren't beautiful? The most beautiful person on the planet?" He looked validly confounded, as though he were four and she had scientifically proven the absence of a tooth fairy.

Looking at him, she wasn't sure, or at least she wasn't sure why it had mattered that she looked different than all those other people that she had somehow labeled beautiful. She shivered, not cold so much as completely lost and Seth said, "Hey, hey," again and carefully wrapped her in two layers of blankets.


In the morning, Ryan was there, at the stove. Seth was at the table, nursing a coffee. Seth looked up at her. "I told Ryan."

She smiled, because Seth was many things, but discreet was not among them. She kissed his head and sat down. Ryan served her up a plate of soft-boiled egg, one piece of toast and then brought her a glass of water. He said, "Eat slowly."

She said, "It's not that easy."

Seth said, "We know."

Ryan said, "We found a place."

Seth cut her a tiny piece of toast and dipped it in egg. "This is a first step."

She took the fork from him.

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile