Lotus Eater

This was my entry for the quarterly SizeRiot contests – specifically GentleApril20 – organized by AborigenGTS. I was a lot more experimental with this one (at least from my perspective) so when I received the feedback that I did and saw that it did rather well in the evaluations, I was floored and humbled.

Link to SizeRiot

Link to GentleApril20 Stories

I’ve added around 180 extra words to this story, and have modified some existing lines based on some feedback I received, along with input from my wife. The original version can still be found at the link above, and if you haven’t read the stories, I highly recommend looking through them. This go ’round seemed to hit me particularly intensely and I’m so happy to have had the pleasure of reading through these.

For this story in particular, with the topic being “Rescue”, I spent a long time deliberating how I wanted to approach it. In a lot of media, whenever there is any situation needing a ‘rescue’, often times the rescuee is often the one subject to change, rather than an agent of it. I wanted to make it clear that Cana wasn’t just caught in tides and eddies of something larger than her, but that she was an active participant in her fate.

There comes a point with writing that I want to add too much to a story. Most of my original drafts are often bloated with description and dialogue, so I find that I have to pick and choose the most impactful lines to fit a scene. This story could have existed as something much larger, and its original incarnation was something like 4K~ words, but in trimming it down to meet the word count, I was able to pick out the sections that I feel delivered the best story I could. It’s better as a shorter story, than a longer one, which is a lesson I try to take to heart.

Content Warning: giantess, F/f, gentle, NSFW, giantess, failed relationship, gaslighting, language, nudity, panic attack, rescue, ambiguous ending

Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes


The surface she’d been lying on rose and fell in smooth, rolling motions, in time with the waves.

Her world looked down at her with a beatific smile. “You with me, Cana?”

“Always.”

Orphea started humming something: some ancient song that dug deep into Cana’s spirit and brought light to the surface like bubbles in a bath. Cana laughed and stood up from her lover’s navel. Soon she was dancing, diving into the languid melody with her body and halfway to heaven.

“You’re very good,” Orphea said after what felt like hours of dancing. Hours or centuries. Cana collapsed and draped herself along a thigh that stretched from the tree line to shore.

Cana shrugged lethargically and turned over on her side. Orphea’s corded muscle was comfier than any mattress. The corner of her mouth was sticky with the remains of some fruit she couldn’t remember eating.

“What do you want to do today?” Orphea ran a finger along her back and Cana shivered at the ember warm touch. “Anything my special girl feel like doing?”

“Special?”

Orphea, her world, cooed, “You’re my special girl, aren’t you?”

“You’re going to spoil me.”

“That would imply you could ever be anything but adorable.” Orphea’s palm settled over Cana like a blanket. “Why are you arguing?”

Cana shook her head, digging her face into the sun-kissed tan of her lover’s massive leg. Stray sand pricked at her eyes. “I’m not. I’m just… happy.”

She smelled like the ocean. Like salt and sun and a sea so vast Cana could get lost in her for eternity.

“What’s wrong with that?” Orphea said. “Don’t you deserve to be happy?”

Cana closed her eyes, listening to the whispers of the reef. Nightfall wasn’t far.

Fingers the size of logs scooped her up into a palm, but Cana wasn’t startled. Enormous lips settled on her body, gentle as a flower’s petal. The kiss was otherworldly soft and caring and Cana giggled drunkenly on the endorphin high of affection.

When she pulled back, Orphea was beaming. “I love you, little bird.”

Heat bloomed in Cana’s chest at the words, followed by a tightness in her belly.

“Cana?” Orphea frowned, brow knitting together. “Are you with me?”

Cana shook her head and wiped away sudden and unbidden tears. Orphea looked distant, too distant. Even sitting in her palm surrounded by her, it didn’t change the mysterious pang and wrench in her heart.

“…always,” Cana said eventually.

The concern in Orphea’s eyes abated. She stroked Cana’s head with her thumb before offering a leafy branch, daintily pinched between two fingers. Golden yellow fruit hung from its leaves.

Cana plucked one. It glistened with a lovely, enticing sheen and tasted even better than it looked. Slick fruit juice dribbled down the side of her mouth and her vision swayed.

The world felt so big. She felt so safe.

Eons passed and she laid there, content and dazed. Everything was perfect.

***

“Cana?”

Cana ignored it, curling up and digging her head into her arms.

The voice tried again, more insistent. “Cana, wake up.”

She groaned, aimlessly shooing the voice away.

“Cana, you need to wake up right now…”

***

Life with Orphea was a treasure. It was waking at dawn and rising with the moon and always fitting time in moments when nothing was happening. Cana couldn’t remember the last time she didn’t have a fruit in her hand and a giantess around to tease her.

“Join me!” Orphea called, winking at Cana, who approached the newly discovered lake with a suspicious eye. “Come on! Someone’s been making me work up a surprising amount of sweat lately.”

“Is it safe?” Cana asked, but couldn’t help how her eyes drew to the way water sluiced down a thigh many times larger than any tree around. She could take a shower in just the runoff from Orphea’s body.

“I’ll keep you safe.”

***

A hand grabbed her shoulder. Cana’s eyes shot open at the foreignness of the sensation. A woman knelt over her. A regular woman.

She had her hair up in a bun, had some kind of jumpsuit, and she looked off in that most crucial of ways.

“Hey,” said the woman, smiling. She sounded relieved. “Good to see you, little bird. Thanks for coming up.”

Tears pooled in Cana’s eyes.

***

She and Orphea stared at a never-ending sunset, burning a trail down the horizon and their corneas. She sat cross-legged in Orphea’s lap, the heat of her lover’s body protecting her from night’s encroaching chill.

She felt…worn. Which was expected, given the day’s activities, but it went deeper than just the mild stickiness and delicious relief everywhere in her limbs. Four times may not have been a lot to some, but it was a point of pride of Cana’s that this time it was all unassisted. Her body ached with something like satisfaction but far more delicious.

“Do you think you’ll ever get tired of me?” Cana asked.

“Oh Cana,” Orphea cooed, above her. “How could I ever get tired of you? Now come here, I think you need a tongue bath for that mess you made…”

Cana jumped to her feet, leaping off from the lap of a woman who could run laps around a small country.

“You’ll have to catch me first!”

***

“You can’t be here.” Cana scrabbled backwards, away from the aberration, kicking up sand. It was nighttime. The wind had stopped. The sea was still. The island was asleep. “You can’t. This is wrong. This is— no, you’re wrong.”

The woman looked like Orphea. She had the same general features—deep auburn hair, round face, cupid’s bow lips, and a mole just below her left eye—but the similarities ended there. Orphea’s expression was always kind, her mouth never held anything but smiles. This stranger’s mouth was pursed thin, and her eyes were hard.

Imperfections that accented a nightmare.

“I’m here,” the woman said, as if that made it better. “Cana, sweetie, I’m here.”

“You left,” Cana accused. “You left.”

Orphea—no, not Orphea, Cana reminded herself—grimaced. “I’m sorry. I…I didn’t mean to hurt you. I know we left on a bad note but…we weren’t good for each other.”

“That doesn’t make it better!”

The woman flinched, but took a step closer anyways. “It makes me human.”

Cana snarled at the blasé retort. Words she’d thought long forgotten rose to the tip of her tongue, ready to spew. They were words reserved for someone who’d always made her feel worthless. Made her feel like nothing, like she never mattered.

“I’m sorry,” said the fake. “I’m sorry I said those things, but we can’t stay here, Cana. This place isn’t right–”

“Then leave!” Cana spat. She grabbed a rotting fruit from her branch and lugged it at her, missing by a mile. Her muscles shrieked at the sudden, violent motion but Cana paid them no mind. “Leave like you did before! Leave like you did when I bared my soul to you, told you about every fucked thought that’s ever crossed my head, about my fantasies, about how I—” here her voice broke, and Cana cursed her weakness to follow through.

***

“You’re incredibly small,” Orphea said one day, out of the blue. “Do you ever get tired of that? It must be awfully inconvenient.”

Cana giggled and bit into the jujube fruit in her hand, smearing sweet juices along her cheeks but emboldening the pervasive tipsy glow beneath her chest. Her brown hair was long and tangled, and her face hadn’t seen a makeup brush in forever, but still she felt precious. Precious and treasured on this isle of nothing, surrounded by a single woman.

“It would be,” Cana said, before running along the branch of the enormous tree that extended out over the lower back of the only woman for her, jumping off without a thought. She was over fifty feet in the air, and still she felt no fear. Air rushed past her face as she reached near terminal velocity, and—

“Careful!” Orphea scolded, turning over and catching her so gently it defied all logic.

“But I know you’ll always be there for me.”

***

“Leave,” she croaked. Her voice cracked with thirst and heartbreak as she continued. “Please. I— I don’t want to see you again.”

Where was Orphea? She wanted Orphea.

“That’s not fair,” the fake said. She looked wretched, leagues better than Cana felt. “You can’t just throw this stuff back in my face. That was a long time ago.”

Was it? Cana could scarcely remember things outside of earlier that morning. That pleasurable haze of rock-climbing up the rump of her enormous lover, diving into that bush between two legs that parted to reveal treasure more precious than any pearl. Of singing and dancing in the flat of her palm, singing words that had no meaning for the one who meant everything.

“You have to leave,” Cana asserted weakly once more.

“Cana, sweetie, I’m right here. I came back!” said the fake. “I’m sorry about before. I’m sorry I was so insensitive, but you’re in trouble if you stay here much longer.” Something in her chest pocket beeped and the woman made a face. “Look, just stay right here. I need to send up the signal to get home and the longer I wait—”

Cana stood and turned away from her. She suddenly felt ashamed in front of this woman. She barely even remembered the idea of clothing before now, but she wanted to hide now. Hide her self, her body from this creature who rejected her once before.

A series of low toned buzzes and beeps, along with rushed codified terms from the woman that Cana couldn’t catch in its entirety.

She tried storming off but stopped due to a sudden onset of vertigo. She fell to her knees, skin prickling with dislike.

“What did you do to her?!” she rasped, and then called out, “Orphea! Orphea!”

Cana coughed. Her head was stuffed with cotton, her arms and legs filled with cement.

“Christ. This is what I’m talking about,” muttered the fake. She walked up next to Cana and plopped down beside her, knees up and facing the sea. Another difference struck Cana: this woman didn’t meet her eyes. “It’s this place. Your dreams. Lotus Syndrome.”

“Shut. Up.” Cana breathed in hard through the tears and gasped once again, “Orphea!”

The fake shot her a twisted, yet familiar expression. Pity. “You’re dreaming, Cana. There’s no one here but us.”

“You’re—” she coughed, “—lying.

“I’m the only one around.” The fake lit up a cigarette, pulling it and a lighter out from some chest pocket in her suit. “And you would not believe the crap I had to go through to get here. Tests, training, brain dives… you’ve got a real fucked up head, you know that? Signal’s been sent by the way. We’re going home.”

Cana sobbed, robbed of her energy in this most sacred of places.

“I’m really sorry about before,” the fake continued, not even referring to what. “But when I heard you got hit with Lotus Syndrome, I couldn’t just leave you.”

“I was happy. I am happy.”

“Oh honey.” The thing in Orphea’s skin sounded earnest and condescending. “You’re sick. I’m sorry me leaving did this to you.”

Cana would have laughed if she wasn’t choking on air. The sweetness from before was gone, along with Orphea.

“Don’t worry, things are going to be rough up there, but—” and here the woman had the gall to smile, and pat her on the head comfortingly, as if she had the right, “—we’ll make it through this, little bird. Together. Are you with me?”

“Never!”

The woman jerked her hand back from the outburst.

“We were together!” Cana yelled, “We were! But then you called me a fucking sicko and you left and now you’re back and I’m supposed to just accept that? What, did the guilt suddenly get too much?” She snorted derisively. “Did they promise to fix the sicko’s fetish for you too if you jumped in her head?”

Her breaths came like sucking down a gas pipe of frustration, but still she fought against her body, at the feeling of reality shackling her. She clawed desperately at the ground, digging into the beach for something other than useless sand. It couldn’t end like this.

“Cana, you don’t think that,” said the fake, as if she thought this was a conversation. “It’s just the disease. We’re real deep in your subconscious right now and—”

There. Her fingers found purchase on something soft and buried. She clenched her hand instinctively around it and yanked it out.

The fake stopped talking, and swore.

“Cana,” said the fake. She sounded wary. “Put that down. It’s not actually there. You’re mind is just supplying a substitute for—”

Cana bit down. It was rotten, mushy and disgusting to the core, but the pit seed still had some juice, and she whimpered as she realized what it was. What it always tasted like.

Orphea.

***

“So what do you want to do today, little bird?”

KinkyScribble: Breathe With Me

The second #KinkyScribble story I’ve written. As before let me present the numbers on this one:

Writing: 4 hours
Editing Time: ~1 hour

Much thanks to the very awesome Elle Largesse for starting the #KinkyScribble idea, whose stories and website can be found at this link.

For those interested in more #KinkyScribble stories, I suggest following the hashtag on Twitter, as some amazing stories have come from this.

The idea for this one came about after a particularly harrowing phone call in which I, the dutiful employee who didn’t rock boats, had to sit and converse with one of the most unpleasant people I’ve ever had to speak with. I am usually pretty sympathetic to others’ plight, but this person was highly aggressive, combative, and insinuated several things that I sadly can’t report them for.

It’s something of a byproduct of the work I do, or at least the work culture I currently am. Fortunately, this kind of interaction is a rarity, but it doesn’t always take a poor interaction with someone to instigate that feeling hopelessness in me. Even a mild conversation where my brain latches on to some minor imperfection or fault in me can spark panic.

This story is something of a parable of how someone in my life helped me through one of these moments, hence the 1st person POV. That said, I’ve tried to remove as many mentions to narrator’s gender as possible, in hopes of making it more accessible.

I still get panic attacks, they’re absolutely debilitating and I utterly loathe them. My transcription of the panic attack as my best approximation as to how they feel for me, not necessarily anyone else.

Please mind the content warnings and tags below, as while it is a gentle SFW story, there are themes which may be triggering to some readers.

Content Warning: sfw, panic attacks, F/nb, established relationship, sizeshifting, mentions of non-sexual nudity, shrinking

Estimated Reading Time: 20 minutes


I keep my hand still and motionless against the desk. There’s a coiling, hissing, angry thing rousing in my gut and it’s taking everything I have not to bolt from my chair.

“Do you understand?” says the voice in my headset. I almost don’t recognize him. I just feel the oil and poison of their words slither down my spine like a rotten egg.

“Of course,” I answer. My voice is straining—shit shit shit—but they don’t notice. Or maybe they do and they just don’t care.

My vision blurs as I move my mouse over to the office chat, hover over my avatar, right-click and—fuck!—have to stop because I can’t read the menu lettering.

“Then tell me, what are you going to do?” the voice on the other end of the call says. Not a voice. He. He says.

I can’t even remember. Something’s crushing my spirit with mortar and pestle and every passing second is like tinfoil in the microwave, all sparks and flickers and dancing closer and closer to the edge of a cliff.

“I’ll take care of it right away, sir. I’ll make sure of it,” I say instead. The broken glass comes all too naturally, and I hate it. They can’t even tell I’m smiling, so why am I doing it?

“I’ll let Nolan know about our conversation, of course.” 

Fuck.

The voice hacks and coughs and then comes back, rasping like a middle-aged nicotine addiction in human flesh. “When does Frederico come back?”

“Mr. Marcone has actually left the company. He’s now an—”

“Shame,” interrupts the voice. “I liked him.”

The ‘I don’t like you’ is left silent, because he’s nothing if not about the appearance of professionalism. Looking busy, meaningless updates, talking about their golf game with the many replaceable background faces in a company that claims to pride itself on its diversity.

“Is there anything else I can do for you today?” I try. Please say no.

“Just your job,” the voice replies.

I chuckle nervously and close my eyes. The room is spinning and I don’t want to throw up on my desk, at least not while I’m still on the phone call. My gut is hot and uncomfortable, as if I’ve swallowed curdled milk that had something living in it. The iron jammed in my limbs keeping me in place is melting and I can feel the shakes taking over. My button down hangs on me, empty and vast and heavy and even moving the mouse to keep the computer screen alive feels different.

“I hope you have a pleasant day, sir.”

He scoffs. The line cuts out. I give it a full minute of silence, just in case they feel like calling me back to let me know what else I colossally fucked up on and deserve lambasting for. 

When nothing happens, I carefully and deliberately take the headset off, pulling at my tie to loosen the knot.

I still can’t see much. My sight skews like the surface of the sea when someone massive and ancient comes up for air, and it’s everything I can do just to keep inhaling and exhaling in steady, measured breaths.

One two three. Four five six. Seven eight fuckup.

No. No, stop it.

I can almost hear him now, his voice in my head like some middle-management encore from hell. 

You suck. You cocked it up now, didn’t you? Oh boy oh fuck, wait till Nolan hear’s ‘bout this!

It was just a mistake.

Shut up.

It hurts to keep my eyes open like this.

The tears pool and blur my vision further, and I can’t remember how long it takes to breathe. Two seconds, five minutes, ten hours? I try to move my fingers, to click on that menu button that’ll free me from my desk, and it takes far too much effort to even do that. I hear the ding of a notification go off, letting me know someone’s trying to talk to me, right as I take my impromptu break.

And then another. And another.

I push back from the desk, slamming against the keyboard and I hear something, some plastic button that’s been threatening to break off for weeks if not months, snap clean. The sound is small and imperceptible in the cacophonous silence of my home office and I feel it reverberate in my mouth as I stand.

Snap. Snap snap. Snap snap snaaaaaa—

I can’t control it anymore. My shirt which started the day snug and comfortable just weighs me down, a draping coat atop my dwindling shoulders. The collar rises around my head as I fall without moving, creeping along my neck like quicksand and as the edge of it overtakes first my chin, my mouth, my nose and finally my eyes I’m treated to the familiar surroundings of the inside of my clothing.

There’s a rank stench of sweat and myself in this space and I cry out, throwing my arms up, hoping to throw my shirt off, but I’m falling, crying, turning smaller and smaller with every passing breath that comes in fast and heavy, socking me in the lungs like professional fastballs.

I take a step forward, or try to, and fail. My shoes are too big to lift, sized for someone who isn’t two feet tall and shrinking, someone normal and not such a colossal fuckup. The lip of my shoes hold my feet in place like cement boots, and I accidentally throw myself forward, collapsing, falling face first and incandescent pain bursts along my lower lip as I bite down in reflex.

Do your job. Do your job. Do your fucking job.

I lay there, prone and useless in my own clothing as I shrink down and down. Moaning, clutching at my head, my face, my lip which I frantically feel and dab it, hoping to god I’m not bleeding because I have a video conference later today and I can’t fuck this up too—

“I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I’m sorry, so sorry. I’m sorry.” 

My head is full of fuzz, on fire, and that thing in my gut from earlier is laughing, hissing, slithering, cooing like some venomous comfort. Its hold on me is absolute and incontrovertible as the phone call clarions back to my attention.

Everything I did wrong, all I could have done right. How idiotic and stupid I am being right now as I lay there, writhing like some wretch, trembling and— 

The floor shakes. The vibrations burrow underneath my shirt, my prison, and reach up through the surface, traveling along my body. Footsteps. They increase in pace, and I can hear something, some voice out there calling.

At first I think it’s me, my monster made manifest, come to claim its prize, and then I think it’s that man from the call, and that is worse.

My vision is still shit and I’m scrabbling, half-blind, as the footsteps gain power and traction and it’s a vicious battering ram against my psyche. Foundations of panic teeter and totter faster than it can rebuild and I’m left raw and miniscule as my body falls into the undercurrent of seismic strength.

The voice out there calls for something again. Through my mad state I can make out syllables and string them together.

My name. They’re saying my name.

It’s Nessa.

And like that, I hear her open the door. The turn and click of the door is a gong, reverberating through the room.

“Honey? It’s me,” she says, stepping into the empty room. I know this, because her footsteps reach me like the precursor quake of something truly epic. “I heard something fall downstairs, are you okay?”

I don’t respond.

She probably hasn’t turned the corner and seen the piles of clothes yet. It’s not uncommon for a bout of sizeshifting to hit me in the middle of work, and I have asked her not to come in before. I’m usually more in control of myself.

Usually. When I’m not being a colossal fuckup.

The press and punt of panic seeps in again, a second wind well underway, and I can’t help the keening sound that leaves me. It’s not a human sound, just something small and pathetic and useless, exactly like how I’m feeling.

“Honey?!” I hear the door open fully, handle slamming against the stopper on the wall. Quick explosions of sound and thumps against the hardwood floor throb along my body with every step of hers, and then the creak and cry as she kneels. “Honey, are you in there?”

Her voice is strained and concerned and dammit, I didn’t mean for this. I didn’t mean to worry her.

She hasn’t touched the clothes yet.

“Can you hear me?”

Maybe if I don’t answer she’ll leave.

Maybe. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

“How small are you right now?” Nessa whispers. The air around me takes on a charged feeling. I can tell she’s suppressing the urge to burrow through my clothing, to grab me and hold me tight, envelope me in her comfort, but she’s holding back. “I…should I move? Can you see me?”

I can see the corona of light beyond a shadow larger than any building I’ve chanced getting close to. Something about extremes, real or imaginary, tweek the dials and knobs of my already tenuous control over my shifting into overdrive and she’s always been the largest being I could let myself be near.

But even through the material of the shirt, I can see her blonde hair drape over her face as she looks down at the pile of clothing. That’s what I am now, a pile of clothing, a thing playing at being a functional human being.

I’ve stopped shrinking, I already know that, but I can’t help the rush of blood in my ears, cupping my head, suppressing my voice, my self, all so it would just stop! Here, trapped in my business clothes as I am, my breaths turn shallower. First, I gasp. Then I pant. My panting transforms into wheezing and then within seconds I’m full-on hyperventilating and the comparatively light fabric material of the shirt grows heavier and the darkness creeping in along the edges of my blurry sight begins to encroach and invade and—

Artificial light pierces through that darkness. I roll as my world twists and turns and I realize it’s her, flipping my shirt around and unbuttoning each fasten like lightning. Cool, mild air assaults my senses like a hurricane, but instead of overpowering it’s like diving into a lake: a brief moment of sensory overload, followed by a stillness of something deep and ancient.

She hovers above me, hands planted on both sides, pinning the arms of my shirt as if it were some dangerous creature, and the smile she has is wobbly and nervous and beautiful.

“Hey there,” she says.

I stare, stunned. I gape at her freckles, at the split ends she secretly dislikes, at the minor marks along her upper lip where she bites when she’s nervous. Her heart-shaped I can’t forget, but am always astounded by when I’m so small.

“Sorry,” she continues, “I heard you crying and I couldn’t just leave you. Um. Sorry.”

She looks so nervous I can’t help but chuckle. The sound is harsh and grating and it hurts my throat but it seems to ease her nerves just a tad and for that, I’m grateful.

“May I?” she says, gesturing down to me with an open hand.

I say nothing, I just turn my head to the side, that same ugly thing from before rises in my chest. It wraps around my heart, squeezing once with every pulse pounding second. Shame and guilt gnaw, ravenous vermin that they are. 

Fingers the size of tree trunks scoop me into a palm bigger than a basketball court. The contrast between the floor of my office and her hand is incomparable and I shudder in the heat of her hand, closing my eyes against the quilt of her scent. I am bare, naked in every meaning of the word, but still I try to hide my shame by covering my face with my hands. My cheeks feel blotchy and swollen with tears and that just sprouts a fresh wave of them.

“Hey, hey,” she whispers. Nessa always whispers when I’m small. I’ve told her time and time again that I’m durable, that I can handle far more danger when I’m like this than mere burst eardrums. She still whispers. “What’s up, love? What’s got you feeling tiny?”

She doesn’t mean it as an insult. At this size, at the threshold of my sizeshifting, calling me anything else would be disingenuous.

“It’s nothing,” I say. It’s an effort to speak.

“I don’t think it’s nothing,” she says. She’s less arguing, and more asserting. “It’s clearly important to you to make you feel like this. Your feelings aren’t nothing.”

I peek through my fingers to see she’s still looking at me. She hasn’t moved one iota since she’s picked me up. I just see her face, filling my sight and beyond.

“Just a work thing,” I muster to reply. My breathing hitches thinking about it. My computer is blowing up with pings and notifications, a consecutive series of cattle prods that scrape at the inner lining of my mind. “It’s stupid. I shouldn’t have reacted like this.”

“Nothing about how you feel is stupid,” she says. Her breath washes over my prone body like spring bloom and I clutch at my face, helpless before her immensity. “It’s okay to not be okay.”

“I know.”

I do know. In some part of me. In some buried, sunken place, inaccessible to me in my state, I know this. It’s all stuff that we’ve gone over before, and I feel so goddamn stupid for making her come up here and take care of me while we’re both in the middle of a workday.

My chest hurts, it hurts like I’ve run through a thicket of thorns and each one’s left its mark on me.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” I say, through my hands. I swallow the stone lodged in my throat. My insides feel hollow, empty, yet still I shake. “I don’t even know why I…it’s just this thing at work. I was on a call and I thought it was going to be okay but it turns out it’s not and he got so angry.” I hiccup, tears afresh as I blubber, “I fucked up this time, Nessa. I’m sorry. I’m sorry you had to come up here and check on me.”

“You say that as if checking in on you is ever an inconvenience.” The bumps and crevices of her palm crease ever so slightly as she curls her hand closer in an approximation of a hug. I feel the winding skin tighten. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Yes. No. Maybe.” My lip flares with pain where my hand touches it, and I muffle the reflexive groan. “I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

My breathing is harsh, tense, dry. I want to curl up in her palm and ask to just be held, but something stops me. The room is alien now, immense and vast in a way that transforms even the mundane cerulean hues of the wall paint into something eldritch and hungry. I could drown in this room, on the hardwood floor panels and in my business attire, formerly filled by someone so much more.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay.” Her giant face shifts, morphing from anxious concern to something softer. “You’re doing great honey, I promise.”

I’m not doing anything, I want to tell her. The dread is back and vengeful in spirit. It widens the pit inside me until I feel like I’m going to collapse inwards, just fall apart and shake myself into pieces.

“Let’s try focusing on something else,” she says. Asks? No, says. “Remember when I tried making dinner last week? Remember how silly I looked when you walked in the room?” She swallows thickly, yet still she remains steady. “I had pasta sauce in my hair. You called me a goober.”

She did. I had. The memory sparks something in me, forcing an uncontrollable little grin, before it too sinks to the bottom.

“Breathe with me,” she says. Beneath the veneer of calm and peace I can tell she’s concerned but nothing else shows. She’s here, holding me, and that’s everything and more. “Come on, honey, breathe with me. One.”

I try to follow suit. My chest hacks and hurts, and I want to cry more, but my tears are either gone or dried up.

Her exhale comes in like the tide, a warm haze that serves to relax only my extremities.

“You’re doing good,” she says. “Let’s go again. Two.”

I try again, focusing, lingering on the scent of her hand and mouth. This time, I manage something longer. Something more deserving than the whiff.

She exhales on me again, and I finally pull my hands away from my face.

“Good job. I’m proud of you.” The pulse and pound of her circulatory system drums beneath me. I can feel her pulse surrounding me, like one long hug from her core. “One more. Three.”

It continues like that, individual counts stretching through seconds into something interminable. With every pounding breath a little more poison leaves, and a little more me returns. I don’t grow back, but I don’t feel like the herald of something ominous and unavoidable is looking out from behind my eyes anymore either.

“Seven.”

My body shakes, but it’s me in control now. I can lift my hand, spread my fingers, and wonder at the magnificence of this world without feeling like I’m turning into something meaningless anymore.

“Eight.”

Nessa’s face is still the same, calm, with a sheen of sweat trailing down from her temple to her jawline. Her palms are steadier than any stone, any vehicle I’ve ever ridden.

“Nine.”

I have a voicemail now. Maybe several. A few emails, most likely. I have a video conference to attend today, and the thought of it makes me want to close my eyes and sleep. Fatigue hounds my limbs now, sister to panic, and I rebel against it by lurching into a sitting position.

“Ten.”

I watch Nessa. The way her mouth curves with every noise. The almost imperceptible gulp as she takes her last counting breath.

I close my eyes and let her exhale over me, filling me, rejuvenating me like a northern wind.

“…thank you,” I say at last, trying to fill everything into those two words. I’m too tired to talk too much. It’s a soul-fueled jet lag that hangs over in my mind.

“Of course,” she says, accepting it as if what she’d done for me wasn’t priceless. “Anything for you.”

“You didn’t have to,” I muster up. It feels wrong to let it be like that.

“You’ve done the same for me.” Nessa’s glance turns furtive, shy. “I’m not a shifter but, sometimes I panic too. And you help. A lot.” She looks down at me fondly and tentatively pats my whole body with her finger. It’s like getting hugged by a mountain, but still, I can sense her care for me. “How are you feeling now?”

“Tired,” is the first thing that escapes me. “Worn out.”

Nessa makes an appreciative noise. She still hasn’t looked away from me, nor has he risen from her kneeling position on the floor, despite how much it must be aching. “You want me to let them know you need to log off?”

I look over at my computer, blowing up with notifications that would send me even at my normal size into a frenzy. At my shrunken size, the entire setup feels several degrees removed from what I can handle. The desk is a kind of ancient temple to be dug up and discovered by archaeologists ages from now.

“I shouldn’t,” I say, but even I can tell it’s half-hearted. “I’ve got a meeting.”

Nessa’s expression flickers between concern and visible disapproval at the computer. She doesn’t know much about what caused me to panic like this, but she’s never been a fan of how certain clients have treated me. It’s probably a good thing she wasn’t a shifter herself, otherwise I’m sure we’d have to install taller doorways.

“If you say so,” she says obliquely. “Want me to at least stay up here for the day? I’ll stay out of view.”

“I want them to fuck off,” I blurt out, because my brain filter is in hibernation.

She blinks, taken aback, and then lets out a weary laugh.

“So that’s a no then?” she says. The care with which she transfers me to her other hand is immeasurable. She puts her free hand on the desk and pulls herself to her feet, and the whole motion is smooth and as peaceful as a swaying hammock.

“Just let Nolan know I’m…taking a personal day,” I say with a yawn.

I fall back against her palm, stretching and luxuriating in her enormous presence.

A quick few clacks and taps of buttons as she enters my password and types out the message pass by.

“There,” she says, sounding satisfied. “I sent it.”

“Tha’s goo’.”

She sighs. Nessa’s got a pretty mouth. Even her sighs are pretty.

My head feels heavy as I try to look up. Some part of me is aware I’m crashing, coming down from a terrifying high that no one should go through, but I can’t help the giggle-snort that escapes me as I think about how comfortable everything is.

“Hey there, sleepy bear.” Aquamarine eyes move into view as she lifts her palm up to eye level. She’s breathtaking even at this angle. “How are you doing?”

“Sleepy,” I manage to utter.

“Want me to hold you while you do?”

Yes. I try to vocalize this one word, but my mouth feels funny now that I’m on the other side of that valley of fear and panic. It hangs and lolls, my eyelids are heavier than anchors.

“I got you,” she says. I think she’s moving. Walking. Leaving my home office behind her. I hear doors open and shut, and the thump thump thump of stairs as she goes descends them.

Cinnamon. That’s what she smells of. Like fresh cookies, still warm from the oven.

“I feel like an afternoon nap myself.” Something darkens behind my eyelids, the blinds drawing close. “Remember, honey, in and out. Breathe with me, one… two…”

I drift off into sleep before the three ever arrives.