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Formal and family dinners had always been great affairs in his father's house, tables where the food was served and the linens hand-embroidered by kine so that every complicated artisan dish and course came with a side of Hunger and fed both appetites, mingling the tastes together until he could hardly tell what parts of himself he was nourishing from one mouthful to the next. They hadn't all eaten together often, but he had come to know Hunger in a way alien to most of his kind: all-consuming and denied, and perhaps more intimately for all of that. And it had been his idea to combine his feeding spot with a café, after all.

So maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise one spring afternoon when he fished a biscotti from the jar at the Coiffure Cup's coffee bar and gazed out the window that what he thought of was how Justine's hair would feel under his hands in the sink, how her smile and her body had the same quirky curve. The craving for her body settled into the taste of biscotti as surely as the vanilla latte he'd dunked it in, became part of the mixed sweet and bitter flavors. He held the biscotti in his mouth, carried the weight and taste on his tongue, sucked gently at the softened --

-- behind him, his barista caught her breath and gripped the espresso machine, stumbling to her knees.

"...Uh," he said, watching her reflection in the windowpane. He twisted forwards and back with his hips like the star of an '80s exercise video, and Carol at the front desk hurried over, her Jimmy Choos clicking staccato and agiato against the tile, and was behind the bar before he'd managed to set his food and drink down and bend over with his hands on his thighs in a move he hoped looked concerned but was mostly to keep the bulge in his pants from showing. "'Tephanie? Chère?"

"She's okay, I think," Carol said, kneeling behind the dazed barista, holding her up and checking her pulse. The flush high on Stephanie's cheeks started to spread to Carol's; Thomas tried to wiggle away without standing up, feeling along the bar with one hand. "Whoa," Carol said. "Is it really hot over here?"

"Per'aps you should take 'er to zee back, no?" Thomas looked toward the curtain that obscured the door to the break room so he wouldn't look at the girls, and forced his Hunger back into its box. "Zee drink of cold water, to cool?" He smiled encouragingly, and managed to stand up straight without embarrassing himself while the girls got to their feet. "I will watch zee front; you go."

He shooed them off, waited for the click of the door closing, and slumped over the counter to knock his head firmly against it. That was ... stupid. Careless. Idiotic. Dangerous.

 

It happened again that evening over delivered Italian. He'd shooed the delivery boy, young and virile and far more interested in men than he would dream of admitting, to safety. He'd sat down. He'd started to eat, the Bolognese sauce rolling across his tongue, spreading rich and savory in his mouth.

His erection almost smacked the table after a few bites.

He'd been associating sex with food for so long that he'd crossed wires, he told himself, staring with equal amounts confusion and disquiet at his dick and the pasta fork. That must be it. Human sustenance piqued the human side of his libido, leaving him oddly needy and his demon... confused.

What, you mean there are needs that can't be sated by eating someone? Inconceivable, he mocked himself in his best Vizzini.

He gave up on the pasta, shoving the delivery box into the fridge, and paced to his balcony; back and forth, back and forth, before grimacing and pulling out his cell phone. He was a shithead, he told himself, listening to the connection ring. A selfish, needy, no good shithead.

"Good evening," she answered, all clear tones and calm efficiency and it made his toes and lips curl and his chest flood with warmth. "Lara Raith's office. How may I help you?"

 

She came over a few hours later, hung a long trenchcoat from the stylish, modern-art interpretation of a coat tree by his door, and rested her umbrella against the wall. She pulled a pair of opera gloves from her handbag and his mouth went dry.

"I don't know if you should be here," he whispered, making a last, ragged attempt at chivalry. She looked so good.

Justine just smiled at him, dark eyes wide and innocent.

"What I need-- I might not be able to control the Hunger."

"If I had a dollar for every man who's told me that, I could buy your apartment building," she said, her voice sweet and light and perfectly lucid. "But you're the one who bothers to try." She slipped off her boots and brushed a gloved hand lightly against his shoulder, walking past. "Show me your kitchen. I haven't eaten yet either."

 

Justine finished the pasta that he hadn't, feeding him most of it, letting him take his time savoring a plate of cheese and bread. Just her presence took the heat in his gut from petty and masturbatory to something... shared.

A nice meal with his girlfriend.

As long as he didn't make a nice meal of his girlfriend.

Justine caught his eye and gave him a gentle, wry look. Her socked foot found his under the table, hooking around his ankle. She leaned over and forked a piece of Gouda, dabbing it in the balsamic vinegar he'd been dipping the bread in, and laying it in his tentatively opened mouth. It was sour and bright and creamy, a hard finishing edge of salt. It melted on his tongue and he chewed slowly to savor all of it, savor the eating.

To feel sexy and to feel sated at the same time again, even if the Demon was confused and snarling, this was why he'd felt in his gut that there had to be something to eat where he worked, to feed; why his mouth that knew food started there and felt so empty, so overly sensitive... Not the healthiest coping mechanism. But so American, right?

"Would you love me if I weighed three hundred pounds?"

"Would you?" she returned the question.

He imagined her three hundred pounds and there would still be her clear dark eyes and her sweet smile. He kicked off his loafer and stroked her sock-covered ankle with his toe.

"I want--"

"I know. Me too." She closed her eyes, frustration hardening her face.

"I miss you."

She put a gloved finger over her lips, fed him a forkful of pasta.

He was squirming in his pants when the cheese plate was finished, and let her feed him the rest of her plate, his stomach packed taught against his waistband.

"Still hungry?" Justine asked, voice gentle and sweet.

"I'm going to explode," he said, still nodding enthusiastically anyway.

She smiled mysteriously and left the table without a word, going to the handbag she'd laid aside and pulling out a small... something.

He didn't understand until she was on the sofa, skirt hiked up to her waist, the condom-turned-dental dam covering the skin that her crotchless nylons didn't.

His demon surged. So did his dick. His over-full inertia held him down.

"That's dangerous--" he said, tongue fumbling and dry.

"Then be careful."

He stumbled away from the table and fell to his knees between her legs, pressing his face against the latex, mouthing at it, licking--

Vanilla. Sharp and artificial. Sweet, so sweet, and under it the heat of Justine--

He moaned and pressed his face closer, lapping up the flavor as Justine hissed and squirmed around him. His nerves felt over-sensitized, and he was aware of Justine in a way he'd never been before, now that his body was telling his demon that he couldn't eat anymore. Now that his Hunger didn't drown out the warmth and delicate texture of her skin under the rubber, hadn't hijacked his arousal and made it predatory. It wasn't fair that they'd figured this out so late, too late, that he hadn't ever really felt her, that he couldn't ever have touched her without taking something that wasn't his to take.

She was making soft sounds she'd never made, getting off on just the lash of his tongue and not his demon's claws sinking into her. He'd never met her in this in-between place where she was given her own time to warm up to the occasion, where his Hunger hadn't taken them both over. He'd been starving this whole time, had never known it. His body was reacting, and it felt so feeble compared to feeding-- but his jaw was trembling, his arms shaking, he was breaking out in a sweat and it was so much more overwhelming.

He licked, nibbled, made a topographical map of her inner thighs and labia through the rubber, brushed his over-sensitized lips across the rough surface of her nylons, went back to eating her without feeding on her until she'd melted onto the couch on her third or fourth orgasm, slumped against one armrest and grabbed his hair with her gloved hand to shove him back. He knelt between her legs and looked up at her, taking her in as a lover, not a predator.

"Justine," he said, voice cracking.

She patted her lap, and he crawled up into it, stretching out across the sofa with his pelvis resting cupped in hers, his head on a seat cushion, his knees dangling over the armrest nearest her. She unzipped his pants delicately, coaxing his straining erection out, letting it rest lightly in her gloved hand, rubbing careful circles on his full belly with her other. "Do you need to come, Thomas?" she murmured.

It wasn't a facetious question. Feeding didn't need the orgasm, it was superfluous-- he'd fed and gone soft without ever climaxing. It had never been so immensely important before. He made a sound that was embarrassingly like a whimper, abs flexing under the weight of his stomach, and went hot with the effort.

She produced another condom from somewhere, unwrapped it, rolled it down over his dick, leaving him with a candy-cane erection. Took off her gloves. Appeared another foil packet -- nothing up my sleeve -- and fit the pale yellow latex over her first two fingers.

Pineapple, he registered, when she dipped her fingers into his mouth and took hold of him with her other hand, underhand like when he did it himself. Strange new world he lived in. Strange.

Her delicate hands-- they didn't look that strong, the slender wrists and fingers. But her grip on him was unbreakable.

He latched onto her fingers, sucking noisily and without grace, his mouth hungry even if his demon was buried under the overfull stretch of his belly. "Shh," she told him, and he sucked harder, lips sliding on the latex, tongue working the seam he could feel between her fingers. "Shh, shh. That's a good boy."

She worked him steadily, not breaking her slow, firm rhythm while he pulled back and pushed away, hips as confused as the rest of him-- not sure which way to move, not sure when it was getting too much, when he wanted more. She widened her legs and he lost some leverage, sinking down between them.

He was whining, frantic little grunts around her fingers, and he clamped down on it, putting the effort into lifting his hips to meet her while she jacked him, falling into the pace of it like a runner hitting his stride, mouth working and hips pumping. She curled her fingers and straightened them against his tongue to the same rhythm as her strokes: he lost himself in it, sucking and lifting, sucking and lifting. It had never been this good, this simple-- sweet, fake pineapple, Justine's sweat, the sound of her voice, his mouth aching and his muscles burning and it was all him.

She pulled her fingers out of his mouth and made him follow, mouth and eyes wide open, and even the air moving across his lips was too much. He lunged after her, just caught the tips of her fingers-- and orgasm slammed through him.

 

He melted in the afterglow, bones liquid and ears ringing, grumbled when Justine pulled her fingers out of his mouth again, but didn't open his eyes until he heard something tearing. She wore a little frown, her brow furrowed just between her eyes, and forced one strong, sharp nail through the pineapple condom until it folded out, a flat stretch of latex. She smiled at him-- he drooled back and realized his mouth was still open, bruised lips slack, and she pressed the dam over his mouth before he could figure out how to close it.

He hadn't kissed her in so long.

She fell asleep on the couch, curled with her head on his stomach. He shoved his hand into one of her gloves, a tight fit and he'd have to replace it, but it let him cup her cheek, let him run his fingers through her long, soft hair-- the texture had changed with the color. He hadn't known until now.

The condom on his dick had been peppermint. He chewed on it lazily afterward, drifting off to sleep with the scent of Justine all around him, the taste of sex in his mouth.