Warnings: Self-esteem and weight-related issues.
Word Count: 47,000
Disclaimer: None of this is true.
Summary: Jensen Ackles is a shy, overweight songwriter whose body issues have prevented him from forming any real personal connections, and at thirty, he’s still unsure of his sexuality, and still a virgin. But when he signs up for an experimental obesity research program, he meets Jared Padalecki, a stunningly sexy fitness guru who slowly but surely changes Jensen’s life.
A/N: Written for spn_j2_bigbang. Gorgeous, original art by the very talented sarahtoga. Thank you to wendy, audrarose, and thehighwaywoman for hosting this amazing challenge and dealing with all of the crazy admin. Beta by my darling shmoo balefully, without whom this story would never have seen the light of day.
A/N 2: While I didn't write this story with the intent to make people re-evaluate their own bodies or fitness levels, if you're interested in more information about health and obesity, the National Institutes of Health has a few helpful websites that are easy to read and are sanctioned by the U.S. Government: Active at any size and Better health and wellness for everyone. Thanks to deadlychameleon for the links!
“That was real pretty,” she says, her voice sweet and small.
Jensen looks up from the piano and smiles at the girl he finds standing next to him. “Thanks,” he says. He hadn’t realized that anyone had come in while he was playing.
“What song was that?” She steps closer and puts one hand on his shoulder.
“Uh, it doesn’t have a name.”
She scrunches her face up, freckles disappearing in the crinkles of her nose. “What do you mean it doesn’t have a name?”
Jensen feels himself blush. He lets his legs swing under the piano bench. “I haven’t picked a name for it yet. It’s my song.”
“Your song?” The girl’s face unfolds. “Oh, like, you made it up?”
Jensen shrugs. “Kinda. Yeah. I made it up.”
Something about the way she’s looking at him is making Jensen nervous. His palms are sweaty and he kind of wants to be alone so he can finish playing, but the music room is school property, so he can’t really ask her to leave.
“Well, it’s real pretty. I like it.”
“Thanks,” he says, smiling again. She’s just being friendly, so there’s no reason to be nervous.
Still, when she moves closer to him, Jensen wiggles down the piano bench so that he’s maintaining the space between them.
“You could name it after me?” She’s smiling and twisting her hair in her hand. Her hair is blonde and shiny and her short fingernails are painted bright neon pink.
“Uh,” Jensen says, and ducks his head. “Sure. What’s, um—I’m sorry. I don’t know your name.”
She looks hurt for a moment, but recovers quickly. “It’s Krista. I’m in sixth, so we don’t have any classes together. So it’s, like, totally okay for you not to know me, Jensen.”
Jensen’s a little surprised that she knows his name, but he doesn’t dwell on it. “Okay, uh, Krista.” He looks around, feeling all kinds of awkward. There’s nobody else in the room, so there’s nothing else for him to focus on.
“I’m gonna keep playing.”
He turns back to the piano, trying to shut out the intrusion, willing himself to focus on the music in his mind. Krista slides onto the bench next to him, pressing her leg against his.
“Is it okay if I stay and listen?”
Jensen can feel her breath on his neck, and feels his ears get red and hot. “Um,” he says, not looking at her. “You can—yeah, just. Can you sit over there?”
Krista sighs in a way that makes her seem older than her twelve years. “I like sitting next to you, Jensen. I wanted to see if you—”
“I get kinda nervous,” Jensen interrupts. “I get nervous.”
She nods solemnly. “Okay, I’ll just—” She looks over her shoulder at the seats arranged to mimic an auditorium. “I’ll sit over there.”
Jensen doesn’t exhale until she’s out of his line of sight, and it takes him a good three or four minutes before he can pick up where he left off with the tune.
The next day, she’s there again, only this time, she’s brought two friends. One of her friends is in Jensen’s grade, Bethany Miller. Jensen remembers going to a pool party at Bethany’s house once. Only he hadn’t known it was a pool party, and he’d ended up having to change into one of her older brothers’ bathing suits when he got there. It was weird.
He’s playing his new song and humming along when Krista, Bethany and the other girl sneak into the room, giggling as they plant themselves in the chairs behind the piano.
He tries to tune them out, but he can hear them talking. He can hear snatches of conversation and his stomach sinks when he realizes they’re talking about him.
Krista is telling Bethany and the other girl how Jensen made up this song for her. They're both agreeing and cooing that yeah, it’s a really pretty song and that’s totally romantic, and do you think he’s gonna ask you to go with him—
The sour feeling in Jensen’s stomach ruins the afternoon. He can feel the music just dry up and float away.
“Dude, Gaby Sosa is wearing a black bra.”
Jensen doesn’t even look up from his guitar as Mark flops down into the chair next to him. “Ew,” he says, wrinkling his nose.
Mark, on the other hand, looks really excited. “You can totally see it through her shirt!”
“Hey, what do you think of this?” Jensen strums a few chords and checks for Mark’s reaction.
“Think that means she’s a slut?”
Jensen sighs and focuses back on his fingers. “I think it means you’re a moron.”
Mark’s eyes are dazed. “C’mon. She’s gotta know it’s showing. She’s wearing a white shirt and a black bra. Think she’s doing it on purpose?”
Jensen shrugs. “Girls are weird.”
“Easy for you to say,” Mark snorts. “You’ve got, like, a fan club. Like, you could touch any girl’s boobs. Even the tenth graders. Who like, actually have boobs.”
Jensen can hear the envy in Mark’s voice, but really, he doesn’t want to touch any girls’ boobs. He just wants to finish this damned song, and he can’t get the bridge to work in the minor key.
Girls are just a hassle, following him around, putting retarded little notes in his locker, whispering and giggling when he passes them in the halls. Making Jensen feel like he’s got eyes on him all the time, when all he wants is to be left alone.
Jensen gains twenty pounds during his sophomore year in high school. His dad is training for a marathon, which means double-servings of pasta at dinner and banana pancakes for breakfast. His mom and sister complain and go on a salad-only diet for a few weeks, and Josh is away at college so he doesn’t really have to deal with it, but Jensen just puts on the weight and doesn’t really mind.
All the crazy girls in his class stop following him around. His guy friends stop asking him why he’s not ‘tapping that.’ Nobody asks him to dances. Nobody puts notes in his locker. Nobody barges in while he’s writing. They aren’t mean to him or anything; they just—leave him alone.
Which works out just fine for Jensen.
During the summer between his junior and senior years, Jensen kind of drifts apart from his friends. Mark and Joe have been his buddies forever, and they’re still cool and everything, but all of a sudden it seems like their interests have totally diverged.
Mark goes to football camp that summer and returns with a whole new set of friends who prefer doing weird things like playing ultimate Frisbee or hanging out at the lake to hanging out in Jensen’s basement, fooling around on the piano.
Joe starts dating Jessica, who’s really nice and into music, so it’s cool at first. She seems to genuinely like Jensen, which is great, right up until their relationship turns a bit more physical. It’s not that hanging out just the three of them had been a problem or anything, but the longer Joe and Jess date, the more of their time is spent making out and cuddling and then, yeah, it does get awkward.
Jensen doesn’t really hit it off with any of Jess’s friends, which they all chalk up to him being really deep and artsy and probably a little too intense for the average high school girl to handle. Jensen doesn’t mind much. He isn’t really interested in having a girlfriend, anyway. It seems that, aside from Jess, most girlfriends want you to do stuff with them, like take them rollerblading or to the beach or whatever. Jensen has neither the time nor the interest for those things, and only vaguely regrets not dating when he finds himself in the curious position of writing a love song without any real practical experience.
So, the three of them hang out and everything is fine, right up until Joe and Jess decide to watch a movie or whatever the code is for groping each other on the couch, and Jensen volunteers to do a pizza run, or go pick up some BK. Anything to get out of the room for a bit so he doesn’t have to watch them tongue-fucking each other, or deal with the nausea-inducing experience of seeing Joe’s hard-on pushing against the front of his jeans.
By the end of the summer, Jensen is closer to the kid working the counter at Dairy Queen (Max, nineteen, played blues harmonica in a jazz band) than to his school friends, and he’s put on another twenty pounds.
It’s in college that Jensen’s musical career really takes off. Only it kind of takes off without him.
Maybe if he’d actually joined Chris’s band, instead of just hanging around with them and writing songs for them, things would have gone differently. Getting on stage seemed sort of strange to Jensen, especially when he watched his friends turn into strangers night after night. Because, even though Chris and Steve and Matt were all pretty regular dudes during the day, when they got on stage, they wore all of these weird clothes. Leather pants. Cowboy boots. Vests with no shirts on underneath. Rock-star gear, meant to stir up the ladies, Jensen figures.
Whatever it is, it doesn’t come in Jensen’s size.
So what happens is that Jensen and his buddies come to discover that Jensen’s a fantastic songwriter.
Which sounds just about as sexy as it is, in that nobody but other musicians really care. And even most musicians don’t really care—unless they’re crap at writing their own music, which, fortunately for Jensen, many of them are.
Plus, Jensen’s strength is really in composing, not lyrics, so the bands are cool with taking Jensen’s awesome music and setting down their own crappy poetry about life. It gives them some ownership. It’s not that Jensen’s a bad lyricist, but, well, he tends to be a bit trite, falling back on clichés about feelings he’s pretty sure he’s never actually experienced.
He befriends lots of local bands, a couple of which have a large enough following to actually pay him for his songs. It’s not a bad gig: he does what he loves, makes enough money to be comfortable, and generally gets free food and beer at the bars where his clients are playing.
And if he continues to stay out of the spotlight and out of the way of the crazy-aggressive girls who chase after the guys in the bands? Even better.
John Thomas is a good guy, generally, and a great singer. He’s got this wild vocal range that gives Jensen so much freedom when he writes. And he’s not a dick, which is kind of rare in the land of lead singers. Most of them just want to get drunk and act like assholes when they’re not on stage, but John is genuinely decent, and so Jensen makes sure to go to all of John’s shows. John’s band, Loving Violet, is pretty talented too, and they are the first band that Jensen writes for to actually sign with a major record label.
When they get the news, John shows up at Jensen’s apartment with a case of beer and a dime of weed. He’s all excited, rambling on to Jensen about some song ideas, and talking about going on tour. He’s not wearing his stage clothes—he’s just in a ratty pair of jeans and a white t-shirt—and Jensen wonders why he doesn’t go on stage just like that. He looks pretty good like that, strong and clean and, just, like the kind of guy that’d be cool to hang out with. Or something.
They drink all the beer and get really high, and eventually John calms down enough to stop fidgeting, but he’s still kind of weird. He keeps touching Jensen: little pats on the back, knocks to his leg, just these random little nudges to let Jensen know he’s right there.
“Hey, you know what? You should come on tour with us, man,” John says.
Jensen blinks through the haze in his brain. “Yeah?” He likes that idea. He likes hanging out with John.
John smiles at him, shifting on the couch in a way that makes his muscles pull at his thin t-shirt. “Yeah, totally,” he says. “You could, like, be our bodyguard or something.”
Jensen looks down at his lap and laughs. “Like you’d need a bodyguard,” he says. “You could kick my ass in a heartbeat, built like you are.”
John leans back and laughs, flexing his arm so that his bicep swells in Jensen’s face. He makes a joke about getting Jensen some tickets to the gun show and all of a sudden Jensen wonders if it’s weird or inappropriate for him to be noticing his friend’s toned body the way he is.
“Anyways, I’m, uh,” he says quietly, cheeks hot as he realizes he might be flirting with John. “I’m a lover, not a fighter.” He manages to paste a silly grin on his face as he says it, but inside he feels a little queasy.
John grins back at him, all sleepy-stoned. “Yeah? A lover, eh?” He throws a careless arm around Jensen’s shoulders and knocks their heads together. “I don’t think I’ve seen that side of you yet, Ackles. Thought you were a lone wolf.”
John just looks at him, all happy and high, and their faces are really close together. And there’s this moment. A few heartbeats. A handful of ticks on the clock over the couch. Three breaths inhaled and exhaled, and during this time, Jensen wants to kiss John Thomas.
He licks his lips and John watches. Possibly. Their faces are too close together for Jensen to be sure, but he thinks he sees John’s eyes dart down to Jensen’s mouth. His hands start to sweat, and he feels like he can’t breathe all of a sudden, and holy mother of God, is he gay? He’s either gay or high as a fucking kite, because right now all he wants is for John Thomas to pin him down and push his tongue into Jensen’s mouth.
But John’s just sitting there, kind of dazed, so Jensen sort of sways closer, eyes fixed on John’s mouth. And John’s not pulling back, not moving away, so Jensen goes for it, and pushes his chin forward, leaning in for the kiss, stomach fluttering with anticipation, and then—
John sits back on the couch and laughs, scrubbing a hand over his face.
“Dude, did you just try to kiss me?” John says, and Jensen wants to punch himself in the face or just run out of the room and hide someplace really, really small. John’s not actually pissed; he’s laughing. Jensen’s not sure which is worse.
“Uh, no,” Jensen says, screwing his face up in confusion. “You’re really high, man.”
John blinks and laughs some more. “Holy crap, that is some primo schwag,” he says, and Jensen knows the window of opportunity for kissing John Thomas is closed for good.
There probably never really was a window. Jensen had thought that maybe—but no. John must've taken one glance at Jensen’s beer gut and remembered that (a) he isn’t gay, and (b) if he were ever going to go gay, it wouldn’t be for the tubby songwriter who follows him around for free nachos and chicken wings.
A few weeks later, when Jensen’s heading out of the bar where Loving Violet had just rocked the house, he spots John Thomas getting blown in the parking lot.
There’s a girl on her knees on the ground; she’s got John’s dick in one hand and she’s rubbing the head along the seam of her mouth.
Jensen gets into his car, shutting the door quietly, and sits and watches the girl get John off. Her head bobs up and down, and she’s doing this twisty thing with her hand that John seems to really like, judging by the expression on his face.
John’s arms are flexing against the car behind him, his abs crunching up nice and tight where his shirt’s rucked up, and Jensen is kind of horrified when his own cock starts to fatten up. He adjusts himself in his pants and starts the car, but can’t resist one last look before he pulls away.
Just as he looks over, John comes all over the girl’s face, strings of white dripping down from her nose to her chin.
Jensen tears out of the parking lot, agitated and confused. Maybe he has a crush on John Thomas, and this is what it feels like when you accidentally see your crush getting head from someone else. It seems ridiculous, but there’s no arguing that it hurts, that disappointment is squeezing at Jensen’s ribs unmercifully right now. Whatever it is, Jensen is not ready to go home yet. The drive-through at Wendy’s is still open so he stops there and tries to get this whole night and John Thomas out of his mind.
When he does go home, he’s so full he can’t sleep, and his mind is jumping all over the place. He tries jerking off, since that usually calms him down, but his stomach is too uncomfortably full to do it the way he usually likes (on his front, fucking into his hand or a pillow or something), and it takes him a while to really get going. And then when he does get there, dick hard enough to burst, it’s because he keeps thinking about John Thomas, and how fucking hot he’d looked, all flushed and hard and thrusting into that girl’s mouth.
The whole thing is so frustrating. He doesn’t want to think about John Thomas when he gets himself off, but there it is again, spiking his arousal higher each time, making his dick jerk in his slippery palm.
It scares him how worked up he gets when he thinks about taking it from John, when he thinks about taking that cock, John’s big cock, any big cock, really, just as long as it’s shoving into his throat and ohgod Jensen wants to feel come splattering all over his face, dripping into his mouth—
Jensen comes with two fingers in his mouth, sucking on them like he’s the one on his knees for John, mouth stuffed full of dick, begging for more, harder, deeper.
He doesn’t go to any more of John’s shows, or any other band’s either. He decides it’s more professional if he just writes his music from home, and corresponds with his clients via email.
Jensen Ackles’s thirtieth birthday begins when UPS rings his doorbell and delivers his first and only birthday gift.
It's a brand new pair of flashy Nike running shoes, with love, from Mom, Dad, Josh and Mackenzie. The shoes are accompanied by several individual cards from his family members, all of which essentially boil down to how special and wonderful he is, how much they love him, and how they hope that this year will be the year that he finds health and happiness. And love.
Jensen smiles in spite of himself. Not likely.
For one thing, this is probably the third set of sneakers his family has sent him over the past five or six years. The other pairs sit in his closet, along with his yoga mat, a bosu ball, weights that can be filled with water, a Thera-Band , a food scale, and a couple dozen DVDs and books about diet and fitness.
Jensen sits on his couch with his head in his hands, alternately considering the sneakers and thinking about what he’s going to have for breakfast. Everything seems so blah. Like, normally he can get excited about making waffles, or possibly pancakes smeared with Nutella and mushed up bananas on special occasions, but today, for some reason, nothing appeals to him. And today is a special occasion. He’s thirty today. Officially a full-fledged adult.
Jensen supposes that adults don’t normally make sundaes out of their breakfasts, so he considers eating something a little more on the healthy side. He’s sure he has some Fiber One somewhere, left over from the last time he tried the South Beach Diet. Vaguely, he recalls that Fiber One tasted quite a bit like dirt, but then he thinks that adding some half-and-half to his milk and maybe going a little heavier than usual on the sugar might mask the dirt taste. And sure, that’ll add calories, but really, the fiber part is the important part, and Jensen, well. Jensen’s a big guy. He probably needs more calories than the average dieter anyways.
Anyways, the Atkins Diet says calories aren’t important.
Of course, the Atkins Diet says that carb-loaded cereal is the devil, but Jensen’s pretty sure that’s only because that Atkins guy died before he could figure out the merits of fiber.
Plus, it’s not as if Jensen’s really on an actual diet. He’s just going to start being a little healthier. Little changes make a big difference, or at least that’s what he read on the Weight Watchers website. Just switching from regular soda to diet makes a huge difference in calorie intake.
Jensen believes that, but unfortunately he just stocked up on Mountain Dew on his last trip to Costco. Well, today he’s thirty, and he’s turning over a new leaf. Jensen resolves to switch to diet when his Mountain Dew stash runs out.
He looks down at himself, unable to see anything even remotely good. He’s—out of shape. He stares at his soft, rounded chest; maybe ‘out of shape’ is an understatement. He tries not to think about it, because it’s just depressing, but now, quiet and half awake on his birthday, he can’t think of anything else.
He's missed a lot over the past few years. All the shows Chris has invited him to, all of the friends he’s lost touch with. Even his family, who all live relatively close by, but whom Jensen avoids seeing in person just to avoid that inevitable look of disappointment in his parents’ eyes.
They don’t mean to hurt him or judge him. They love him, he knows it. They just want better for him, and it’s impossible to forget that when he sees them face to face. So Jensen’s made excuses to get out of birthday dinners, family picnics, even holidays. He keeps up with everyone via email and the occasional phone call. It’s just easier that way.
He closes his eyes and wishes for his birthday to be over already, even though it’s barely nine in the morning. He just can’t sit around waiting for friends to call, for the unavoidable questions to begin. Better to focus on something positive. Something healthy, like breakfast. Healthy breakfast.
When he gets up from the couch, his knees and his lower back twinge with pain. He eyes the Nikes warily. He could probably stand to get a little more exercise than he does.
It takes a fair amount of digging, but Jensen manages to locate the old box of Fiber One. He can’t imagine that stale Fiber One tastes any worse than fresh Fiber One, but when he pours it into a bowl, it looks positively foul. It looks like a sad pile of twigs, and Jensen doesn’t think that even Nutella could make it edible.
He looks down, slaps at his belly and watches it jiggle.
“You know what?” he says out loud, alone in his kitchen. “Fuck breakfast. Just fuck it.”
He stomps resolutely out of the kitchen and into the bedroom, where he struggles to pull on a t-shirt and some sweatpants. He’s muttering to himself the whole time about how he can probably stand to skip a meal every now and then. He shoves his feet into his brand new Nikes and heads out the door.
He starts out walking briskly, figuring he’ll work up to a jog. Turns out walking is hard enough, and his shirt is soaked through with sweat after the fifteen short minutes it takes him to get to the park. His feet hurt, but he figures that’s just what it takes to break in a pair of new sneakers. The worst part of the whole experience thus far is that his thighs are rubbing together in such a way that they’re making his sweatpants bunch up at his crotch. On the plus side, it’s pretty much the only action his dick’s ever gotten, not counting masturbation.
When he gets to the jogging track, he’s tempted to sit and rest for a few minutes on the conveniently placed benches, but he steels himself for a jog instead. God damn it, today is the first day of the rest of his life, and Jensen knows that a couple of laps around the short path isn’t going to kill him. Sure, he’s overweight, but he’s young and motivated. He switches on his iPod and turns up the volume on Cake’s The Distance and sets off.
Some amount of time later, Jensen opens his eyes and all he sees are leaves rustling softly in the breeze above him. It’s calm and peaceful. That is, until he notices the flashing red lights, and the crowd standing around him. The hazy calm clears from his mind as three paramedics labor to get him onto one of those collapsible gurneys and into an ambulance.
“What happened?” he croaks.
The paramedics are all big, muscle-bound men, but every one of them is straining to lift his ridiculous body into the truck. They look like they can’t even breathe until they get the gurney up and lock the legs.
Jensen’s head is pounding and his eyes hurt. He feels the gurney start to move, and he panics, thinking that it won’t be able to bear his weight.
“Tachycardia,” one of the paramedics says. “Get him some oxygen.”
The last thing Jensen remembers is a fuzzy image of a mask being lowered over his face just before he blacks out.
When Jensen opens his eyes, he sees his mother sitting in an uncomfortable looking chair, weeping.
“Ma?” he rasps. His throat is dry and his lips are cracked.
She doesn’t hear him the first time, so he tries again. This time Donna’s head whips up and she jumps out of the chair.
Jensen nods, confused and achy. Even though his parents live only ninety minutes away, he hasn’t seen them in person in over a year.
“Oh baby,” she sighs, sniffling. “Oh Jensen, what are we going to do with you?”
Jensen’s got no context for her question, so he asks one of his own. “Ma, what are you doing here?”
Donna looks at him with disbelief. “Of course I’m here! How could you think I wouldn’t come? You’re in the hospital! Your father is just downstairs getting coffee. We rushed right over as soon as we heard. We’ve both been so worried.”
Jensen takes a look around and realizes that yes, he does appear to be in the hospital. In the emergency room, to be exact, his bed surrounded by three sides of curtains closing him off from the multitude of other patients. He wiggles his fingers and his toes, and everything seems to be in order.
“Okay,” he says slowly. “What am I doing here?”
“You don’t remember? You fell? In the park?”
As she’s talking, Jensen’s memory kicks him in the balls a few times. Flashes of jogging, then walking, then stumbling against a tree, and finally getting lifted into the ambulance.
“And then your heart—”
“I had a heart attack?” Jensen asks, mildly surprised. He supposes he should be shocked, or scared, but he can’t seem to muster the energy. His head feels as if it’s filled with cotton, and he just wants to succumb to the drowsy tug of the painkillers.
Donna doesn’t confirm it for him, only breaks back down into tears. She’s shaking her head, no, no heart attack, but something must have happened. They don’t hospitalize people for heat stroke, or even fainting, if that’s all it is. There’s got to be something else, something bad.
The more he thinks about it, the less curious he is. Of course it’s something bad. Just like pretty much everything in his life has been for the past decade.
When the nurses come to admit him into the hospital and transfer him to a more permanent bed, they’ve got no answers for him other than, “The physician will come speak with you once we get you upstairs.”
Jensen grunts and flushes when it takes three orderlies to transfer him from the rolling cot into the bed in his hospital room. He feels like he should apologize for being so hard to handle, but he can’t speak past the lump in his throat.
Ten days later, Jensen finally agrees to meet with the quack his parents have been pestering him about. They want Jensen to check in to some fat camp or something, and Jensen had steadfastly refused. Or at least he’d refused until his mother started crying, at which point he agreed to come in for a consultation and at least listen to the guy.
“Good to meet you, Mr. Ackles,” the doctor says, extending a hand. “I’m Dr. Kaufman, and I’ll be overseeing your healthcare while you’re with us. Please have a seat.”
Jensen shakes it and grins as he settles into the plush leather chair. “Wish I could say it was good to meet you, or that I was glad to be here, but we both know that’s not true.” The doctor doesn’t smile. Jensen sighs. Tough crowd. “Please, call me Jensen. Mr. Ackles is my dad.”
“And is your father also morbidly obese?”
So much for small talk. “Um, no. My father is pretty regular looking. Good shape. A runner, actually.”
The doctor makes a note on his clipboard. “And your mother?”
“My mom’s tiny. Everyone in my family is pretty small.” Jensen can feel himself blushing and he wants to squeeze his eyes shut and force the blood out of his face. “At least compared to me.”
The doctor makes a few more notes, asks a few more questions about Jensen’s perfectly normal family history.
“Well,” he says, peering up at Jensen through his glasses. “This is all good news.”
“That’s a relief,” Jensen smiles. “Because I gotta tell you, doc, I could really use some good news.”
“Yes, well, the good news is that there is absolutely no genetic reason for you to be as overweight as you are. Every pound of excess weight on your body was put there by you, through poor choices you’ve made about nutrition and exercise.”
Jensen grimaces. “Well I wouldn’t say that all of my choices have—”
“Mr. Ackles,” the doctor interrupts, “based on the questionnaire you completed and the interviews you’ve given to my nursing staff as well as to me personally, you have been eating enough to sustain four normal human beings with your own height and activity levels. Your diet is comprised of almost entirely artificial, unnaturally processed foods. Your physical activity levels are less than fifteen percent of a normal human being with a fairly sedentary job.”
“Define normal,” Jensen tries.
The doctor doesn’t miss a beat. “Normal people don’t consume twenty servings of fast food per week.”
“I don’t eat fast food twenty times a week,” Jensen argues.
“Twenty servings is not the same as twenty occasions, Mr. Ackles. Your food diary suggests that you are consuming an average of three to four servings per occasion.”
Jensen sinks lower in his chair.
The doctor doesn’t let up. “Nobody in your immediate nor extended family suffers from any of the health problems that you have, nor are they overweight with any significant pattern. Your two siblings were raised in the exact same manner as you, and yet they are both at healthy weights.”
Jensen’s starting to get pissed. Who the fuck is this guy to be passing judgment on him? It particularly irks him the way the doctor keeps referencing normal weights and normal ranges. What’s normal, anyways? Being built like this is normal for Jensen, even if not for the rest of his family.
“So you’re saying I’m some sort of mutant?” Jensen says tersely.
This, amazingly, gets a smile out of the doctor. “No, Jensen. What I’m saying is that it’s your fault you’re this overweight.”
Jensen stares at the guy in disbelief. “And this is good news how, exactly?”
For the first time, Dr. Kaufman’s face softens a bit. “It’s good news because your body, your health, your weight have always been completely in your control. You did this to yourself, Jensen. You can un-do it. And we’re going to show you how.”
Jensen nods, equal parts dazed and shamed.
The doctor hands him some brochures and paperwork. The seal for the National Institute of Health is at the top of every page. Jensen’s eyes catch on the front cover of the brochure.
“Your statistics and family history make you the perfect candidate, so you should have no problem being admitted into the program.”
The doctor’s voice washes over him like he’s speaking to him from somewhere far away.
“The first thing we’re going to do is create a customized nutrition plan for you, based on your particular indications and caloric needs. For the first few weeks of the program, your meals will be prepared for you and delivered at the designated times—”
Jensen sits quietly, heart thudding in his chest. He feels strange, like he’s choking up. This is all too much. Too much to deal with right now. He wants to go back home to his apartment and just rest for a few days. Just take a few days to calm down and focus. Once he’s feeling right, once he’s feeling more like himself, and he can deal with all of this, he’ll come back.
“—once you’ve lost the first ten percent of your body weight we’ll begin meal preparation instruction, so you can take responsibility for your diet—”
He’ll go home for a few days, and he’ll eat right, just whole grains and vegetables and lots of water. Maybe he’ll even try that cleanse thing with the lemon juice and the syrup. Flush out his system. Then, when he comes back, he’ll be able to start from a good place.
“—and we’ll assign a personal consultant for you, who will guide you through your fitness program and work with you as your cardiovascular and muscular performance improve—”
Maybe jogging was too ambitious, but it was a move in the right direction. He’ll start walking, slowly, but he’ll make sure he does it every day. He’ll go early in the morning and at twilight, so that the heat’s not a debilitating factor. He just needs to rest first. After all, sleep is important for general health and weight loss, right?
“—the mental rehabilitation is perhaps the most important part, so you’ll have both ongoing therapy in group settings with the other patients as well as with your fitness consultant on a daily basis—”
He’ll get a dog, maybe. A dog that needs to be walked at least once a day. Maybe a boxer? Definitely a shelter dog. There’s got to be a boxer rescue somewhere in the state of Texas. Even a mix will be fine. Just as long as it doesn’t shed too much. Short hair is key.
“—get to the bottom of why you’ve chosen to become overweight and help you learn to avoid those unhealthy patterns when you are faced with them again—”
Jensen’s pretty much got his life figured out by the time the doctor finishes explaining everything. He’s just about to thank the doc and tell him he’ll call him in a few days when the doctor says, “Alright then, let’s get you on the scale.”
It can’t hurt to assess the damage, just so he’ll know how much he’s lost once he gets going on his life-turnaround plan. He hauls himself out of the hospital bed and steps up onto what he assumes is the scale, mentally preparing himself for the worst. He’s put on weight since college, and back then he was weighing around two fifty. He figures he’s got to be in the high two hundreds by now, maybe two seventy-five or two eighty.
The scale itself is somewhat mysterious, a large metal platform with no numbers or monitor in sight. The doctor is watching his computer screen and scribbling notes on his clipboard, so Jensen figures the scale is somehow hooked up to the computer in the doctor’s lap.
“What’s the verdict?” Jensen asks. There’s really no reason for his voice to be as shaky as it is.
“Let’s see,” the doctor says, as if he hadn’t just been recording Jensen’s weight in his notes. “Your weight is three hundred sixty-eight pounds. Your body fat percentage is forty seven percent. Your metabolic age is fifty two.”
Jensen blinks. “Three hundred? You’re telling me I weigh three hundred pounds?”
The doctor looks up at Jensen. “Actually, you weigh closer to four hundred pounds, Jensen.”
Jensen steps off the scale slowly and moves back to the chair. He’s sweating and his stomach is lurching in a really alarming way.
“I take it that comes as a surprise to you.” It’s not a question, but Jensen nods anyway.
Dr. Kaufman takes off his glasses and rubs the bridge of his nose. “Well,” he says after a moment of silence. “I know this all seems overwhelming, but you’ve come to the right place, at the right time. I know the program seems a bit extreme, but all of the previous participants have had amazing results. You will overcome this, Jensen.”
Jensen scrubs his face with both hands. “Did you, uh. Did you say that this is a live-in program?”
“Yes. The NIH has stipulated strict parameters for the study environment. You’ll be sequestered for the duration of your experience, with limited contact with the outside world. Your work-from-home occupation is another reason you are an ideal candidate, as job security shouldn’t be an issue, and in theory, you can continue writing your music while at the facility.”
Jensen doesn’t like the way the doc says in theory. Damn straight Jensen will be writing while he’s there. He can’t not write. It’s the one good thing in his life.
The doctor smiles and nudges Jensen’s arm. “Don’t look so worried. It’s a really nice place. State of the art facilities and top-notch medical care. And I’ll be there.”
The doctor says this last part with a grin. He’s. He’s teasing.
Jensen snorts. “Oh, well in that case, sign me right up.” He shakes his head. “Three hundred sixty eight pounds.” It shouldn’t even be possible. “I don’t. How am I going to pay for this?”
“That’s the best part. The program is entirely funded by the NIH. All meals, care, accommodations, etcetera are free of charge, and will be provided to you as long as you lose a minimum of two percent of your body weight each week.”
Jensen spaces out as he tries to calculate two percent of three hundred and fucking sixty-eight pounds. “And if I don’t?”
The doctor leans back in his chair. “If you fail to achieve your weight loss target, you will be discharged from the program. The concept of incentivizing your own performance is a mainstay of the experiment. Success is its own reward, and one that you will learn to appreciate more than a sweet snack or watching a TV show. It’s very simple, really. If you don’t give us your best effort, we won’t continue to help you achieve your goals. But I wouldn’t focus on that if I were you. The reality is that you can achieve the weight loss goals given the strict nutrition and fitness regimen you’ll have. And even if you do get discharged early, you’ll have learned healthy eating and exercise habits that will last you the rest of your much longer life. It’s basically a win-win situation, Jensen. No matter what happens, you won’t be any worse off than you are today.”
Jensen sighs. It’s a miserable fucking birthday.
Jensen meets the other patients the following morning at breakfast. There are only eight of them, but they all look really happy to be here. Psyched, even. Like this is the first day of the rest of their lives. As much as Jensen is not at all psyched to be here, the energy in the room makes him a tiny bit hopeful.
After noticing the positive vibes, the next thing Jensen notices is that these people are really very big. Which, yeah, of course, but the proportions are unlike anything Jensen’s used to. He’s pretty much never been in a room with so many people who are bigger than he is. And he’s by no means the smallest, but he’s definitely not the largest either, and that’s. Well, it’s kind of refreshing.
Not to mention that one of the guys, an Italian deli owner from Staten Island named Frank, has got to be at least fifty pounds heavier and at least twenty years older than Jensen. And yet Frank looks over the moon to be here, like he believes he’s going to just wake up skinny tomorrow.
Even though the nutritionist had spent a full hour explaining how Jensen’s diet plan has been customized to meet his specific needs, he notices that every single one of the twelve other patients is eating the same exact breakfast: egg whites, steamed broccoli, two slices of honeydew melon, a tiny cup full of almonds, and a mug of decaf coffee, black. It’s kind of amazing, actually, given the sheer quantity of food that Jensen’s eaten in his thirty years prior to today, that he’s never eaten any of the items he finds on his plate this morning. Or never on purpose, at least.
Starvation must be part of the plan. Kind of like being stranded on a desert island, possibly. With Jensen’s luck, even if he did get stranded on an island (or sequestered in a government research facility), he’d remain mysteriously fat like Hurley in Lost. Jensen looks around, wondering where the secret hatch of Entenmann’s is.
There’s no way this is going to work.
At least he’s got peace and quiet, and plenty of time to write. He’s been struggling with some melodies in his head, wishes he had a piano or guitar to play around on, but he wasn’t allowed to even bring his laptop to this hellhole, so he’ll stick with humming and trying to write everything down in his music notebook.
He’s got some ideas for lyrics, sweet and fleeting. Before he can write them down, they’re erased by the crunch crunch crunch of almonds in his mouth.
Jensen’s first on-site physical with Dr. Kaufman is like a hard slap in the face. His weight is horrifying, but actually the least of his problems. He’s got high blood-pressure, high cholesterol, type-two diabetes and so much fat in his liver it’s basically foie gras. He’s even worse off on the inside than he is on the outside, and that’s really saying something.
When the nurse directs him to the MRI machine, Jensen looks at it dubiously.
“Um,” he says. “I don’t think—”
“Just lie down, sweetie,” she says. “You’ll fit just fine. We’ve had bigger guys than you go through here.” She pats him on the shoulder.
Fantastic. It’s like a special MRI machine for cattle. Or small elephants.
When all is said and done, Jensen is sitting, beet red, facing the doctor, afraid for his life.
“I can see you’re upset, Jensen. What, specifically, is bothering you?”
Dr. Kaufman is probably a decent guy in his personal life, but right now, Jensen can’t imagine him being anything other than a colossal asshole.
“That I’m a ticking time bomb? That I’m as good as dead?” Jensen laughs hysterically. “Yes, yeah, Doc. It’s bothering me pretty damned specifically.”
The doctor steeples his hands and sighs. “You are not ‘good as dead,’ Jensen. In fact, you are at a great place, health-wise.”
Jensen snorts in disbelief.
“Do you want to know why I say that?”
Jensen takes a wild guess. “Because I’m an organ donor?”
“Because you have made the choice to change. Because you’re in the best hands now, and I know you will do the right thing for yourself. We have the expertise and the resources here to make sure you succeed, if you want to. And I know you do. I know you can turn things around.” The doctor pauses again. “Do you want to know how I know that?”
Jensen rolls his eyes. “Why don’t we do this: when I want to know something, don’t you worry, I’ll ask. You don’t need to ask me if I want to know, okay?”
Dr. Kaufman ignores him. “I know you can do it, because I’ve seen so many others just like you come here, sit right where you’re sitting. And when they leave, they are completely different people. When they leave, their lives are nothing like they were when they got here.”
Jensen’s not sure if he’s ready for his whole life to be changed into something he doesn’t recognize, but he’d sure like to live to see his thirty-first birthday. And maybe, finally, fall in love. With someone who will love him back. He chokes a little when he nods to the doctor, feeling his throat constrict painfully.
This sucks. It just really sucks. It’s not like Jensen didn’t know things were bad, he just never thought about it long enough to let it all sink in. And now he’s sitting here, with this asshole doctor, about to cry like a baby.
He rubs his eyes with his fists and steels himself with new resolve. This will work. It will work because it has to work. There’s really no other choice, is what the doctor’s telling him. He’ll either change, or he’ll die. In either situation, he’s not going to continue like he was before, holed up in pathetic denial, smearing Nutella on pancakes.
Just the thought of Nutella pancakes makes his stomach growl, and the doctor sits back in his chair.
“This is probably a great time to explain the fitness plan we’ve put together for you.”
Jensen sniffs and shrugs. No time like the present.
The trainers are all skinny, of course, and pretty much perfect-looking, both guys and girls. Jensen stands in a herd with his fellow cattle to watch each of the trainers give a two minute speech about his or her philosophy and workout style. At the end of all of the speeches, all of the fat people are supposed to choose a trainer to work with. Jensen can’t help but wonder if any of them ever feel bad if they get picked last, or don’t get picked at all.
Probably not. They probably just head back to the tanning bed or go smile at themselves naked in a mirror.
Frank, easily the oldest guy in the bunch, leans over and nudges Jensen. “Check that one out.” He points at a tiny brunette girl with a fantastic body hidden only barely by her workout bra and spandex shorts. “Dibs,” he says, and winks at Jensen.
Jensen smiles wanly. He’s not really in the mood to make friends, and he really has no reason to tell Frank that he couldn’t be less interested in Miss Perky Tits over there. Even from a strictly professional standpoint, Jensen can’t imagine that tiny little scrap of a person actually helping a big guy like him work out. What if he tripped and fell on her? She could die. He would absolutely crush her to death. The thought is really, really disturbing. Jensen drops his head and shakes it fast, trying to dislodge the image of the flattened girl.
When he looks up again, he seems to have caught the attention of one of the trainers, a big, tall guy in a black tracksuit. The guy smiles at him and winks, and Jensen looks away quickly.
What was that? Why did the guy wink at him?
Jensen makes a point of looking anywhere in the room except at tall, winking guy.
The trainers are all lining up, and as each of them steps forward to do their speech, the rest of them clap and whistle. Jensen pays attention to see which of them gets the most or the least applause. Since he knows absolutely nothing about what makes a good or bad personal trainer, he’s interested to see which of the trainers is most well-liked by his or her peers.
“Hey, I’m Chad, and I’m here to Pump. You. Up.” Chad’s a skinny blond guy, decent looking but doing a horrifying Hanz/Franz impersonation. Jensen’s about to roll his eyes when he hears Ernesto, the quiet guy from Miami, let out a high-pitched giggle. Pretty much everyone in the herd turns to look at Ernesto. It’s quite possible he’s never made any noise at all up until this point, at least not in front of any of them, and the cows are kind of shocked that he’s not mute or something.
Chad looks up from where he’s pacing. “Yeah, buddy! Don’t be shy. Let it out. You know that laughing is a great way to work your abdominals?”
Ernesto giggles again, which really is weird because Chad isn’t funny. Chad is thrilled though. He claps and points at Ernesto and says, “Yeah! You pick me, man, and we’ll change that keg into a six-pack in no time.”
Ernesto blushes and smiles shyly, but doesn’t say any actual words. He just shuffles his feet, looking at Chad like he’s a bucket of extra crispy fried chicken.
Oh well, Jensen thinks. At least I’m not the only homo here.
The trainers continue down the line, and they’re all a blur of long legs and toned muscles to Jensen until it comes to Danny, a red-haired girl with pale skin and juicy red lips. Intuitively, Jensen knows she’s attractive. If he were going to be attracted to a girl, Danny would be the one. Her personality is good, she’s spunky but not overly cutesy and bubbly like Sandra, the one Frank had called dibs on. She’s also not quite as tiny, and Jensen considers picking her after listening to her speech. She seems practical and has a no-nonsense air about her that Jensen appreciates.
After Danny steps back into line, it’s the winker’s turn. His name is Derek, he’s from San Antonio, and he’s—completely fucking adorable. He’s got floppy brown hair that he keeps pushing back from his face, a big white smile and dimples deeper than Jensen’s ever seen on a skinny person. Although all of the trainers have had good attitudes, Derek seems genuinely happy to be here. He makes eye contact with each and every cow, smiling warmly at them.
“My workout style can probably best be described as interactive. I’m not a big fan of staying in the gym all day when we can get the same results taking a jog outside or playing basketball or something more fun. Anyone can get in shape in a state of the art gym, but how many of you are going to have access to a facility like this when you leave? I’ll teach you how to use your own body weight as resistance so you can continue to train anywhere, anytime. And I’m not going to stand next to you and count off while you sweat through your workouts, I’m going to be working right along with you, pushing you every step of the way, because we are in this together.”
Jensen wants to smile at that, but he bites his lip instead. This guy is completely deranged in the cutest possible way. His optimism is so naïve and refreshing—it’s like he actually believes he can work miracles.
“I’ve had great results with past clients who have lost weight and kept it off because they learned healthy habits here. I’m friends with most of my former clients and we still keep in touch, even work out together sometimes. They, and you, are the reason I do this. So, even if you don’t pick me, I’m so happy you’re here. Just showing up is the first and hardest step. You’ve already accomplished so much.”
He smiles broadly and steps back into line amidst cheers and whistles from the rest of the trainers.
Winking aside, Jensen really likes Derek and his exuberance. And he really likes the idea of learning exercises that he can do when he gets out of here. Nobody else has said anything like that yet. The only real downside to choosing Derek is that he’s, well, kind of gorgeous. So’s Danny, but Jensen's actually in danger of developing a crush on Derek, and that would be—ridiculously bad.
After Derek, there are two more tiny women trainers that are definitely candidates for physical crushing, which makes the possibility of emotional crushing seem less bad.
Next is Tom. And holy fuck, if Jensen ever doubted his own gayness, this guy completely sets him straight. Or not, as it were.
Tom is drop-dead gorgeous. Almost as tall as Derek but with thick dark hair, gorgeous green eyes and red, pouty lips. Tom’s quieter and more serious than Derek, but he’s so gorgeous Jensen’s not really listening to him anyway.
Jensen can hear the girl-cows tittering over Tom, even while he’s speaking. He’d be more annoyed if he cared anywhere as much about listening to Tom as he does about looking at him.
When Tom steps back into line, there are some cheers, and someone says, “Way to go, Tommy!” But the cheers aren’t as loud as they were for Derek, and that makes Jensen feel sort of smug on Derek’s behalf.
When all of the trainers are done, Dr. Kaufman turns to the herd and says, “Alright everyone. We’re going to go through one by one, in alphabetical order, and let you choose your trainer. Remember, there is no bad choice here, our trainers are the best in the country and your odds for success won’t be affected by whom you choose.”
Fuck, goddamn shit. Jensen hates alphabetical order, because it generally means he goes first. He hates going first. He’s not sure what he’s supposed to do. Will it look more normal if he chooses a hot girl, like Danny, or if he goes with his substantial gut and picks Derek, based on his personality and approach?
“Okay we’re starting with—Ackles. Jensen.”
Fuck fuck fuck. There isn’t enough time for Jensen to consider his options, so he just blurts out the first name that comes to mind.
“Derek,” Jensen says, and there is a bizarre lack of reaction from, well, pretty much everyone.
“Who?” Dr. Kaufman looks around the room.
Jensen shifts uncomfortably in his ridiculous silver Nikes. “Derek? The, um, the tall one. Him.” He points to the tall, brown-haired guy in the track suit.
Tall guy’s face lights up and Jensen has no idea why but this guy seems genuinely psyched that Jensen’s chosen him.
“Oh, you mean Jared,” the doctor clarifies.
“Oh, yeah, right. Him.” Jensen’s heart is thundering in his chest and he can feel his face all flushed. He’s sure he looks absolutely moronic, blushing over getting the guy’s name wrong, but strangely enough, the doctor and the rest of the herd just move right on.
“Alright. Next up is Frank Anderson.”
Frank chooses Sandra, and high-fives Jensen afterwards. When Ernesto chooses Chad, Chad runs over, hugs him and doles out a few man-pats on his back. Ernesto beams at him. A cute but very heavy blond named Allison chooses Tom, and when he smiles at her, she looks like she’s going to pass out.
Jensen feels even sillier than before. How can any of them think they have a snowflake’s chance in hell with these trainers? They’re all unattractive, fat cows, and the trainers are like über-beings. Jensen is embarrassed on behalf of his fellow cattle, and embarrassed for himself at his momentary freak out. At least he’s not being as obvious as the rest of them. Nobody here knows that he’s gay, so there’s nothing suspicious about him choosing Der—Jared.
As soon as everyone’s made their choices, he finds himself face to face with his new trainer.
“Jared,” he says, bounding over and sticking his hand out.
Jensen shakes his hand and smiles sheepishly. “Sorry, Jared. I didn’t hear right, before. Must’ve been all that fat in my ears.” He laughs and shrugs.
Jared smiles at him but doesn’t laugh. “You’re Jensen, right?”
“Uh, yeah. Yes. That’s me.”
“Cool, great to meet you, man. I’ve already read your file. I’m really looking forward to getting to know you.” Jared’s whole face is lit up by his smile, and Jensen’s heart flutters a little.
When Jensen doesn’t respond, Jared’s smile falters for just a moment until he says, “I mean, I’m looking forward to working with you. And also getting to know you. ‘Cause that’ll happen as we work together. And. I’ll, um. I’ll shut up now.”
Jared ducks his head and scratches the back of his neck, self-deprecating grin on his face.
Jensen’s baffled—this gorgeous man actually seems flustered. “Yeah, great to meet you, too. Your, um, enthusiasm is fantastic. I’m hoping some of it rubs off on me.”
“Oh it will, buddy. Believe me.” Jared winks at him again, only this time it seems pretty normal. He pats Jensen on the shoulder and says, “Just, sometimes I talk too much. I shoulda said that when I was up there.” He nods back towards the spot where all of the trainers had given their speeches. “But, just feel free to tell me to shut up. Just say, ‘Jared, shut up,’ and I will. I won’t get mad, I promise.”
Jensen laughs. “Naw, you seem—” Jensen struggles for the right words. “Like a nice guy,” he finishes lamely.
Jared laughs loudly. “You won’t be saying that when I’m riding your ass until you puke, but I appreciate the sentiment.”
Jensen swallows hard and tries not to blush. He steels himself internally and resolves absolutely not to think about Jared riding his ass in any way, shape or form.
This is going to be hell.