They called it ‘physical therapy’. Ask called it stupid. Korenila came into his room every day and oversaw him walking around the room. She made him bend his body in weird ways that made the flesh on his back feel strange. Under her instruction, he moved his arms, squatted, and moved side to side. His cheeks burned each time, but she never gave him a day’s respite from those hour periods of ‘therapy’ unless the pain was too strong for him, which it was only rarely of late.
His back did stop hurting so much when he moved around or tried his secret exercises to try to lose his additional weight he’d picked up during his long period of bedrest. He felt fat, like a human.
It was a day that smelled of heat and wet, when he overhead her speak to Evoxe in the next room. They likely thought him asleep, again.
“I think he might have parasites. He isn’t gaining any weight at all.” Her worried tone brought a frown to Ask’s face as she continued. “He should be much heavier. It should take more than just me to lift him. Do you think he has a parasite of some sort? I hear parasites thrive to the north.”
Evoxe grunted. “It could just be his body redirecting everything toward healing. You said yourself, he heals faster than any other goblin you’ve treated.”
She sighed. “I just wish he would gain some more weight. He’s practically skeletal.”
Ask looked down at himself and the new fat, then frowned and pulled at his flesh. It had give and elasticity. He looked questioningly toward the door. This was skeletal? His brow furrowed. They were humans. What did they know about his body?
He paused in his thoughts as he realized: they probably knew more about goblin bodies than he did. He was the only goblin he knew before he met Krusk.
Maybe they did know better? He listened a time longer as they ran through reasons why he might not be gaining weight. Finally, he opened the door, and for the first time, he saw the building he was in. It was a stable– a nice one, at that. His room was a temporary structure inside of it, and there was another door Horse could get out through. For a few moments, he looked around as Evoxe and Korenila stared at him. Finally, his eyes fell onto them. “Been trying to lose the fat.” He said. Korenila blinked in surprise.
“You were listening in?”
“It isn’t obvious?” Ask’s lip twitched back from his teeth. “I’ve been losing the fat because it’s fat.”
Evoxe chuckled quietly. “It makes sense, now.”
Korenila sighed and nodded to him, then looked again at Ask. “I need you to get your rest, not burn fat. You’re going to destroy your muscles.” Her tone was scolding as she stood and placed a hand on his shoulder to steer him back in. “You don’t want to end up in worse shape, do you?”
Slowly, the young goblin shook his head, and Korenila continued.
“If you keep this up, you’ll heal badly, your muscles won’t recover, and you’ll end up weak like an old man.” She stepped closer to him. Short for a human, even she towered over him. “You’ll be a frail little thing who relies on others for the rest of your life.”
For a few moments, he stared up at her as images of his convalescence lasting his entire life filled his mind. He felt stricken, and his belly did flops inside of him. Mouth open, he stepped back, then turned and rushed back into his room. If the two outside spoke after that, he didn’t hear it as horrific images of dependency raced through his mind. He finally calmed as a familiar horse head rested on him, and he slowly fell asleep. In his mind, he swore that he would stop trying to lose the fat he was gaining– at least, until he was healed.
The next few days were difficult for him. He could do nothing as he watched his body grow thicker. Horse remained with him, and the physical therapy continued.
During one of his sponge baths, Korenila paused and ran a hand along his back slowly. “Your healing is coming along much more quickly.”
His yellow eyes looked back at her. “It is?”
“Yes. Your energy is going to fixing your wounds, instead of burning your fat.”
He turned his face forward and stared at the wall ahead of him. “So, to heal fast, I should not be very active.” His tone sounded surprised.
“Yes, that’s right.” She nodded and ran a comb through the hair on his tail. “The hair on your tail is starting to get thick and healthy.”
The goblin’s tail twitched, and he turned to look. “How do you know so much about goblins?”
She laughed. “Goblins are our close allies. Anyone who learns how to care for humans also learns how to care for goblins. We treat our allies like they are our own people.”
Ask sighed. “That sounds way too cheerful to be true.” He snorted and absently scraped the claws on his large feet. They were glossy now, rather than cracked. Perhaps what she said was true, but it seemed stupid to him, regardless. A life in the streets meant that having fat was a liability– it made him too slow.
For a time, the sponge bath continued quietly as he stared at the wall. “It’s weird.”
“I’m sure.” The quiet was awkward for a time, until she spoke again. “Would you like me to tie your hair back for you?”
Absently, he looked back at her through the corner of his eye. “May as well.” He turned to face forward and tilted his head back slightly. His eyes drifted shut as soft fingers slid through his coarse hair. The long, light tugging, and the trail of sensation her fingers made when they ran across his scalp nearly put him to sleep as she worked the worst of his tangles out with her fingers before she reached for a comb.