Finally written, liberal4peace, this one is for you! Warning that this prompt is an emotional one. Trigger warning for anyone with mental health issues or eating/food issues. I am not looking to upset anyone and this fic dives into the personal pain and struggle that accompanies such issues.
Troian spoke about having an eating disorder in a Seventeen article, so that's where this is derived from. I have no idea what the deep, dark details are of her life, obviously, let alone what sort of eating disorder she works through, so don't ever take my work as fact. I use my creative license to my advantage, and even though she is a real person, that does not mean I have all the facts available to me. Please treat this as the fiction it is.
Title inspired by the Marianas Trench song Beside You. That is what the italicized lines at the beginning are from. Special thanks to Bree for pre-reading a big chunk of this and letting me bounce ideas off of her. I can honestly say I wouldn't be sane without you in my life.
I really tried to bring justice to this but I'm not here to pretend that I am an expert on a subject I don't have personal experience with. I really did my best to bring it the realism and seriousness it deserves, and pulled from many different places to get it to where it is. Still, I sincerely apologize if I don't bring it the justice it deserves. I am not trying to downplay the issue or disrespect anyone with my representation. All my love to those of you who fight this fight every day. Keep fighting and stay strong. I believe in you.
This by NO MEANS reflects the true thoughts or feelings of Troian Bellisario or Keegan Allen. They are beautiful, lovely, sweet human beings that I have no affiliation with. I am merely a fangirl with too many feelings.
If your heart wears thin I will hold you up
And I will hide you when it gets too much
I'll be right beside you
It was one of those days.
One of those days where you wished you were anybody else but yourself.
One of those days where you stood staring blankly back at yourself in the mirror, only seeing all of the things you wished to change and none that you wanted to stay the same.
Troian was having one of those days. Where it seemed like she couldn't do anything right. Where every recent mistake she made seemed to be screaming back at her like they were in the middle of an outright Battle Royale.
The worst part?
It was only 6:00 a.m.
She wasn't even sure what triggered it some days. Everyday stress could build up fast, especially when she was on as little sleep and downtime as she currently was. They were in the middle of filming season two of Pretty Little Liars and her time and sanity were not her own. She basically only came back to her apartment to sleep. On the weekends she'd try to fly down and see her boyfriend. She barely had time to speak to him during the week since they both were so busy with filming so weekends were the only time they really had and even that was limited.
She and Patrick had had a fight last night over the phone. She hated those ones the most. Being apart was far from easy for them, but for the most part they usually made it work. But fighting over the phone was the hardest because she hated not being able to talk things out in person. It usually ended with one of them or both hanging up pissed off and with heavy words hanging in the air. It wasn't like when he was home and they'd go in separate rooms and reconvene in an hour to kiss and make-up. Usually phone arguments happened late at night and they'd end up going to bed angry.
And Troian hated going to bed angry. She wasn't angry at Patrick usually. It was herself she was pissed at.
This morning, the mirror was reflecting back her distaste for herself. She ran her hands over her middle, thinking of the food she had gorged on the night before in her frustration over her and Patrick's living situation. She loved her job, and she was more than happy that he was doing what he was, but sometimes she really found it hard to be grateful when they had to be so far apart all the time.
Troian paused as she lifted her shirt to check for bulges. To the normal eye, there was nothing but slim, toned flesh there. But her eyes were tinted with the scum of disappointment and aggravation and she saw more than what was really there.
Frowning, she ran her hands over it, feeling a bubble of tissue where there was nothing.
She sighed. "Serves you right."
Troian glanced at her watch. She needed to head to set before the traffic kicked in. Well, it was LA, so before the traffic kicked in worse than it already was.
Natural instinct made her pause in the kitchen. She opened the fridge and scanned the contents. Her hand unconsciously ran over her belly again.
Her stomach was turning at the thought of putting a single thing in her mouth. Nothing looked appealing.
Deciding to just grab a coffee on the way, Troian headed out of the door, ignoring the intense rumbling coming from inside her abdomen.
She was naturally quiet in the morning, so no one really suspected that she was having an off day. Troian was feeling a little more paranoid though, feeling that prickly feel on her skin like someone knew. The shame was starting to sink in. Skipping meals wasn't going to fix things with Patrick.
Knowing that you were doing something wrong but doing it regardless? Shame. That's all Troian could feel. But yet, she still couldn't fathom eating something. It didn't matter that people offered her bits of their breakfast or snacks. She declined them politely, saying she had had enough to eat earlier.
The cruel inner voice in her head was reminding her that amongst the shame and disappointment with herself, she had lying to add to the mix. Troian never was a fan of lying, despite what the title of her show said. But here she was, adding another reason to hate herself today.
By the time she was being beckoned to set, she couldn't be more grateful for having something else to concentrate on.
It was a couple hours in when Troian was really starting to regret not eating. The set felt warmer than usual, but she was blaming that mostly on the orange jumpsuit she was forced to wear for the scene, and her hair was sticking to the back of her neck. Her low blood sugar was making her feel dizzy and light-headed.
Thankfully they had finished the rolling around bit and were just going to rerun the argument between Emily and Spencer. It was the first scene after the fall hiatus and involved the girls 'fighting' over whether to make a bargain with A or not. In truth, it was all just a rouse to get -A out in the open so they could corner them and unmask the torturer.
"Troian, are you okay? Do you need a break?" Shay asked in concern, looking over to see Troian's hands trembling a little.
Troian, stubborn as ever, shook her head. "No, I'm okay. Just a little dizzy." she explained with a forced smile.
She closed her mouth quickly as a wave of nausea rolled through her. She tried to focus her breathing so she wouldn't get sick.
Meanwhile, Keegan had entered the outdoor set to drag Ian and Tyler away from the monitor. It was sort of frowned upon to be hanging around set when they weren't part of a scene, but they had texted him to come watch something special.
"What did I miss?" Keegan asked the pair, making them jump in surprise since they hadn't seen him.
"Aw, you missed it. Shay and Troian were wrestling. It was hot." Tyler admitted, laughing at Keegan's expected reaction.
He rolled his eyes. "You two are something else."
"C'mon, Keegs. It was your two starring ladies." Ian teased.
Keegan smacked both of them in the back of their heads for objectifying his two best female friends.
He was about to give them an earful that his mother would be proud of him for delivering, but Shay's panicked cry caught his attention.
Keegan saw the brunette in question's knees buckling and her body begin tumbling toward the floor as her eyes rolled back into her head. Without thinking, he had leapt over the floor camera and raced to catch her before she could hit her head on the ground.
Shay and the other girls had only been a few feet from her, but even they hadn't reacted that fast.
"Troian! TROIAN!" he called desperately as she blinked weakly, clearly going unconscious.
The other girls had crowded around in horror as she slipped away.
Troian felt his arms around her, and his scared blue eyes were the last thing she saw before everything went black.
Troian woke up slowly, groggy as hell and feeling sick to her stomach. She heard a body shift next to her, and she blinked her eyes open.
Keegan was watching from the chair across from her with hopeful eyes. He looked like he was near tears when she finally turned towards him. "Jesus Christ, Troian." is all he muttered before pulling her into a close hug.
She melted into his embrace. He was always so warm. It worked in her favor since her poor circulation always left her more on the chilly side. Although she had been warm before, her body had cooled back down to its usual temperature.
"What happened?" she rasped out, correcting her throat to rid it of the restraint of not being used.
"You fainted on set." he told her, releasing her and checking her forehead and cheeks for a fever.
She, however, groaned. "Excellent."
Looking around, she realized she was in her dressing room and that they were alone.
"Did you bring me here?"
He nodded. "They wanted to take you to the hospital, but I know how you feel about those."
"No hospitals." she agreed readily. She wasn't a big fan of them on a good day, but she knew that there would be no point in going to a hospital over this. She knew what was wrong. And she didn't want the fifty questions that came with it or any media attention.
Keegan brushed some of her hair behind her ears as she settled back against the pillow. He had laid her on the couch, pulling up her vanity chair so he could sit opposite her. "How are you feeling?"
"Weak." she admitted, double meaning in her words.
He looked so concerned, bless his heart.
"I'm okay, Keegs." she promised, but he didn't believe her. There was something stirring in her eyes that alerted him that she was far from okay.
"I brought you some juice. I figure your blood sugar is pretty low if you're fainting." he explained, bending the straw from the juice box on the table next to him.
Troian struggled to sit up, and Keegan immediately jumped in to assist. One buff arm wrapped around her back as he settled on the edge of the couch. He leaned her against him as he positioned the straw in her reach.
She snuggled into him sleepily as she sipped back the orange liquid.
"Everyone is so worried about you." he told her honestly, absent-mindedly twirling her hair around his fingertips.
"Can we just stay here for a while? Just me and you?" Troian asked in a small voice, not feeling up for all of that attention.
He nodded, kissing the top of her head affectionately. "Of course. I'm just so happy you're okay."
She smiled, her face pressed over where his heart lay, and she handed him back the now-empty juice container.
"We need to get you some food."
She shook her head, feeling the familiar argument from every other part of her body besides the rational one. "I'm okay."
"Then why can't you sit up on your own?" he challenged.
"What aren't you telling me?" Keegan asked softly.
She hesitated. Of her PLL family, only Lucy was aware of what she was really dealing with. Although, truth be told, she had a feeling Shay had her suspicions. That girl had always been so perceptive of her despite her attempts to throw her off the trail.
But it wasn't something Troian had really wanted to broadcast. She was better now. Or, well, she was working towards it every day. She still slipped up sometimes. And slipping up only made her feel worse than ever. Relapsing over something like this, something she worked so hard to control, was more frustrating than any other challenge in her life when it came to times like this.
She knew she owed Keegan an answer. And frankly, knowing Keegan, she would feel better about it after speaking to him. He was the one person in her life she could never fool. He saw right through even her strongest façades.
"I… sometimes I just… don't eat." she managed to get out, refusing to look up at him.
She felt the confusion in his hold more so than in his voice. "Do you mean…" he paused and sighed. He didn't sound disappointed, but almost tired. Like this news was a huge weight on his conscience. "Oh Troian, why didn't you ever tell me?"
"It's not exactly something I put on my résumé." she reminded him quietly.
He accepted that with grace. "I know… but for how long? Why?" he asked, sounding bewildered that she could ever have a disorder that revolved around self-image.
Troian tried to come up with the words, but the emotions of trying to put how she felt into words was too overwhelming.
"Sometimes… things just get hard."
Her words hung in the air. They were heavy with regret and shame, but also pain and anguish. The simplicity of her words punctuated the meaning behind them and her tears fell freely to soak his shirt.
Keegan merely held her closer, at a loss for words. He had no idea what to say to her. He was trying to wrap his mind around this new part to her puzzle.
"But Troian… you're perfect." were the only words his full brain could output.
Instead of calming her tears like he had originally planned, her tears only increased at his compliment.
She shook her head into his chest, burying her tears in his shoulder as she hugged him tighter.
"I'm far from it. Trust me." she murmured into his t-shirt.
Keegan pulled her more comfortably on his lap, kissing the top of her head.
"No. Trust me, perfect is the only word that can begin to give you justice."
He gave her a few minutes to let that sink in and let out her tears. When she caught her breath, he pulled back to wipe away the remains of water pooling underneath her eyes.
Troian tried to smile at him. He was too sweet. She knew he was being sincere, which touched her greatly. And as much as Keegan knew about her and her past, he wasn't aware of everything. He saw her through rose tinted glasses and she knew that; honestly, it was one of the things she loved about him. He always managed to see her with such innocence and incredible admiration. He knew plenty of her faults, but it was clear he didn't think they were very significant.
"I'm not perfect, Keegs. I make mistakes, constantly. I do stupid things, say things I regret, make a fool of myself, and make poor decisions. I'm far from perfect." Taking a deep breath, she continued. "It all started back in high school, although bits and pieces of it really began before that. But in high school, the pressure to be perfect, in the world I was starting to pave a path through, became too strong. Once I started university, I hoped I'd grow as an actor and actually start booking real jobs. I got praise and I got encouragement, but no results. I didn't understand what I was doing wrong. I looked to the only thing I could really control—my eating. I started cutting back here and there, almost punishing myself when I felt out of control. I didn't even realize what I was doing exactly. I've always been athletic, so the change wasn't as noticeable to others at first. I just changed my style of clothing when it got bad. But my family and close friends sat me down and straightened me out one day."
She looked down in shame. "I've been fighting myself ever since then, trying to put my health as my top priority, no matter what. But it's hard sometimes, Keegan. When the pressure around me gets tough, in any way, that's my first instinct. It's not even something I'm always completely conscious of. I just… I don't always see things the way they really are. Some days, like today, things are skewed… and I don't realize until something like this forces me to take a step back. And sometimes, even when I realize it, I can't find the strength to stop myself. I can't find the reason that I should."
Keegan listened patiently, stroking her back and making sure she was securely caged in his arms.
He was trying desperately to control his emotions. Hearing her talk like this, knowing that she was hurting and had been for a long time and probably would for a long time to come, was too difficult to put into words.
"I'm sorry I never told you." Troian murmured, nestling her head comfortably onto his shoulder.
"It's okay. I get why you didn't, but I'm glad I know now." he said quietly.
His voice was a little scratchier than usual, and Troian lifted her head to look at his face. He didn't meet her eyes, and she reached out gently to touch his cheek. He sucked in his lips, not wanting to release the emotions that were crawling up his throat.
"Keegs." she whispered, seeing the tears building in his eyes.
He didn't respond, just pulled her back into him and nestled his face in her hair.
He knew how dangerous those sorts of issues could be. The thought of Troian, the amazing woman with the most inspiring soul, feeling so low about herself broke his heart. He knew getting that low could lead to other more terrifying things, and the fact that she had been suffering from this the entire time he had known her and he hadn't clued in, made him feel guiltier than anything.
Troian hugged him tighter, her arms circling around his neck, as she felt a few of his tears finally fall onto her collarbone. She hated upsetting him, but she was glad he finally knew.
Hearing his emotional reaction to the news was pulling at her heartstrings though. She and Keegan had a special kind of friendship so this wasn't the first time they had seen each other cry, but it usually wasn't simultaneously. His ocean eyes were bluer than ever, and she hated that she was the cause for his pain. She wasn't sure what exactly was on his mind now.
Keegan pulled himself together. "I don't know what I'd do if I ever lost you." he finally confessed.
She played with the hair at the nape of his neck, pulling back to press a kiss to his cheek.
Cupping his face in both of her hands, she looked him right in the eyes. "You don't ever have to worry about that."
Keegan leaned into her touch as he gazed back at her. "If you ever have another day like today, don't be afraid to tell me, okay? I want you to be able to come to me. I'm beside you, through everything. Even the tough stuff."
She smiled. "I know, Keegs. You always have been."
There was something still eating him and she could tell. One look from her and he understood that he wasn't off the hook yet for the confessions. After hers, he sort of owed her, so he came clean.
"I just wish you could see what I do when I look at you…" he explained, stroking her cheek with the back of his fingers.
Troian felt her heart swell at the sincerity and utter affection in his tone. He cared for her so deeply. She couldn't imagine her life without him either. It sort of blew her mind that she hadn't told him before now, but she spent too much of her time trying to hide it from others so she ended up hiding it from those most important to her too.
She caught his hand in both of hers and squeezed, smiling gratefully.
Troian knew she still had a long road ahead of her, and that every day would be a struggle like the past ones had been. But now that Keegan knew, she felt just a little bit stronger. She knew from the look in his eyes that he believed in her, that she had the strength in her to beat this, and that gave her hope that he could be right.
"I think I'm beginning to."