Vixenscratch

Short stories and serials by Alexandra Herakai

Ermine Reflection: Waking Up in Wonderland

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He gasped in pain when someone gently shook him awake, even that tiny bit of motion sending pain lancing between his temples. It was, hands down, the worst headache he’d ever had the misfortune to suffer.

“Soeman?”

The voice was familiar, and normally he would have been quite happy to hear it since it meant someone he was quite fond of was sitting on his bedside, but right now he just wanted to sleep. Besides, it wasn’t as though he could speak, anyway, judging by his earlier attempt.

“Soeman?”

He shifted, trying to curl up more tightly, and that movement, too, aggravated the pain that was stabbing into his temples. A hand grasped his shoulder through the blanket and shook him again, very carefully. Even if that barely caused his body to rock, it was enough to hurt, and he whimpered and lifted his hands to press his fingers against his temples. It didn’t help.

When that hand changed tactics, rubbing back and forth along his upper arm instead of trying to jostle his attention out of him, he first tensed up, half expecting another sudden shake. But it didn’t come, and he gradually relaxed, only then realizing that he’d been clenching his teeth tightly. It only relieved the pain in his head a tiny bit, but that was enough to make him relax further.

Which only meant that when the covers were pulled back, it was that much more of a shock. The light seemed too bright even through Soeman’s eyelids, and he whimpered, feeling his still-unfamiliar ears fold back.

Something touched one of those ears, and he felt it flick in response to the light caress. “Ssh, it’s alright. It’s just me. Is the light bothering you?”

He couldn’t get anything intelligible out, not even his usual stuttering, just sounds that really would have fit better in the mouth of a ferret. That lack of a voice startled him, and he pulled back, clamping his hands over his mouth and flinching even more when he touched his whiskers. The sudden movement jarred his head and made his headache flare up, and he gasped in pain.

The hand that had stroked his ear moved, caressing his forehead, down over his cheek. As it passed over his head, it touched something tender, making another kind of pain mingle with the headful of sharp agony his skull was already housing. “Ow, hit your head as well, did you? Will you please turn the lights out, Anli?”

The darkness against his eyelids felt a little less like torture, and once again he slowly started to relax under the caress of the werejaguar he’d more or less crushed on since first laying eyes on the spotted great cat. His friend.

“Do you mind if I have a look at you, magically?” Saevrin asked as he settled down, close enough that Soeman could feel his body heat through the blanket where it still lay as a barrier between them.

A white-furred hand found the jaguar’s golden, squeezed the werecat’s fingers in a wordless expression of trust. Soeman willingly let himself be coaxed to hide his face against the cat’s chest. It gave him further protection against the light that had felt much like it was stabbing past his eyes and into his brain with all the finesse of a drunk troll.

That answer was apparently not enough; to Saevrin, the matter of consent was a very important one, and Soeman didn’t blame him. “Anli?”

“He do’s not mind.”

“Thank you,” the jaguar murmured, running his fingers over Soeman’s ears and through his blond hair for yet a few moments. “You shouldn’t feel much of this at all…” Those fingers paused, found the boy’s temple, and Saevrin shifted to touch his nose to the now-ermine’s hair.

He didn’t feel Saevrin’s mage-sight as the other youth attempted to have another look at what had caused him to suddenly grow that plush white fur, complete with tail and muzzle. At least, not at first. Maybe the cat decided to look closer, maybe it just got to be so much, but he felt a sharp tug in his mind, definitely directed at the intruder, the way a starving dog might launch at a bone.

Startled, he pulled back, and felt Saevrin’s hand do the same. When he forced his eyes open, squinting because of the pain that didn’t seem to want to let up for even a second, he saw the jaguar’s eyes gleaming back at him in the near-darkness. A sound that was nothing like an intelligible word escaped him when he tried to ask what had just happened, and his ears flattened in response to hearing it.

“I think,” Saevrin said, tentatively caressing Soeman’s head again, “whatever happened burned your reserves, and that’s what’s making your head hurt. And I believe whatever this is affecting you is a curse, but I can’t really tell more about it than that. Did you have anything to eat?”

Carefully, he shook his head ‘no’.

“Eating at least a little, or even having something to drink, may help a bit. Want me to get you something?”

It took longer before Soeman had made up his mind, this time, and his nod was barely noticeable.

With a kiss to the ermine’s forehead Saevrin disentangled himself and pulled the blanket back over Soeman’s head. “I shouldn’t be long. You get some rest in the meantime.



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