“Come back to me. Anton, come back to me.”
The words swam into focus slowly. The boy squeezed his eyes more tightly closed. “N-n-nooaw.”
“Yes, Anton.” Her voice was soft, patient, but implacable. That was how she always was. “Come back to me, Anton O Gwydion. Wake up to yourself, Anton.”
She was stroking him, running her hands through his fur – no, through his hair. The boy liked it when she petted him. It made everything feel a little more real. “No?” he tried again. This time, it came out as a word and not a meowl.
“That’s my boy. How does your tail feel?”
“Gone.” That was the saddest part of coming back. “Missing.”
“There will be time for a tail again.” Her hand rested at the small of his back. “How do your ears feel?”
“Inadequate.” He jerked up one paw – hand, hand – to scratch at his short, round, naked ear. “Short.”
“Good. There will be time for those ears. How are your words?”
He ran the back of his hand over his mouth. “Sufficient.” Losing the tail sucked. Getting his words back felt like buckling himself back into a straightjacket. “Do I have to?”
“Not yet, kitten. Not if you don’t want to.” She kneaded at the small of his back. “You can sit here in the sunbeam as long as you need to.”
“Thank you.” He rolled onto his back, exposing his naked belly. “You’re nice.” They both knew he could only stay here a little while – eventually, his responsibilities would notice he was gone – but it was nice to be able to sit between the cat and the man for a while and be petted.
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