by Noel Oliver
The full moon illuminated the expanse of virgin snow and the single set of tracks that bisected it. The fox that left them ran, heedless of his own exposure, as though something were calling him, urging him away from the village he had left behind, pulling him toward the wilds.
Some miles passed under the fox’s paws before he slowed. He was a handsome animal, with a gray back and red trimming his ears and snout, sleek and healthy despite his long run. His silver-gray eyes seemed to reflect the moonlight. But to an observer – had anyone observed him beyond the stars, the moon, or the bare black arms of the trees – he might have seemed disoriented. Whatever urge had pulled him here was fading, and now he felt only his heart hammering in his narrow ribcage. He sniffed the ground without understanding what he was looking for. Thirsty, he gulped a mouthful of snow. Eventually fatigue overtook him. He crawled beneath the low-hanging branches of a pine tree, curled up on a blanket of dry, dead needles, and fell asleep.
As the days passed the fox grew used to his surroundings. He survived off voles and rabbits, avoided the few other foxes he encountered, and every night bedded down under a pine tree. Nearly a week after his arrival, the man came.
The man piqued the fox’s interest instantly, though he could never have understood why. He was a tall man, broad-shouldered, and the white fur lining the hood of his heavy coat contrasted sharply with his dark skin and cropped black hair. The fox lurked out of sight, watching curiously as the man stared at a stone in his hand. Then he reached into his pack, pulled out a bundle, and tossed it on the ground. He clapped his hands twice and suddenly a canvas tent stood in the clearing, taller even than the man’s head. An instant later a wave of energy seemed to ripple through the air from the tent, and the fox’s fur stood on end, startling him and causing him to bolt for the denser forest.
The man had been looking through his pack, but he lifted his head, frowning slightly. He didn’t see the fox’s departure.
Night passed into morning, and the fox was drawn back toward the tent by the smell of sausages roasting over a cookfire. He lingered on the edge of the treeline, nervous, but enticed by the smell of nearby food.
The man, perhaps sensing he was being watched, eyed the edge of the forest, and spoke. He had a deep, booming voice, which carried through the sharp winter air. He said only two syllables, and they froze the fox in place. He cocked his head and twitched his ears as the man repeated the word, and stepped closer.
The man caught sight of him, but didn’t react. They simply stared at each other for a long moment, dark brown eyes meeting silvery gray. Slowly, so as not to startle the animal, the man bent over his cookfire. He speared a sausage with a long-handled fork and tossed it a few yards away where it landed, steaming, in the snow.
It didn’t stay there long. The fox leapt from the cover of the trees, snatched the sausage, and leapt back in a flurry of snow. He had finished gulping down the sausage before he had even reached the trees again, even though its heat was painful in his mouth and throat. Licking his lips, once again a safe distance away, he met the man’s eyes again.
The man smiled, reaching down to spear another sausage. This time, though, he didn’t throw it, but rather held his arm outstretched, sausage dangling tantalizingly from the end of the fork. The fox took a hesitant step closer, froze, took another step.
The man spoke, a low murmur that was somehow soothing. That same two-syllable word was repeated, and every time he heard it the fox pricked his ears and moved a bit closer, as though that word was drawing him in. Finally the fox was mere inches from the proffered food, but as he stretched his neck to reach it the man reached out his hand. A wave of that disconcerting energy flowed off him and again the fox ran, disappearing into the underbrush.
Yet even the memory of that uncomfortable feeling couldn’t keep the fox away. The scant daylight soon faded, the moon rose again, and once again the smell of cooking meat wafted through the air, drawing the fox from his solitude. As he slunk out of the trees he noticed that feeling again, a kind of vibration in the air; there was a wooden post sunk into the snow between the trees and the camp, painted with strange symbols. He gave it a wide berth as he crept closer to the smell.
The man was crouched beside his fire, and a slow smile spread across his face as he caught sight of the fox skulking about in the darkness, eyes shining as they caught the firelight.
The man stood, slowly, and the fox watched his every move. He stretched both arms out before him; the fox’s tail twitched, nervously. Then the man clapped his arms together, shouting a single echoing syllable, and a vast surge emanated from him. The fox turned and ran, skidding in the powdery snow, but there was nowhere to go. A glowing blue wall had sprung up between the tent and the forest. He pushed his head against it, clawed at it, to no avail. Frantic, he ran along the wall, coming to that mysterious post, and kept running – finding another post several yards away, and then another. There were five of them in all, circling the perimeter of the man’s camp, and the glowing blue wall extended between all of them. Panicking now, the fox dashed along the perimeter of the magical wall, snow flying beneath his feet.
“Silvan!” the man shouted. The fox froze, panting, legs trembling, and faced the man, who was approaching him with arms outstretched. Human speech meant nothing to the fox, but that one word, that word the man had been repeating so often, shook something within him. He cowered, wanting to run again, but a part of him wanted just the opposite, wanted to go to the man’s outstretched arms. He wavered as the man’s booted feet crunched closer and closer through the churned snow. Finally he could bear it no longer and braced himself to bolt.
But the man was too quick for him. With a burst of surprising speed, he tackled the fox around the middle, wrestling him to the ground. The fox let out a high-pitched yip, struggling under the man’s greater weight, biting uselessly at the man’s arms and hands, both well-protected by his thick clothing. The man kept speaking, words tumbling in a stream from his mouth. The fox somehow managed to wriggle onto his back and then the man’s hands glowed blue. There was a flash that blinded both of them.
Gray eyes blinked slowly, adjusting to the firelight. Fingers flexed. The man’s fur-mittened hands squeezed the bare wrists they were holding against the snow, slowly, as if not believing what they were feeling.
“Leris,” Silvan said. “It’s good to be back.”
A few heatstones were more than enough to keep Leris’ tent warm, placed in a glass jar, wrapped in a rag, and tucked into one corner. Silvan stretched out between layers of blankets, wiggling his toes and marveling at the feel of the thick cotton on his bare, mostly-hairless skin. “I suppose my mother was angry,” he said, voice hoarse from days without speech. He forced it into an exaggerated falsetto. “What were you thinking, performing a self-transformation without a containment circle–“
“She doesn’t sound like that at all,” Leris said with a rumbling chuckle. “She was more worried than anything. She would have come herself, if I hadn’t insisted.”
“She probably would have thought to bring me clothes.”
“I said I was sorry about that…”
“You’re not that sorry.”
Leris coughed into his sleeve. “I told you I can take you home whenever you feel up to it. The translocation wand is tied to your room; I could put you right to bed.”
“That sounds nice,” Silvan said. His grin, somehow, was still foxlike. “But these blankets are quite cozy, and if we stay here overnight that means you’ll have to share them with me.”
Leris gave a long-suffering sigh. “All right. I’m sure the transformation took quite a lot out of you, though. You need to rest.”
“Must you sound so accusatory?”
Leris ignored him as he pulled off his own shirt and climbed in under the blankets. Silvan immediately pressed his body against the larger man’s, prompting another sigh. “Rest,” Leris said.
“I know,” Silvan murmured, lips against Leris’ shoulder. “Just… could you touch me? Just a little?”
Leris’ fingers brushed the auburn hair curling at the nape of Silvan’s neck, and with a sigh of his own Silvan rested his head on Leris’ broad chest. “I was worried too,” Leris admitted. His hands were gentle across Silvan’s back and shoulders. “I had this awful idea that you might be a fox for the rest of your life and I wasn’t sure if I should take you back with me or leave you to live in the wild.”
“Don’t. Just… don’t. I’m here, it’s all right.” He pressed his mouth against Leris’ jaw, encountering prickly black stubble; smiling, he rubbed his cheek against it.
“What on earth are you doing?”
“Feeling,” Silvan said. “I don’t know how else to explain it.” He ran the fingertips of his right hand across Leris’ collarbone, then repeated the action, more slowly. “I don’t quite feel as though this is really my body yet.”
“Oh, it’s you.” Leris’ hand rested in the hollow at the small of Silvan’s back. “Every freckle on your nose is still there. And I can feel that you still have that adorable dimple in your left buttock.”
Silvan pushed himself into the touch. “Naughty,” he purred. “You’re not helping me relax at all.”
“I can feel that,” Leris said hoarsely as Silvan’s erection pressed against his thigh. “My apologies.”
“Don’t apologize.” Silvan dipped his index finger briefly into Leris’ navel, prompting a gasp. “Just keep touching. I need to remember.”
“Silvan, it was only four days,” Leris teased.
“I know. But… four days where I wasn’t me. And I didn’t even know anything was wrong.” He shivered, despite the warmth of their shared body heat. “Thank the Spirits for guiding you to me.”
Instead of answering Leris kissed Silvan’s open mouth. “All right,” he relented. “Whatever you say. But please, don’t push yourself. Just let me take care of you.” Leris’ hand slipped between their bodies, wrapping around Silvan’s waiting cock. Silvan let out a little groan of pleasure as Leris gently pulled back the foreskin and ran his thumb across the leaking head.
“Are you sure,” Leris breathed into Silvan’s ear, “you wouldn’t just like a nice massage?”
“Sounds lovely,” Silvan said. “Keep massaging me right there.”
Leris couldn’t quite keep down his chuckle. “As you say.”
Leris’ right hand was big and warm on Silvan’s cock, his left splayed across the smaller man’s shoulder, cradling him close. Silvan tucked his head under Leris’ chin and just let himself feel. The warmth within him was building, Leris’ hand patient but constant, drawing him gradually toward the precipice. Silvan mouthed the salty smooth skin of Leris’ neck, his climax taking him almost by surprise. He groaned and shuddered and Leris just held onto him.
Even after he had spent himself, Silvan shook. Even he didn’t realize at first that he was crying.
“Shhh, it’s all right, love,” Leris said, kissing the top of his head as he cleaned them up with a corner of the blanket. “It’s all right.” He stroked Silvan’s hair until the shuddering stopped.
“You’re still hard,” Silvan said with a sniffle.
“It’s all right.” Leris smiled. “You can make it up to me later.”
“I’m going to ride you for hours,” Silvan sighed, exhaustion apparent in his voice.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Leris said.
Silvan stilled in his arms, breathing shallow, and for a time Leris thought he had fallen asleep. Then a sleep-heavy voice spoke up: “Next time,” Silvan said, “I’ll try turning into a goldfish.”