When Alexei came awake, he was distinctly aware that something had changed. There was an absence in him - an abstracted sense of loss that he would eventually come to realize was not necessarily a loss of magic, but a loss of connection. Severed from the land that had given him his gifts and from his parents who had taught him to wield it. There was something new there now - the same size and shape of what had been cut out of him, but made of a different material. It was something slick and cold as the guts of a dead fish, but somehow it burned like stars.

Recovery was agonizingly slow, but being stuck in his rooms at least allowed him time to try to feel out how to work with this change. Frost came to him easier, now, but it too felt different. No longer was it the coat of hoarfrost on the pines in winter - something clean and grounded - but now it was the cold of unfathomable depths - something pale and alien dragged from the void. He had always had a high tolerance for the cold, but now he found that he barely felt it whatsoever.

Trying to practice his healing was more difficult, especially early on. Hands were sensitive things, and the pain he felt even without trying to push it to heal faster was already difficult to bear. He tried to meditate on the magic in him, to seek it out without trying to actually draw on it, but the snaps of pain and constant buzz of discomfort made it impossible to focus. Frustration finally drove him to attempt it.

At first it felt uncomfortable, existing pains amplifying, but suddenly it was nauseating - his body protested as if whatever conduit he was trying to force his magic through found it anathema. He tried all the same, forcing it until something in him flared and he flinched forward with a yelp, stomach heaving in protest. How could a skeleton feel frozen to the point of burning if it was still encased in living flesh? He shuddered, trying to just breathe through the pain and the nausea. After he'd been drowned, Katarine had told him the worst was over. Apparently the Aegis sought to make a liar of her.

He could hear a knock at his door before it swung open, but he couldn't summon the energy to sit upright again to see who it was. All the same, he recognized the sound of the Catabasian's stride. She put a hand on his back when she sat at the edge of the bed, her touch feeling almost uncomfortably warm against the cold. "Alexei? I heard you shout, setkhel." If she was at all concerned by his temperature she said nothing.

He took a slow breath through his mouth and hoped his stomach wouldn't try to heave again when he spoke. "There is something wrong with me," he managed, voice shaking. He moved to sit slowly upright and Katarine moved in kind to help keep him steady. His stomach lurched and he could taste bile at the back of his throat, but he managed it.

She pulled him into a careful hug and he sagged against her, grateful to not have to hold himself upright. "Can you tell me what ails you?"

Alexei made a low, unhappy sound. He didn't know if he could tell her. How was he meant to explain to her that meeting the thing they worshiped as a god and being so changed by it had left him feeling desecrated instead of holy? Trying to reconcile her as an adoptive mother and a religious leader had often left him conflicted, but this… he knew he couldn't. Not that part, at least. "My magic is changed," he said instead, voice muffled against her shoulder, "it feels… sick. It is making me sick."

She was quiet for a long moment, considering his words. When she finally spoke she did so slowly, as if she wasn't certain her words would hold any weight. "You have been through much, Alexei. You need to rest and heal - pushing yourself now will only worsen your symptoms."

It was an expected, medically sound response. And it was true enough, even if it didn't address the root cause of the sickness; he shouldn't have pushed as he had. He would keep trying - the idea of doing nothing at all made him itch. He had always thought himself a healer before anything otherwise; he needed to find a way to make this work. He moved to sit up slowly, extricating himself from Katarine's embrace. He looked down to his hands and nodded, the motion almost imperceptible. "Thank you, amay. I will try."

"Alexei," she lifted his chin to meet her eyes, "if you feel yourself slipping again, tell me." She still sounded so worried, her voice imploring.

He knew that seeing him as she had was still fresh in her mind - Theo had needed her help after they had found him. But he also knew he couldn't make that promise, all he could hope was that it wouldn't come to that again. "I will try," he repeated flatly, feeling removed from himself.

Katarine didn't look at all convinced, but she didn't push him. She knew well enough that trying would only cause him to hide further inside himself. "Try to sleep, setkhel," she said gently instead, moving her hand from his chin to his cheek as she made to stand. "I will come later to check your splint." She stood, looking as though she wanted to say more, but instead she gave his shoulder a light squeeze and turned to leave.

He felt the weight of his exhaustion settle across him when the door closed behind her. His hand ached and his bones thrummed uncomfortably, but worst of all was the familiar grief that had found him again as he curled up with his back to the door, arms wrapped around his waist. He didn’t expect sleep to find him.