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Thomas and I were brought to the physician’s offices together, in spite of his one-week lead on being cut. The same physician who’d tended to me in the first place was about to usher us into separate rooms, but apparently changed her mind; she sent us into a small room with a pair of glass vials, and instructed us to have fun, so long as we each provided a sample. The room wasn’t particularly comfortable, though, and the awareness of where we were and why kept our enjoyment in check. Still, it was more pleasant than simply sitting in a room and taking it in my own hand.

It was somewhat bittersweet, though. If all went well here, he and I likely wouldn’t have much time for each other going forward; we’d be much too busy, or at least too exhausted, with our actual duties. Still, it had been comforting to have company with someone who was going through much the same things I was; his situation hadn’t been so dire before he was cut, but in all, he and I had found each other to be kindred spirits. Playing with him had brought back faint memories of my first fumbling steps into sexuality, and on some level I’d been able to recapture that excitement, but without the clumsiness I’d had as a virgin; indeed, I fancied that our time together had done a great deal to improve my sexual prowess.

When the word came that our operations had both been successful, that we were, indeed, sterile, it felt somewhat weighty. He and I had played together; from that moment, sex would be work. I would need to be vigorous enough to convince a woman’s body that it had been properly bred; the quiet, gentle entertainments Thomas and I had enjoyed when we were weary simply wouldn’t be enough.

I was nervous, sitting in the lobby with the unaccustomed weight of an actual lapis lazuli stud on my ear instead of the simple steel that had held the piercing before, watching the women come in, speak with the bespectacled man at the front desk, and pick their partners for the afternoon. Even more so when one of them, a serious-looking lady of thirty or so whose heavyset frame and well-worn trousers spoke of a very physical trade, looked over at me while she was at the desk. By the time she indicated me and the clerk beckoned me forward, I was starting to wonder if I’d be able to perform at all.

But even if she was more rugged than most, she was a fine, fit lady, and the invisible lure of her heat did the rest. She coaxed me to vigour I hadn’t known in the month since my operation. We didn’t dally much – she was very much to the point, shedding clothes as soon as my door was shut, pulling me atop her and just not giving me time to be nervous; within the space of half an hour, we were finished, and she dressed and let herself out with only a quick murmur of praise. Not as one might give to a lover, but for a job well done.

That was fair; this was my job, now. I allowed myself an hour to enjoy the lingering haze of pleasure, to allow my body to replenish itself, and then I went down to the lobby again. Nobody else chose me that night, nor the next day; the day after, two separate women found me to their liking, one before the golden glow of sunrise had quite paled into the bright shine of full day, and another after the sun had set. So it went for my first few weeks at the Blue Ribbon House.

When that same tradeswoman came back a month later, there was no deliberation on her part; she chose me right off, and, I think, she was a tiny bit more into our union, letting herself enjoy not only the physical aspect of her need being answered, but also the finer details of the service; of the room I’d started to decorate, the incense I’d chosen, and of the way I, specifically, was coupling with her. She moved against me, she nipped at my neck, she raked her claws along me – at first it was almost tentative, but by the time her sex clenched around my manhood, she was throwing herself into the act with abandon, clutching tightly to me, her snout pressing against the side of her neck to muffle her cries.

She gave me her name when we were finished, that time. Angelique. Such a soft, lyrical name for… a carpenter, as it turned out; she told me that on her third visit, lying on my bed as I brushed out her fur. Though she wasn’t particularly tall for a woman – easily a foot shorter than me, and I was not a large man – she had as strong an arm as any man I’d known. She spent a little more time with each visit just talking with me, telling me about her life – how her smaller stature was sometimes a bother, but others let her work more easily where a man, head and shoulders taller than she, would have more difficulty simply standing.

Angelique was hardly the only woman who called upon me repeatedly, but she was the only one who did so quite so reliably. Each turn of the moon, when only a slender crescent remained in the night sky before the dark of the new moon, I knew she would be there, at some point in the day.

I asked her, after about a year, why she sought me out so specifically. She said she’d first been drawn to my youth; she’d seen that same nervousness that had turned others away, and had instead been drawn to it. She’d enjoyed my relative inexperience with women, enjoyed watching my experience grow. It had felt, she said, like I was a proper lover, and that was something a foreign woman would always have trouble finding here. Especially a woman from Asterie, across the Norran Strait, whose relations with my own homeland of Vard had long been tense. Even as a schoolboy, I’d known of a long history of warfare, and a century of peace hadn’t been enough to completely banish that ill will.

But she couldn’t go back to Asterie, she told me. Not anymore. She’d made some mistakes, and some hard decisions which, while the right thing to do in her sight, would make her unwelcome there. She didn’t offer any details, and I didn’t pry. But she said that the way I’d given myself to her – even if it was as a prostitute to his client, not a man to his lover – had made her feel a little more comfortable. And so she kept coming back.

Another year wound its way around in much the same manner. Some of the women who called upon me weren’t so fair, and some of them weren’t far enough into their heat that my instincts could entirely take over; and of them, some weren’t so pleasant in manner as to make up for it. For that small set of women, the work was not entirely pleasant. But I’d seen enough beauty in my time at the Blue Ribbon House to make it overall a pleasant time, and enough that I could focus on it, throw myself into the work, and at least let those women leave satisfied, even if I myself was somewhat less so.

And then there were the women who were beautiful, who were well into their heat, who were pleasant of manner, and, above all, who did make plain how much they enjoyed my attentions. After some of those sessions, I needed a tailor to mend the rents our claws had left in the sheets; after one particularly memorable morning, she and I had been so vigorous with each other, and a little too careless with claws and teeth, such that I had the rest of that day and the next off and sported a bandage on my shoulder. That woman got a somewhat stern talking-to on her way out, but I myself had no regrets.

I had some contact with my fellows, of course, mostly while we were in the lobby waiting for clients. We gamed with cards or with dice, though never for any great stakes; beyond room and board, our stipend was not very great, and much of it went back into supplies for our trade, incense and fur oil and the like. Those of us who were lettered enough, myself included, read; we did some mending; that sort of thing. Thomas was particularly curious about the woman who favoured me so, Angelique; every time after one of her visits, he confided in me some surprise that she hadn’t yet put a second blue stud in my ear. A few of our fellows, men into their twenties, had had such happen to them and left the Blue Ribbon House for finer quarters; Thomas was somewhat shocked that I wasn’t among that number.

I didn’t gossip about the things she’d told me, but I did wonder. Perhaps things were not done like that in Asterie? Perhaps she simply didn’t know that particular custom here? Maybe it was simpler than that; for all that she enjoyed our times together and lingered after them, she still left easily when she did. So far as I could tell, she still thought of herself as my client, not my lover.

And that was fine. I was in no hurry to leave the company I’d kept here. Even if some of the faces had changed over the past few years, they were all kindred, and sometimes their company was all that kept me from brooding over the things I’d left behind, the chances I now would never have.

Besides – even if I tended not to see other women twice in a row, there were few enough of us men working there, and numerous enough women who came calling, that we rarely went for more than a day without a client, if that. On some level, I was proud of the work I was doing. It was a service for which there was a real demand; it helped people deal with their natural urges in a straightforward manner so they could get on with more advanced things, trades and professions and the like. If I were to leave, the Blue Ribbon House would be that much busier.

No. In some backwards way, I was content to stay where I was. Perhaps having a great deal of sex wasn’t the loftiest ambition in life, but it was enough for me.

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