Clawing back towards the waking world, Ali became aware of two things. One was pain – mostly a throbbing headache, but also some all-over aching and stiffness; the other was the scent of lilacs.

That was a bit curious – it was well past the early spring when lilacs were in bloom – and that in turn provided something to focus on other than the pain, which was quite welcome. Oh, to be sure, some floral scents were frequently distilled and used in perfumes and incense, but lilac was – regrettably, from Ali’s point of view – not a common choice for that.

It also served as a reminder that Ali wasn’t at home, because the Arcine manor didn’t have lilacs on the grounds these days, blooming out-of-season or otherwise, nor was the scent favoured among the staff. As fragments of the evening before sorted themselves in Ali’s memory, this wasn’t terribly surprising – but one thing Ali couldn’t remember was actually getting into bed.

Eyes blinking open were met by sheets of deep green linen – fine stuff, by the feel of it. Ali brought a hand up to grasp the top sheet, and paused a moment to stare at it.

That hand was not the one Ali was used to. It was much thicker and stronger; the arm attached to it much more visibly muscular.

So not only had last night happened, the changes hadn’t reversed themselves overnight.

Excitement cut through the discomfort. Ali flipped the sheet away and sat up – a bit of a dizzying prospect, not just from the headache but also because the room shifted rather more in the process than Ali was used to. But oh, oh, that was a disorientation Ali would gladly live through, as a price for having the body that now met his eyes.

His eyes. There was no mistaking the shape of this body for anything but a man’s – broad and heavyset, tapering down towards hips that weren’t especially prominent, limbs sturdy and muscular. Ali hadn’t slouched on exercise for the last ten years, but this was a body that wouldn’t let him down. And while Ali hadn’t exactly seen a great many naked fellows before, there was no mistaking his manhood, either.

From what Ali had heard from male acquaintances before, many men would’ve considered Ali rather lucky in that department – even at rest, it looked like a plump handful. Ali himself could only stare at it for a bit, not because it was attractive – though it did look quite fine to his sight – but because he felt so amazingly lucky to have it at all.

As he looked, he spread a hand over his chest, clawtips tracing the lines of muscles underlying his thick fur, from creamy front outward over black-striped-orange sides. Oh, he’d been able to pick them out before, sure – but not this easily.

It had really happened, then – all of it. For years he’d been aware that his body had felt ill-fitting; distracting himself from it had not been easy, no matter how thoroughly he tried to engage in his studies or other pursuits. When he’d first heard that a classmate of his had done his thesis on permanent transmutation, not something that would be undone when the magic faded, he’d scarcely dared dream that it could come to pass for him. But now it had –and if his body was still new and unfamiliar, without the gradual period of incremental change and adjustment that came from, oh, exercise – or even growing up, dizzying as that had sometimes been – well, it was actually something he looked forward to becoming familiar with.

Finally he lifted his head and looked around. The bedchamber he occupied was pleasantly appointed, but not ostentatious; a competent joiner had put together the furniture, that much was plain, but the carved details were elegant and subtle, the fittings were simple – if well-polished – brass, and there wasn’t a hint of gold leaf to be seen. It was a cozy space, though after a moment Ali was struck by the realization that when his eyes had been a foot or more lower down, it would probably have seemed quite spacious. From the edge of the bed – which blessedly lacked a canopy to get in the way – he could see a broad window, thin curtains rendering the sunlight gentle and suffuse, heavy drapes tied off to the sides should the light grow stronger than that; a mirror, which held some appeal though the angle wasn’t right to see himself in it from the bed; next to it, a sturdy-looking wardrobe; the door, which much like the furniture in the room itself seemed well-made and subtly detailed but not ornate; and, turning around, a side table, from which a light flickered.

Ali pushed up to his feet, and almost tipped right over when that push was stronger than expected; he caught himself with a hand against the wall and an embarrassingly loud thump. More cautiously, he stood up straight and made his slow, careful way around the bed, acquainting himself with his new length of stride – marvelling a little at it, really. The light was, predictably enough, cast by a small candle heating a diffuser that was the source of that lilac scent. Had his host known how much he liked that particular smell, or was it just a happy chance…? At any rate, next to the diffuser waited a covered silver platter.

The mere sight of it woke a fresh discomfort – Ali’s stomach reminding him that it wanted for filling. With a mix of curiosity and eagerness, he walked up to the table and lifted the cover.

A host of delectable scents assailed him – for none of them to have snuck past the platter, he suspected enchantment at work. Seared pork, eggs, cheese, butter, fresh-baked bread, and under it all, subtler notes of herb and spice. Ali’s stomach growled at the first breath; actually seeingthe spread, the generous portion of omelet, sausages,bowl of spiced porridge, thick slices of bread with butter and blackberry jam waiting – Ali might have thought himself in paradise if not for the lingering headache.

Also present on the platter was a steaming mug, with a handwritten card leaning against it – curious, he picked it up and read. A neat hand had written, The tea will be bitter, but it is medicine – please drink it all. Once you have finished, or should you need for something, simply ring. AV

Medicine, huh? Add it to the headache, stiffness, and the gap in his memory, and it was painting a pretty grim picture – but it wasn’t so bad, at least, that Arek Vhendal had seen fit to reverse the change while Ali was dead to the world, so there was that. Much though he longed to dive into the food, Ali set the card down and dutifully lifted the mug. It didn’t smell awful, at least; and a tentative sip confirmed it to be bitter, but not horrendously so.

Fortunately, next to the platter on the other side were a sweating pitcher, a cup, and a jar of honey. Ali drizzled a bit of the last into the tea, stirred, and took another sip; the bitterness was still there, but it was tolerably masked by sweetness now. The pitcher turned out to be full of simple water – simple, but cold and clear; that would do a fine job of washing the tea down.

The table next to the chair had a pile of folded grey cloth upon it – a robe, it turned out; far too big for any of the house’s permanent residents, it nonetheless was a bit short on Ali’s limbs, though it at least had enough slack that belting it didn’t feel uncomfortable.

Which meant that if he did need to ring for something, he needn’t be completely embarrassed. He liked his body now, at least, but that didn’t make it right to show all of it off to anyone who happened upon him.

He tugged the chair around to face the platter, sat, and dug into his meal, sipping tea between mouthfuls. Part of him wanted to linger over it, because the food was really quite good; but he was famished, and so kept on piling it in.

After a serving that would have previously served him as a full dinner if not two, Ali sat back, nibbling on the last slice of bread and feeling altogether much better. Whether it was the tea or just getting some food and drink in him, his headache had diminished to a tiny mote of discomfort, and the gnawing hunger was well and truly vanquished. Somehow, he didn’t feel stuffed – his notion of what constituted a full meal might need some adjustment if that was going to be a regular thing, even if the degree of hunger he’d woken with had been unusual. But he was, at least, pleasantly full, the tea was dutifully drunk, and overall he was starting to feel pretty good about his life.

Considering he’d woken up in pain and in unfamiliar surroundings with no memory of getting there, that last bit was kind of impressive, really. But then, so was the difference between what he’d seen looking at himself yesterday – assuming it wasonly yesterday – and today.

Abit more carefully than he’d first got out of bed, Ali got out of the chair. He didn’t feel clumsy, no – not in the sense that he was ungainly, that he didn’t know where his body was or that it wouldn’t obey his will. No, as far as he could tell, he was just a lot stronger than he was used to being. That would be something to watch for.

He put the chair back where he’d found it and started for the bell pull by the wardrobe, and as he necessarily passed by the mirror, the motion in it caught his eye. He paused to get a good look at himself.

A fine and healthy specimen he seemed to be – well, that wasn’t exactly new, he’d taken care of his body even when it hadn’t felt like his. Not that he’d been vain, at least he didn’t think so – the last thing he’d wanted had been to show himself off. This, though… scruffy and disheveled as he was, this was something he could see himself wanting to tidy up and have seen. Suddenly self-conscious, Ali tried to smooth down some of that mussed fur, combing through it with claws that had apparently regrown when his body was changed. His fingers slid down his neck, over his collarbone, and into the V of white chest-fur the robe left exposed, and he marvelled at the lack of impediment there. Breasts hadn’t done him any good before, and had been a right nuisance at times; now there was only the subtle curve of pectoral muscle under the fur.

After a guilty glance towards the door, as though he might see through it if someone were approaching, he tugged the robe’s belt open and let it fall to either side. There really was no mistaking that he was a man, now, rather than just someone who would rather be; his fur wasn’t enough to conceal that length of flesh hanging between his thighs. Licking his muzzle, he let his fingers drift down to stroke it — not for titillation, though the strength of sensation that caress sent through him was shocking, but in wonder. Though he’d seen a few appealing ones, he’d had precious little opportunity before to be this close to a penis, and this one was his, every thick inch of it. Beneath it, better concealed by fur, his balls; those, too, felt very fine, partly from base pleasure at the contact but mostly just confirming that they were his.

It was with a very similar mix of amazement and pleasure that he beheld his member growing and rising. He bit his lip and curled his fingers under it, feeling it grow thicker and heavier, a rush of excitement surging through him…

Soft tapping on the door almost made him jump out of his fur, and he snatched the robe closed, belting it in frantic haste. Stars above, what had he been thinking? He was a guest in this house! Thankfully, he hadn’t got too far along; when he looked in the mirror, he couldn’t see any sign of his indiscreet arousal, much as he expected to. He swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and called out, “Come in.”

The latch clicked, the door eased open, and his host slipped in with a smile. It marked one of very few times that Ali had seen Arek Vhendal not dressed as a training or professional sorcerer; he had on loose, fine trousers that wouldn’t endure a brisk walk out in the weather, and a vest so brief that, but for its many pouches and pockets, it would have almost been fair to call it a harness. His fur was damp and slicked down; while that wasn’t enough to overcome the thickness of that fur and reveal muscle tone, it did nicely highlight his overall lithe, slender form, and the streaked-together blotches that made him so distinct from most cheetahs were on full display. And the scent of him — over the damp fur lay some other, more deliberate scents, sharp and almost spicy, as well as genuinely spicy aromas that spoke of a recent visit to the kitchens.

Before he quite knew what was going on, Ali had his hands on the cheetah’s shoulders – from there, the wiry strength in them was plain – and starting to slide down from there. He looked deep into the cheetah’s coppery eyes, widening now in surprise —

And then it hit him what the other time was that he’d seen such surprise in the other cat’s expression; had seen him so exposed. It was when Ali had come bearing word of his father’s plan to dispatch a construct to waylay the cheetah and extract his seed… only for Arek to come home having just encountered that selfsame construct, the plan only foiled because he’d managed to keep his head and subvert the thing before it got away. His clothes had been tattered, barely hanging onto him, not concealing much; he’d been thoroughly wetted down; and seeing Ali in his own home, oh, he’d certainly been surprised, and not in a good way.

His blood running cold and quenching that sudden longing, Ali yanked his hands away and took a step back, stammering, “S-s-sorry—!”

“Heavens, Alistair.” Arek offered him a wan smile. He’d lifted a hand, maybe to touch the tiger’s cheek; now he let it fall. “You don’t need to apologize to me. did offer to keep you company in your borrowed bed, and that offer stands.”

Ali blinked. Arek had offered what? Ali had found the cheetah attractive for years and never pursued him – partly because of the rancour between their families, partly just out of the discomfort he’d had in his old body. Surely he’d remember an offer like that!

Wouldn’t he?

Although… when had Arek learned of the name Ali had been leaning towards?

The next thing he knew, that hand was on his cheek after all. “You don’t remember, do you?” Arek asked softly. “I was afraid that might be so.”

Again Ali blinked hard. How had Arek known that, either? “I remember getting out of the water,” he said. “I remember seeing myself like, uh, this. It felt good. Felt right. But after that…” He closed a fist as though he might seize the truth out of the very air. “What – what happened?”

“You passed out, I’m afraid.” Arek sighed, looking away. “A miscalculation on my part. I accounted for most of what your new, larger body would be made of, but not the simple fact that it would need food. You had enough time last night to see yourself, tell me the name you’d chosen, and for me to make the offer. Then you kissed me, which certainly felt like accepting it – but by the time you drew back from that kiss, you were shaking, and complained of dizziness. You were out shortly thereafter. I found you to be simply starved—” the cheetah knew the living body as well as any healer, after all “—so I didn’t see a need to undo the change on my own recognizance, and didn’t think you would thank me for it. I summoned some help to get you into bed, got some sugar water down your throat to tide you over, and tucked you in myself; and I made sure to have a veryample meal waiting for you by the time I thought you likely to awaken.” His gaze sought the side table. “That, at least, seems to have been well-received.”

Oh. That… was a much smaller gap in Ali’s memory than he’d begun to worry. “We didn’t…?”

“No, it didn’t go farther than a single kiss, not yet.” Again that wistful smile. “At least I might presume to say ‘not yet.’”

Ali could hardly think of anyone he’d more enjoy teaching him about his new body, but what a relief that the lesson hadn’t actually happened yet and he’d just forgotten. “And the memory…?”

“It’s not entirely surprising that you might have lost the last few minutes, losing consciousness as suddenly as you did. Your mind didn’t have the chance to keep a record of it, so to speak – not such intellectual things as conversation, anyway; feelings may have been a bit easier, thus you remembering that what you saw of yourself felt good. It sounds like you didn’t lose any more than might be expected in the circumstances.”

Ali let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. “Thank you.”

“But of course.” The cheetah’s fingers stroked along Ali’s jaw. “And how are you feeling this morning, Alistair?”

Alistair. Still similar to the name he’d grown up with, yes – maybe it’d be harder for others to keep the names apart, maybe someone would, by accident or intention, call him Alystarra. But he was still similar to the person he’d been all along, and had only changed a little, really – one simple thing, if one with profound consequences in physical terms.

And it was so, soreassuring to hear the name tumble off of Arek’s tongue so naturally, as if it was the name the cheetah had alwaysknown him by.

“Better for hearing you call me that,” he said out loud. “Better for the breakfast, too; it was delightful. A bit sore, somehow a bit tired, but overall… oh, I can’t tell you how much of a relief it was to find myself still like this.

“I thought that might be the way of it, that last one.” Now Arek’s smile was warmer, brighter, less wistful. “Was the food enough, then?”

Ali had to laugh. “I’m still somewhat surprised I managed to eat it all as it is. I hope it doesn’t mean I’ll always need portions like that, though. If so, I’ll deal with it, but it will make things a bit harder.”

“You shouldn’t. Oh, I’m sure you’ll need quite a bit more than your former usual, but that setting was because you were already undernourished. Once you’ve settled into a new equilibrium and your body has replenished all that it was missing, it should be more manageable.”

“Or at least allow me more time to appreciate it,” Ali prayed.

“Just so.” Arek’s fingers glided along the tiger’s jaw. “My main intention was to check in and be sure you were faring well; second to that, did you still wish to have a tailor summoned, and if so do you have a preference as to whom?”

“Yes and no, in that order,” Ali replied. The thought that he’d have to get an entire new wardrobe, while lacking anything at all that would fit him, might have been a daunting one if that solution hadn’t already been presented alongside the problem itself. “I only hope whoever it is will take my family’s name as credit until the courts decide how much of my father’s wealth I’m to inherit.”

“It’ll probably be our House’s own tailor, then, rather than one from the markets. He’s a pleasant fellow, likes a challenge, and while you’ll certainly need more material than I or my father would, I’m quite sure he’s well-stocked. If you truly wish to pay your own way on this, we can doubtless come to reasonable terms of reimbursement later on. All that said, he’ll likely not be available until after noon, so,” a toothy grin, “would you care for some company in the meantime? Get a little better-acquainted with your new self?”

The sudden change of subject made Ali’s head spin. Or maybe that was the sudden rush of longing. He swallowed an automatic, enthusiastic agreement that was trying to sneak out before he could consider it. Being found attractive, before today, had only made Ali feel all the more awkward, even when it was by someone he’d found appealing in turn – and that was a group the cheetah definitely fell into. Now, though – now the news that his interest was heartily reciprocated nearly knocked out his thinking mind; for one crazy moment, all he knew was want. He wanted to know every inch of Arek’s body in exquisite detail, wanted to feel the other male against him, to hear him moan, smell his seed—

He swallowed hard. Gods, it was suddenly a lot harder to avoid getting caught up in the rush. One clear moment – that was all he wanted, just one moment of clarity to ask himself honestly, did he have any reason to say no? It wasn’t as though they could accidentally have children – as he understood it, that would have been hard enough even when he did have a woman’s body; different races of cats were fertile together, but not very highly so. On a more individual level, Arek was a smart and talented fellow, with drive to excel and a keen sense of integrity, and the physical attraction Ali had long had for him was only heightened now that indulging it, if indeed the cheetah would have had any interest in doing so before yesterday, wouldn’t have felt impossibly awkward on Ali’s part. They were of comparable standing, notwithstanding Ali’s father being ousted from the Forum over those plots; Ali wasn’t one to obsess over status and had no indication that Arek was either, but being similar in that respect did negate a few potential headaches.

Really, for a dalliance, Ali could do far, far worse. For more than that, well, best to see how a dalliance went before pondering more.

That moment of consideration must have resulted in a pregnant pause, but Arek didn’t seem concerned or dismayed just yet. Hopeful, more like. Ali let a smile move into place, bringing a hand up to the cheetah’s jaw in turn. “I suppose,” he began, aiming for that same faux-dispassion as in Arek’s last remark, “it wouldn’t be a bad idea to let you inspect your handiwork while it’s fully functional, hmmm?”

A chuckle. “Best to be sure,” the cheetah agreed. His hand slid back and around Ali’s neck, and he pressed up onto his toes, leaning in close. Their mouths met, breaths mingling, and for the first time in his life, a lover’s kiss caused Ali no awkwardness or hesitation, only pleasure, excitement, anticipation, and a host of other such positive things. He could have savoured that kiss for hours if there hadn’t been greater pleasures promised; as it was, he was only to happy to linger in it, his mouth working against the smaller man’s, until the cheetah came up for air.

“You take to that quite naturally,” Arek observed.

“I’m already learning I need to mind my own strength,” Ali replied, “and the view’s been a bit dizzying sometimes, but moving feels completely, wonderfully natural.”

“Mind your own, strength, huh? Does that mean I should take charge?”

“Maybe,” Ali laughed. “Though the simple fact that you know what two men can do together would probably mean that anyway.”

“Somewhere, somewhen, someone had to be completely new to it.” Arek’s rough tongue dabbed at Ali’s muzzle. “So explore, yeah? I think what I treasure most about my first lover is that he let me do just that. And I don’t think either of us is really the sort who learns best by being told what to do.”

“Mmmm.” He made a good point there. Ali lifted his head and leaned slightly forward, murmuring into one rounded ear, “So what you’re saying is, I should experiment.” The way that ear quivered under his breath – and the rest of the cheetah shivered as well – would have been a success already, but Ali went one further, trying a light nibble, feeling that quiver against his lips and tongue.

“Hahhh, yes,” the cheetah hissed, pulling in a bit closer, up a bit higher. His snout pressed into the side of Ali’s neck, the prick of his teeth in turn sending a shiver down the tiger’s spine; and as though to intercept it, the smaller cat’s free hand slid under Ali’s borrowed robe, around to his shoulderblades, and there splayed out, claws trailing down to the small of his back.

Well, that just seemed needlessly awkward, having that thing in the way like that. Ali let go of that ear and sighed over it, staying hunkered down so as to not pull away from the touch he was receiving, slipping his hands in between their bodies to untie the belt of his robe. The motion did not go unnoticed; Arek’s hands slid around to his front, roaming over his chest, pushing the cloth off to the side.

“Maybe it’s a little vain, considering my role in this,” Arek breathed. “But I was really hoping your answer wouldn’t have changed overnight, because I’ve wanted you desperately since that kiss last night.”

Less than a day might not sound very flattering, but then, until last night, Ali hadn’t had the sort of body Arek was interested in. Still, it made for a golden opportunity for his own such confession. “I’ve wanted you for years now,” he said, shrugging the robe off of one shoulder, then the other as he went on, “and now I finally like the thought of having you look at me.

“Oh, I’ll do more than look,” the cheetah purred, a few heartbeats before his fingers curled around Ali’s eagerly stiffening length.

Good gods. Ali had thought it felt nice when he was doing it. This was easily the most intense thing he’d ever felt, enough to make him gasp and shove up into Arek’s grip with a hoarse moan, and the cheetah was only just getting started. He trailed kisses down Ali’s collarbone and over his chest as he knelt in front of him, smoothly stroking up and down his proud and rigid new manhood.

And then he turned his head downward, a warm breath washing over the crown of that firm pole – followed by a stroke of his rough tongue that felt like a lightning bolt shooting up the tiger’s spine. By the time Ali caught his breath from the cry that one pulled out of him, a softer but still unbelievably fine sensation was going through him as the cheetah’s mouth slid up and down is length, teasing it here and there with strokes of that strong, rough tongue.

“Haaaaah, gods,” he managed, touching the base of Arek’s ear with trembling fingers. “Is it always like this?”

The cheetah’s tongue slipped up and off his glans, then pressed against his balls and dragged all the way up along his shaft, before the smaller cat lifted his head and grinned upwards, hand curling once more around Ali’s length and stroking along it. “Probably not,” he confessed. “Some of it gets easier to endure, and I’m focusing on the sensitive spots more than I normally would. But some fellows just are more sensitive than others. So far, I think it’ll be nice to find out which sort of fellow you are.”

“You and your experimentation.” Ali mock-sighed, but couldn’t keep a chuckle at bay for very long. He fingered Arek’s vest, marvelling at how easy it had been for him to get naked; how natural it had felt. “But I have my own goals in this too, mmm? For which I think you’re overdressed yet.”

“Oh, I think I’ll like your goals. Would you like to fix that difficulty, or shall I?”

“I think I shall,” Ali breathed, giving what was very carefully a light tug to Arek’s shoulder. Obligingly the cheetah stood upright again, and kept on obliging him, following the direction of his touch to stand next to the bed. There Ali took the time to slip his hands under the smaller man’s vest, feeling through soft fur for the lithe body beneath, and found it just as much to his liking as he’d thought it could be – slim, sleek, and wiry. Not that the fur concealing it was at all unpleasant, of course. “Whatever you did with your fur this morning, it’s delightful.

“I was hoping you’d like it,” came the breathy reply.

Ali couldn’t claim the practised ease with which the people in romantic tales removed their partners’ clothing, but Arek was wearing so little – and such light – clothing that it really wasn’t hard. The vest wasn’t even fastened; all it took was Arek’s arms being held back a little and a slight tug had it out of the way. Ali hung it up on the chair he’d broken his fast at and turned his attention lower. The belt was a little harder to work with, everything being backwards to what Ali was used to, but he got it undone without doing any harm to it, and with only a few moments of fumbling.

And even that fumbling had its upside, with his fingers brushing against a prominent tent just below.

Licking his lips, Ali paused a moment to run trembling fingertips along that ridge, a soft half-groan, half-purr drifting over his ears. No, this wouldn’t be the first time Ali had seen a man’s – another man’s aroused member, but it wasn’t something he’d seen often before, either. And this… well, considering how much bigger Ali’s hands were now, it had to be a pretty hefty piece.

“How in the world have you been hiding this?” he wondered aloud, giving it another stroke.

“Working very hard not to let it get ideas while I’m in public,” Arek replied with a chuckle. “Resorting to sorcery to snuff out arousal, a few times.”

That must be a handy ability to have.” Ali felt around back. The fastening over Arek’s tail seemed simple enough – simpler than most, really.

“A bit. I’d rather be doing the opposite, though – not that I’ve needed it so far.” Another, somewhat rueful chuckle.

“You certainly don’t need to stifle it now.” Ali took a breath, swallowed, and eased the cheetah’s pants down.

Inch by inch, Arek’s manhood came into view – and there were quite a few inches of it, at that. Good gods, that thing was bigger than Ali’s, which he’d been so marvelling at such a short time ago. “Oh, my,” the tiger breathed, leaning down and in. “It’s a good thing I’m so much larger now than I was, isn’t it?”

“Mmmm, that did come to mind, I admit – oh! Oh, yes, right there.”

Ali cast a quick grin up at his host. One thing he did know, even before the cheetah had given him firsthand experience a few minutes ago, had been how wonderfully sensitive was that spot just under the crown; pressing the pad of his thumb against it and rubbing around made the man squirm so deliciously. So far, so good. He curled his fingers around it, squeezing just a little bit; Arek pressed up into his grip with a throaty moan, but he wasn’t done. He eased off a tiny smidgeon, keeping just enough traction to tug the skin up over the glans, then let it draw back again. Arek was panting over his head, tail flicking this way and that, so apparently he was doing something right.

He leaned in a little bit closer, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. The very fine scent of aroused male flooded his senses, his own need surging in response. Oh, he wanted this man so badly right now. Delicately, he took a taste of the moisture beading the cheetah’s slit. The pungency of it felt a bit strange, unfamiliar as it was – but the part of him that knew what it was, and moreover, what it meant, exulted in it. This was good, this was right. He took that broad glans into his mouth, pressed his tongue against it, and swiped upward.

Arek yelped and gasped, clutching at Ali’s skull. “Easy – easy now!” he panted.

Oh. Right. His tongue was as rough as the other man’s and stronger than he’d known it to be. Ali’s ears flushed and furled back; he might have pulled his head off and offered an apology, but at least Arek’s sudden squirming was accompanied by giggling. Doubtless there was true discomfort under it, but he was apparently feeling too good for it to be outright agony.

Still, his next effort would need to be more careful. He waited a moment, gently suckling, until the cheetah had stilled and settled against the bed, and was stroking his ears; then he carefully pressed his tongue forward, against that fine spot under Arek’s glans.

That went rather better; the cheetah arched up and drew in a sharp breath, but what came out with it was a deep, contented groan. Keeping his tongue’s touch about that light, as best he could manage, he tried to swirl it against Arek’s very tip; how successful he was in that, he couldn’t rightly say, but it seemed to be well-appreciated. So did his stroking of the lower half of the cheetah’s manhood, and the caress to the downy pouch below, too.

Oh, yes, he could really get to like doing this. Mostly for the reactions he was getting, but truly, once past his initial shock, the once-unfamiliar tastes and scents were becoming pretty compelling, too. Not so much the sore knees or aching shoulders, though; a few more licks, and he somewhat reluctantly lifted his head up. “Well,” he observed, “that was very nice from mypoint of view. Sorry about the first bit.”

“I did tell you to try,” Arek replied, ruffling his ears. “And the rest was nice. What next?”

“Getting comfortable,” Ali told him.

A few moments later, Ali was sprawled out in bed, this time in a much better condition to appreciate its comforts. Especially when one of those comforts was the warm body atop him, warm breath on his chest, and warm, hard flesh against his own. He’d been right in his earlier assessment; the cheetah’s manhood was a bit bigger than his. It didn’t make Ali’s own feel inadequate, but considering the difference in their overall sizes, it was a little bit amusing.

For a little bit, they just stayed like that and savoured the contact. It was a remarkable thing, really; Arek wasn’t a small man, and this certainly wouldn’t have been comfortable for long in Ali’s old body. But while it was a significant weight atop him and he doubted he’d want to actually sleep like this, for a stretch of time together it was very fine indeed.

Though when Arek shifted a little atop him and their shafts rubbed together, it did serve to stoke Ali’s lust again.

“I think I’m ready for more,” he breathed. “Not sure exactly what, so long as it involves your pleasure.”

“Mmm, well, I feel much the same about yours,” Arek replied, fingertips drifting along their lengths. “I think, hmmmm… one of us in the other, maybe?”

Ali shivered hard. Funny, how a concept that had made him feel so conflicteda mere day ago could be so compelling now. “Oh, yes.” His fingers brushed against the cheetah’s as he fondled the other male’s broad crown. “I think I would like feeling this put to, hmm, more thorough use.”

“Really?” Arek cocked his head, sitting up with one hand splayed on Ali’s chest for balance. “I’d have thought you more keen on the other way around, but I’m not about to complain about such an opportunity!”

“In due time,” Ali assured him, and laughed. “I do look forward to that, too. But I guess… I’ve been somewhat curious about yours for a while now, even if I tried not to actually think about it in detail.”

“Well, then!” An answering laugh. “I’ll be happy to oblige you. Just tell me if it starts to feel bad in any way, yeah? If it’s new and uncomfortable we can work through it, but if it starts to feel off-putting…”

“I will,” he promised. Hopefully it wouldn’t come up, but if it did, he hoped he could keep that promise, rather than try desperately to just come out the other side…

“In that case, just relax, mmmm? Right as you are, I can work with that with only a little bit of adjustment.” Arek rose up to his knees, planting them between Ali’s thighs, and took a deep breath.

The concentration on the cheetah’s face was familiar enough to any trained sorcerer. The context of being in bed wasn’t somewhere Ali would have expected to see it. But Arek was focusing, with one hand gently cradling his balls and the other resting fingertips just above his length. He let out a soft sigh, the former hand slipping forward, along his shaft – and what had previously been a slight bit of moisture clinging to his glans was quickly growing more pronounced, a thick bead of clear fluid building, then dripping onto Ali’s thigh. Then more of it, with the cheetah tilting his length up so the stuff ran down along it rather than falling free – and still more, enough of it flowing out of him now that he could and did smear it all over his length.

He opened his eyes and grinned down at Ali. “What our bodies make has all the right qualities to make this much easier,” he explained. “It just doesn’t make nearly enough without a bit of encouragement.”

“Now that is a useful trick.” Ali had heard, through some discreet inquiries while he was assembling the things Arek had needed to change him, that men enjoying each other sometimes had a need for light oil to ease things along. Apparently this one had his own methods. “Even if the living body isn’t where my main talents lie, I may have to learn that one.”

“I look forward to teaching you,” Arek purred. “It will doubtless involve a goodly bit of time seeing you naked and hard, after all – and even if it’ll be work, that’ll be a good perk.”

Oh yes, Ali was coming to like how this man’s thoughts ran.

“Mmmm,now, bring your legs up a bit – that’s getting there, but a bit more like this…”Arek’s hands guided Ali’s knees, tucking up towards his chest, but out to the sides. Once the tiger was situated to his satisfaction and gave assurance that he could keep himself that way, Arek hunkered down between his legs, kneeling astride his tail, one hand planted beside him for balance, the other vanishing out of Ali’s sight along with the hard, slickened flesh it was guiding.

The feel of that flesh nudging into the crease of his rump made Ali tense in spite of himself – at first for being unfamiliar and a bit strange, but the realization that this was really happening didn’t make it any easier to relax, not even knowing he probably should. Arek looked up at him, searching for Ali didn’t know what, and gave the tiger a broad, reassuring smile. “Deep breath,” the smaller cat suggested. “Close your eyes, breathe in…”

Part of Ali rather wanted to see Arek’s face as he pushed in, but the smaller man had a point; Ali needed to be relaxed. So, though it didn’t quite match the order of things that Arek had suggested, Ali turned to his exercises in meditation, inhaling deeply, feeling his chest rise – the differences in that sensation tried to make themselves known, but he pushed that aside, focusing only on the moment, not any farther in the past than the breath just before.

And when his lungs were full, he let that breath out, long and slow, and let his eyes slip shut as it went. That, it seemed, was the cheetah’s cue; he pressed forward, his warm, firm tip sliding against Ali’s body for a few inches, and then…

It wasn’t quite the feeling Ali was used to from relieving himself. The cheetah’s flesh was, well, less yielding, more insistent, and it wasn’t moving at Ali’s direction. At first he couldn’t help but tense all over again, and Arek paused; but then Ali was able to regain control. Another slow, steady breath—and this time, his new lover stretched him open and plunged in deep.

“Ohhh, that feels good,” he whispered. There really wasn’t anything else to say. To go into detail – about the fullness, the warmth, the stretch, the simple realization that this handsome man was inside him, was making love to him – all of that was fine, but it was all encapsulated in that one simple statement.

“Hhhhh… yeah, fuck yeah,” the cheetah hissed in response, squirming a little against Ali, twisting and stirring deep under his balls, breath hot and quick on his chest.

Ali’s ears flushed and furled back. Oh, it wasn’t that he was so shy of such vulgar speech as to find it off-putting, and he certainly knew what it meant, but it still felt unusually coarse, especially to hear it from someone who normally spoke in as much of an upper-class fashion as Ali himself. But he couldn’t deny that the words were fitting. They seemed somehow more intense than milder language—and the only thing Ali had felt that was more intense than what Arek was subjecting to now had been when the cheetah’s tongue was rasping over his crown. His cockhead.

He put a hand on Arek’s shoulder and found the smaller cat quivering and tense—somehow, that bit of extra assurance that he was feeling such strong sensations too only made Ali more acutely aware of his own. Of the thick, warm cock wedging him open and jabbing deep into him, of his lover’s weight and his hot, panting breath, even of the scent of lilac still heavy on the air and mingling with the smell of sex. And it was in that time of heightened awareness that Arek started thrusting in earnest, went beyond making love and started fucking him.

Gods, it was exquisite. Part of Ali didn’t want it to ever stop; part of him yearned for the conclusion. And as Arek gave into his lust, thrusting harder and faster, moans growing higher and more urgent, it soon became clear that the latter part of Ali would be the one satisfied.

Ali opened his eyes and lifted his head, drinking in the sight of the cheetah atop him, head drooping, eyes squeezed shut, ears flat. His tail was whipping back and forth, his fingers dug into the sheets, his whole body shaking from the strain he was putting it through, and he looked absolutely marvellous for it. “That’s it, go on,” Ali urged, cupping a hand over the cheetah’s shoulder, squeezing it, feeling the tension in his arm. “Let it all go, fill me right up—please…!”

“Ah, fuck,” Arek whimpered. “I’m—ahhhh!” He threw back his head as that cry ripped out of him, shoving so hard against Ali it was like he was trying to make the two of them one; a feeling only intensified by the way he squirmed and strained to push just a bit closer, just a bit deeper. His cock was bucking under Ali’s tail, even with the cheetah’s thrusts stifled—and then Ali felt it, warm and wet, deep inside him.

“Oh, gods,” he moaned, closing his eyes and letting his head sink back.The sensation was, if he was honest with himself, kind of weird. But knowing what it meant—that turned it into something incredible. It was just another piece of his lover’s ecstasy, and in that light he took it in gladly, straining to feel it in just a bit more detail. Could he actually feel Arek’s seed pulsing into him, squirt by squirt, or was that just his mind interpreting things to match what he knew had to be happening? It was hard to say. Did it matter? Probably not.

A few straining shoves later, Arek slumped atop him. For a few seconds the cheetah was panting hard, then he managed to draw in a deep breath and let it out in a long, thoroughly contented groan. One hand shifted up and pressed a bit weakly against Ali’s cheek. “Haaaah. That was…” He trailed off into another sigh. On his next breath, he managed. “I guess I really needed that.”

“It was amazing,” Ali told him, setting a hand atop his. “If it felt even half as good for you as it did for me…”

Laughing, Arek pushed himself up on one arm. “If you think mine felt good…” He eased back, his softening length slipping out of Ali. The tiger shivered and groaned, but didn’t have time to worry about the sudden emptiness; first because of a conspicuous wetness against the base of his tail, and then because the cheetah’s other hand was wrapping once again around his shaft.

Well, at that point, it didn’t much matter that the cheetah hadn’t finished his sentence, because he obviously meant to give Ali another point of comparison.

Part of him wanted to watch every moment of what was happening to him, and the sight of his length vanishing and reappearing as the cheetah’s hand slid along it was strangely appealing, but the sight wasn’t the point, now was it? Ali let his head sink back against the sheets, his eyes slip shut, and a moan flutter out of him unimpeded, relishing the squeeze around his cock, the tugging of his foreskin up over the head and back, and, presently, the warm, wet stroke of a rough tongue and the washing of warm breath over freshly-dampened skin.

His past experiences with orgasm had been fairly mild, not quite enough to eclipse the dissonance he’d felt with his own body, but still definitely positive things. What swept through him now didn’t have that dissonance against it, and it was anything but mild. It sent such a rush through him that he felt like he was going to thrash right off the bed, every motion just making the sensation stronger. With each breath he cried out all over again, clinging to the sheets for dear life. Unlike with what he’d been receiving, there was no doubt that he could feel each pulse of seed rushing down his cock and out of him, into his lover’s waiting mouth. It was nothing like he’d ever felt before, and it was so very, very right; even as the physical ecstasy threatened to break him, that rightness made him feel finally whole.

His cries quieted for the simple reason that he was gasping too hard to give them voice—and then, mercifully, the sensations started to ebb. He could feel, once again, the details of what the cheetah was doing to him—the tongue gently, delicately lapping at his aching flesh, the fingers curled around the base of his manhood, the warm breath wafting over his skin and stirring the fur on his balls. The frantic need was waning, leaving him spent and shaking; ecstasy ebbed into soft, warm bliss. The cheetah’s mouth released his spent, softening member, and his lover stretched out against his side, whiskers brushing against his in a nuzzle to his cheek. Somewhat clumsily, Ali managed to get an arm around the other man’s slender shoulders and pull him in close.

“That was delicious,” Arek murmured over his cheek. “Literally and otherwise. Thank you.”

Ali swallowed, suddenly aware that he’d screamed himself hoarse. “I, uh, hope this room isn’t too close to the other peopled areas of the house…”

“It’s the most remote suite we have. Though, uh, I guess neither of us were really discreet.” Arek’s snout pressed against the side of Ali’s neck. “I have no regrets, but I hope this isn’t too mortifying for you.”

Ali let himself ponder that. What was he really afraid of? Oh, it was a bit embarrassing to be so obvious about having sex, but on that consideration, he didn’t mind being known to be Arek’s lover. In fact, that was something he rather fancied he could be proud of. “I think I’m mostly feeling guilty for the racket. Also, uh, thirsty. And I don’t think it would be appropriate to see your tailor like this.” Sex and semen were redolent in every breath he took, and even if he was only pleased to be Arek’s lover, rubbing that in someone’s face was just not right for a professional encounter.

“Water, at least, there is still some here, and it’s easy enough to get more. For the latter, well, I’d be quite happy to show you to the baths.” Arek’s hand cupped against his opposite cheek. “Before I make too many plans for that, though—how are you feeling?”

Maybe he should have given such a question more consideration. Arek was his host and, on several levels, his healer; there were plenty of reasons for him to check in on Ali’s well-being. But in the moment… “Aside from my throat being a bit scratchy now, I just feel good. In so many ways.”

“Water, then. I think we could both use it.” Chuckling softly, the cheetah drew away from him. Lifting his head, Ali watched the shifting pattern of blotches and stripes on the lithe feline’s back as he moved to the side table and poured. By the sound of it, there was indeed still a good bit left in the pitcher even after that pour. Then Arek turned back towards him, a warm smile up above and the fine heft of his flaccid manhood below—he was bringing a drink, right; Ali pushed himself up and swung his legs out to the side, sitting on the edge of the bed, just in time for Arek to sit down next to him and pass him the cup.

Cool, crisp water had rarely felt so good. Ali took a goodly mouthful, swallowed, and then drank some more before passing it back for Arek to take his own share. The smaller man seemed comfortable enough in this moment, but… was this to be all there was, Ali wondered? Or did he dare hope…?

“Heavy thoughts, handsome?”

Well, that term of endearment was somewhat hopeful, at least. “Arek…”

A hand took hold of his, squeezing gently. “Go on?”

“I—I don’t want to presume. I know we haven’t really had much time to get to know each other yet, not really. The bad blood between our families kind of kept us apart up til now. But do you think—” Ali swallowed hard. Courage. Have some courage; it got you this far and you’re much better for it. “Do you think we could be, uh, lovers? I mean, obviously yes, but—in an ongoing sense?”

Fingers stroked along his jaw; the cheetah smiled up at him, warm and friendly. “I think it’s worth trying, Alistair. And now that I’ve looked past your family name, I think I’m coming to like the person you are. If you want to introduce me as your lover, I would be happy to call you mine.”

Ali’s breath fluttered out of him. He pushed his snout against the side of Arek’s neck and squeezed him close, barely remembering to be gentle about it. Gods, what a relief. “Thank you,” he whispered. “For everything.”

“For much of it,” Arek murmured over his ears, “I’ve just as much reason to be thanking you. For the rest… anytime, Alistair. I’m glad to have helped; helping people is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

Alistair. “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing you call me that.”

“Well, I crave your pardon if I call you other things, too, sometimes. Ali. Lover. Handsome, stunning, sexy. Friend… and if it turns out that ‘beloved’ fits, well, we’ll see how it feels in due time, yeah?”

Gods, Ali was quickly growing fond of this man. “All of those sound like good things, if you’re the one saying them, dear.”

“Oh, that’s a good one, too.” Arek gave a squeeze to his shoulder. “Now, shall we put at least some semblance of clothing on and visit the baths?”

Now that seemed like quite a fine next step. “Let’s.”