Rank had its privileges.

In this case, Valan’s rank was nothing substantial – an acting subbie was hardly in the rarefied upper reaches of command – and his privilege was correspondingly simple: he had a private room. It was enough, though; enough space for the hefty cooler-box that he now lifted from the place it had occupied for the past few weeks.

The door opened on its own ahead of him, and closed behind; a glance over his shoulder confirmed that it had locked itself. Not that he was particularly worried. Most of his gear was with the quartermaster, not in his cabin, and the burden he now bore was the main other thing worth taking – even if anyone had the nerve to try to steal something from the barracks of a Star Lane Authority training camp.

The night breeze washed through his trimmed-short fur as he bore toward the sound of voices. After the muggy heat of a jungle day, the mild air blowing off the bay was a welcome breath of cooler, fresher air. He slowed his step, letting that breeze caress him a bit longer before he turned the corner.

The camp had been built over a geothermal power source, and the pool ahead of him was a pleasant consequence of that: natural hot springs, their flow tapped and augmented artificially, forming a bathing area for Authority agents on their downtime that had all the cleanliness and convenience of an artificial tub, but was wide open and didn’t need one erg to keep hot. It was currently occupied by a number of such – three women and a half-dozen men of various species, lounging about the edge of the steaming pool and chatting.

The cheetah woman farthest across from his approach was the first to notice him, calling out, “Hey, it’s the sub – and he’s got presents!”

“Hey there, folks,” Valan greeted his squad, crouching to set the box down. “Got room for one more in there?”

“Well, I think that rather depends on what’s in the box,” purred the ermine man nearest to him, twisting around and half-rising from the water to look.

“A little liquid comfort,” replied the skunk, “courtesy of the very fine brewery an hour up the coast.”

“Oh, you’ve been holding out on the good stuff? I don’t know, sir.” The male fox who was speaking chuckled. “Seems a little full in here already. Wouldn’t want to be unsafe, you know.”

Laughing as well, Valan fumbled for the clasp. “Would it help ease your safety concerns, Morris,” the skunk grunted as he yanked the clasp open, “to hear that seal cracking just now? I haven’t been saving it for me, after all, just keeping it in reserve for a good day.”

“I think it would,” the fox laughed.

“So is there something to celebrate, Valan?” Sulik, the ermine, asked as he took the first of the bottles Valan brought out of the case and passed them along.

“Sure there is,” Valan replied, passing bottles along by the pair. “Our transport won’t be here to pick is up for at least five days, maybe up to ten. Even if it gets here early, it’s to await our pleasure while we have those five days to ourselves.” He handed Sulik one last bottle and held onto the tenth for himself. A glance at the water revealed that nobody else had bothered keeping a layer on; he peeled out of his shorts as well, leaving only his wrist chrono and his tags on his person, and slid into the space that Sulik shifted over to vacate. “So we’ve got five days of leave to celebrate,” he went on, “and plenty more beer to do it with.”

All around the circle were hisses and pops as the marines unsealed their bottles. They were lifted up high, and then, more or less in unison, the marines took their first swigs.

It was really good beer. Valan let the conversation wash over him, chiming in now and then, but mostly letting the non-coms guide things along and nursing his drink. From time to time, as refills were requested, he pushed himself partway out of the water to reach into the box; other times, the ermine beat him to it.

Around the bottom of Valan’s second beer, into a lull in conversation, Khara, the cheetah, said, “You know, this is one reason I love being in the Authority. Before I enlisted, I don’t think I could have ever been around half this many naked guys without them getting pushy.” She took another swig. “Ironically enough, I’d be a hell of a lot less likely to mind if you did.”

“I’d worry if it were otherwise, Khara,” laughed Ashi, the wolf lady about a third of the way around form Khara’s right. “We’re supposed to be the people upholding the law, after all. Besides, some of them distract each other – I think our good Subbie’s roommate was walking funny for the whole two weeks between our posting being announced and us shipping out here!”

Valan joined in with the laughter following that, but as it waned, he said, “Careful, Ashi. Tease too much and you might find out just how unwilling I’m not, where women are concerned.”

“Yeah,” husked the big wolverine to his left – nothing special there, Rekka husked everything he said. “Think you’re enjoying the company a bit, eh, Sub?”

“Why do you think I spoke up in the first place, you big lump?” Khara laughed. “Hey, Valan, can you pass down another beer? This one’s done.”

General laughter met that request. Valan glanced over to his right, but Sulik was laughing right along with the others, albeit quietly as usual. No harm do be had there. So Valan obliged, pushing partway up to his feet, twisting from the waist up to reach into the waning supply for another bottle. The caress of the breeze over bare, wet skin made him shiver a little, but he leaned on his right hand a moment more after passing the beer along, gazing across the pool at Khara with a grin. “Like what you see, spotty?” he queried, doing his best to make it sound like a sensual drawl while still being loud enough for everyone to hear clearly.

“Always, stripes,” she said brightly, “and it looks like I’m not the only one, but don’t let it get cold, huh?”

Valan laughed. “Anyone else need a refill while I’m up?” Heads shook all around, and he let himself slide back in with a sigh, drooping a little farther this time, his arms along the pool’s rim and the water lapping at his collarbone.

Khara smiled, leaning over a little to her right, idly running a finger along the jaw of the wolf beside her. “Surprised you didn’t offer a closer look,” she said with a chuckle. “Officer or no, I don’t think anyone here who’s at all into guys would mind.”

“And never mind that restriction,” Sulik offered. “For anyone who provides this much good beer…”

Maybe it was the beer he’d already drunk. Maybe it was the reflexes of a long-suppressed crush. Maybe he was just tired. For whatever reason, he was slow enough on the uptake that he didn’t parse the (very, depressingly straight) ermine’s remark until Sulik had wound an arm around his shoulders and leaned over to lock muzzles. For a moment, the skunk sputtered and squirmed in sheer surprise. Then his brain caught up with current events, reminded him that the very beautiful man who’d been beside him all evening now had him in a liplock and, indeed, was just as hard against him. He sighed over Sulik’s cheek, reaching around to slide a hand along the slender male’s spine, wiry muscle slipping under his fingertips as they pressed through the silky white fur.

Perhaps surprisingly, there wasn’t a single bark of laughter to be heard. There were, however, several indrawn breaths, and Ashi let out a soft, pleased noise by the time Sulik’s muzzle disengaged from Valan’s. The ermine grinned at him, brushed lips against his just a moment more, and then slid back into his place – still leaning against Valan, but, well, he was a very slender guy, and he had tossed three beers back. He may well have been a little unsteady before, too, and Valan just hadn’t been paying attention.

The third woman of the group, on Sulik’s other side, let out a deep, rumbling laugh. “Oh, Sulik, you horrible tease,” she rumbled, reaching over to cup the ermine’s chin. Skarett was the other wolverine in the squad, and second-largest among them; that caress engulfed most of Sulik’s face. “For a moment I thought you were going to climb onto his lap and ride him – and for that sight, I’d give you a warm bed for a year!”

Again Sulik laughed. “I do try to stretch them now and then, but I still have my limits, I’m afraid. I’m not one of those fools who thinks touching another man will somehow lessen me, but…” He trailed off.

Khara leaned forward. “You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?” she challenged.

Sulik waved a hand in dismissal. “I have sometimes wondered what a man who isn’t a ham-fisted cretin might be able to do with me and still be pleasurable. I’ve never had any doubt that a woman could do those same things and more.”

“But there’s more men than women here,” the cheetah pointed out, her roaming fingers tracing random swirls in the fur on her lupine neighbour’s chest. “A little bit of… flexibility… is good for all of us. Keeps things going smoothly, yeah?”

A thought came to Valan, and he grinned at it. “Besides, whatever I do to you, you can distract yourself with enough woman for two of you, right there on your other side.”

The ermine shot him a burning look, smirking. “Now who’s being a tease, hm? It’s unkind to make such suggestions without – ”

“Following through?” Valan cut in, questing fingers brushing against Sulik’s rigid length.

The ermine shivered, a low sigh drifting from his muzzle. “Yessss,” he drawled, eyes sliding shut.

It kind of grew from there. Valan kept exploring the slim man’s rather-disproportionately-thick shaft, tracing the rim of his glans. A massive hand settled behind his shoulder, Rekka’s blunt snout pressing against the side of his neck, the wolverine’s other hand sliding up along the skunk’s thigh, engulfing his length in turn. All around the circle, the marines turned their attention to their rightward neighbours, the whole circle slouching a little in the process.

Struck by one last reservation, Valan butted his head against Sulik’s shoulder. “This isn’t just the beer, though, right?”

“I haven’t drunk enough that I’ll forget this,” the ermine replied, muffled against Skarett’s side. “Or regret it. Go on; you’re doing fine.”

And so it went. Relaxed, casual, yes, but there was a quiet fondness to it all, too. Something that went beyond romantic interest or lack thereof. All these people knew each other – and in not very long now, they’d be trusting each other with their very lives in the line of duty. In a way, they all had some sort of love for each other.

Not the sort of love that normally led to hot flesh under his fingers or a strong hand wrapped around his own, but where was the harm?

He wasn’t able to keep track of the whole circle. Not with his attention frayed by the alcohol, its remainder focused intently on his immediate neighbours. But he was pretty sure that of the men, Sulik was the first to reach his peak, thrusting up hard enough that the head of his shaft rose above the surface, streamers of rich semen spattering the water in front of him. Here and there around them, breaths faltered – some, perhaps, savouring the sight, others driven to their own release in turn. Maybe a minute later, when Valan had long released Sulik’s softening rod and was just stirring his fingertips in the ermine’s water-buoyed fur, the grip around his own cock tensed, the stroke pausing, a soft bass groan that was felt as much as heard issuing forth as Rekka offered his own blissful contribution.

Not that he was very long about his own pleasure. The wolverine’s grip was not the most deft he’d felt, but there was just something about that massive hand stroking him so tenderly – and its mate, too, in other ways and other places – that was just… very satisfying. It wasn’t a massive, hip-pounding, screaming torrent of ecstasy that gripped him, and such would have just spoiled the mood. A surge of warmth, of gentle pleasure, and his seed, too, mingled with the water and was swept away by the current.

A few minutes past without another word spoken, as the last of them reached their climaxes and settled. Well, the last of the men, anyway; the women were still being kept busy by their neighbours, though that, too, was gradually winding down. Eventually, Valan drew a breath. “You people sure know how to make an officer feel at home with you, huh?”

“Join us in the barracks for the next few days,” Skarett suggested, stroking Sulik’s ears, “and you’ll see just how welcoming we can be, hmm?” She grinned over the ermine’s head. “I’m sure the only trouble you’ll have finding a bed is choosing among the options.”

Now there was a notion. Beat curling up in his own tiny room by a vast margin, at that. He reached behind him, giving his last bottle a bit of a shake to gauge the weight of it, then lifted it up. “Here’s to all of you. I’m sure the next five-plus days are going to be… interesting.”