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Dinner was good. Hanging out afterward was better. Getting sandwiched between the two skunks for one last romp was a new brand of intense, even if Sam didn’t push more than halfway in or so, and drifting off with them to either side was an experience I’ll not soon forget.

But when I woke up between them, I felt… awkward. Not the waiting-for-the-shoe-to-drop feeling of doing something I shouldn’t, nor even expecting the whole business to fall apart suddenly. I just felt like I didn’t quite belong; like, no matter how much they tried to make me feel welcome, I’d always be an outsider, in their house and in their bed.

After breakfast, Sam took a cup of coffee into the room that had been set up as his office. It was left to Sarah to notice my moodiness – though she was kind enough to say I looked pensive, so I must not have been moping too badly. I tried to articulate what I was feeling in a way that wouldn’t sound ungrateful – and that was hard. I didn’t really know why I was so discontent, when, now that I knew the lay of the land, things had gone amazingly with them. She listened, and tried to give me some additional relevant details and some comforting thoughts, and then suggested that maybe I should get out for a bit.

“You haven’t even been outside this house for much of two days, now,” she pointed out as I was shrugging into my jacket. “If nothing else, the air will do you good. And Tim…”

I paused with the zipper halfway up. “Yeah?”

She reached out to give my shoulder a pat. “Do what’s best for you, okay? Whatever happens, we’ll still want to be friends.”

“I don’t think I’ll be forgetting that anytime soon. Especially not in his case.” Laughing, I jerked my chin over to indicate the back room, rubbing my ass and mock-wincing; I wasn’t really still aching, but I found this somewhat surprising.

Anyway, off I went. My first stop was home; even if I hadn’t put my actual clothes on all day yesterday, I’d been out long enough that I needed a change. Once I’d tossed the old set in the hamper, though, there I paused. For a moment I riffled through the drawers, trying to find something that’d feel like a proper fit. Giving it up for the moment, I tossed myself onto my bed and let out a sigh.

I hadn’t really noticed how small this bed was, before. Strange. I’d certainly had less space to myself last night, and yet this bed felt more confining. Not as soft. The sheets were coarser, too. But at the same time, it was familiar. I couldn’t get lost in it like I might in the Knights’ guest room. I didn’t feel like lying in it was cheapening it.

I lay there for an hour or so, cut into neat slices by the soft, measured tick of my clock. It wasn’t the lavish comfort I’d enjoyed during my extended visit, but had a certain sort of serenity to it. And after that, I felt… not exactly focused, but refreshed in a way that mere inactivity couldn’t bring.

I got dressed – plain white tee, charcoal-grey slacks, black belt, and this time, a dark grey sweater. I pulled my jacket on again, and I set out – not for Daxter Avenue, but along a more familiar course. The smells of good food and the sounds of idle conversation drifted out to greet me as I opened the door. By the time I got to a seat at the bar, I was awash in a pleasant buzz of nostalgia. “Reisler’s, straight up,” I said to the man who sidled over in front of me.

It took a moment for reality to sink in, but at least it did so without me being reminded. I blinked. “Wait, what are you doing here, Ric? Not that I mind, but I thought you didn’t start until six!”

“Sick call,” the chinchilla explained, chuckling a little at my expense as he fetched a glass. “Couldn’t get anyone to cover a whole shift, so I came in early for mine. It’s quiet enough so far that I don’t really mind.”

And that was the truth; the one other person at the bar, a lithe and rather fetching lynx woman that I wasn’t familiar with, left after Ric ambled back over her way, evidently to settle her tab. He made his way back to me, snatching a tray of just-washed glasses on the way. “You’re looking… better than the other day,” he said as he started hanging them up.

I shifted a few seats over to make the conversation a bit easier. “Yeah, I’m doing about as good as could be expected, really. If I’m really lucky, I might even hear back soon about getting my job reinstated, more or less.”

“No crisis on the personal front, either?”

Oh. No wonder he was being cautious – he was wondering what had brought me in here without the skunks. “No, everything’s… good as I can expect, again.” I shrugged and took a sip of Scotch. “I just don’t know where I’m going with that.” His concerned expression, forward-tilted ears, and slightly arched eyebrow prompted me to go on. “Things are good with them,” no need to explain ‘them’, I figured, “things are fun, but, hell, being close to them for very long is…” I struggled for a word. Intimidating wasn’t quite right…

“Daunting,” Ric supplied. “They’ve got strong personalities. Strong enough to smother you, if you let them.”

I shook my head. “Not exactly that.” Though I could see how a casual acquaintance or observer might think so, that wasn’t the feeling they gave me when I was around them. “I just… never quite feel like I fit, there. I can have a grand old time not-fitting, but I don’t think I’d ever quite relax while I stayed there.”

Ric frowned, pausing with a glass in hand. When it started moving again, he said, “You shouldn’t have to feel like someone’s too good for you, Tim.”

“Maybe not, but I can’t really help it.” I grimaced. “Now, if only that didn’t sound like a put-down for…” I paused for a moment; not so much because I didn’t know what I wanted to say, because some part of me did, I think; but because actually doing so was turning out to be kind of hard. “Whoever I might wind up with,” was my rather lame conclusion. Stupid, stupid, stupid…

“Well. If it’s any comfort, I think I can sympathize,” the chinchilla said with a soft smile. “You like them, you like being able to spend time with them, you don’t want to cut them out of your life, but they’d be kind of overwhelming if you spent all your time with them, right?” He slid the now-empty tray onto a stack and grabbed another that was still full.

“I guess.” More Scotch. “Sounds so greedy when you put it like that, though.”

“Nah. You’ve got a big heart, it’s not so surprising that you want to share it around. And God knows there’s enough of him to share, on several levels.” He paused again in his work, grinning to himself, then gave his head a shake and went on. “Maybe even more than I’ll ever know. And she’s pretty good that way, too, is the impression I get.”

“How do I explain that to someone, though?” I wondered. “‘Oh, hey, I’m totally into you, honest, but by the way there’s this other couple I’d like to go and fuck sometimes’? God, it just sounds so… absurd.”

Ric grimaced. “Well, no, I guess you’ve got to start with someone who’s okay with a bit of nonmonogamy in the first place.” He took a breath – for a moment I thought he was going to say more – but then he turned back to his work with a bit of a sigh.

Oh, hell. We were doing that thing, I just knew it, where both of us wanted to speak up but neither of us quite had the balls to do it, weren’t we? Well – never try, never know. I took a breath, trying to arrange the words in advance so they wouldn’t come out quite as clumsy.

And my phone chose that moment to ring.

“God damn it,” I muttered, fishing it out of my pocket. If I hadn’t been sort-of-expecting a phone call, I probably wouldn’t have bothered, or would have just silenced the call right off. As it was, I checked, and recognized my boss’s number. “I should probably take this outside. I’ll be back in a bit, okay?”

“Sure thing. I’ll guard your drink,” he said, waving after me.

It was my boss, all right. With someone else on the other line, whom he introduced as Mr. Jason Morgan from AEC who wanted to talk to me. Before he connected the call, he asked if it was okay to release my resume to him, with his own notes about the time I’d worked under him; when I said that that was fine, he brought us together, made a few formal introductions, and then dropped off the line.

I proceeded from there in kind of a daze. Sure, I’d heard what Sam was planning, I’d had some notion that it might be coming. But it was still hard to believe that I was being offered a post just like the one I’d left. When he asked how much I was looking to earn in such a position, I had just enough presence of mind to look out for myself and name a figure that was a fifth higher than what I’d been earning.

“That seems reasonable for a line coder,” he replied. “However, between your length of experience and a few of the things Mr. Carpenter told me, I’d actually be interested in moving you right into a senior programmer’s role.”

I blinked. A few days ago I’d been fired. Now I was being offered a promotion, instead? “Uh, what sort of extra responsibilities would I have with that?”

Not all that much, as it turned out. Meetings. Well, I’d been through meetings before; I could sit through some more of them.

Especially when it carried an additional fifteen percent pay raise. I wasn’t quite focused enough to do all the math at the time, but damn. That sort of thing could give a guy nasty performance anxiety.

We booked a time on Monday for me to come in, do the paperwork, and get shown around – he said there’d be some basic tests, but probably nothing more than a formality. And that was it.

I think it would be fair to say I staggered back inside and to my place at the bar. Ric actually had to reach over and poke me in the shoulder to get my attention. “I’m not sure if that look of shock means good things, or very bad things,” he said, though there was enough of a teasing note that looking back, I don’t think he really thought it might be bad news.

“Looks like I’m back in the office Monday,” was all I could think to say. There should have been more. I should have been relieved, ecstatic even. And on some level, I was relieved.

I guess I’d got all the shock and emotional crap out of the way on Sam the night before, or something like that. Congratulations and well-wishes washed over me; I tried to respond to them without making a total idiot of myself.

When Ric turned to go, my resolve suddenly found itself, and I reached out to grab his hand.

“Hey,” I blurted, “when’s your next day off?”

“Tomorrow, actually,” he said, head tilting to one side.  “Why do you ask?”

“Well…” I shrugged. “Seems I won’t need to ration my last few paychecks after all. And there’s this great Cajun place I’ve been meaning to try, and I think the Appollo is still running Glass Menagerie, and… oh, hell.” Despite my attempts to have my words already in order, the rest just vanished from my head.

Ric blinked. Slowly, very slowly, he set the lass glass in its place and lowered his hand. “Tim? Are you, like… asking me on a date? A date date?”

Oh God, I really hoped the eagerness I heard there wasn’t just in my imagination. Ears flushed and pinned back, it was all I could do to nod, never mind say it aloud.

“God. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been on a date,” he sighed. His hand shifted against mine, giving it a squeeze. “And to an actual theatre, at that. If you can swing the tickets, tiger, I’m your man.”

Well… that was rather painless, wasn’t it?

I’m fairly sure I finished my drink and settled my tab. I’m not entirely sure I took a route home that was at all direct; I may have turned the wrong way a few times. It wasn’t just the date – sure, I was relieved that it had gone over well, and even more so when, after getting home, I confirmed that the show was still running and reserved a pair of tickets for the next night’s showing. After that burst of focus, though, I went back to drifting in a haze. Things had just changed so much, so fast, over this past week; it was dizzying.

I did what I needed to do – called to set up the details, had dinner, washed, slept. Anxiety started to set in as Friday progressed from morning to midday to afternoon, but it was a really normal sort of anxiety. I was going out on a date, and I hadn’t done that in a while, and I wanted to make sure it went well.

Sure, it felt a bit odd that it was a date with another guy, but that was just a grace note over everything else.

I’m reasonably certain it did go well. The play was one I was familiar with, and that was good and bad. Good in that I wouldn’t miss the plot if I zoned out; bad in that I was more likely to do so, and the company really had done a good job with costumes and set and all that stuff. From what I saw of the chinchilla’s expression, I think he noticed my mood and was amused by it if anything.

Which might not be quite as nice as being successful when deliberately trying to amuse someone, but hey, being able to make someone laugh isn’t a bad thing, right?

It was only when we got back to his place that I felt myself starting to thaw out of that numb stasis. That I felt really aware of things – like the weight of his arm over my shoulders, the warmth of his breath over my ears, the faint herbal scents rubbed into his whisper-soft fur. I leaned into him with a sigh. “Sorry I couldn’t be more with-it,” I said. “It’s been a strange week.”

“Hey – at the end of the day, you saw what you wanted and reached out for it, yeah?” His hand moved over to glide along my jaw; as I was nuzzling into his palm, he went on, “I had a good time, Tim – and it’s not like the night’s over yet, huh? At least I’m hoping you didn’t want to come in just to turn around and say goodbye.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Maybe I should have taken that more seriously, but I laughed anyway. “No, that’s for sure.” Oh, I had some vague idea what I did want. Putting it to words, now, that was trickier. I took a breath. “I mean, normally, I might wait for a few dates along before I even ask, but normally I wouldn’t have already, well…”

“Aha. So you didn’t want to just hang out, either,” he murmured against my ear. By the way his lips seized it afterward, his tongue grazing the edge of it, I was pretty damn sure he didn’t mind.

Laughing, he pulled me, shivering and tense, in a bit closer to him. “You’re so alive, Tim,” he murmured. “Don’t have to keep asking if you’re into something, you just show it.”

“I… really don’t know if I can be that confident,” I admitted. “I have enough trouble reading girls, and I’ve got practise there.”

“Then I’ll try to be plain and up front,” he laughed, hands settling on my waist. “You got anything in particular in mind, tiger? If not, well… I’d rather like to strip you down and get you sprawled on your back in bed, suck on you for a little – if you think you’ll be good for two rounds, maybe even scarf down a few sticky swallows. And when you’re good and hard, straddle you, slip you in, ride your rod until it spurts, and paint you with a few good squirts in turn.”

He started out that recitation deadpan; by the time he finished, his voice was decidedly husky, and his fingers were stroking along the ridge that had quickly developed in my pants. I whimpered – there’s no other way to say it; I just whimpered. It was a minor miracle that I didn’t make a mess in my pants just from his words, never mind his touch. “That… sounds good,” I managed to gasp out.

Our mouths met, tongues darting forth, dancing against each other. Slightly awkwardly, we made our way into his bedroom. His hands tugged on my shirt as we went, untucking it, slipping underneath it and roaming over me as they started to lift it up. His was a button-up, so I had a bit more work to do, but I don’t think I did a horrible job of it; all the buttons were undone by the time we got to the side of the bed, anyway.

He let go of me so I could ease the shirt off his shoulders. While I was shrugging out of mine, he kind of nudged me back against the bed, crouching down, nuzzling at my chest – it was quite a rush when his muzzle found a nipple, tugging on it, even nibbling it a little, all the while his hands were fumbling behind me at the catch over my tail. I managed to keep my balance, some corner of my mind aware that sitting down wouldn’t make what was to come any easier for him, not yet. By the time he got my tail loose, his muzzle was continuing downward, nudging into my stomach, his hands loosening my belt, dragging my fly open, tugging my pants down.

He must have had practise with that timing; it couldn’t have been two seconds between his fingers curling around my cock, fishing it into the open, and the first stroke of his tongue along its underside. More like it followed in quick succession, interspersed with firmer kissing along my bare skin. Once he’d got my pants and boxers down to my knees, I reached behind me, lowering myself to sit on the edge of the bed, and his mouth stayed right against me, licking, kissing, slipping down to draw my balls into his mouth and suckle on them. I was breathing hard the whole time, moaning here and there; it was about all I could do to bring one hand up to rub behind his ears, stroke their edges, caress his cheek, and in general assure him that he was doing fine, as if there was any doubt.

Finally he drew back, letting one last, soft sigh waft over my balls before sitting up a bit straighter, untying the laces on my shoes. “Tim, I… I’m really sorry I didn’t ask this the first time, it just went clean out of my head, but… do you think we should cover up?”

Oh. Right. Practical concerns, those unfortunate necessities of life. “I should probably get in the habit,” I said, trying not to grimace. “I mean, I trust the skunks to say they’re clean, and you too, and I know I tested fine three months back, with nothing in my life for the past half year until this week. But I should really stay in the habit. Especially if I’m going to be… well, if we’re not exclusive.

“Can’t think of anyone else, aside from that big skunk of yours, that I’d even want to fool around with, much less get serious,” Ric replied, nuzzling at my cock and grinning up past it. “But we’ve both got lives, both can be a bit busy, probably isn’t smart to hang everything on each other, especially not yet.” He slid the last of my clothes off and stood, the motion bringing my attention to the hefty tent in his slacks before my eyes tracked upward to follow his face.

“I’d really rather not worry about hypothetical other people right now, though,” I said, reaching up to touch his cheek. It was a nice feeling, a gentle comfort, especially when he leaned into my palm and cupped his hand atop mine. “But yeah… the rubber’s probably a good habit to get back into. I’ve been careless these past few days as it is, and not everyone out there is responsible.”

He laughed, giving my cock a quick, warm squeeze before pulling away somewhat, turning to fish in a drawer. “If this works out between us, and we do decide to go bareback again, I’m claiming the first time receiving,” he informed me with great gravity. “Just so you know. It’s only fair.”

“Sounds good to me,” I laughed, rearranging myself fully on the bed and letting myself sprawl. I could touch the edges of the bed, but it did take some stretching. Space, without getting lost in it.

I looked over in time to see his pants drop, to see the tent rising higher still in his slate-grey boxers now that the stiffer fabric wasn’t constraining it. Through the side of the fly, I glimpsed bare skin, and I shivered. Then he finished folding his slacks, set them on a side table, and peeled out of his boxers, too, tossing them more carelessly into the hamper before finally turning back toward me.

No, he wasn’t a small guy. But I’d seen it before, been close to it, had it somewhere that its length was much more significant than it would be just bobbing over me. That was fine.

Grinning, he slid onto the bed, beside me and somewhat lower down – enough so that he could dip his head down and give my balls another nuzzle, even as he reached past my hip to set down a squeeze bottle, even as he pulled open a small, round package. A light dot of lube on the inside of the rubber, and then he set it atop my glans, pinching the bulb in the rubber with one finger and thumb, unrolling it down my shaft with quick, short strokes of his other hand; not lingering greatly, but there was definitely a bit of fondling involved.

And that was, to put it mildly, fine.

So it was when he smeared a light coating of lube over the rubber, giving me some nice, firm strokes in the process.

When he moved into place over me, sitting upright with his cock aiming somewhat upward, one of my hands holding my own rod steady and upright, that was more than fine.

When he actually pushed down, making contact with my encased glans, then spreading himself around it, sinking onto it with a long, low groan, that was exquisite. I pushed up against him, straining to sink just a bit deeper into that snug, welcoming heat, feeling a heavy groan slip out of me, hearing it mingle with his.

No longer needed to keep my cock steady, I moved my hand upward to curl around his, instead. The angle still felt a bit strange, unfamiliar, but the sounds he made, the way he twisted atop me and pressed into my grip – those I had no trouble deciphering, and I liked them, a lot. I stroked from one end of that hot length to the other and back, caressing all over it, exploring it with my fingertips even as I drank in the sight of it sliding against my fingers as he rose and fell along my own, and I turned my gaze upward, to see him with his jaws agape, ears flat, eyes closed, and head tilted back, moaning out loud as he rose and fell atop me.

“Someone’s liking this,” I couldn’t help but say, grinning up at him. Not that I was failing to do so myself, but the earlier break in his attentions, combined with the rubber, meant I at least wasn’t right on the verge of exploding. Still, he had some catching up to do, and I needed to distract myself if I didn’t want to pop too early.

“You have no idea,” he groaned, and took a deep breath, grinning down at me, his motions subsiding to a gentle rocking. “Here, let’s make that a little quicker and easier…” He bent down somewhat to grab the abandoned bottle of lube, flipping it open and squeezing a dribble of the stuff right in the path of my stroking fingers.

It was time to get my fingers all over his cock again, spreading the slippery stuff again, and I didn’t mind a moment of it. Especially not with the encouraging sounds he was making, or the way he tensed around my own aching rod. With that extra slickness, I got both hands in play, sliding swiftly along his cock, squeezing it between them for a few strokes, then stroking along his shaft with one while my other palm pressed against his glans and rolled around.

He practically yelled at that one, bucking forward, slumping down over me and taking so tight a grip on my shoulders, I felt his blunted claws dimpling the skin. His hips jerked atop mine, quick and sharp, and he clamped down hard around my cock, his own bucking in my grip, his moans and cries escalating in a hurry.

“Oh, God,” he whimpered, twisting atop me, his cock shifting against my fingers, his glans drilling against my palm as I polished it. “Tim, I – oh – oh, God, I – ” He shuddered, throwing his head back in a drawn-out wail of “Fuuuuuuuck…!”

I knew that tune well enough, and slid my hand down a few inches, out of the way. I stared down at his glans for maybe a second before I had the presence of mind to close my eyes – and a good thing, too; moments later, the chinchilla’s cock surged in my grasp, and a wet splatter struck my cheek, a few stray drops clinging to my whiskers and weighing them down. It tickled a little, but I very carefully ignored it.

The rest wasn’t quite so forceful. A half-dozen times more I felt his cock bucking against my fingers, felt him tensing around my own. I didn’t feel it landing atop my fur, but the rich scent of it inundated me with each heavy breath I took, well after his cock had fallen still in my grip. His cries faded to voiceless panting for a few moments, then I felt him shift atop me, heard him murmuring over my ears, his voice hoarse and humming with pleasure as he called me a stud, and sexy, and urged me to let it out, to pump into that rubber, to fill it, stretch it.

And I did. God, did I ever. With that snug grip around my cock feeling all the more so for the tight layer of rubber, each spurt felt so strong, so plentiful, I thought my balls were going to shrivel up by the time the rush faded, tension draining out of me, first along my back, then spreading out along my limbs.

For a few moments, I felt like I was floating.

Him lifting off of me brought me back to the present. He leaned down as he did it, licking over my cheek, brushing a thumb over my eye. “There,” he murmured. “I think I missed your eye, anyway, but either way, you should be good now.”

Taking that as a hint, I cracked my eyes open and spent a few moments enjoying the sight of his lazy grin, before he drew away, gripping my cock, taking hold of the rubber. Yeah, I’d pumped a good bit in there, but nothing near as ludicrous as it had felt in the moment. “Damn,” I couldn’t help but say, chuckling. “Felt like there’d be more.”

“Oh, it’s plenty for my tastes, stripey,” he said with a laugh, carefully drawing the condom off of me, wadding it up, reaching over to drop it into the trash. One more flurry of motion to put the lube on the nightstand, and he settled in against my side, his breath warm and still a bit quick against the side of my neck. “God. As you may have guessed, I needed that.”

My fur didn’t offer nearly as much contrast as some did – pure white in front, after all – but he’d still left an impressive array of wet streaks and spattered; I laughed. “Man. Did you ever.” I brought a hand up to rub behind his ears. “Glad to oblige, Ric.”

“You want to wash up before that dries like that?” he suggested. “I’d come and help, but after that, I really don’t want to go through the time and effort it’d take to dry off right.” He gave my shoulder a light nuzzle, which I read as apologetic.

“Tempting as it is to just lie here with you, you make a good point,” I replied, willing my limbs into activity. “Be right back, hon.”

The word just slipped out in the moment; I didn’t even notice it until I’d grabbed my toiletries and was in the shower, and I was still mulling it over as I finished my quick wash, dried off, and brushed my teeth. As I returned to the bedroom and found him sprawled out much as I had been, I decided that the word had been well-placed.

I slid back into bed alongside him, running my fingers through his impossibly soft grey fur, burying my snout against his chest. His fingers came up to my ears, and I let out a contented sigh, relaxing again against him. No, I wasn’t quite used to the shape of him. A week ago, I’d never have imagined myself here with him, or even having gone out on a date with him, or any guy.

But a week ago, I’d been plodding along through life, with no greater fuss in it than some unrequited-I-thought crushes. Times changed.

The last flurry of changes had been a little rough at times, but all in all, they’d come out pretty good.

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