Talen took a deep breath, leaned back, and surveyed his work.

He’d put as much effort and art into the little figurine as he had into anything else, even his master-work – and he’d had years of experience since that. Silver set with jet, it wasn’t the most intrinsically valuable piece he’d produced, but the work itself was as good as he’d ever done. He could call it one of his best without reservation.

Which, considering its intended recipient, was as it should be.

Excitement swelled as he swathed the figurine in white silk. First he’d been afraid that Lamori wouldn’t be able to make it back in time for the solstice, with the weather turning worse. But she’d made it through the pass in good time, and come close enough to make contact, and assured him that she’d be there – and as much as he longed for her company and wouldn’t dream of delaying their reunion, suddenly he’d worried that all the little delays that had plagued him would keep him from having everything ready in time.

But he’d made it happen. The air was thick with the aroma of cooking stew, the figurine was done and wrapped, and Lamori was close enough now that he could sense her, not through the artificial focus of the silver-and-crystal pendant on its gold chain around his neck, mirror to the one she bore, but naturally. She was close, now; he could feel her anticipation, and it mingled with his own. Another candlemark, maybe two, and she would be here. She would be home.

He could feel an echo of the wind and cold around her. He reached out with the warmth he felt, literally and otherwise, and let it serve as a beacon for her. A thread of gratitude came back to him, braided with answering fondness and with longing for a very particular sort of warmth; he shivered, whimpering softly, the first vocal sound he’d uttered in hours.

Oh, yes, this was going to be a very fine solstice.

Though Talen hadn’t finished with as much time to spare as he might wish, now that he had, there was little enough for him to do and not enough time to properly distract himself. He forced himself to taste the stew only once and leave it alone thereafter; it was close to done, and nothing he could add to it now could possibly improve it, or even blend properly, in the time until it would need to be taken off the fire. It was even harder to keep himself from opening the oven to check on the bread that he had no reason to believe was doing poorly. It was easier, thankfully, to dismiss the notion that he tinker in any way with the figurine; that he knew he’d done his best on.

He’d spent much of a mark pacing and fretting when he chanced to catch sight of himself in the mirror and suddenly realized that all his efforts, fruitful and otherwise, had left him rather thoroughly dishevelled. That wouldn’t do. He scrambled to find a brush, and was still in the midst of twisting about to apply it to his pelt when he felt a surge of excitement – close.

Almost time. He took a few more swipes, tucked the brush away, and skittered over to the vestibule, slipping through the heavy door and pushing it shut behind him He turned to the outer door and drew back the latch just in time – along with the snow and frigid wind that rushed in as he shoved the door open, a fur-draped form seized the door, helped haul it open a bit further, and slid through.

The wind was coming from such a direction that it almost slammed the door shut on them, and though it still howled outside the vestibule, the thick walls were at least enough to muffle its voice. The new arrival shook off some snow, heaved a grateful sigh, and turned to press up against Talen’s side, body against long body, an arm draping over his join.

“Moon and stars, Talen, I missed you so much,” Lamori murmured against his chest, squeezing as close to him as the furs and her smaller stature allowed. “When I heard the storms had come early, I feared I might not be back for another moon at least.”

“No need to fret over it now, dear heart. Welcome home.” Talen nuzzled at the base of an ear, squeezing around Lamori’s shoulders. “I hope your sorely-felt absence proved worthwhile?”

“As ever. There is always demand for your work, beloved.” Lamori smiled up at him past the fur-trimmed hood of her cloak, reaching up to stroke along his jaw, fingers splaying over his cheek when he leaned into the contact. “But I’m as glad to be home as I’m sure you are to have me here.”

“Always,” he assured her. “Come inside, shed those snowy things, and relax with me by the fire. Your timing is superb – food is ready.”

“That sounds like the Maker’s own peace right now. Help me with my boots, if you would – I’d leave these out here, at the least.”

The vestibule was a cramped space for two full-grown Narami, even if only one of them was male, but with a bit of shuffling around, Talen got himself situated to reach down and loosen the ice-crusted thongs that held the wolverine-fur boots to his lover’s midpaws. She pulled the door open and let out a wordless exclamation of delight at the scents that billowed from the main room, drawing in a deep breath of them before shuffling partway in and letting Talen free her hindpaws as well.

“Yesterday,” she said, “I subsided on hard-tack and and the last of the jerky I’d brought – and however clever you may be with spicing meat for drying, love, there’s only so much that can be done with hard-tack. This…” She trailed off into a contented sigh as he slid up alongside her, and reached up to stroke the rim of his ear. “Coming home to this makes a moon’s trek over the wastes all seem worthwhile.”

“It’s been a season since you were here last,” Talen recalled with some rue. “However might I make up for the other moons?”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll find something,” Lamori purred. Her tail swished a cool trail against his flank. “Even if I hadn’t felt that satisfaction you always get when you finish a project.”

Talen shivered, and not from the cold; his hindpaws shifted and flexed in anticipation, tail darting about. “I’ll do my best as always,” he breathed, tucking his snout in against the side of her neck as she pushed back her hood. After the talk lapsed for a moment, he asked, “How was Danir?”

“He’s well. He misses you,” she murmured with sudden tenderness, splaying her hand against Talen’s cheek. “He was a quite eager and properly attentive host, but he hopes he’ll be able to make the trek himself come the Long Day. If he still has lingering weakness from that thrice-cursed ray, he didn’t show it.” Her expression took a turn for the lascivious. “Especially not at night.”

Talen laughed. “You’ve scarcely got home and you’re already fancying him again?” he teased.

Lamori laughed, and with a voice just as light and playful, replied, “See to warming me up properly and I’m sure he’ll slip out of my mind for the time being, lover.”

Talen had to grin. “Shed those cold wet things,” he urged, “and I’ll warm you from outside and in, front and back.”

“Promises, promises.” Her tail flicked under him, brushing along his sheath, drawing a sharp grunt from him as it swiped coolly over the bare flesh pushing free there. “Though it seems you’ll soon be ready to make good on them. Don’t trip over it as you work, hmm?”

“Come now,” laughed Talen. “Have you ever known me to be clumsy in love?”

“In love, yes, endearingly so,” she retorted, pushing a finger against his nose-pad. “Though not so much these days. And never in passion, I will grant you that.”

He was fairly certain he knew the incident she was referring to; he made a face. “Apprenticeship left me with rather less time for the comradeship and experimentation that rangers go through as a matter of course. But I’ll concede that point in turn,” he said, starting to disentangle himself.

“Oh. Before you get to work…” Lamori twisted around to reach into one of the bags hanging from her harness. “If you’ve something to fetch in your workshop, you might want to add this to your collection.” She held up a bundle of brown oilcloth tied up with twine, an oblong package somewhat wider than a spread hand.

Curious and eager, Talen accepted the package. It was light; that was about all he could tell from the outside of it. Light and presumably somewhat fragile, given how thoroughly it had been wrapped. He reached for the knife at Lamori’s waist, fingers hovering over the hilt for a moment before he received a confirming nod, then pulling it free for just long enough to slice through the twine. Once he’d slipped the knife back into its sheath, he stepped away to let her start loosening her furs, and turned back the folds.

It was a box, but such a box; it was carved from rich mahogany, made with carefully-carved mouldings that lent it some additional semblance of fineness without being needlessly ornate. For all its breadth, it was shallow – a jewellery box, its several compartments lined with dense red felt. The sides and especially the lid bore its greatest virtue, though, in the form of exquisite inlays of other wood – abstract on the sides, while the top depicted figures that could only be a troupe of Narami hunters on the move.

“By the Maker’s tears,” Talen swore, “this is delightful! Lamori, I don’t know what to say – this must have been unbelievably dear!”

“So is your work down south,” Lamori chuckled, slipping out of her long cloak and hanging it lengthwise from a few hooks. “I didn’t need to skimp on any of our supplies for it, certainly not our essentials. You know I have better sense than that.”

“So you do,” Talen granted, ducking his head, ears furling; though she’d not sounded in the least upset, the hint of chastisement in her words was well-earned. He did know she was a sensible and practical person, too much so to waste coin on treasures that was needed for more essential things. And a treasure this was; he ran his fingers over the inlaid surface, the texture of it barely discernible under his finger-pads. This wasn’t the first such box she’d brought him, but it was undoubtedly the finest – and that the unspecified joiner had depicted Narami so faithfully made it all the more dear. “I’ll find it a proper home soon; for now, I’ll at least put it up safe. My thanks are boundless, Lamori.”

She paused in loosening her jerkin to cup his cheek again. “The delight in your eyes makes it all worthwhile, Talen.”

He took the box into the cabin’s other room, that space which served for his smallish but comfortable workshop. Though the stone under his paws was quite warm from the fire, still it always felt cooler in the winter than the wood and furs in the main room; he didn’t spend more time in here than he needed for his work, and had even done the final arrangement of his most recent piece out there where it was cozier. He’d set it here for safekeeping, though – Lamori never came into his workshop without his expressed permission unless there was pressing need, so there was no chance she’d accidentally spoil the surprise by finding the little thing. He took out the wrapped figure, slid the box into the ample drawer-space it had occupied, and slipped back out.

Lamori had finished shedding her travelling clothes; now all that interrupted her sleek white fur was the black of her eyes, nose, tail-tip, and paw-pads, and the leather-bound horn-and-bone ornamentation of a successful Narami hunter. In the brighter, warmer moons she favoured metalwork, especially his, but such brought the wind’s bite too close to the skin during the Long Night. Either way, it was plainly as much of a relief for her to be unencumbered as it was for him to drink in the sight of her.

But in spite of the fiery glance she shot his way, he didn’t let the sight distract him quite yet. The bread was ready to come out of the oven now, its crust crisp and brown but without even a trace of char; he set the loaf on a rack to cool, and went on to the stewpot, hanging now near the fire to keep warm but not so close as to overcook. He gave it one last stir, ladled out a generous portion into a lacquered bowl, and brought it over with a pair of spoons and a short serving-stand to where she was reclining.

“I may not have missed your cooking so much as your company, but I did miss it,” said she, shifting the miniature table in front of her, propping her forequarters up on one arm, and taking up spoon with the other. “And I rather think you’ve outdone yourself this time, Talen. This smells like it came from the Maker’s own kitchen.” She took a spoonful and made a soft sound of pure bliss, eyes slipping shut. “Tastes like it, as well.”

“Well, you already know I’ve been busy,” said Talen, fetching the wrapped figurine from the shelf he’d set it on. “I might as well not keep you from the proceeds any longer.”

Lamori paused to give her next mouthful of stew its due attention, but then she set down her spoon and sat up, taking the piece in both hands, carefully turning back the folds. When the metal gleamed from within, she drew in a sharp breath, eyes widening. “Ah, Talen. You may not have ever been a hunter, but with this you prove once again that you’ve a wonderful eye for natural form.” She held the piece up in front of her by its soapstone pedestal; the bent curl of a snag, and perched upon it a snowy owl, rendered as faithfully as Talen’s skill allowed, its wings mantled and poised to swoop down on some unsuspecting morsel. “Maker’s tears, Talen, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the real bird look so genuine. It’s lovely!”

He padded back over to her with a few slices of still-steaming bread on a platter, setting it next to her bowl as he slid in behind her. “Only the best,” he murmured over her ear, “for my fine huntress.”

Her ear quivered against his snout, and she twisted to peer back at him, dark eye gleaming. “I’ve no complaints about your handiwork, as usual,” she breathed, “but I don’t think I’m getting the best part of you yet – which is especially unfortunate as it feels quite promising against my back.” She slid up against him, thick, soft, fire-warmed fur sliding around and against his emerging length in an exquisite caress.

Of course, it was one that promised far better to come; he trembled in anticipation.

“Do it, Talen,” she breathed. “I’ve been apart from you too long. Let us share this Solstice meal together, as we should be – and in every sense of the word.”

If her words had left any doubt that she was ready for him, his nose would have dismissed it; she must have been seething with anticipation for the last stretch of her journey, far more than she’d let him sense. The depth of that need now made him squirm against her, hunching forward, the motion and friction pulling his sheath the rest of the way back to the root of his needy member. “Lamori,” he moaned, wriggling a bit lower against her back.

“Talen,” she breathed back to him, her whisper an urgent summons.

He could not refuse it, and he didn’t try. With practised ease, one final shift of his hindquarters let his shaft slip under her tail, its broad head nestling against damp folds. Then he curled in against her, plunging his maleness into the hot, silken grip of her sex. There was no hesitation this time, no need to work in stroke by stroke; inch after inch of him slid into her tight heat, not pausing even once until his hip was up against her rump.

He strained to wriggle a bit closer, and she squeaked, trembling against him and around him. “Ah… I need to… to be here… more often,” she managed between gasping breaths. “Somehow, I keep forgetting how full you make me feel, dear heart.”

Talen draped his midleg over her join and pulled in close, craning his neck to nuzzle at an ear. “Danir’s bigger than I am,” he protested. He was, after all, quite familiar with the other mentalist’s equipment, having had it against his own – among other places – on no few occasions, back before that thrice-cursed ice ray had stung him and forced him to gentler climes.

“Ah…! Longer, maybe,” Lamori granted, rocking against him – not the steady churning that would lead to a more vigorous coupling, but just trying to find a more comfortable posture to settle in. “Yes, he is that, somewhat. But you’re hardly lacking on that score either, and his isn’t nearly so thick.

Talen twisted a little to bring his hindquarters closer to the ground, letting her rest a bit easier under him. “It’s his length that I had difficulty with,” he confessed, “but I do try to keep in mind what you say.” It wasn’t as though Talen had illusions about himself – at twenty inches of length and, indeed, with what his experience with or sight of numerous Narami men had told him was uncommon girth, he knew well that his piece was bearing on inconveniently large. But he’d always had more trouble receiving their now-distant mutual lover than the reverse; and if Lamori sometimes struggled with him, it was hard for Talen’s mind to wholly accept that she, who, while large for a Narami woman, still barely came up to his chest when their hind toes were touching, wouldn’t have trouble with Danir’s extra inches.

For the moment, he put such concerns out of his mind, and Danir as well; dear though the man was, right now, his attention belonged with the lover who was spending Solstice with him. There’d be time to reminisce later, together. For now, they ate a delightfully relaxed meal, and then they stretched out together on the furs with the fire crackling in front of them, basking in its warmth and in one another’s.

With every little shift of body reminding him of their position, though, it was inevitable that one of them set things moving along; and when he rocked behind her, drawing out a few inches and pushing back in, there was no difficulty or discomfort in the blissful crooning she uttered. When he pawed at her midshoulder, she obligingly rolled forward, her sex twisting around his, squeezing it, as she took hold of the furs with all six limbs.

He settled properly atop her, and with her tail tickling his pouch and her breath quick and hot on his chest, he started coupling in earnest, driving in and out of her with vigorous strokes that slammed their bodies together again and again. She cried out in delight, arching under him, straining to take him in a bit deeper still, twisting around to sling an arm about him and nip at his heaving chest. He pounded her with the full force of rut as she writhed and yowled under him, her hot tunnel clenching again and again around his aching pole.

And when the final rush swept along his body, he threw back his head and let out as mighty a bellow as ever he had, pressing tightly to his lover as his seed rushed down his length and into her.

Narami could mate year-round, and did; but the depth of the Long Night was when their bodies most craved it. He pumped into her for what felt like a full minute, knowing nothing but the pulse of his seed, the heat of her sex, and the strongest shattering climax he’d ever felt.

He didn’t even remember rolling them back onto their sides, though they must have done; she laughed, reaching up to stroke his chin, as he finally started to catch his breath. “Maker’s manhood, Talen – a more enthusiastic welcome I have never received. My wish for your continued health compels me to suggest you tend to yourself a little more, but sun and stars, that was…” She shivered, squirming against around him. “That was impressive!”

“I rather got caught up in things,” Talen admitted, and even he wasn’t sure if he meant the chores of the last moon or the needs of the moment they’d just had. Some of both, really. “Stars, Lamori, it’s good to have you back.”

“Never happier to be here,” she crooned, finger-pads stroking up and down his jaw, gliding over his cheek when he nuzzled at her wrist. “Here’s to hoping we needn’t be apart for so long again anytime soon.”

“I’d drink to that,” he panted.

Lamori drew a deep breath, twisting to slide a midpaw along his side. “And here’s to a time when distant loves can be together again.”

“For that,” sighed Talen, “I’ll get the good wine. As soon as I can move again.”

“No rush, dear heart,” she chuckled, straightening under him. “We’ve both had a busy day; we might as well relax and savour it now. There’ll be time for drink and more food later; the night is long.”

“The night is long,” he echoed, “and long will be the day.” He twisted down close enough to press muzzle to muzzle in a whiskery kiss; then he settled against her back, closed his eyes, and settled in to enjoy her warmth.

She was home, now, and his world was better for it. Whatever else they might want, for this solstice they had each other.