The full force of winter had set in, and even the main road of the fishing village of Falvarinth was constantly blanketed in snow, now. The boats were ensconced in boathouses and drydocks, the piers locked in ice; fishermen and sealers hiked to work, now, chipping holes in the thick ice sheets to get their catch. The cold was omnipresent.

And yet the upper reaches of the town, near the hot springs, were far, far milder than the deep north; and so it was that Danir stayed in one of the largest homes, second – if a distant second – only to the headman’s own.

Of course, Danir was himself several times larger than Headman Nashir, so his home didn’t wind up feeling nearly so grand. Put another Narami in it, and it could actually feel somewhat cramped at times. But Falvarinth was not a Narami town, so such visits were rare. And, given who was most likely among Narami to be visiting, cherished.

No, Falvarinth was peopled mostly by folk more comfortable on the water. Not in the water, like the Hadri, closest kin to the Narami, as like to six-legged otters as the Narami were to ermine – the water here was far too cold for anyone, even the otter-folk, to swim in except in the height of summertime, and as a race they were too fond of the water to forego that pleasure. They weren’t people of the north any more than Narami were people of the coast.

Danir’s neighbours were mostly human, mostly a sturdy breed long-accustomed to the cold north. A few others: feline Tashan in their pale, spotted coats; stout, bear-like Kursh; the headman and his family were white Vulin. Two-leggers all, and while the Kursh had about twice the heft of a human, they weren’t all that much bigger in any one dimension. Even they were only about two-thirds as high as a full-grown Narami female was long. So Danir took up a great deal of space when he was about town; out of courtesy, he thereby kept his outings short and got out of the way.

Besides, mentalists tended to make people nervous who didn’t have an understanding of what the art entailed. So long as they knew him well enough to know he wasn’t a threat, Danir was ill inclined to push his presence onto the uncomplicated people who lived around him.

He’d wound up here after a near-fatal sting from an ice ray had left him too weak to cope with the bitter cold inland and to the north, especially when the Long Night gripped the northern expanse his people called home. The first couple of years had been very hard indeed; even in the summer, the cold had seemed to seep into his very bones, lingering no matter how he stoked his fire. Five years on, though, he felt almost normal. He’d still taken all the proper precautions, stocking kiln-dried firewood and preserved food enough to last for weeks at a time, and even weak wine to slake his thirst if he dared not venture out even to fetch snow to melt. But the only days that had forced him inside so far had been no better for anyone else. Under his dense white winter pelt, he’d regained a healthy amount of weight, and the wind no longer seemed to bite into him as it had those first few years.

So a mild day like this one was not a precious opportunity to reprovision, as it had been; it was a treat that he could savour, stretching out on his porch and looking out over the frozen sea as he enjoyed the fresh, cool air.

He nodded a somewhat distracted greeting as one of his neighbours came by – Verik, like him a relative newcomer, sent here by his order of men-at-arms to help keep the village safe; Danir knew him as well as he knew anybody in Falvarinth. But rather than wave back and move along as was his usual wont, now the young man trudged right up to the porch rail.

“Ho there, Danir,” he greeted with a smile. “You’re looking well today! Have you eaten yet?”

“Not since day before last,” Danir confessed, sitting up a bit straighter. “Why do you ask, Verik?” He could tell the man’s pack was laden with food – fish and venison, if his nose didn’t deceive him – but that wasn’t anything he could draw conclusions from; he often brought fresh provisions home when he could, as did Danir himself.

“Oh, the hunting’s been good,” replied the human, “and I’ve also come into a good bottle of wine. While the locals are celebrating Lovers’ Night, I thought we might enjoy a good meal, you and I, as we’re similarly off on that score.”

At that Danir’s ears perked. It was true, Verik had been sent apart from his intended fellow-warrior, much like Danir’s condition had isolated him from his own dear ones. Indeed, he’d probably gone longer without seeing her than Danir had without seeing his lovers – well, Lamori, at least; he hadn’t seen Talen in the flesh in far, far too long. And while this was an unexpected offer, the notion of having company other than his thoughts was rather a welcome one.

Especially if the townsfolk were going to be seeking quite close company indeed. Danir did his best to keep his mind closed from those around him, but some things inevitably bled through. “Oh, is that today? I admit I haven’t kept close track of it. But come in, come in and be warm!” He twisted around to face the door, pulling it open and ushering the man inside.

Verik beat off his snowshoes against the edge of the porch, slipped those off, and shook off his boots for good measure before passing the threshold. Danir, who hadn’t been off the porch this time, just shook a dusting of snow off his paws before following and latching the door behind them. His home was a simple place – one main room, a side room he used for storage, and a cellar – but it was spacious in human terms, and he’d kept a fire in the hearth to keep the air pleasantly warm. Velik doffed his boots and coat, with Danir taking the latter and finding a spot to hang it while the man set his footwear by the door.

“I was thinking of something simple,” said Velik. “Stewed venison, perhaps with some baked char while it stews?”

Char was a staple catch this time of year, but Danir hadn’t had venison in months; he licked his muzzle at the thought. “And some fresh bread,” he suggested. “I know the blend of herbs that the Shaviril tribe of Tashan use…”

“Shaviril herb bread?” Verik mock-swooned. “That will be a delight.”

For a while, their talk was very functional, focused on the task at hand. The meat Velik had brought had already been deftly butchered, the fish cleaned; all they needed to do was chop it up, mix in ingredients from Danir’s stores, and set it by the fire, with the clay-wrapped fish among the coals, the bread in the oven set into the hearth, and the stewpot hung on the spit.

And then, after cleaning up from the cooking and tossing out the water from the washbasin, they had time to sit back and relax.

Narami couldn’t use chairs such as two-leggers did, so Danir didn’t have any in his home, but he did have blankets and cushions aplenty; he fashioned some of the latter into a seat by the fire, and then he fetched a few goblets and a corkscrew. Verik broke the seal on the wine bottle and extracted the cork, and poured while Danir held the goblets. Then the Narami stretched out opposite his guest, who held up his wine and intoned, “To distant loves.”

“To distant loves,” Danir echoed, touching his goblet to Verik’s, and they sipped. It was good wine – rich, sweet, and quite a bit stronger than anything Danir normally got. After a moment to savour the aroma, he took a longer pull.

Verik, cradling his drink after that first sip, observed this with a smile. “Don’t short yourself. I’m fully expecting you to drink three goblets for each one of mine.”

At that, Danir tilted his head. “I truly don’t want to seem ungrateful, not for food, wine, nor company, but I can’t help but wonder – why? You’ve brought enough to make a good meal for us both, but on your own that could have stretched for over a week.”

Verik offered him a wistful smile. “What I said already is true – it seemed you might feel much as I did about living here. And you so often seem sad – I’m here, ultimately, because I chose to serve, but you…” He shook his head. “I hoped to see what you looked like when you were happy and content.”

Verik had always been friendly to him, but that was such an unexpectedly fond sentiment that it touched Danir’s heart. “Moon and stars, you’re well on the way to that. And for it all, you have my thanks.”

But Verik wasn’t finished. He leaned forward, touching Danir’s shoulder. “I don’t quite know how your… arrangement works, or anything else, so please forgive me if this is improper, but… I was also hoping we might not need to be completely alone, here in Falvarinth on Lovers’ Night…”

Danir prided himself on being a clear thinker; it didn’t take him more than a moment to be rather certain of what the man meant. He blinked, suddenly adjusting his mindset. He’d thought this a charity and a chance to commiserate, and been grateful for the former and glad enough for the latter. But this… no, he had to be certain. “Do you… fancy me, Verik?” he asked, and he did not try to keep a swell of hope and yearning from creeping into his voice. He’d never let himself contemplate the notion, not with Verik or anyone else in Falvarinth, but now that the thought was in his mind, it was quite a pleasing one…

“I’m certainly curious,” the man breathed. “And I also thought you, of everybody here, would understand that… my heart is given first to someone far away. But she would not want me to be pining in solitude. And if your dear ones think the same, and you’re not… not only drawn to your own kind…”

He was anxious – that would have been plain even without Danir’s mental training – and the fumbling for words wasn’t making him any less so. Danir held up a hand, and Verik trailed into silence. The Narami touched his fingertips to his lips, then leaned past the hearth and reached over to press them lightly to Verik’s lips in turn. “You’ve a good heart, Verik,” he murmured. “And my dears would be only too pleased to hear that I’m not alone here. So if you don’t mind that the one of them, at least, will probably want a blow-by-blow account,” he grinned, recalling Lamori’s very earthy nature, “then I would be quite pleased indeed to indulge your curiosity, and be with you on this Lovers’ Night.”

The man’s relief was, for Danir, a palpable force on the air; he let out over Danir’s fingers a breath he probably hadn’t known he was holding, his eyes fluttering shut. “Suvin and Nadra,” he sighed, “that was… so hard to say, and for what?”

“Baring your heart is never easy,” Danir soothed. “Especially when everyone around you, yourself included, expects you to be strong. You were brave to say it, Verik.”

The human let out a bark of laughter. “If I’d known you would take it so well, I’d have said something long ago.”

Somehow, knowing that he’d been fancied for so long, that this wasn’t a passing whim, made it all that much stronger. Danir felt a shiver race through him. But there was one thing he yet needed to know. “Verik, are you certain your love would approve? Most human couplings I’ve seen and heard of have been very exclusive indeed.” Jealously so, in fact.

But Verik shook his head, smiling. “Sujanna and I knew from the start that we might be apart for great spans of time. I’ve written of you to her, and in the last message she sent me, back before winter settled in, she gave me her blessing.”

Which meant that Verik had in turn sought that blessing a full season ago or more. That was a level of want Danir hadn’t expected… One last concern was all that remained. “You know what my calling is.” That was fact, not a query; they’d conversed about it in the past, if briefly. “It’s nigh impossible for me to keep my mind wholly closed when I’m with a lover, Verik. If you’re prepared for that…”

At that Verik’s smile grew a little, and he gripped Danir’s wrist, turning his hand over to lightly kiss his palm. “That’s another thing I’m curious about,” he murmured.

The last of Danir’s misgivings melted away. Whatever came of them in the future, for tonight this was the right course for them both; that was plain. “Come here, then, and give that curiosity an early taste.”

With one last moment of hesitation, Verik shifted his cushion over, onto the blanket Danir reclined upon. There was a nervous edge to his smile as he sat; not nervous enough, though, to keep him from spreading his hand over Danir’s mid-shoulder, sweeping down along his foreleg.

It was plain enough from his tentative touch that he’d never been this close to a Narami. That was fine; Danir hadn’t been this close to anyone but. He cupped a hand against the man’s cheek, tracing the line of his jaw, down his neck to his shoulder, and from there to his arm, still clothed in thick wool. Verik’s eyes slipped shut; the sigh he let out was full of promise and bore a thrill of excitement, and the distinctly masculine elements of his scent were growing rather stronger than they had been when he arrived.

Also heavy on the air swas the smell of baking bread, though, and if they got too distracted, that and the fish would be woefully overdone. Danir let a sigh of his own slip over the man’s cheek. “The first of our food should be done soon,” he murmured over Verik’s ear. “Once we’ve had that, then we can have a taste of each other…”

Verik laughed out loud. “That’s probably for the best on several counts,” he admitted.

They parted with some measure of mutual reluctance. Verik extracted the fish from the coals while Danir took out the bread, setting the loaves on a board to cool, then helping to crack the clay and expose the steaming, flaky fish.

That was enough to keep them busy for a time. Once they’d finished the fish, Danir took the last hunk of his first loaf and dipped it into the bubbling stew. It was making good progress, but plainly could stand to cook for quite a bit longer yet.

Long enough for a good start on the evening.

By unspoken accord, they wound up at the blanket-lined nest where Danir slept. Danir kept himself still while the man explored his face, stroking over and behind his ears, along his jaw, coming to rest just shy of his whiskers; then he touched his lips to the Narami’s in a soft, wine-scented kiss.

That was pleasing enough to them both. Danir kissed back, tongue nudging forward against Verik’s lips, seeking and finding passage, while his fingers worked their way down the laces of the man’s woolen overshirt, loosening them. They necessarily parted so he could lift off his shirt, and then he stepped back a bit, slightly flushed.

For a moment, Danir was quite busy drinking in the sight of him. Oh, he’d seen humans bare-chested before, of course, but he’d never really had reason to appreciate just how evident was the play of muscle under his light dusting of dark hair, shifting with his quickening breath.

Then it dawned on him that the man was nervous. Intensely aroused, yes – that was plain to Danir’s nose as much as his mind, and was definitely inclining him in that direction himself. But to actually show it to a new lover, so different from anyone he’d been with before…

He started slightly when Danir touched his shoulder. “You’re a delight,” the Narami purred. “Carry on as you will; you’re doing wonderfully so far.”

At that Verik swallowed, offering him an unsteady grin. It was enough to set him back into motion, loosening his belt and peeling out of his trousers, and then a lighter, shorter pair under that. Beneath that, all he had on was a simple linen loincloth, and it wasn’t in any way adequate to conceal the swell of his manhood.

That, Danir couldn’t resist. Even as Verik was discarding that last, minimal impediment, Danir reached toward him, brushing his fingers over that proud flesh, feeling the warmth under the taut skin. Verik gasped, moaned, and pushed up into his touch, trembling.

Shivering in turn, Danir stroked him a few times, tip to base and back up, then he let go with a sigh. He’d known that some Narami fancied the smaller races; now he fancied he had some idea why. There was truly something to be said for having the relevant anatomy within arm’s reach. But he didn’t want to monopolize the evening.

They exchanged grins as Danir lay back, rollinng onto his side, then his back. Then, looking down Danir’s body, Verik got very wide-eyed indeed. “Nadra’s tears,” he croaked, “you’re enormous.”

Abruptly Danir felt sheepish. He’d had some awareness, however distant, of what to expect from other races; he hadn’t even considered how the other side of that difference might feel. “Verik…”

“It’s not as though I hadn’t seen some sign of it,” the man blurted, cheeks flushed. “And I’ve been curious just from that. But to see it so close…” He leaned over, trembling hand outstretched, and his fingers brushed over Danir’s plump, overfull sheath.

Danir’s intended reassurance was washed out in a low, rumbling groan. Daunted he might be, but Verik wasn’t letting it paralyze him. He looked up at Danir’s sounds of pleasure, smiled as he apparently interpreted them for what they were, and shifted over a bit further, pressing his palm against the bigger male’s sheath and gliding down toward its base. His caress to Danir’s pouch felt more tender than tentative; by the time he got back up to the other end, he seemed a little more sure of himself, and stretched his hand around Danir’s ebon shaft without further comment.

There he paused, and Danir relaxed a measure of concentration that long practise had made subliminal, letting more of his new lover’s mental state flow over him. Now he was hesitant, yearning to see Danir in full measure, but unsure of just how to proceed. Danir propped himself on one arm, curling in, setting a midpaw on Verik’s shoulder. “Keep on as you were doing,” he said, his voice husky. “But squeeze around the sheath a little…” He shivered; Verik had been very quick to comply with that one. “Ah – yes, like that. Stroke it against what’s inside, tug it down some; it can stretch out of the way…”

And measure by measure, Verik worked Danir’s length wholly into the open.

With perhaps a touch of bravado, Verik swung a leg over Danir’s haunches, straddling him. And then he laughed, looking down his body, past his own length and at Danir’s beneath it. It was a comical mismatch; where Verik’s manhood was about half a foot long, easy to wrap a hand around, Danir, on the long side for a Narami male, measured nearly two feet from his bunched-up sheath to his tip, and was as thick as a fist.

Danir wouldn’t have dared make light of it. But Verik seemed to find it somehow assuring – so much beyond him, perhaps, that there was no point in comparing.

Whatever the case, it let Danir’s lover relax, and he was glad for that.

“Of all men to be my first,” said Verik, traces of that laugh still lurking in his voice, “I had to find myself with this.

Now Danir let himself laugh as well. “It could be worse. I could have been a Hadri – I hear they’re half again as endowed as Narami.”

“Nadra’s teats,” Verik swore, chuckling again. Then he let the matter drop, holding a hand up to spit on his palm, then smearing the proceeds over his own shaft. Moments later, he let himself sink down against Danir’s body, knees against his haunches, one hand on his belly, the other stroking the Narami’s manhood. Farther down, his own slid wetly against it with the churning of his hips.

For someone who hadn’t been with a man before, Verik had a remarkable awareness of how to make it work. Plainly he was no stranger to sex as a whole. And yet the novelty had him trembling, almost painfully excited – and that excitement poured into Danir in turn, mingling with his own, amplifying it.

When Verik sat up and started stroking him between both hands, Danir was well and truly lost. He could feel the blood singing in Verik’s ears, felt the warmth and softness under the man’s pouch, not just as the one providing them, but from his perspective in turn. He felt the fur and muscle under Verik’s thighs, felt how he cherished every new sensation.

Even with Talen, another mentalist, he and Danir had gradually felt their way to this kind of deep connection. Verik threw himself into it with abandon. And as he craved, needed to experience Danir’s release, the Narami would not and could not keep him waiting.

But he wasn’t the first to succumb. It took Verik remarkably little time to grasp that as he stroked Danir’s length, he too felt an echo of that stroke. His hips churned in a rhythm all their own, skin pressing against skin – not really sliding any, just shifting against one another – even as he worked that length urgently in both hands, panting, trembling. And then he cried out, shoving forward a bit harder still, then thrusting again, and again, as pleasure poured into Danir’s mind and wet, sticky heat pulsed over his shaft.

That was all he needed to crash over the brink in turn.

Some time later, he lifted his head, panting. Verik was slumped atop him, his heaving chest against Danir’s still-bucking length, his breath hot and quick on the Narami’s belly. Both of them were shaking and unsteady.

Slowly, Verik gathered himself and lifted his head in turn. He was flushed, wide-eyed, and had a generous streak of Danir’s seed on his collarbone; and he plainly loved every moment of it. “That,” he panted, “was intense.”

“No better word,” Danir managed, tousling his hair with a midpaw. “You give yourself to it more thoroughly than anyone I’ve met, with the gift or without!”

“I didn’t just mean that,” the man laughed. “Even before that grew strong. Just… feeling you against me like that. It was an amazing thing. I had to feel how it felt to you.”

Maybe he was right. Need could drive a swift connection. And better this sort of need than the need of mortal danger. He grinned up at the man. “And?”

“And I’m very glad I worked up the courage to approach you.” He touched his fingers to his lips, then stretched his hand as far up Danir’s body as he could reach.

Danir curled in a little, touching his fingers to his new lover’s, bringing that kiss up to his own lips, then returning it in kind. “So am I, Verik,” he sighed. “So am I.”

Regrettably, the body’s needs drove them apart – staying spread-eagled like that over an adult Narami’s broad body wasn’t the most comfortable of positions for Verik, and he had to get up and stretch and move around some. They took the opportunity to clean themselves of spilled seed, and then they sat by the fire, Danir curled in around Verik as the man reclined against him, a midleg over the human’s hip, each with a fresh goblet of wine.

They’d gone past words; for the moment, all they needed was contact, and that they had aplenty, there in front of the fire. The scent of simmering stew drove the next distraction – delicious as it had been, the bread and fish earlier barely qualified as a snack to a grown Narami, and while he thought little of going a day or two without a meal, it did leave him quite hungry. There was plenty of stew for them both, though, and plenty of wine, and they had both while resting comfortably together, with just a blanket thrown over Verik’s lower half to protect his bare skin from any spilled drops.

Cleaning up was a somewhat perfunctory process, an unpleasant necessity before getting on to what they truly wanted to do. Which, whatever shape it might take, was going to happen back in Danir’s cozy nest, and this time Verik slid in with him without one bit of hesitation. They’d had plenty of time to recover from their earlier bout, and anticipation was strong in them both: Danir already felt his sheath drawing back, and that was even before he felt Verik’s manhood rigid against his chest.

Their mouths met, wine-rich breaths mingling, Verik’s quick and sharp, Danir’s slower, deeper. As Danir ran his hands over Verik’s body, the heat boiling off of it thrilled him. Some of it might just be the lack of fur, but surely not all; the man was a furnace. No wonder his shaft against Danir’s, despite being so much smaller, had been such a palpable force.

He craved more.

His midpaws slid over Verik’s thighs while his hands kept busy further up, roaming his back and sides, sliding up to tangle in his dark hair and cup him close in a fierce, needy, if somewhat mismatched kiss. The soft grunts and groans slipping into his muzzle, the hot brand of arousal pushing through his chest-fur and up against him – it was delight, it was pure bliss. And while part of him filed the sensation away with meticulous care, knowing that others dear to him would want to share his experience – for now, in the bulk of his mind, the only one that mattered was Verik, right there against him.

The human gasped, shoving forward, when Danir’s hand wrapped around his length, and as Danir rumbled in approval, kept thrusting into his grip, moving counter to his stroking fist. Neither of them expected to last very long, now, but Danir drank in as much of this as he dared.

It wasn’t how he wanted the man to finish, though. Not this time. So Danir shuffled back a little on his bed, nuzzling at Verik’s collarbone, lapping over his chest, seizing for a moment on the protuberance of a nipple, suckling on it and grazing it with his tongue – oh, how the man cried out and squirmed at that! But Danir made himself shift on lower, and Verik, sensing his goal, shifted to make it easier; leaned just so, setting the crown of his manhood against Danir’s lips.

The taste of him, so different from Narami yet still essentially male, was finer than the wine. How could he not let it into his mouth? And once there, how could he give anything less than his best, lapping, suckling, as his hands roamed about the man’s rump and thighs?

He could feel Verik’s pleasure building, and craved its imminent peak. But Verik himself seemed caught wholly off guard by it; one moment he was gently churning, sliding himself against Danir’s lashing tongue, and then suddenly he cried out, clutching at the Narami’s skull and driving as deep in as he could.

With himself or another Narami man, Danir would have struggled, and probably been forced to let seed spill past his lips. This, though – this, like so much about the man, was so much more manageable, so very comfortable. This he could let pool on his tongue a little, rich and pungent, before he swallowed it down and felt the sticky heat coat his throat. And it was very warm indeed, warmer than he was accustomed to, and quite a bit thicker and stickier besides.

He couldn’t say it was better than Talen’s, but nor could he say it was worse. It was different, and it was good, and it was what he had, so he relished it.

Verik had barely come down from that peak, still panting, when he drew his softening shaft free of Danir’s mouth, turned, and stretched out atop him, this time approaching the bigger male’s shaft from the front and without hesitation. He licked and kissed at its tip – he dared not even try fitting that girth into his mouth, but he made the most of it. His hands roamed over dark flesh, sometimes in tandem, sometimes apart, sometimes one of them staying entirely still and helping to keep Danir’s length in place for his mouth to attend to. He went at it like he was starving, or like it offered the only potable stuff for leagues around.

And it was an exquisitely, almost embarrassingly short time before Danir felt pleasure surge through him and let the smaller man drink his fill.

After, they lay together, each gently fondling the other’s spent piece and marvelling – Danir at how the flesh that had been so rigid not long ago now curled easily over his middle-toes, Verik in turn at the stubborn hardness that remained at the core of Danir’s length. Verik was the first to recover, letting out a soft laugh. “I suppose this is why you’re always so, well, visible if I chance to get a look.”

“And this is how you can bear to stuff it into those over-elaborate things you call clothes, mmm?” Danir laughed in turn. “Thank you, Verik. I’ll always treasure this night – and while we’re both here in Falvarinth, should you desire a night of tender contact, you need only ask.”

“I look forward to it,” Verik assured him, leaving his shaft alone and turning to shimmy up toward his head. Smiling, he stole another, softer kiss. “For right now, all I need is to stay here.”

Danir licked gently over his lips. “That would please me greatly.” He wrapped his arms around the man, keeping him close, as Verik closed his eyes and pillowed his cheek against Danir’s shoulder.

Presently, his soft and even breaths made plain that he was asleep.

Very gently, Danir shifted under him, getting himself comfortable while taking care not to disturb his lover. He wasn’t sleepy just yet, but he was very content to lie still and peaceful.

And as the echoes of other lovers at play touched on his mind, he was very grateful indeed that he’d not be spending this night alone.