A FOREST TALE 18:  Transformations - Part Three
By Bernard Doove © 2002

I put the flimsy top on, clipping the near-invisible fastener together up front, then adjusting it slightly so my breasts felt comfortable. It was so low-cut that it barely covered my nipples, and it showed all my cleavage. Checking it out in the mirror, it looked as if it would fall off at any moment, something that it was undoubtably meant to do, but it was actually very well designed and hugged my ample bosom firmly and securely.

"Darlin', you do that top justice like few others could."

I turned towards the voice. Lupu regarded me appreciatively. She was a wolftaur bitch with a wild beauty that my more civilised nature found appealing, and she was wearing a blouse that didn't leave much to the imagination either. She came over and gave me a hug.

I kissed her. "Thanks, dear, although I think most chakats would look good in this."

"Perhaps, but you're the one wearing it. Besides, it always reminds me of the day we found it."

I nodded as I cast my mind back to that day, not too long after the change.

"Are you going to keep wearing that one top until it falls apart?" Lupu asked me.

I shrugged. "What else do you suggest? I don't have any clothes that weren't given to me by one of the chakats, and I don't have money to go buy my own. My wallet was lost in the transformation also, along with all my teller cards. I can't afford to buy anything yet."

"Not any more!" She held up a package. "This just arrived for you. The courier told me that it was important that you get these as it contains all your documentation, replacement credit and debit cards..."

She stopped talking as I nearly snatched the package from her hands and started opening it. Her grin told me that she had anticipated that response and probably had something else in mind when I was done. I ignored her for the moment. Until now, there had been nothing to prove to the various bureaucracies that I was who I claimed to be, and I couldn't even access the money that I had in my savings accounts. Suddenly, I was no longer a nobody any more and with these I could now stop living on the charity of my benefactors.

Lupu touched my arm to get my attention. "Now, about that top; don't you think we should do something about getting you something to add to your wardrobe?"

I grinned, knowing that I had walked right into her trap. I could see a shopping expedition in mind. For a few days, she and the chakats had been encouraging me to get out of the house and get back into society. I had been resisting the idea, not yet comfortable to confront the world in my new form. However, now I had a reason for going out and I knew that I'd be at the mercy of my wolftaur companion. She wasted no time.

"Borrow a waist pouch and put what you need in it and let's go!" she said, not giving me a choice.

I didn't have a problem getting a pouch from Goldfur, and I put in just about everything. I noted with bemusement that the cards with a photo I.D. had had my human face replaced with that of Goldfur's. I realised that I would have had a bloody hard time convincing someone that that human was really me. One of the cards was my ground vehicle driver's licence. I snorted in contempt. I couldn't drive a normal vehicle with my current body, and I would have to re-learn how to drive in the taur-modified versions if I remained stuck in this body. Needless to say, that card was left on my bedside drawers.

I met Lupu at the front door. She had put on one of her going-out-to-the-mall tops. When she visited places like that, she tended to like wearing eye-catching outfits, and this green jacket was no different. It was rather short and only two buttons kept it closed. This resulted in her breasts being firmly pushed together to give people a nice view of cleavage. She wanted people to look, and I was happy to oblige. I still only had one of the plain T-shirts that I wore to preserve my modesty. A rather purposeless thing in this household, I knew, but I still wasn't ready to walk around bare-breasted, especially with this rack!

When we got to the local shopping complex, we visited the automatic teller machine first. I got a surprise when I checked my balance. It was substantially higher than I thought it could be. I wasn't exactly a great saver, yet here was a rather large source of funds to draw upon. Later I learned that this was because the Star Corps had deposited some accident compensation benefits into the account, and this was only the interim pay-out. I was now fairly well-off! This didn't escape Lupu, of course, and it wasn't long before we were headed to the clothes shops. She took me to her favourite stores and made me try on several items. Despite my fears, she had a practical mind, and she chose some very suitable tops to suit my tastes. After choosing a couple of simple halters, a prettily patterned T-shirt and a nice blouse, a smart jacket caught my eye. Although it was cut for a female, it appealed more to my masculine personality. It was a light brown that went well with the golden-brown of my fur. Looking at the result in the mirror, I was very pleased with it. Then Lupu held out one more item for me. I hesitated before taking it from her. It was small. Very small. It was the colour of a blue cloudless sky, and weighed about as much. I arched an eyebrow at Lupu questioningly.

Lupu shrugged and gave me a coy smile. "Please?" was all she said.

I considered it, then thought 'What have I gotten myself into? Oh, what the hell!' and put it on. The narrow straps disappeared into my fur and made it look totally self-supporting. Judicious small amounts of darker blue lace adorned it, but otherwise it was beautiful in its simplicity. It barely came up over my milk-swollen nipples, and the figure-hugging material hid them not in the slightest. In fact, the material barely covered a third of my generously sized breasts, and revealed my cleavage totally. Looking in the mirror, I knew that this item had one purpose only, and by the reaction I was having to it, it was fulfilling that purpose admirably. I tore my eyes away from the sight before something unwanted happened right there in public. The shop owner was there, helping Lupu pick out garments for me. When I turned to face the female snowleopard morph, she exclaimed in delight.

"That colour suits you perfectly! Your mate is going to be very pleased!" she remarked.

I didn't bother disabusing her of the notion that Lupu and I were mated. It was hardly surprising that she'd think so, especially considering what we were doing. Then I presented myself to Lupu whose jaw dropped a little in surprised delight. She took a really good look at me, and I let her appraise the effect until she was content. Then she sighed.

"Thank you, Dale. I know that this wasn't what you came in for, and I know that the male part of you is probably uncomfortable about this. However, I was dying to see what you'd look like in that. Thanks for indulging me, hon."

I smiled back at her. "True, I wouldn't ever choose this for myself, but I have to admit that it suits me well. So, you like it?" Lupu nodded eagerly. "Good! I wouldn't want to think that I had wasted my money."

Lupu's jaw dropped in surprise. "You're buying it?" she asked incredulously.

"Yep." I answered simply.

"Not that I object, but why?"

"Just because you like it and it pleases me to indulge you. I'm very grateful for all you've done for me so far. Consider it a way of paying you back a little."

Lupu threw her arms around me, hugging and lick-kissing me thoroughly. I laughed and gave her a few licks back. I took great delight in pleasing her. The shop owner was so happy with all the garments that I'd bought there that she threw in a pretty tail ribbon as a bonus. Lupu would have to show me how to use that!

We walked out of that shop with quite a haul. Somehow I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up back there again in the near future. Lupu had bought a new halter too. Not that she needed another as she had quite a collection. However, I knew that being female, that fact wouldn't stop her! She was a little surprised at how much that I had bought though.

"I thought that you didn't like shopping?" she queried.

"I don't," I replied. "However, I always liked to dress smartly as a human, and I still do as a chakat. The actual process of going out and trying on all those items of apparel is tedious to me, but I like the results." I paused to push my long tresses out of my eyes for the millionth time. "Now if only I could do something about this annoying hair!" I said with a touch of irritation.

"Easily fixed!" exclaimed Lupu, grabbing my arm and steering me down one of the side aisles.

'Chez Fur' proclaimed the sign on the shop window. 'Hair and fur styling' it said underneath.

"This is my favourite hairdresser," Lupu said. "If Mademoiselle Hepzibah can't help you find something to your taste, no one can!

Hepzibah proved to be a Persian Cat morph. Her luxuriously long fur was meticulously styled and adorned with various ribbons and such. She took one look at my waist-long hair and exclaimed, "Ooooh! Vhat marvellous hair you have, ma cherie! What is ze magic zat you wish me to work upon eet?

Lupu didn't give me a chance to answer. "Dale would love to have something elegantly simple, Hepzibah dear. Cut it to just below the shoulders and dye it. Auburn, I think."

Hepzibah looked slightly disappointed. "But such theengs I could do with zis. Eet would be a shame not to make it a work of art."

I began to feel a little panicky. There was no way that I wanted to spend hours in this place and walk out with some ghastly hair-do. I worried too much though. Lupu had her firmly under control though and wouldn't let her get carried away.

"No, love. Dale doesn't go in for that kind of thing. I have confidence in your ability to make hir wonderful with the simplest of styles." I noticed Lupu's use of the herm pronoun then. She'd been using the male ones for me, but I realised that it was much easier to simply let Hepzibah think that I was a regular chakat rather than trying to explain my peculiar circumstances.

Hepzibah was mollified by the praise of her abilities and led me off to one of the work areas. She personally cut my hair and I was amazed at how much lighter my head felt as hank after hank of golden hair fell to the floor. Then swiftly and skilfully, she began to shape it, all the while chattering at me in that outrageous French accent. I had no idea how much of it was real and how much was an affectation, but at least it seemed that she was quite prepared to make it a one-sided conversation, which spared me from having to comment on any of the stuff that she talked about, most of which went straight in one ear and out the other. Then she had me lean over a basin and gave me a thorough shampoo. Next she carefully but firmly put a waterproof band around my hairline and then chose a hair dye colour.

"A lighter shade of brown would suit you best, with just ze hint of red to match your fur, I think!

With a flourish, she presented the bottle to me with the sample on front. I shrugged, not really knowing any better. Some time later, the dye job complete and my hair brushed, shaped and dried, I was shown the result in the mirror. My jaw dropped. I was stunned by the result. At last, something other than Goldfur's visage gazed back at me. The result was good... bloody good! I realised then that Lupu had been right to choose this place. Even someone like me could see that for all her flamboyancy, Hepzibah sure knew what she was doing. I thanked the Mademoiselle profusely, her smile telling me that this was exactly what she craved. Of course, a fairly hefty fee was needed too, but I found that I didn't mind a bit. My head felt freer, the hair no longer got in my way at all, and I no longer could be mistaken for Goldfur. I walked back to the PTV feeling rather good about myself.

Lupu said, "You look scrumptious, love. Aren't you glad that I brought you here now?"

"Of course I am. I'd be an idiot if I said otherwise. What now though?"

"How about lunch first?"

I suddenly realised that I was ravenous and nodded eagerly. After dropping off our purchases, I treated Lupu to a meal at the nearby Garden Café. As usual, I was impressed with the sheer amount of food that the chakat form could put away. One advantage of that though was that I could get to try out several different dishes. Something that I had noticed from the first day of my change was the subtle difference in how everything tasted to me now. Every dish therefore was a totally new experience to me and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

When we were finally replete, Lupu asked me, "What would you like to do next?"

I thought for a moment, but it wasn't hard to decide. "Take me to my apartment."

Lupu was startled, and I realised that the thought that I actually had a residence somewhere else than at Goldfur's place had never crossed her mind. She nodded. "Okay. I'm curious to see what you call home."

"You'll be disappointed. It's nothing special."

"Let me be the judge of that," she replied.

I shrugged. Let her form her own opinions. Driving to my apartment took about half an hour; going to the shopping complex had already taken us in roughly the right direction. The building occupied a small but neatly landscaped lot planted with shrubs and small trees. On the way up the stairs I stumbled. It gave me pause; as a human I'd gone up a thousand times without a thought. I opened the door for Lupu and stepped in behind her. Even with only two chairs and the entertainment console in it, the lounge room felt cramped. I found myself stepping carefully to avoid bumping into things.

Suddenly a vase toppled over with a crash, dislodged by my tail. "Crap!" I snarled, turning about not quite quickly enough to prevent the vase from rolling off onto the floor.

"What's that?" Lupu inquired.

"Oh, just something I picked up during a tour," I replied. Shelves loaded with knick-knacks I'd picked up while on various duty assignments lined three walls. "Um," I mumbled, feeling momentarily faint as a thought crossed my mind. The latest batch of souvenirs, originally destined to join the collection, had instead become a part of my new body.

After waiting a moment for Lupu to examine the shelves I showed her the rest of the place. A kitchen-dinette, a single bedroom, and a bathroom (with a toilet that I could barely use now) completed the layout. Stairs lead down to a laundry next to the storeroom and garage. I noticed that in addition to looking at things, she also sniffed them. I tried it myself and became aware of a wealth of scents I could detect, if not identify. One particular odour jumped out at me. With a shock I realised that it was the scent of my own former body!

"Small, but nice," Lupu commented. "Anything you want to take back?"

I nodded, then I grabbed some documents, filled a bag with most of my favourite music disks, found a spare personal PADD and a few other knick-knacks that I felt like taking. For a moment I stared at the clothes and shoes in my wardrobe, tempted to fling the footwear out the window. I restrained myself and grabbed a jacket only. Trying it on, I found that the formerly large and roomy garment was now barely big enough to fit my powerful new form. I thought that I would feel at home here, but instead I felt awkward and out of place. My body didn't fit and I kept bumping into furniture and corners. The heights of the benches seemed wrong, and I almost laughed out loud at the thought of squeezing this body onto my single bed. Sadly, what had been my home was now merely a place that stored my possessions.

"Let's get out of here," I told Lupu.

"It's no longer home, is it?" she deduced shrewdly.

"You're right. This is a human's home, and no place for people like us."

I saw her lift an eyebrow as she noted my choice of words, but she didn't say any more. She helped me carry out the bags I'd filled, then I closed and locked the door. I didn't really know when I'd bother coming back. If the scientists managed to do the impossible, then I could come back here again, but not now. It hurt too much.

It was amazing the difference that day's activities made. Everyone at the den could now see me as an individual instead of Goldfur's clone. I suddenly felt like a new person, rather than a human masquerading as someone else. It's staggering how much of ourselves we store in such slight things. I took pride in maintaining my new looks, and now that I had many of my important personal items with me, I could indulge in a few things I hadn't been able to up until then. I was an individual person again, both in the eyes of my hosts and in that of the public. Life still had a lot of uncertainties in store for me, but I felt better equipped to handle them now.

The following days consisted of more practice with my body's capabilities, talking to the various big brains from Star Corps, and getting more seemingly pointless tests done. Also, I began to swing my weight in the household. Rather than be a constant burden on them, I volunteered to do various chores. Cub-minding was one that I was least adept at, but was most appreciated, freeing up their parents to do other more pressing tasks. This activity brought about one of the next significant changes in my attitudes. For once, I was almost alone in the house. Only Trina remained, working in her office. I'd been left in charge of the youngest cub and I felt quite honoured by the trust that they had in me. However, when Tailstalker started mewling constantly, I was at a bit of a loss at how to placate hir. It slowly got through my thick head that the empathic abilities of my new body were telling me exactly what was wrong. Shi was hungry! I got completely flustered. Shi wanted to be fed much sooner than normal, but the chakats didn't have anything like a baby's bottle in the place! I was about to seek out Trina's help when a thought occurred to me. There was one other source of milk! I was stunned that I even considered it, but I knew that the milk in my own breasts would be perfect. I dithered for way too long, but Tailstalker's ever-increasingly loud mewling finally pushed me over the edge. I thanked God that I was alone because I was sure that I couldn't do what I was about to do with an audience. I unfastened the halter I was wearing, picked up Tailstalker, then placed her muzzle near one breast. Hir tiny little hands reached out to grasp the fur on my left breast as shi pulled hir muzzle straight to the nipple. Without any hesitation, she started suckling upon the teat, and I gasped at the sensation. It felt good! Really good! I knew what it felt like to have the milk flow due to Lupu's marvellous ministrations, but this was different. There was something extra this time. Then I realised what it was. I could feel the cub's pleasure at being fed, and my empathic senses were passing that on to me. I closed my eyes and just soaked it up. No wonder chakats loved breastfeeding their children so much. I purred and purred.

"I think shi's done," said a familiar voice after a long time. I opened my eyes and saw Trina's gently smiling face in front of me. I was not in the slightest bit bothered by being discovered. I finally understood the reasons behind the attitudes of the various residents of this den, and I suddenly realised that I now shared them. I held Tailstalker up to Trina who carefully took the sleeping cub from me and placed hir in the crib. She bent over the child and kissed hir on the forehead. I took a moment to watch her do so. As always, she wore nothing about the den, and the beautiful white-furred femme looked exceptionally nice. For the first time, I did not avert my eyes in embarrassment. I took the time to look her over carefully. I was still looking when she straightened up and turned around. She realised what I was doing and grinned, pulling a few poses for me. Instead of being hopelessly embarrassed, I took what she offered and enjoyed the view before we both broke into quiet laughter as her antics got more and more silly. She held out a hand to me and I got up and left the room with her.

"You did that well," Trina said when we reached the living area.

"Thanks," I replied. "That was quite an experience."

"We'll make a real chakat out of you yet!" she added. Startled, I realised that she might be right. She added, "However, won't that upset your plans to wean yourself?"

I shrugged helplessly. "It had to be done. Besides, now that I know fully what it's like, I'm not so sure any more that I want to wean myself."

Trina laughed loudly at that. "Yes, I can certainly understand that. Welcome to the mothers' club."

I wasn't quite sure how to respond to that, so I simply smiled in agreement. Then Trina startled me by kissing me.

"That's for a job well done, Dale. Feel free to explore more of your new nature with me sometime." With that, she turned away and strolled off to her office, hips swaying, tail swishing. I knew damn well that it was done for my benefit, and I wondered if I was ready for that aspect of this extended family yet.

Goldfur disappeared along with hir cubs the next day. Apparently shi had left to rejoin hir mate, Garrek, who had been spending time in his home village attending to clan business. That left fewer cubs to look after, and more time on my hands, and I used it to help Trina in the office whenever I wasn't busy practising new techniques with my body or talking to Dr Gladstone. I must admit to being sceptical about the psych services until this incident, but he managed to help me with such competent ease that I would be forever in his debt. I forgot to ask him though about how I should feel when Garrek returned to his home here until the moment he walked in. He was such a striking sight. I had never seen such a big foxtaur before, nor one so boldly coloured. However, those weren't the things that were bothering me. As soon as I laid eyes on him, I felt like an intruder in his territory. I knew it was because my male psyche saw him as a rival male, but that didn't make it any easier to deal with. It didn't help to realise that he'd probably been informed about me and wouldn't be too surprised to finally meet me; I still felt as if I was a usurper in his home. I was very nervous when he stepped up to greet me.

"Hello there! You must be Dale. I'm pleased to meet you."

Although they were standard lines, he said them with a genuineness that wasn't a mere affectation. I knew immediately that here was a person as honest and straightforward as any other member of this family, which shouldn't have come as a surprise to me. Still, I just stood there dumbly, not knowing what to do until Lupu gave me a nudge in the ribs with her elbow. That jolted me out of stasis and I held out my hand to shake his.

"Same here, Garrek. I hope that I'm not in the way or anything."

"Don't worry about it. You're hardly the first unusual addition to this madhouse, and I strongly suspect that you won't be the last. At least the haircut and dye job will stop me from doing anything mutually embarrassing."

I nodded in fervent agreement. "So, what have you been up to? The others have been remarkably tight-lipped about that."

Garrek took my arm and guided me to a corner of the living room. I noticed that he seemed a little embarrassed and wondered why my question should elicit that response. He took a bottle of soft drink from the small bar fridge and asked me if I wanted one. I accepted, mostly out of sociability rather than thirst and he then sat down on a lounging cushion. I took one nearby and we both took swigs out of the bottles. I realised that he was getting himself in the mood to talk. Finally he spoke.

"I've been fulfilling a clan obligation, one that has opened my eyes a little better to my own culture, but still involves a certain degree of uncomfortableness for me." He then gave me a synopsis of the past several days events. I learned for the first time that foxtaur vixens outnumbered the males three to one, thus making males very valuable for breeding purposes. He had been required to provide such services for a week, and he was usually a rather quiet and reserved person outside of his own family, so he found the task rather daunting. (NOTE: See "Tales of the Foxtaur Clans #5: Obligation" for the details.)

I wondered why he was telling me all this at first, then I realised what the reason probably was. He'd been briefed on my circumstances and he was doing his bit to get my mind off my plight, or to show that others had problems too. On top of this, I sensed a certain amount of male camaraderie. He was treating me as the man I had been, rather then the chakat that I presently was. I knew that I couldn't have made that distinction so quickly. I decided that Garrek was a very perceptive person and warmed up to him a lot, and soon we were chatting like old friends.

For a few days, I felt almost at home. It felt like I was more like a visiting relative rather than a charity case. I kept myself busy and helped where I could. Then one morning, Forestwalker came up to me and let me know what was going to be happening soon. Shi drew me aside and then carefully made hirself comfortable. I realised with a start that shi was extremely gravid. I mean, I had always known that shi was pregnant and the cub wasn't going to be long in coming, but until that moment I hadn't really realised just how close.

"Dale, tomorrow I'm due to give birth to this cub," shi started, petting hir swollen belly. "As is our custom, we're having a birthing party, and many of my relatives will be attending. I need to know if you're going to have a problem with this."

"You can pinpoint the birth that accurately?" I asked curiously.

"To the day, yes. It's rare that we miss."

I thought about the situation a bit, then asked, "Will you be letting them know about my circumstances?"

"Only if you let us. We'll respect your privacy, but if you choose to stick around, we can make things easier for you if you let us tell them about you. Otherwise we can arrange for you to stay elsewhere until this is all over if you can't cope."

"If your relatives promise not to blab, I reckon that I can deal with it for a while. I might have to retreat to the bedroom if it gets too much for me, but I doubt it. I've always enjoyed parties."

Forestwalker grinned at that. "I don't think you fully understand what our birthing parties are like. You could soon find out though. I'd be honoured if you joined us at the event."

"The honour's mine," I replied. "I'd be pleased to attend."

Forestwalker held up a hand to stop me talking. "Not so fast! I think you'd better know what you'd be letting yourself in for first. This is an invitation to actually be present at the birth, as well as celebrating afterwards."

My jaw dropped. Now that I hadn't counted on. Forestwalker grinned. "I thought that might give you a surprise. It's much nicer than you think though. It's nothing like the sterile atmosphere of a delivery room that humans seem to prefer for some reason. You don't have to give me your decision now, but I think you'll find it interesting."

"No, I don't think I need more time to consider my answer. I've prided myself on my ability to deal with new situations, although my transformation rather strained that. As I said, I'd be honoured to be present at the birth of your cub. Got any more surprises for me though?"

Shi smiled hugely at that. "Probably, but nothing that you won't be able to handle, I think. Thank you for accepting. Now there are other matters to deal with. Some of the family will be staying overnight, and rooms are at a premium already. We won't kick you out of your room though, but if you volunteer to spend at least one night sharing it with another, we'd be very grateful. If you're inclined, I think Lupu would be happy to move in for a night or two."

I looked at hir sharply, but the smile never dimmed. I sighed and asked, "Is there any time when you aren't scheming something to throw us together?"

"Why, Dale, I don't know what you mean!" shi exclaimed with a great show of fake sincerity. I growled and shi giggled. "Okay. Honestly, it's the best arrangement anyway, but I can't help thinking that you should take advantage of the situation."

I gave up on saying anything else. I had already learned one thing about chakats: they totally lacked a sense of jealousy. None. Zilch. They barely even understood the concept. They had nothing against the concept of monogamy, but they couldn't understand why their ability to love should be restricted to only one if they met someone else deserving of it. They saw that Lupu liked me, and despite the fact that she was already Goldfur's mate, they felt that we made a good pairing and I'd been feeling their subtle (and now their not-so-subtle) manipulations to bring us together more. "Okay, if she says she wants to, I'll go along with that."

"Thanks, Dale. She already said yes. The first of the guests will be arriving today, including my parents and the Admiral. We'll have to warn my mother and sire about you because your scent's the same as Goldfur's. It could be very disconcerting otherwise."

"Naturally," I agreed, "But who's this Admiral?"

Forestwalker got up. "Why, the cub's sire, of course. Can't have a birthing without the sire to share the moment, can I?" Shi smiled and started to walk off.

"Wait! You've only ever referred to the cub's sire as 'Boyce' before. I didn't know that he, or shi was an admiral." With a name like that, I had been completely in the dark as to the nature of the sire's parentage. It didn't sound like a chakat name, but neither did it sound like that of any other taur species' style of naming that I knew about, and I knew enough about chakats to know that they could only interbreed with other taur species. It had me puzzled.

"Oh yes, he's an admiral in Star Fleet. Boyce Garald Kline Jr. And he's human."

Okay, just as I thought I'd gotten over being shocked, shi did it to me again. My jaw dropped and I was dumbfounded. "But..." I began.

Forestwalker interrupted me. "But humans can't interbreed with taurs, not even lusty chakats. Well, this one can, and as soon as we realised that fact, we conceived a cub as soon as possible. It's not even his first chakat hybrid. Midnight bore the first. Ember is his daughter."

Shi left me thinking about that one. I'd been occasionally breastfeeding the daughter of an admiral? The cub was being slowly weaned, but the chakats let their cubs suckle at the breast for up to two years, and feeding them that way provided comfort and security that was irreplaceable. I wondered what an admiral would think of a lowly ensign feeding his precious child. I soon found out. About two hours later, the comm rang and Forestwalker answered it. I heard hir excited voice call out, "He's here!" before shi made a beeline for the backyard. I wondered about that and curiously followed hir. I quickly became aware of a humming sound growing, one that was familiar to me. I soon spotted the shuttle that was headed in our direction. That had to be the Admiral's. Not too many people could get permission to land a shuttle in a suburban backyard; not even one as big as this yard. By the time he brought the small vessel in to a textbook landing, a small crowd had gathered to welcome him. The door had barely a chance to open before Ember streaked into the gap. A moment later, a tall and handsome male human dressed in a Star Fleet uniform stepped out, closely followed by a calico-patterned chakat. The cub was in the man's arms, hir tiny tongue furiously licking him in greeting kisses. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind now that this was Ember's father. The cubs were never fooled. Shi knew hir father without a doubt. Forestwalker threw hir arms about both and lick-kissed his other cheek. Then they kissed human-style, long and lovingly. Midnight was next, then Goldfur. Finally, it was my turn to be introduced. I felt like disappearing into the shadows or something. He might be in Star Fleet and me in the Star Corps, but we were both part of the Space Services, and he was technically my superior officer.

"Judging by your resemblance to Goldfur," he said when we came face-to-face, "You must be Dale."

I threw him my best salute. "Yes, sir! Ensign Dale Perkins, sir."

"At ease, Dale! Neither of us are on duty here, and we're amongst family." He stuck out his hand. "A pleasure to meet you, anyway. I've heard a lot of good things about you."

I shook his hand with great relief. "Thank you, sir... I mean... ummm... What do I call you then?!"

"Boyce will do fine here. Now, please excuse me. I have a lot of catching up to with mates."

I nodded and he turned away into the arms of a chakat. I could feel their pleasure and anticipation already. Only then did I notice a Caitian amongst the crowd. She must have been there for a while, but I hadn't noticed her get out of the shuttle. She caught my eye and smiled before turning back to the conversation she was having with Midnight. I noticed the rank pips on her uniform's collar and realised that she must be the Admiral's second in command. I had to wonder what she was doing here, although judging by the familiarity which she and the others seemed to have, she must be a regular visitor. Then a thought occurred to me. Boyce now had children by two chakats so far, which meant that he probably shared the same easy relationships with the entire family, just the way chakats did. After all, he did say mates, and I was almost certain he wasn't using the Australian term for friends. Could she be yet another in the family? I soon found out.

The Admiral finished his round of cuddles and greetings and turned back to me. "Dale! I fear I've been a bit remiss in my introductions." He beckoned the Caitian over. "Rosepetal, I'd like to introduce you to Goldfur's doppelganger, Dale Perkins. Dale, this is my first wife, Commander Rosepetal Silpurr." He reached down and plucked a furball from amongst a wrestling bundle of playful cubs, revealing what appeared to be a young female Caitian child. "And this is our daughter, Kayla."

"D-a-d! Lemme down!" objected Kayla. Boyce did so and she immediately rejoined the scrum.

I was really bemused now. Boyce not only had chakat children, but one from an alien also? He could have meant she was an adopted child, but frankly I didn't consider that possibility for more than a moment. Not after seeing the same hazel eyes as her father, anyway; completely unlike her mother's golden yellow ones. I had to learn more about him!

Goldfur grabbed my arm and led me over to the calico chakat. I could tell that shi was not full grown yet, but it was impossible to overlook the fact that shi had a more than adequate pair of breasts. They must rival hir sister, Forestwalker, in capacity, and that was saying something! "Dale, this is my youngest sister, Quickpaw. Boyce picked hir up from hir college in America on his way here so that shi could attend too. Shi'll be helping out at the birthing."

"Pleased to meet you, Dale," shi said. "Goldie has told me all about you, so don't worry about me doing anything embarrassing! Just a word of advice - I do the nursing around here when I'm home." Shi grinned widely.

Well, that explained part of it. Shi was a wet nurse apparently. "Far be it for me to tread on your toes, Quickpaw." The breast pump at least didn't care.

The crowd drifted off in the direction of the house and into the living room. The kids were left to work off the abundant energy that they seemed to have unleashed when their visitor arrived. I parked myself in a corner out of the way and let the conversation roll around me, soaking up some relevant details. Typical of chakats though, they didn't let me get away with being unsociable for long and I soon found myself detailing my recent experiences to the Admiral and his wife. I was beginning to run dry when Lupu interrupted with an announcement of lunch. Now if there's anything that a chakat loves only slightly less than sex, it's a good meal. There was a virtual stampede for the dining table, and I was amused to note that the Admiral definitely was not the last to get there. There's nothing like a good feed with good company. That above all else helped me to become comfortable in Boyce's presence.

I suppose that by now I should be used to being wrong. Just as I think that I've got things figured out, or that I won't be surprised again, these people proved otherwise. The birthing party started off much as I expected it to. Various relatives arrived in a steady stream. Forest and Goldfur's parents were amongst the earliest. I was on hand for most of the welcomes because not only did it give me a chance to be introduced to so many people all at once, but it also let my hosts head off any misunderstandings. Some jumped to the conclusion that I was Goldfur with a new hairstyle the moment they scented me. Of course, when Goldfur was also there, it merely meant some amusing confusion.

When the majority had arrived, we settled down in the living room to chat, drink and eat, then chat some more. Having acquiesced to their desire to have me part of the birth, I was now stuck with all the rest too. Not one for so much socialising, I was saved from boredom due to the fact that so many of the chakats had very interesting tales to tell, and because I was fresh meat, they were more than eager to relate them all to me. I barely had time to wonder just exactly when the birth was supposed to take place! That question was eventually answered when a yelp cut through the conversation. With everyone's eyes turned upon hir, Forest's own eyes fairly sparkled as shi announced: "Yes folks, that was the first contraction!" The conversation burst out anew, its volume much increased. I had to wonder, if they always held birthing parties like this, why did they find new births so endlessly fascinating? Perhaps one of these days I'd find out, but not yet.

Eventually the contractions were coming close enough together for Brightsong, their clan midwife, to declare that it was time for them to move to the nursery. Lupu grabbed my arm and dragged me after Forest. "Come on! We wanna get a good spot to watch!" she said enthusiastically.

I wasn't so sure. I know that I had agreed to attend, but I was now getting a case of cold feet. Then, just to make it worse, I noticed that not one person in that room had any clothing on except me. Some of the chakats in the living room had already been topless, but I knew that their species sometimes didn't bother with such things. "What's going on here?" I whispered to Lupu, my hands on the straps of my halter to indicate what I meant.

"Chakat custom," shi replied. "The cubs come naked into the world, and are innocents. The chakats show that they nurture this innocence and greet their children in a way that shows that they value each new addition to the family and that they will all protect and feed the cub."

"So that means...?" I asked, knowing what the answered would most likely be.

"Get it off!" ordered Lupu with a very big grin on her face.

Trapped, I had little choice but to comply. It felt really weird taking off the halter in front of so many people, but nobody really looked. All their attention was focused on the mother-to-be. I crossed my arms over my breasts, my nerves soothed by that token of modesty. I barely started to calm down when I was well and truly knocked for a loop. Boyce walked into the room, his eyes fixed on his mate. He settled behind Forest and put his arms around hir waist. Shi leant back, turning hir head to give him a big kiss on the cheek, That was hardly surprising. What boggled me though was the fact that he wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing! I felt keenly aware of both our situations, but he seemed oblivious. I just tried to make myself inconspicuous for the rest of the event.

I must admit that it was an interesting experience. I'm glad that I hadn't known everything beforehand or else I might have chickened out and I would have lost out on some valuable insights into chakat sociology. Watching a cub emerge from hir home of ten and a half months is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lives. Quickpaw fussed over the cleaning and drying of the newborn under the watchful eyes of Brightsong. Only then did I realise that Quickpaw was a midwife in training, and not just a wet-nurse. After that, the still-damp kitten was presented to the family before Forest took hir to the breast for hir first feed. Only then did the family start leaving the room, the hot topic of debate being prospective names for the child. As it turns out, hir name wasn't formalised for a long time, but in time, shi would come to be known as Windrunner. I had just as much fun discussing names with the other chakats too though while we ate snacks and drinks supplied by Goldfur and Lupu.

It was a couple of hours later before I realised that I hadn't put my top back on!

The next milestone occurred when my body reached the opposite extreme of its sexual cycle and I went into male rut. It was almost an anti-climax though because at last I was in reasonably familiar territory. Not that I had ever been quite this horny before, but at least I knew what was happening and it didn't conflict with my lifetime experience with sexual desire. I had to be extra careful though not to let it get away from me because if I did, I was stuck with an erection for quite a while, and I had no way to hide it other than lying down until it went away. Needless to say, the first day I spent lying down a lot! I was determined to get some self-control though without help from others, and by the second day, it wasn't so bad. I couldn't give myself all the credit though. Lupu was more than happy to indulge me and take the edge off the cravings. Of course, she often undid the benefits by flirting with me at other times, knowing full well the effect she was having on me. I made a mental note to myself: Lupu might be a kind and helpful person, but she was still a wolftaur bitch with a very independent and forthright demeanour, not to mention a mischievous streak. If she felt interested in me sexually, she didn't bother to hide it.

One thing that didn't change while at the peak of the male cycle was the enjoyment that I felt breastfeeding cubs. Yes, I had soon realised that I was never going to be able to wean myself while living with this family. Everyone now fully trusted me with caring for the cubs in their absence, and I had found out that feeding them was a normal part of that task. Considering the amount of pleasure it gave the carer, I was a bit surprised that they would relinquish that task to me at all, despite the occasional painful nip that such activity sometimes incurred. I wondered if they were deliberately letting me do it to make me feel more useful and get some enjoyment out of my situation. I didn't ask though. I just did the tasks that I was asked to do and thanked them by doing them well.

Another thing that still took me by surprise despite everything that had pointed towards it. Trina had been quite serious in her attitude towards me. While I had assumed that she was only flirting with me as she did with everyone else, I soon found out that she never did anything that she wasn't prepared to follow through with. We had just finished another day's work and Trina had dragged herself away from her office early for a change. Lupu had taken the cubs off my hands and was playing with them out on the grass in the back yard. Trina sat down on the floor next to me and smiled.

"You've been such a great help to me these past few days, Dale. I've managed to get my project done a little earlier than expected. I'd like to show my appreciation."

"You know that there's no need for that, Trina. I'm just glad to be pulling my weight around here."

Trina shook her head. "Nobody expects or demands that you do anything at all, Dale. Goldfur offered hir help unreservedly, and as part of hir extended family, we all honour that commitment. Nevertheless, your willingness to help out is much appreciated, and should be rewarded. Besides, I think what I have in mind will be not only be pleasurable, but beneficial."

Before I could ask what she meant by that, she got up and put her arms around me and lick-kissed my cheek.

"Come join me in my room, dear. I know what your body is going through at the moment, and I'd like to help you there. I promise that you'll enjoy it."

I was a little shocked. Sure, I knew intellectually that Trina was free with her affections, but even so I never expected to be so straight-forwardly propositioned. "But... what about your other mates? What will they think?"

Trina laughed. "So like a human! You keep thinking in such limited terms when it comes to sex. I love my mates dearly, and nothing on Earth will ever change that, but recreational sex has no impact on those relationships anyway. My dear, the most that will happen is that they'll ask me what it was like!" She became semi-serious for a moment. "I enjoy my sex-life, hon, and I intend to do so for a while. However, I never do so with anyone I don't like or trust. I like you a lot, Dale. We all do. Would you give me the pleasure of giving you pleasure?"

Not knowing what to say, I just nodded. She smiled and dragged me to my feet, leading me to her room. Now don't think that I hadn't thought about having sex with this gorgeous vixen, because that thought had occurred to me many times over the past several days. My body had changed, but my lusts had not. However, I had never expected to have those fantasies brought to reality. Consequently, I just stood there in her room like an idiot, not really knowing what to do first. She was understanding though and controlled the encounter. She did as promised and gave me a lot of pleasure. After bringing me to orgasm though, I was better able to pleasure her in return for the next round. We spent the entire time until Lupu stuck her grinning face in the door to announce that dinner was ready, making love again and again. My hormone charged body was finally sated, but it seemed Trina was as fresh as a daisy. It seemed that descriptions of her legendary endurance weren't exaggerated.

Around the dinner table, conversation went as normal, yet I knew they all knew what had just happened, and they also knew that I knew. I shook my head. Too many 'knews'! The bottom line was that it was totally inconsequential to them. It was the choice of Trina and myself, and none of their business, so they didn't pry. I was grateful for that, not because I was embarrassed about it any more, but because I regarded our encounter as a private special moment just between us. She had more than repaid me for my efforts and I would recall those moments together with pleasure for a long time to come.

It seemed amazing to me then, but I slipped into the routine of the household so smoothly that it was easy to forget about my plight. I had never met such a varied group of people who were just so damn nice! When I wasn't playing cubsitter or something else, I was practising with my new body. I began to wonder why I wasn't feeling more concerned about the length of time without any news concerning my problem. I mean, I still wanted my old body back, but the urgency just wasn't there any more. My mind seemed to be treating this like a vacation away from its normal repose and was quite happy where it was for now. When the heat cycle came back around again, I almost felt eager because it meant spending more intimate time with Lupu. It's funny how you can get used to just about anything if you only give it a chance. I realised that my new body was helping to shape my feelings, but frankly I didn't give a damn any more.

To celebrate my progress, my temporary family decreed that it was time for me to go on a proper outing. Dinner and a movie sounded great to me because I was getting just a little antsy about being confined to the den for most of the time, and I was overcoming my inhibitions about being in public. We decided to go the whole hog and dress formally, thus bringing us to where I began recounting this episode. I must admit that I was feeling quite excited about this evening's outing. A full month had passed since my life had been turned upside down when I was changed into a chakat. I looked at myself in the full length mirror that adorned one side of the walk-in wardrobe. Thirty one days ago, a moderately handsome man had gazed back at me. Now, a golden-furred felitaur filled my view. Also, the light blue of the top went well with my fur, and the figure-hugging fabric showed off my every curve and bump. I grinned. Hell, I was a bloody attractive creature! I may not have ever chosen to be a chakat, but more and more I appreciated this sleek, powerful and beautiful form. In fact, despite having learned some control of this body, I still couldn't look at myself in the mirror for too long without turning myself on.

Lupu gave a howl of appreciation. Okay, it was a small howl, but I liked the sentiment. Satisfied that my top was comfortably in position, I put my jacket on, but left it unbuttoned. No point in having that sexy piece of apparel on if you couldn't see it! I snapped on a belt pouch and I was ready. I offered my arm to Lupu, and then we walked out to join the others.

We all walked into town. The short distance made it a pleasant stroll, and there wasn't any point in taking the PTV. Besides, there were so many of us, we couldn't have all fitted. Goldfur, Garrek, Forestwalker, Midnight, Kris & Trina made up the rest of the party. All the cubs were left in the care of a babysitter. Personally I thought that the babysitter was biting off a lot more than she could chew with all those children, but if the others thought that she could handle it, who was I to disagree?

I admit it. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk. I had expected to feel as if everyone would be staring at me and knowing I was a fraud; a wolf in chakat's clothing so to speak. Of course that was impossible, but I knew I wasn't the most graceful of taurs, and I felt that my clumsiness would stand out like a beacon. It seems that all my practice had paid off though. I had no difficulty at all, and not once did my tail get in the way. Lupu seemed attached to my arm throughout the walk, and she spent most of it pointing out the local sights and helping me to familiarise myself with the neighbourhood. I barely noticed that the various other couples were doing much the same. I suppose that being parents left them little time just to be with each other and they would make the most of occasions like these.

We came to the main street of the quiet township near Goldfur's den. As were many towns built after the Gene Wars, it looked fairly modern and well laid-out. I noted plenty of trees to give shade in the heat of summer and the brightly-themed streetscaping would keep it looking cheery during dull winter days.

Forestwalker said to me, "Most of the restaurants are along this street. Since you're the guest of honour, you get to choose what we eat. Don't worry about our preferences because we've all got pretty broad tastes."

"Okay," I replied. "Let's just stroll down here until something strikes my fancy."

"Fine by us," shi replied.

I passed up a couple of places that looked nice enough because I wanted to see what else this town had to offer. However, when I came to a place named D.K's Steakhouse, my appetite suddenly went into overdrive. I had a real hankering for a big sirloin right then. "How about this place?" I asked the others.

Goldfur's expression hardened. Wordlessly shi pointed to an inconspicuous sticker in the bottom right of the window. It was very simple, plain green circle with the letter H and the numeral one in white. I looked at hir in puzzlement.

Goldfur said, "That's the symbol of a Humans First sympathiser. People like us... like you... aren't welcome."

"But that's impossible. Discrimination on the basis of race is illegal!"

Goldfur's voice took on a harsh tone. "Sure it is, and you can see that there's no actual signs banning us. However, if you choose to go in there, you'll find that the service is terrible, the food nearly inedible, and you'll probably be overcharged. There's not a lot that you can do about that."

I was shocked. From the news, I knew that there were some people who had a beef against morphs, but I'd never personally encountered it. I'd grown up in a mixed species neighbourhood, and while there were the typical childish pranks and cruelties, none of it had been specifically racially based. Then I'd gone into a career where humans were usually outnumbered by the various morph species, and there had never been this sort of trouble. My mind refused to cope with the illogical bias.

Lupu tugged on my arm. "C'mon, love, there are plenty of other good places to choose from." I let her pull me into motion, but that innocent green circle was now burned into my mind.

We ended up dining at a small family restaurant run by a dingo couple. The recent changes in attitude towards non-humans didn't seem to have affected their business much. Judging by the quality of the food that they served, I reckoned that it would take a lot more than a few disgruntled humans to change the opinions of their clientele, and I said as much. My complacency was shaken again when the male told me of a smear campaign accusing the restaurant of serving cat meat to humans, obviously playing on the fact that dingos were a breed of dog. It was a blatant fabrication, but much worse things had been done in human history and I was no longer prepared to jump to conclusions about the long-term success of their business. The thought that chilled me was that now I was a potential target too. The others didn't let me dwell on that though and they kept me well-entertained and fed. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and I lost my self-consciousness completely. The dingo lady even complimented me on my top, and asked if I was a relative of Goldfur. I replied, "Something like that," with a smile.

After a long after-dinner conversation, we paid the bill and thanked our hosts before starting the walk back. We were passing a park when Lupu stopped and said to me, "Let's take a walk down by the lake!"

"Sure, if the others want to," I replied.

"No, silly!" she said, rolling her eyes. "I meant just us two."

"Oh!" I said brightly. "Well, yeah, I'd like that. Is it okay at this time of night?"

"Okay? It's perfect!"

I was a little puzzled by that reply, but otherwise I was unconcerned.

Lupu said to the others, "Me 'n Dale are goin' for a little stroll by ourselves. Seeya back home!"

The others smiled and waved us goodbye. A couple had big grins on their faces and I already had an inkling of what Lupu was up to. I'm not that naïve! In no great hurry, we walked arm in arm towards the calm waters where the moonlight reflected with hardly a ripple. Lupu was taking me into a textbook romantic scene, and I quite liked the idea. Without a word, we paused to admire the view, then she nudged me in the direction of the path around the lake's edge. After that evening's delicious meal and delightful conversation, this was the perfect way to end the day. The past few weeks of trials were pushed to the back of my mind and life seemed pretty damn good.

As we passed a clump of trees and bushes, Lupu paused. "Just a mo', love," she said as she disengaged her arm. She stepped forward and I saw that her ears were tilted alertly towards the bushes, and she was sniffing too. She turned back to me and said, "Come over here, Dale," before she disappeared through a slight gap in the shrubbery. Curiously I followed her only to be grabbed in a strong hug as Lupu started smothering me with wolfy kisses. Startled, it took me a moment to react, but then I started responding eagerly. After a bit of time, Lupu paused and smiled at me. "Welcome to Lovers' Grotto!"

I returned the smile. "Thanks! So you were trying to detect if anyone else was here first before inviting me in?"

"You got it. We're lucky tonight. This place is the worst kept secret in town and it's frequently in use."

"Oh well, if it had been, we still could have kissed elsewhere, you know?"

"Who said anything about just kissing?" she replied with a mischievous grin. She then put her hands on my jacket and started slipping it off.

"Wait! What do you think you're doing?" I asked, suddenly nervous again.

"Dale, dear, I said this was Lovers' Grotto, not Kissing Korner! This is where many of the local couples go for a naughty time under the stars."

"What...? You mean...?" I started protesting before her hand came up to close my muzzle.

"Dale, hon, for once just shut up and go with the moment."

She looked at me with a gaze that combined earnestness and desire. I started paying attention to the emotions that she was broadcasting and my empathic senses had been picking up but I'd been ignoring. With a small growl, I gave in to the inevitable. I wasn't annoyed; she just released my own pent-up desires. The jacket was soon joined on the ground by my fancy top and Lupu's blouse and we melted into each other's arms. That night, we made glorious love with only the heavens as our witness.

Six weeks ago I would have been quite shocked if somebody had suggested that I would find this new life becoming nearly routine. In fact, the day's activities had almost become predictable. Then I received a visit from the Star Corps scientists who headed up the team examining my problem.

After all the time waiting for news and never hearing anything, suddenly I was filled with trepidation. I realised that the semblance of normality that I had been experiencing was probably going to be upset again. My two visitors were Dr Kirrawong plus an ocelot morph whom I hadn't met yet, but turned out to be transporter specialist. He introduced himself as Martin Oss. No prizes for guessing where that surname came from! I asked Lupu, Goldfur and Forestwalker to join me, and I would have asked Midnight too if shi hadn't been away on an errand at that moment. They came straight to the point.

Kirrawong said, "I'm sorry, Dale, but we've come to the conclusion that giving you back your old body is an impossibility."

Oss added, "My team and I investigated every possibility, even some ridiculous ones, but the data we need to recreate your human form is just no longer there. The destruction of the transporter memory core was near complete and we were unable to retrieve any useable information. We can fully recreate the circumstances which gave you your new form, but without that data, we can't reproduce your original form."

Kirrawong took up the explanation. "However, we can offer you the next best thing. We can design and clone a new human body for you. We found enough traces of genetic information from hair roots found in your apartment and, using your parents' DNA for cross-matching, we can select specific genes and combine them in such a way that the resulting form will have a very similar height, build and distinguishing characteristics to what you used to have."

"Similar, but not the same?" I said.

"Correct. There's no record of your genetic structure, so we would only making a close copy. However, you would be a normal, healthy male human and a true genetic child of your parents."

"I see. Yet despite this, I would have to get used to another unfamiliar body, wouldn't I?"

"I'm afraid that you're right. No two humans, or any other species for that matter, learn how their bodies behave in the same way. You will have to undergo physical therapy once again, just as you did to familiarise yourself with your chakat body."

I nodded, understanding the situation, but not keen on the thought of going through all that again. Another thought crossed my mind. "What about safety? My transformation was a million to one shot that I was lucky to survive. What risks are there with this procedure?"

Oss replied, "While there's no such thing as a perfectly safe procedure, we've been extensively testing it and have had no troubles at all. In fact, we had this pretty much worked out nearly a fortnight ago, but we spent this much time trying to make sure that we covered every possible contingency. We called in a specialist in genetic engineering, Professor Chakat Oceanwalker of Chakona, especially to help us with this. While shi wishes to pursue more research into transformations, shi's already quite satisfied with the reliability of the process. Combined with my knowledge of Transporter devices, I'm quite confident that the risk to you is negligible."

I mulled this over in my mind. I couldn't fault his explanation, but I still couldn't help feeling uneasy about going through that radical process once again without even the possibility of ever becoming my true self. "How long before I have to decide?" I asked them.

"There's no time limit on this, Mr Perkins," Oss replied. "Star Corps will allow you as much time as it takes to make your decision. However, we will need some warning to gather the necessary genetic samples from your parents, then design and grow your new body, so there won't be an instant response if you do make this choice."

"I understand." Then I surprised myself by saying, "Leave this with me for a while. I'll have to think it over." Up until this morning, I would have sworn that I would jump at the chance of getting a human body back again. The difficulty of getting used to that body was a factor in my hesitation, but certainly not the only one. I looked around me and saw Lupu's face. I'd invited her and the others to be with me while Kirrawong and Oss discussed my situation with me because I thought of them almost like my family now, and I felt that they should know what was happening. Besides, I wanted a bit of emotional support. Now I realised that there was more to it than that. Lupu was radiating a mixture of concern and hope, tinged with her own personal desires. The chakats who were aware of the empathic impressions were all projecting supportiveness with a touch of concern about the procedure. I think it was this moment when I realised that I had become as much a part of their lives as they had become part of mine. They truly cared, and this amazing Talent revealed it to me unfettered by misinterpretation or deceit. I knew that a large part of me wanted this to continue, and Lupu was the major factor.

I knew now that I was truly in love with Lupu. She had stolen my heart the first time we met, but I had come to appreciate her in many other ways since then. But how would she feel about having a human as a lover? And would the bond we shared be broken in the transformation? I found both possibilities dismaying. However, if I stayed, how would that affect her relationship with Goldfur and the rest of the family? She was hir denmate, and had a child between them to consider. Was I being selfish in wanting to replace Goldfur? I was torn, but this time I knew that I could talk with them and be guided truly. I owed it to them and Lupu. Turning back to the visitors, and getting up onto all fours, I said, "Thank you for the offer. I'll call you soon to let you know my decision."

Oss and Kirrawong got up from the sofa, recognising that this meeting was over. They said their farewells and I let them out them out the front door. Lupu had quietly padded up behind me, waiting for me to be done. She took my hand and brought me back to the others who were patiently waiting. Silently I settled back down on the lounging rug and waited for them to break the silence.

Goldfur was the first to speak. "Dale, we all want you to know that you're welcome to stay with us as long as you wish. Frankly, we like you a lot and would be quite happy for you to remain here with us." Shi gave me a lopsided grin. "Besides, we'd have to find another cubsitter!"

I smiled back at hir. I had been glad to do that chore. Frankly, I still felt as if I owed them all more than I could repay. "Thanks, Goldfur. I don't know if my destiny lies here, but I have to say it's one of the more pleasant alternatives."

"And what about us, hon?" Lupu asked.

Us. Not just her. I paused for a moment trying to choose my words. "Lupu, would you really feel the same about me if I became human again?"

"Dale, I love you, not just your physical form. I decided a fair while ago that I wanted to be with you no matter what."

I felt a little ashamed. She had given me her love unreservedly, and here I was still dithering. I made up my mind about one thing right there. I took her hands and looked her in the eyes. "Lupu, will you be my mate?" I simply asked.

She threw her arms about me in a fierce hug. "Of course I will!" she exclaimed as she lick-kissed me madly.

I laughed and tried to give as good as I got. It was a while before I became aware of the cheers, claps and congratulations coming from the others, but I put one arm about Lupu and faced them to acknowledge and thank them all. When that was done, I said, "I feel much better now, but I still have to make my decision. Anyone got any last moment thoughts or suggestions."

Forestwalker spoke up. "Dale, we think you'd be a fine person no matter what form you decide to take, but I have to say that I think that you'll make a good chakat. Look how far you've come in six weeks."

Shi was right. Nobody had questioned my nature in all the outings since the celebration dinner. Given a bit more education and time to get used to some of the more unusual customs, I reckon that I could pass as a chakat for the rest of my life. "Still, I've got a lifetime of experience as a human, and I know that you'd still be my friends, and mate..." I added, glancing lovingly at Lupu, "...if I choose to take their offer."

Lupu said, "Hon, there's one other thing that I feel you should know before you make that decision, and now that you've asked me to be your mate, perhaps you'll see that I'm not using it as a bargaining tool."

When she hesitated, I said curiously, "Well? Spit it out!"

"I'm pregnant. Just to be sure there's no misunderstanding, yes, you're the father."

The news left me stunned. "But... when...?" I stammered.

"Back at Lover's Grotto," she replied.

"But... you weren't in heat then, were you? I would have smelled it!"

"Dale, love, believe it or not, we females don't always want to smell like a bitch in heat. There are fragrances that can mask the scent, and I was using one for our night out."

"Did you plan to get pregnant?"

"No hon, I honestly only used the fragrance purely for perfume purposes that night. I admit though that my horniness was a strong factor in asking you to go with me into the park though. I suppose if I stopped and thought about it, I would have realised what I was risking, but frankly I didn't care to think of the alternative, so I blocked it from my mind. Later when I realised that I had conceived, I didn't tell you because I thought you might think I was using it as a bargaining tool, and I wanted you to ask me to be your mate without that hanging over your head. Now however, I think you need to consider the child when you make your decision."

She was right; I would have thought that she had ulterior motives. As much as I'd acquired chakat traits, I was still a human at the core. That shook me a little. I didn't want those base feelings. I was spoiled by the clean honesty of these people. Could I aspire to that honesty and still take back human form? Maybe, but it would be hard; perhaps too hard for me. I finally replied to Lupu. "You're right, I do need to consider the child. Will you take a walk with me, hon?" I offered her my arm.

"Gladly!" she replied, slipping her arm around mine.

We left the others and walked outside. Leisurely and aimlessly, we meandered in the general direction of the forest. We took one of the paths that were used for hiking and I drank in the sights, sounds and especially the scents with a new appreciation. I would give up so much of that if I became a man again. And there was the feel of my powerful form effortlessly negotiating the terrain and the pleasant feel of the breeze in my fur. If you had to trade bodies, a chakat's was by far a very good choice. I admired Lupu - lean, strong and a beauty in her own right. Not sleek like a chakat, but rugged and wild in a way that always excited me. She caught me looking at her and smiled, but didn't interrupt my thoughts. Then there was the child now growing in her belly. I had wanted one since considering asking Mary-Anne to marry me, although now I knew that I was a little starry-eyed at the time. Having experienced the family's cubs though, I knew much of what was involved, and I suddenly realised that I wanted this child very much. I caressed Lupu's side. She lifted an eyebrow and gave me a knowing grin. She wanted this cub as much as I did! Then there was feeding hir.

I stopped walking. Lupu looked at me quizzically. I said, "You couldn't have this cub and stay in the pack, could you? I'm told that the child of a chakat and another taur is always a chakat, correct?" She nodded, waiting to see where I was going with this. "But a chakat cub has to have chakat milk to grow healthily and if I choose to become a human again, you'd have to return here when shi's born. Right?"

"That's right. I didn't bring this up because I didn't want to influence your decision unduly..."

I interrupted her. "Don't you think I might want to have a say in the upbringing of our child? Hell! Just moments ago I was daydreaming about what it would be like to breastfeed my own flesh and blood!"

Lupu could have gotten annoyed at my attitude, but instead she latched onto what I had just said. "Our child? Your flesh and blood? Shi wouldn't be if you became human."

"I know, and I want hir to be able to have a sire that shi can relate to. I want to be able to play with hir without worrying whether shi'd harm me accidentally with hir greater strength and mass. I want hir to hear me purr my pleasure when shi makes me happy."

"Sounds to me like you're trying to find reasons to stay a chakat," she observed.

"Yeah. I gotta have some reasons to give to my parents when I inform them of my decision. If I return to human form, they'll expect me to justify myself in regards to caring for our cub. If I stay a chakat, then their son is forever changed. This decision is getting more complicated all the time!"

"Dale, however good your parents are, you owe it to yourself to put your own needs first. Then think of mine. As your mate, I think I deserve at least second place?"

"Yes you do! You're probably right about the rest too." I paused, thinking furiously and getting nowhere. Then I looked at Lupu again, an aura of hopefulness about her. My thoughts slid off on a tangent. "Lupu love, would you consummate our mating with me right here and now?"

I had managed to startle her. Flustered, she took a moment to get her thoughts together before replying. "Sure!" She looked around and indicated a slightly open area with a bit of grass. "How about there? It looks okay, although we'll need a grooming later."

I took her hand and gently pulled her in that direction. "I don't care about that. I want to make love with you, and I want it to be my choice. This may be the last chance I'll have before committing myself one way or the other, and I want to legitimise our child."

She looked very happy, but even then she argued me. "Legitimacy is such a human concept!"

"That's who you'll be mating with, dear. Take it or leave it!"

"I'll take it! I'll take it!" she laughed and pulled me down onto the grass to start smothering me in wolfy kisses.

I enjoyed the kisses and gave as good as I got. We spent a lot of time enjoying touching and petting before I decided to bring things to conclusion. I put my hands on either side of her face and looked deep into her eyes. "Lupu, will you be my denmate and share my life? Will you help me bring up our child as happily as those of Goldfur and Forest?"

"Of course I will! But that isn't the proper chakat ritual!" she protested.

"I'm not a proper chakat," I reminded her. "In return, I promise to do the same." Then I kissed her long and deep. Before long, I moved to mount her, and we made passionate love as mates for the first time.

"They're back!" Forest called out to the others as we returned to the house.

Within moments, all the chakats and Trina had converged on us, soon followed by a more laid-back Garrek. If Kris had been there, I suspect he would have been with Garrek, chuckling over the fuss the others were making. There was no point in playing innocent. They'd guessed that I'd been thinking over my choice and wouldn't be returning without having made a decision. I asked them all to gather in the living room. I kept an arm about Lupu who was saying nothing. She just kept her head against my shoulder with a look of contentment on her face. I felt much the same way, but I knew I wouldn't be allowed to escape that easily. When everyone was ready, I began the little speech I'd been rehearsing in my mind.

"Firstly, let me thank you all for helping and guiding me through all this. My life has certainly become more interesting since the accident, but I think it's mostly been for the good. Bearing all this in mind and the talk I just had with Lupu, I've made my decision... I'm going to remain a chakat!"

"Yay! Toldya!" Forest said to Goldfur.

"So who was disagreeing?" shi retorted.

I grinned, then continued. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Chakat Goldendale, child of Rose and Edward, but please keep calling me Dale for short if you wish. I'm very pleased to be part of your family."

There were cheers and clapping. I was also given the more traditional chakat hugs, and this time I enjoyed and returned them all enthusiastically.

"Great choice of name!" Midnight said.

"You're going to love being a chakat," Forestwalker predicted.

"You've stolen a good mate!" Goldfur had a light-hearted dig at me.

"Just wait until you have that child. Then you'll really know what it's like to look after kits!" Garrek predicted.

"Wanna threesome?" Trina asked before running away shrieking in laughter as both Lupu and I threw lounge cushions at her.

Even Eudora had a say: "Auntie Dale!!"

We all laughed and I gave hir a hug too.

I stood up and looked around me. Never in my life had I such a big family. Sure, it was mostly a family of friends, but they were the best people one could wish for, and I would be counting on them for more instruction for the immediate future. My decision made, I felt a load lift from my shoulders, leaving a sense of purpose in its place. There was just one more thing left to be said.

"From now on," I started loudly to make sure I had everyone's attention, "I wish to be treated entirely as a chakat. One who needs a little help perhaps, but no longer a hapless human. You can stop saying 'he' and 'him' in regards to me because I accept that I will be a herm from now on. After all, I am a chakat!

Lupu is used with the permission of her Player.
All other characters and this story are © 2002 Bernard Doove.

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To be continued in Forest Tales #19: Conclusions.

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