Tales of the Foxtaur Clans #5: Obligation
By Bernard Doove © 2002

Where Do You Think You're Going?Obligation? What do you mean you have an obligation to go back to your home village, Garrek Redfox? We’ve only just gotten back from our latest star mission and you want to go gallivanting off again, and so soon after I give birth to our second cub! What’s more important than that?" demanded Goldfur, irritation plain on hir face. Shi was extremely gravid now and the burden tended to reduce hir patience with annoying interruptions such as this.

"That videocomm call was from one of the clan elders. He reminded me that I was due for Obligation and, although I had been granted exemption from the previous one, I’d need an extremely good reason for not complying this time. I don’t think that I’ve ever brought the subject up before, but every five years all males are obliged by clan law to provide their services to their home clan for a period of a week. This service has to be performed within a month of their birthday, and since I have absolutely no intention of leaving you by yourself between now and when our child is born, I’ll have to do it not long after."

Goldfur frowned. "And just what is this oh-so-important obligation that takes you away at a time that you’ll be so needed?"

I shifted uneasily from paw to paw. This wasn’t exactly the most comfortable of subjects for me. "Well, you know how vixens outnumber tods about three to one amongst foxtaurs? There are many vixens who can’t get a mate, or who don’t wish to be a second mate with lower status. They often make other relationships though, but often they will want a cub and have no one to sire it."

"Go on!" demanded Goldfur, clearly interested in spite of hirself.

"You already know that in our society, vixens have the right to ask any tod to become their mate. What I’ve never brought up before is the other alternative. Since there are relatively so few males, the matriarchs long ago decreed that all males make themselves available for siring purposes for a week every five years from their eighteenth birthday onwards."

Goldfur’s mood changed abruptly as shi sat down hard on hir rump and threw back hir head laughing. After a short while, shi brought hirself back under control, smothering a few more snorts of amusement. "So! My shy foxtaur tod has got to play superstud for a week. Oh, I’ve got to see that!"

I felt my ears burning with embarrassment. I’d gotten a lot more comfortable around vixens under the loving care of my beautiful chakat mate, but that didn’t mean that I was enthusiastic about playing the part of a prize bull under hir watchful eyes. "I sort of expected you to be busy with the cub at that time, but I was also hoping that you’d let me do this by myself."

Goldfur gave me a thoughtful look, a small smile still playing on hir lips. Finally shi said, "Okay, I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable about doing this, so I’ll stay here until the week is up. However, after that, I expect a full report. I want the juicy details!"

"Alright! Alright! It’s a deal!" I knew quite well that shi wouldn’t budge beyond that, and I can’t say that I blame hir either. Chakats are extremely dedicated to their lifemates and feel uncomfortable about being left out of something that so strongly affected their relationship. Shi didn’t give a damn about me actually having sex with others. Chakats are the only species that is utterly without jealousy. They barely understand the concept. As far as Goldfur was concerned, I could have a new lover every day and shi wouldn’t mind, just so long as they didn’t adversely affect my relationship with hir. In this case though, I knew that shi would indeed want to know everything that happened simply out of pure feline curiosity!

"Good!" shi said. "Tell me more about this custom. Why don’t the vixens just get a sperm donation, artificial insemination, or some such thing?"

"You’ve seen foxtaur lifestyle for yourself, so you could figure out part of it. We embrace the natural without denying technology. If there’s a natural way of doing something, that will always be chosen first before anything else is tried. There’s also the social aspect. Vixens like to know something about the future father of their cubs, even if it’s for one night only. Also, a bit is like the chakat attitude to life. The act of conceiving a child is both a solemn and joyous thing, something that should be shared with a person, not with a test tube. That attitude has now been enshrined in clan law."

"How does it work? Do the vixens put in for the next available tod? Does she get to have your services for that week? Is it one long orgy?" Shi said the last with a big grin. I knew shi wasn’t serious about that one.

"Nowhere near it!" I replied. "When I get to the village, I will put my availability up on the public notice boards, and the exact seven days the Obligation will run. Vixens who are looking for a mating for procreational purposes can then seek me out. For those seven days, I must remain totally available during the daylight hours, and during that time, any vixen may claim my obligation. For that night, I am hers to mate with for as much as she wishes or needs. She may only claim me for one night though so that other vixens may have their chance too."

"It’s as simple as that?" Goldfur asked sceptically.

"Hardly. There are a few nuances, such as wearing a traditional armband to signify that I’m under Obligation, and certain formalities. There are some things that either party may request or demand. Also, as I said, this tradition has the weight of law behind it. I was only granted exemption from the Obligation that fell on my twenty third birthday as I was a trainee with the Star Corps and on leave-of-absence from the clan. I was also many, many lightyears away!"

"That accounts for one occasion, but what about the first?"

I’d hoped she wouldn’t bring that up because I still felt foolish about that time. "I had the week of Obligation then too, but nobody wanted me. On the last day, my girlfriend at the time took pity on me and claimed me for the night. This was before Ketta made her move on me and put me off vixens for so long."

Goldfur’s surprise was evident. "Why didn’t anyone claim you on the other days?"

"I didn’t realise why at the time. I was young and full of hormones like any other teenager, and I foolishly thought that I’d have a number of vixens asking for my services. Now I know differently. You see, a vixen who mates out of love will usually find someone near her own age, but a vixen who’s only looking for someone to sire a cub is only going to choose someone she thinks will contribute desirable traits. Most take older, more experienced lovers, ones who have proven themselves already. Mated tods who already have children are very popular choices. Randy young tods are not.

"I see what you mean," Goldfur said sympathetically. "What of the children who are conceived during this Obligation though?" she asked pointedly.

I’d known that the subject of cubs would be brought up. Chakats had a protective instinct towards their progeny that bordered on the fanatical, as I had found out a while back. It was also a good question for any species though. "The care of the cubs is ultimately the responsibility of their mother. You see, in order to gain the cooperation of the males, the matriarchs had to grant concessions to be fair. By clan law, the vixen has no right to ask the siring tod to have anything whatsoever to do with the cub sired through Obligation. However, the reverse is also true - by being absolved from all responsibility, he has no right to demand a part in their lives. However, a tod may ask for that right if he's interested. The vixen may then accept or deny, and he must accept her verdict. The cubs always retain the right to know who their sire is, and may choose to include or exclude him without the undue influence from either parent. The laws are close to absolute in order to protect all, but having said that, many choose to involve themselves beyond the Obligation."

Goldfur mulled over that information, slowly nodding. "It sounds reasonable, and judging by your clan, the system works. I’m curious to see what comes of this. I’d like to see a kit you could claim as your son or daughter. It’d be interesting to see if they inherit your gorgeous colouring!" Shi ran hir hand through the bright red fur on my rump, and I realised that hir mood had completely turned around again. I’d known about the mood changes of a pregnant female (or a herm in Goldfur’s case), but no one had told me how horny chakats got when with child. I found out soon after Goldfur had conceived Eudora though, and this pregnancy had been no different. I had no cause for complaint though, and we’d spent many an evening in loving intimacy. Somehow I knew I’d be explaining the rest of this Obligation on the pillows!

Coming back to my home village was always a pleasure for me. Most foxtaurs were so strongly bound to their home territory that most never left. A few traded with other clans, but I was the rare exception who actually enjoyed travelling and working in space. My parents had been shocked when I had announced that I was going to take up a career in the Star Corps, but to their credit, they were supportive of my choice. They also knew of some of the circumstances that made me want to move away from the clan, but even I was glad to return regularly.

Stepping out onto the commons, I paused and took in the atmosphere. The den back in Australia was my home now, but this place would always be a part of me, and I felt instantly at ease. The usual walk from the PTV parking station to home was a pleasant stroll interspersed with a couple of chats with acquaintances. I thoroughly enjoyed the Spring weather and the familiar faces encountered. I didn’t have to announce my arrival because my brother, Miktar, was hanging about the front of the den, apparently waiting for me. Not alone though, I noted. He’d told me about this vixen that he’d been seeing on a regular basis, and judging by what I saw before they noticed me, their relationship was a rather… friendly one! Upon spotting me though, he bounded over to greet me.

"Hey there, big brother! You’re early!" he yipped.

"You know me, Mik; can’t wait to get back for mom’s cooking!"

We both laughed. She always made such a fuss whenever I came back for a visit. For some reason she seemed to think that I didn’t get fed well. Truthfully, Goldfur wasn’t much of a cook, but fortunately I didn’t mate with hir for that reason. "So, who’s your friend?" I asked, looking in the direction of the vixen waiting politely.

Miktar’s grin grew wider. "She may be more than a friend soon," he said in a conspiratorial tone as he waved her over to join us. "This gorgeous vixen is Zezu," he introduced her with a cuddle. "Zeezee, meet my brother Garrek."

"Hi! Nice to meet you," she said shyly.

"Ah! I think I remember Mik mentioning your name. How long have you known him?" I asked.

"About a year and a half," she replied.

"And he’s resisted this long?"

She blushed, her ears fairly glowing. I liked her already. A pain in my arm from Miktar punching it refrained me from saying any more. We went inside then to see the rest of the family. I almost tripped over my young sister, Neesha. She was now about two and a half years of age and, as typical of children her age, always underfoot.

"Hi hi Gabbek!" she exclaimed. She still couldn’t say my name right, but it didn’t bother me. I was just glad that she could recognise me and say that much.

I cuddled her. "Hiya squirt!" I said, ruffling her headfur. She was way too young to be growing hair yet as only females did in our species. My mother came out from her workshop then in search of her elusive cub.

"Garrek, you’re here! Why didn’t you tell me your brother had arrived, Miktar?" she said as she came over to hug me.

"Aw, mom, he just got here!" Miktar protested.

"Well, he’s just in time for lunch!"

Miktar and I glanced at each other, a secret smile passing between us.

Mom had indeed lain on a feast. I wondered how she managed to do that and still do stuff in her workshop and keep an eye on Neesha. Motherly miracles, I suppose. Even as a parent myself, I never achieved that level of competence.

The family dinner consisted of the usual catching up and exchanging of news between servings of food. Malena particularly wanted to hear about Goldfur’s newest cub. Not too surprising I suppose, considering that she was also Goldfur’s mate and such events were bound to affect the dynamics of our relationship. They all expressed curiosity about my plans for the Obligation and I let them know that I planned to register immediately after lunch so that it could start tomorrow. I wanted to get it over and done with as soon as possible. After all, I had family responsibilities, and a new cub especially to think about back in Australia.

"Garrek! When did you get into town?" asked the vixen behind the Community Services counter.

"Just a couple of hours ago, Nena," I replied. "Had lunch with the folks before coming over to register."

"Register for what?"

"Obligation," I said simply. Nena’s eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed again as she assessed that piece of information. I could almost hear the gears turning in her head.

She sighed. "Not a good time for me, I’m afraid."

"Why Nena, I had no idea you were after a cub already."

"Nah. Just wanted a good excuse to get my hands on you for a night!" She grinned and I returned it with a smile of my own. She and I had been verbal sparring partners for years. It was fun to be able to do so again.

"Anyhow, back to business. I need you to put out a notice on the public announcements that I’ll be accepting Obligation requests from tomorrow."

"Sure thing!" She then opened up a cupboard and pulled out a cardboard box. Opening that box, she took out a leather armband with feathers hanging from it. There were seven green ones and then three blue ones. The leather was ornately tooled and looked vaguely Native American. Nena held it under a scanning device and it beeped to acknowledge activating the circuitry hidden in the leather. The armband’s purpose was to signify that the wearer was on Obligation. Each green feather represented a claim. Each blue one was a deferred claim. Not all vixens wanting a sire for a cub would be in heat during my week of Obligation, but they could request what essentially was a rain check. I didn’t have to accept any of those if I didn’t want to, but I wasn’t allowed to accept more than three if I did. Theoretically, I could end up servicing up to ten vixens. I rather hoped not! The circuitry was basically a homing device so that any vixen wishing to breed with me could find me readily. From tomorrow and for a full week, I had to be available from sun-up to sundown roughly. "That’s it. You’re registered and ready to go."

"Thanks Nena. Drop by for lunch sometime."

"I’d be happy to do that, Garrek." She leaned over the counter, grabbed my vest and pulled me towards herself. She kissed me before I could react, then leaned back with a satisfied look. "That’s for luck, and also to make up for my lost opportunity."

At a loss for words, I merely smiled and nodded. I was uncomfortably aware of her eyes watching me every moment until I turned a corner out of her sight. If I was going to react like that when a vixen approached me for my services for real, I wondered if I would be able to perform my duty properly.

I socialised with my family for the rest of the day. I spent little enough time here at the village, so I had to make the most of it. The only other thing that stands out in my memory happened that night. Since Neesha’s birth, there wasn’t a spare room any longer. That usually didn’t matter as Goldfur and I shared Malena’s room when we visited. As co-mate with me, Malena had just as much right to sleep with Goldfur as I did, especially as she got to see hir so infrequently. I was comfortable with that as I had accepted it right from the beginning. What felt weird now was just Malena and myself in that room. We hadn’t shared a den since before I was a teenager. Now we were both adults though, and without Goldfur there, the whole situation changed. I always knew my sister was a pretty vixen. I just never realised how desirable until being left alone to sleep with her. She seemed oblivious to this though and merely gave me a goodnight hug and quickly went to sleep. It was a long time before I was able to do the same.

The first day of my Obligation started normally enough. I ate a quick breakfast, packed my workstation and headed off into the middle of town. I intended to find myself a place to settle down for the day, in a spot where any prospective claimants of my services could easily find me, and where I could also get some work done while waiting. The project that Goldfur and I were working on had been disrupted enough with the birth of our latest child. We couldn’t afford another week off, so I brought my work with me. I came to a popular spot in town called Pawprints. Too informal to call a restaurant, yet it was much more than a coffee shop. It was a place for friends to meet, or for a family to come for a reasonably priced meal, but most of all it was a great place to socialise. This morning, several foxtaurs were there for breakfast, and I was pleased to recognise one of the proprietors at work. I approached him.

"How’ve you been, Markot?" I asked.

He turned to me and after half a second I saw recognition in his eyes. "Garrek! I’m fine, thanks. I heard you were back." That was hardly surprising. Gossip probably disseminated faster in this place than any other in the village. "So, you’re here for an Obligation, I see," he noted, eyes on the armband.

"Yep, and I was wondering if I could borrow a spot where I could park my butt for the day." I patted the workstation. "Got some projects to work on while the girls queue up."

He laughed at that." Okay, just so long as you buy a couple of mugs of coffee while you’re here, I don’t think my business partner will mind."

I smiled. There was little chance of her objecting as she was also his denmate. "Thanks Markot. Where’s a good spot?"

"Why not take a window booth? The vixens can see you there and it’s got a power plug nearby if you need it. It’s also a good place to be for long periods because you’ll get plenty of good natural light." The foxtaur predilection for all things natural showed clearly. "I spent my last Obligation in the kitchen half the time!"

"Get any takers?" I asked.

"Two, and both conceived. They both had girls though." I saw his face flash a touch of disappointment briefly. Last I heard, he and his mate had two girls of their own, and I know that every tod hoped to sire at least one male child. He’d have other chances though. "I hope you have good luck, Garrek."

"Thanks. It’ll be kind of strange to have normal kits for a change."

"That’s right, you’ve already had half a son with that chakat cub of yours."

"Two now," I corrected.

"Really? When did that happen?"

"Just a few days ago. The timing of this Obligation was rather poor actually."

"Too bad. Do you suppose two half sons make one whole one?" he asked with a grin.

"Now you’re being silly," I reprimanded lightly.

"You’re right, and I’m also getting behind." I noticed his mate glaring at him from behind the counter. "I’ll talk to you more later," he added as he went back to work.

I made myself comfortable in the booth, set up my workstation and buried myself in the project. A mug of coffee occasionally appeared next to me without me even noticing who had brought it. I was so wrapped up in my work that it took a long time for me to notice that somebody was trying to get my attention. Looking up, I saw a vixen regarding me. Her colouration was the typical red and white of our clan, although her 'socks' and 'gloves' were a medium brown rather than black. Her hair was blonde, a bit unusual for our clan, and it was cut to about shoulder length, presumably to keep it out of the way while she used the bow she was carrying. A quiver full of arrows was slung around her waist, and she was dressed in a soft leather halter of the kind that Forestwalker favoured. A few golden bracelets were worn on her forelegs, upper arms, and one more around the base of her tail to complete her ornamentation.

"I’m Jinni the Hunter," she announced. "Are you Garrek Redfox?"

Suddenly my old nervousness appeared and my mouth went dry for a moment. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I replied, "Yeah, that’s me."

"I hereby claim your Obligation," she said stiffly.

"I reached up to the band on my left arm and plucked a green feather from it. Handing it to her, I asked, "Your first time?"

Taking the feather from me, she visibly relaxed, then smiled. "Yes, you’re right. I only recently decided that it was time for me to have a kit, but there hasn’t been a potential sire available until you came along."

"When did you want to do it?"

"Oh! It must be tonight! I’m almost at the end of my heat cycle. No one’s claimed you for tonight yet, have they?" she asked worriedly.

I laughed. "No, it’s the first time I’ve been claimed. Ever!" I didn’t really count the time my old girlfriend had taken a feather so that I would not have to say that no one had wanted me on my first Obligation.

"Phew! Thank goodness for that! Here…" She handed me a card. "This is where I live. Can you come by around seven?" I nodded. "Good. I gotta go now." Waving, she left with excitement in her step.

I looked at the card. As simply and as quickly as that, I had committed myself to doing my best to conceive a child with someone I’d known for about two minutes. I felt weird. Back when I was eighteen, I would have been impatient for the time to come. Now that I was a decade older and mated though, it all felt different. Admittedly, living in a chakat extended family made it nearly impossible to be monogamous. Forest was a frequent bed companion, and even Trina insisted on getting in on the action occasionally. This would be the first time with someone outside of the family though. My musings were interrupted by an old familiar voice.

"Garrek! Is that you?"

My head snapped up as I recognised the owner of that voice – a vixen whom I’d not seen in years regarded me with joy. Her fur was much browner than most, and she had smallish ‘boots’ and ‘gloves’ with an unusual dark cream colour. Where most foxtaurs had white fur on their bellies, etcetera, she only had it on her tailtip. Instead, dark beige fur went from from her cheek ruffs and muzzle, in a band down her neck and between her breasts before broadening to fully cover upper and lower bellies, spreading to the thighs of the hind legs. Her hair was a gorgeous strawberry blonde, very thick and luxurious, flowing to waist height, and her eyes were bright blue. Her breasts were very large and firm, a teenage foxtaur's fantasy, but it was her smile that was to die for. I could have described all this without even looking. I jumped to my feet and we bounded together to hug each other long and hard. "Kassi! I thought that you and Zendak were still doing the inter-clan relations work?" Kassi had been my first and last girlfriend back when I was a teenager. I suppose that I could have had more, but I’d already decided that she was the one that I wanted. Unfortunately, so did another tod named Zendak. We were rivals for her affections for years, but she was always scrupulously fair in her attentions. It’s a good thing that Zendak was also my best friend, and our rivalry a friendly one!

"We decided to come back to the village and settle down. Being away from our clan for most of the time had become too much to bear anymore." That wasn’t too surprising as it was a typical manifestation of the foxtaurs’ bond to the land. "And what about you? Last time I heard, you were still gallivanting around space and had found yourself a chakat mate."

I indicated my armband. "That’s true, but Obligation brings me back right now. I just started today."

"Lucky devil. Wait! The Ketta incident isn’t still affecting you, is it?" she asked worriedly.

"That’s been resolved. I won’t have any problems performing my duty." I hope, I added to myself.

"Good!" she said with relief. "We’ve got so much to catch up on. I don’t even know how many kits you’ve had."

"Just had our second. You’ll get to see hir and my firstborn when Goldfur comes over after my Obligation is finished. How about you? Keeping up to date with you was impossible. I never even knew which clan you were at from month to month."

Kassi’s face fell. "We’ve had none."

"What?! But having kits was why you eventually chose Zendak over me!" At the time, I was still looking for a career in engineering and wasn’t ready to be tied down with children yet. However, Zendak had been willing, and thus Kassi’s choice had been made for her.

"We’ve tried many times, but I’ve never conceived. One of the reasons we came back to stay is to find a solution. You see, it turns out that both of us have a low fertility score, and the two of us together means we have virtually no chance of ever having children."

"Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, Kas."

"It’s a little ironic. If I had chosen you and been a little patient, I might have had the kits that I wanted by now." She paused a moment, then shook her head. "But Zendak and I have been very happy otherwise. I’m just sorry I couldn’t have taken you both as mates."

Unfortunately for Kassi, clan law forbade a vixen from monopolising two males due to the shortage that necessitated Obligation. Unfortunate for me too because it had left the way open for Ketta to make her moves on me. But there was another consequence. "I might not have ever met Goldfur if you had chosen me, and I truly love hir. I wouldn’t change that for anything."

"Of course not, and I don’t regret mating with Zendak either. You’ve got to see him! He’ll be as surprised as I was to see you sitting there."

"I’ll bet! When would you like to arrange it?"

"Have you had lunch yet?" I shook my head. "Well why not come home with me now? I’ll make you lunch and we three can do a lot of catching up."

"Sounds great to me!" I hastily started packing. The locater tag in the armband would let vixens find me just as well at Kassi’s place as here. I remembered to leave some money for the coffee, then Kassi and I headed off to her home.

If I thought the greeting Kassi had given me was enthusiastic, it paled compared to Zendak’s. We danced around each other like overstimulated kits. That lunch lasted over two hours! Even then we only covered the highlights of each other’s lives in that time. They’d done a very good job with the inter-clan relations and the elders had been reluctant to accept their resignation. They’d put aside enough money to buy a home and get new careers started though. I could tell that they were both happy to have fixed roots again, but they were curious about my plans for the future.

"Haven’t you ever had the urge to pack up your family and settle down in a nice den here in our village," Zendak asked.

"Occasionally," I admitted, "But unlike you two, it wasn’t a strong pull. I’ve felt quite at home in Australia or in a starship cabin. However, the family has been discussing a move. We’ve been moving more and more towards emigrating to Chakona."

"Chakona!" Kassi exclaimed. "Why do you want to go all the way there?"

"For the welfare of our family, Kas. The Earth is changing again, but not for the better unfortunately. I don’t know how much you’ve heard about non-clan affairs, but a movement calling itself Earth For Humanity is causing problems for morphs, and they seem to be represented in most countries."

"What sort of problems?"

"The worst kind. It ranges from the subtle to the violent. Goldfur even lost a cub in a riot incited by these people. No, not one of my cubs. Shi was sired by Goldfur, borne by Lupu, the wolftaur I told you about earlier. Nevertheless, it hit the entire family hard, and Goldfur hasn’t been quite the same since. We don’t want to go to Chakona, but we may need to. Someone needs to deal with the situation here, but not our family. We’ve already paid too high a price."

"I’m sorry to hear that, dear," Kassi said sympathetically and she gave me a hug. "I’m even sorrier that it means that we won’t see you much after you move."

"Well, it won’t be quite that bad. Seeing as most missions pass through Earth at some stage, stopping by occasionally won’t be too much of a problem. One of the best things about the Star Corps is that due to its highly varied membership, it tends to be very sympathetic to the needs of its members, and it’s well known how strongly attached we foxtaurs are to our homelands."

Zendak grinned. "Especially if you have lots of family to see, yes?"

"You got it!" I returned the grin.

"Good! Then I propose that you increase that family and ensure that you come back often."

"Oh? And what would you suggest I do?"

"I’d start with giving Kassi a kit," Zendak said matter-of-factly.

"What??!!" she and I chorused.

Zendak’s grin widened. "Why are you so surprised? Isn’t it obvious? Kassi desperately wants a kit that I haven’t been able to give her, and probably never will. Due to clan law, she has to try every natural means of conception first before artificial means will even be considered. Then up you pop at a most serendipitous moment, and you’re even on Obligation. If that isn’t an omen, I don’t know what is!"

"And you’re comfortable with that?" I asked.

He turned completely serious and he put his right hand on my shoulder. "My friend, you were and are almost a brother to me. We always shared everything, and I would have been content to share Kassi with you too if clan law permitted." He glanced at Kassi momentarily. "Providing that was what Kas wanted, of course. I’ve been most contented just having Kassi as my mate. It’s Kassi who needs something more though, and if you’re the one who can give that to her, then not only will I be comfortable with it, I’ll be overjoyed to see Kassi fulfilled at last." He turned back to Kassi. "My love, I won’t presume to make that decision for you, but please consider the idea. I think that you’ll be much happier if you do this."

Kassi still hadn’t quite recovered from the surprise, but I could tell already that she was intrigued. As for me, I admit that I was excited at the prospect. I had to keep my feelings under control though because it really wasn’t my choice. It was Kassi who had the final say, and a mating under Obligation promised no more than a one night stand. Still, it was an opportunity I did not wish to miss. Kassi seemed to make up her mind and she stepped up to me.

"Garrek, I do want a kit badly, but not so badly as to want to force you into it, even if it’s under Obligation. Tell me, would you like to have a child with me?"

I didn’t have to think about that even for a moment. Ten years ago I wasn’t ready, but today I was mated with two cubs. I knew what it was like and what I’d be in for now. "I’d love to, Kas," I replied simply.

"You understand that I would want to keep the kit here with me and raise her in the clan. I don’t want my kit roaming about space. Or at least not until she’s old enough to make her own decisions on that matter!"

"It’s okay, Kassi. Any child we may conceive will be for you to love and nurture in a normal foxtaur community. Even I have to admit that I’ve got an unusual lifestyle, although I wouldn’t swap it for any other. But I think you should cover yourself with the clan and do this under Obligation." I plucked a green feather and handed it to her. "The choice is yours. If you do conceive, then you can come back to me under your own terms."

She took the feather, stared at it for a moment, then threw her arms around my neck and nearly smothered me with lick-kisses. Eventually she relented, but the grin on her face didn’t. "We’re going to have a beautiful kit, just you wait and see!"

Zendak came over and took her hand. "And I promise that I’ll take care of her as if she were my own. But I do hope that you come and visit her, and us, often."

"That was the whole idea, wasn’t it?" I asked with a wink. We all laughed. It was so good to have all three of us together again.

I spent the rest of the afternoon with them, trying vainly to cram in several years apart into a few hours. Firstly I arranged a day to attempt to conceive a kit with Kassi. It turned out her next heat was due in five days, so we’d have to wait until then. I suppose it could have been a lot worse, but those few days were going to seem like weeks to me. Eventually I had to take leave of my friends though. It was almost sunset and time for my appointment with Jinni. No other vixens had tracked me down that afternoon, but I suppose giving away two feathers in one day was a more than adequate start to the Obligation.

It was a lengthy but pleasant stroll to her den on the other side of the village. The door was quickly opened after I knocked, but to my surprise, it wasn’t Jinni who answered it. Another pretty vixen of the same age as Jinni stood in the doorway with a smile on her face.

"Would you be Garrek?" she asked, thus dispelling my doubts that I’d come to the right place.

"That would be me," I replied, returning the smile.

She stood aside. "Come in! Jinni’s expecting you. She’s still cooking dinner though. I’m Karree, by the way; one of Jinni’s hunting pack. I’ll let her know you’re here. Make yourself comfortable!"

I sat on a lounging mat and watched as she disappeared in the direction of the source of some very pleasant smells. They reminded me that I was rather hungry! I wasn’t terribly surprised when yet another vixen came out of the kitchen upon hearing the news. Hunter vixens frequently banded together with three or four others to make a kind of family unit. They shared the bounty of their hunts, and also the costs of their home. When you have a shortage of males, all sorts of different family units are formed, and this was a common one. The new vixen pulled a fourth into view and they both gave me the once-over, grinned and winked, then went back into the kitchen. After a long moment, Jinni came out, wiping her hands on the apron she wearing to protect her fur from the hazards of cooking.

"Welcome, Garrek. Dinner’s almost ready. And don’t worry about my huntmates; they’ll be going after the meal to leave us in peace." Some quiet giggles came from the kitchen. "Won’t they?" she said a bit louder and deliberately.

"Yes, Jinni!" they chorused from out of sight.

I smiled and shook my head. Thanks heavens I only had to deal with one of them!

Jinni excused herself while the others made themselves busy. The two I hadn’t met yet introduced themselves as Willa and Marith. They were all in their low twenties, apparently having been together as a team since they graduated as proficient hunters. They told me how it was usual for three of them to go out on the hunt while the fourth would keep house. This duty revolved around the four so that all shared equally in responsibility. Today however, although Jinni went on the hunt, she also was doing the cooking. She had been scheduled to be in the hunting party today, but it was customary for the vixen to cook dinner for the visiting male. It was in a way a payment for services to be rendered. This wasn’t law, but part of a custom that went back as far as the first Obligations. It suited me fine though. I was very hungry and needed food to give me energy to do my duty tonight!

It was a fine meal of venison with roast potatoes and corn. The deer was one that they had caught only that morning, so it was as fresh as it could get. The company was amusing, and no shortage of innuendo flew around. It did bother me a bit, but not a patch on what it once would have done to me before Goldfur had helped heal my emotional wounds. In fact, I have to admit that I had a lot of fun. When the meal was done though, Jinni quickly shooed them out of the house. She came back and settled down beside me. "They won’t be back before tomorrow, so we’re alone for the rest of the evening. Are you ready?"

"Well, aside from the fact that you left me feeling pretty full, yeah, I suppose I’m as ready as I’ll ever be."

"That’s okay. I hoped you’d take it easy at first anyway."

"Ummm, you don’t mean that you’re a virgin, do you?"

"Good grief, no! I just meant that I’d like to do this slow and sorta romantic. It’s not as if I’ll be able to claim you after tonight, so I want to make the most of it."

I smiled gently. "Fair enough. I’ll do my best to earn that fine dinner."

Jinni giggled. "Anytime then, Hon."

And so, for the first time in my life, I commenced courting a vixen purely for the sake of Obligation. I used everything that I’d learned in the past decade, and especially from Goldfur, to give Jinni the most erotic night of her life, and she responded in kind. Once started, I rediscovered how much I’d missed the company of a vixen foxtaur. I’d not been intimate with one since the incident with the security guard on the mission where I met Goldfur. Don’t get me wrong. A chakat has charms that no vixen could match, but there’s always a certain indefinable something about being with a lover of your own species. Perhaps it was just the pheromones, but I’d like to think that there was something more to it than that. Whatever the case, we spent a long time in foreplay which got us both ready for several couplings that were extremely pleasurable. I think that I got as much from the encounter as she did, but the last thing that I remember before drifting off into sleep was Jinni lick-kissing me then laying her head on my chest and saying "Thank You".

I woke from sound slumber by Jinni climbing out of the bedding. The light of dawn was just starting to show through the window, and by it I could tell that she was starting to put on her hunter’s jacket. I caught her fine nude form in profile against the window before she pulled it on though. I murmured my approval.

"Thank you, Garrek. I’m sorry if I disturbed you, but I still have to go out on a hunt today and I have to start early."

"I understand," I replied. "It was a nice sight to wake up to though."

She grinned. "And maybe you’ll get to see it again if you wish. I really enjoyed last night together. I really hope that the mating is successful." She bent over the bed to give me a parting kiss. "Don’t be a stranger. I’d like to see you more, socially of course. Bring your chakat mate if you wish."

"I might just do that. And my thanks too for making my first Obligation such a pleasant one."

"You’re welcome! You can stay here and get some more sleep if you wish, or you could have some breakfast. It’s Willa’s turn to stay at home, so she’ll show you where everything is." She tugged on a belt to make it settle properly. "And now I have to go. Smooth trails, dear!"

"And the same for you, Jinni!"

Jinni trotted out of the bedroom in a jaunty manner and I grinned. I still felt good about last night too! I didn’t feel like going back to sleep right then, so I took advantage of the offer of breakfast. Willa tried to weasel out details of what happened between Jinni and myself last night, but I told her that she was going to have to ask her denmate herself because as far as I was concerned, that was a private matter. Willa knew I was right, but she was frustrated anyway.

I headed to my home. I needed to get some things and try to pick up where I left off yesterday at Pawprints and try to make up for the lost time. After all, half the day was spent catching up on old times with Kassi and Zendak, which meant that I’d have to try to make up for it over the rest of the week. I had another short hold-up though when I got to the den. My mother was sitting at the kitchen table chatting with another vixen, the sight of whom made me feel like an awkward teenager again. I recognised her immediately, and moments later she spotted me and got up to meet me.

"Garrek! Your mother told me that you were visiting, and I just had to come over and see how you were doing!" She gave me a big hug which I found a little disconcerting.

"Hello, Aunt Lorene. It’s nice to see you too."

"Good heavens, I think you’re old enough to drop the ‘Aunt’ by now, don’t you think. You’re certainly grown more than enough for me to stop thinking of you as a kit!"

I nodded agreement. Lorene was actually my mother’s much younger half-sister. Their mother had had one of those Festival affairs with a tod visiting from another clan. This practice often brought new blood into the otherwise fairly closed community, but one of the results was the occasional interesting results such crossbreeding produced. It was one such result that had fascinated me as a kit, deeply interested me as a teen, and now caused me embarrassment as an adult. Lorene had two pair of breasts! All the vixens in her sire’s clan were like that, but here in this community, they were unique. As a horny adolescent, I developed a crush on her, and was often nearly caught staring at them. Yeah, I know that half the vixens in the village went bare-breasted anyway, but there was something especially attractive about her endowments that I had never outgrown. Now whenever she hugged me, all I could ever think of were those four beautifully formed mammaries rubbing up against me, and I found it intensely arousing. Naturally I didn’t want to put myself on display, so I had to sit down at the table where my physical reaction was hidden and chat with her for a while until I was back to normal. After a decent length of time, I excused myself and continued on with my plans. Somehow I felt Lorene’s eyes on me though until I passed out of sight. It seemed that this visit back to my home village was going to be more interesting than I had bargained for!

I did end up reclaiming the booth at Pawprints, but after getting off to a flying start, the warm lazy day started taking its toll on me. I really hadn’t gotten enough sleep after the exertions of the previous night, and it had to catch up to me sometime. I nodded off somewhere around noon and only woke up when someone started shaking my shoulder. Blinking the sleep out of my eyes, I gradually woke up and focused on the person who had disturbed my unintentional nap.

A vixen stood in front of me, patiently waiting for me to gather my wits. With a shock, I recognised her. Although I had never personally met Shansu, everyone had heard about the hunter vixen who had been caught in a severe forest fire a few years back. She had survived by digging a foxhole and covering herself partly with dirt, but she had still been horribly burned and barely survived. She had been quickly found and sent off by airlift for treatment in one of the big hospitals, but the scars still remained. Both eartips were gone and half her head hair had been permanently lost. Her face had been covered and was mostly unharmed except for the exposed nosepad. The left hand that had covered it had been so badly burned that the fur was completely gone and so badly scarred that it impaired its usefulness. Her left hind leg was similarly afflicted and she had a permanent limp, and various patches of fur were missing, mostly on the left side due to her laying on her right. I couldn’t see much of this presently due to her wearing a long-sleeved shirt, a scarf and something like a saddle blanket. Part of this was to hide her disfigurement, but some of it was to protect her exposed and sensitive skin. Her injuries had forced her to give up hunting. Now she worked as a librarian, as best as I recalled.

"You’re Garrek, aren’t you?" she asked as soon as she realised I had reorientated myself. I nodded and she continued. "I… I wish to have a kit. Are you available tonight?" Hesitant at first, her words started coming out in a rush as if to get them out before she changed her mind.

"That is your right," I replied, "And yes, I’m available tonight. Do you wish to claim a feather?"

She looked at me, some surprise on her face. "You’re not put off about spending the night with someone as hideous as me?"

This time I was surprised. Sure, her injuries were unpleasant, but while I did feel some pity for her plight, it never occurred to me that she had expected me to be completely repulsed. However, I must admit that I was far from your typical foxtaur. I did things on a regular basis that others wouldn’t even want to try even once. It suddenly occurred to me that the average tod would be rather set in his ways and viewpoints. My lifestyle required that I be adaptable and broad-minded. Maybe that was all that was needed, or perhaps the influence of my chakat family had changed me. It’s hard to be anything but positive when you have an empathic rapport with your mate and hir kin. I got out from the booth and stood in front of her. She looked away, afraid to look me in the face. I gently put my hand under her chin and guided it back to look her in the eyes. I saw fear and self-loathing, and my heart nearly broke. I had to do something, but I prayed that I would not be too clumsy about doing it.

"Why do you want a child by me? Haven’t you got someone to share your life?" I asked.

I saw tears welling in her eyes. "No one except my immediate family has ever wanted to be with me since I was maimed," she said in a barely audible tone. "I hide in the library stacks so that I don’t have to meet people and deal with their looks. But I’m so lonely. I want a kit who’ll fill that loneliness."

So, the villagers were willing to pay for her needs, just so they didn’t have to feel guilty about making her a virtual outcast within the community? A vibrant and beautiful person had been struck down so unfairly in the prime of life, but it seemed community attitudes might be keeping her down. "Shansu, I would be honoured to give you a kit, but is it the right thing? Perhaps your loneliness would be assuaged, but that should never be the only reason to have a child."

"And what else would you suggest?" she asked bitterly.

She had me there. I sure wasn’t a psychologist, and I was just trying to do the right thing. I plucked a green feather and held it up in front of her. "I don’t know, but I’ll be there tonight to perhaps find an alternative. I’m offering you the feather, not because you need to compel me by Obligation, but as an indication of my commitment, and so you can have your night with me without fear of another claiming your place."

After a moment of astonishment, she nearly snatched the feather from me like a drowning person grabs at a straw. She stared at it and I sensed a dawning ray of hope. She looked at me and said, "Sequoia lane, Den #5." She then turned and left quickly, as if she was afraid I’d change my mind. I watched her go and wondered how this night would go. I noticed Markot sidling up to me and turned my attention to him.

"You know, she’s only half right," he said.

"About what?" I asked.

"It’s true that a lot of people shun her, but she’s the one who’s keeping herself down. She’s got such a poor self-image that she can’t even imagine anyone wanting to associate with her, so she makes it too hard for others to do so, and all without realising that she’s doing it."

I looked back in the direction that Shansu had disappeared. I found that easy to believe after looking her in the eyes. I hoped that I could do something about that tonight. I sighed. Whatever happened to the idea of some simple procreational matings to fulfil my Obligation? "You’re probably right. Better get me some more coffee. I think it’s going to be a long day."

That wasn’t going to be the end of things for today though. Fate seemed to be having its amusement at my expense at the moment. I didn’t even get the chance to sit down when I noticed two vixens walk in the door. The moment that I saw one of them focus on my armband, I knew what at least one of them was here for. I waited for them to walk up. The one that approached me was quite pretty, around her late twenties I guessed. Her fur was fairly evenly orange blending subtly into her medium brown socks and gloves, and more sharply into the creamy white fur over throat and belly. Her entire breasts were covered with the same colour too, as I could readily tell because she was one of those vixens who preferred going bare-breasted. Her hair was black, long and straight. Her companion was quite a contrast. Her fur colour was boldly segregated and was darker all round. Black hair cropped quite short seemed to match her attitude which projected barely restrained hostility. I wondered what had gotten her tail in a twist. She wore a leather jacket that did nothing to flatter her looks. She also wore so many earrings, I wondered how she could still keep them erect!

"Good day!" the first one said. "You’d be Garrek, yes?"

Well at least this vixen seemed pleasant enough. "That’s me. What can I do for you?"

The vixen’s eyes slid to the armband briefly. "I would have thought that was obvious," She said with a knowing grin.

I smiled back. "Well, I guessed, but it’s up to you to ask."

"Fair enough. My name’s Merta. This is my mate, Voshu," she said, indicating her vulpamour partner. The description literally means fox-lover, but it’s applied strictly to same-sex relationships. Their relationship was actually quite common amongst foxtaur clans. The same breeding program that had accidentally caused an imbalance in the genders had also resulted in a bias towards attraction to the female sex. Hence there were plenty of lesbian vixens, and conversely very few homosexual tods. In fact, I knew of none of the latter in our village, although I knew that there were some in others. Matings between vixens were not only legal, but they were also a way of relieving the burden on the scarce available males. However, there was still one thing that they couldn’t achieve. "I’ve decided that it’s time for me to have a kit, and for that I need a male." I noticed Voshu grimace at that statement. "You’ve come along at just the right time. Is tonight free?"

I shook my head. "Sorry, but I’m already spoken for tonight."

Merta shrugged. "Tomorrow or the next night will do. I’ve only just come into heat."

"Tomorrow is still free."

Then I hereby claim Obligation from you for tomorrow night," she stated, holding out her hand.

I gave her one of the green feathers and she told me her address. "Please come promptly at six. We like to eat early." She gave me a wave as she turned and left, her companion by her side leaving without having uttered a word. A gorgeous nude vixen had just left my presence, but instead of arousal, I felt a slight sense of foreboding.

I was almost late for my date with Shansu. In trying to make up for lost time, I got absorbed in my work and lost track of the hours. I hastily packed up and headed for Shansu’s den. She greeted me at the door and I could see that there was a touch of surprise that I hadn’t failed to turn up despite the compulsion of Obligation. A meal was ready to be served as per tradition, but unlike my previous night’s dinner, it was a very quiet and subdued affair. I complimented her on her cooking and she managed a wan smile in acknowledgment. Then she cut to the point.

"My sleeping den is this way. Let’s get this over and done with," she said.

I got up from behind the dining table to follow her, but when we were in the room, I put my hand on her arm to stop her. "No, I don’t think so."

She looked shocked, then resigned. "I suppose I couldn’t expect you to be able to stand the thought of being in bed with someone like me. Thanks for coming over though."

I shook my head. "You’ve got it all wrong, Shansu. I will be doing my best to give you the child you want, but not yet." I saw the bewilderment in her eyes. "First, you must want to have the child for her sake though. She can’t be just a tool to relieve your loneliness. As a father, I know that the kit will need more from you than that. Second, I plan to make love to you for as long as you wish, and the only reason that I will be thinking about your injuries is to make sure that I don’t hurt you while we’re coupling." I pulled her close to me and I looked at her intently. My mind filled in the missing fur, hair and eartips and I could see that she was otherwise a very attractive vixen. This close, her scent was also very arousing. "Shansu, you’re prettier than you think, and one day others will see that too, and then maybe you will also. I like what I see, and although I cannot be your mate, for tonight, let me be your lover."

Shansu’s eyes got wider and wider as she absorbed all this. She still couldn’t believe I meant what I said. I saw her starting to open her muzzle to reply, probably to deny what I said, so I leant forward and covered it with my own and kissed her long and deep. Halfway through, I felt her surprise turn to responsiveness. She pulled me tightly to her and gave me everything that she had been storing up for ages. I was nearly overwhelmed when we pulled apart. I noticed that her eyes were full of tears, but she was smiling. They were tears of happiness.

"Thank you, Garrek. If nothing else happens tonight, I’ll remember this."

"The rest of tonight is up to you, dear. I hope I get the chance to do more."

Shansu looked thoughtful. "You’re referring to my reason for wanting a kit, aren’t you? Actually, before my accident, I had planned to have my first child by now. However, I’d also planned to either have a mate or a hunting pack to be part of the family that she’d grow up with."

"Don’t you have anyone to support you at all?"

"My parents would, but I didn’t want to burden them."

"Have you ever asked? I know my mother was overjoyed to have a grandchild."

Shansu shook her head. "No. I’ve never done that."

"Shansu, I’ve yet to meet a mother who didn’t like having grandkits, and I’m reasonably sure yours is no different. If I give you a child, will you share her with your family instead of clinging to her as your emotional lifeline?"

Shansu looked me in the eyes and saw how seriously I meant this. Then she nodded and said, "Okay, I promise."

"Then, dear vixen, shall we begin?" I asked with a grin.

"Yes!" she replied most emphatically, and pulled me onto the bedding, giggling.

Let me tell you that aside from having to watch out for a few tender parts of her body, sex with Shansu was not merely every bit as good as with Jinni, but even better. A foxtaur vixen who hasn’t had sex in many months has got a whole lot saved up for whoever breaks the ice, and she gave it all to me! I woke up sometime during the night to find her nude form firmly snuggled up to me. I caressed her cheek fur and she murmured something in her sleep. It didn’t really matter what she said because I could see the smile that was stuck on her face, and that satisfied me. I went back to sleep content with the night’s results.

I woke again with the sun in my eyes, silhouetting Shansu’s head as she looked at me. I think she must have been simply watching me as I slept.

"Good morning," she said.

I smiled. "A very good morning indeed. And how are you feeling today?"

She thought a moment. "Satisfied. Absolutely and completely satisfied. And a little sore."

"Sorry. I tried to be as careful as possible."

She grinned widely. "That’s not where I’m sore!"

"Oh?… Oh!" It suddenly occurred to me what she meant. Well, we did get a little wild occasionally. I had enjoyed it though, and by her response, so had Shansu.

"Would you like some breakfast?" she asked.

I opened my mouth to respond, only to be beaten to the punch by a loud growl from my stomach.

"I’ll take that as a yes," she giggled. She got up and walked out of the den, presumably heading for the kitchen. Significantly, she didn’t cover up her scars first. Hopefully this meant that she now felt comfortable with me and not that she merely forgot to put on her clothes. I headed for the bathroom to clean up, then joined Shansu in the kitchen. She now had on an apron and gloves, but that was to protect herself from the spitting fat from the frypan on the stove. "I hope you like bacon and eggs. I cook them rather well, I’m told."

"Sure, I love them," I replied.

She served us both a hearty breakfast and we ate in companionable silence. She cleared the plates then said, "Time for me to get ready for work, I suppose. Thank you for being so wonderful last night. I promise I won’t forget what you said either."

"Good!" I replied. "And let me know if the mating was successful, won’t you?"

"Sure!" she said, then kissed me. "I had to get a last one in before you left!" Smiling broadly, she led me to the door and waved me goodbye. As I headed off in the direction of Pawprints, I mused over the events of the past night and found them to be pretty satisfactory.

The third day of my Obligation went without an approach from another vixen, thankfully. I was beginning to feel as if I was going to have to make up for the missed Obligation after all! Still, the day wasn’t without incident. I was taking a break from my work and strolling around the village, chatting with a few old acquaintances while I had the opportunity. It was during one of those chats when something caught the attention of my friend and me. Several hunt vixens appeared to be crowded together and heading in the direction of the main village complex. My friend and I had our interest piqued, so we walked over on an intercept course. We were shocked to see that two were supporting a third whose fur was matted with blood, the source of which was clear. An arrow was embedded in her left shoulder! Then I looked at the vixen’s pained face and was dismayed to recognise her as Willa, with Karree and Jinni helping her reach the medical centre under her own power.

"Jinni!" I called out. "What happened?"

Jinni looked around and spotted me in the growing crowd of curious onlookers. "Someone shot Willa while we were on the hunt, and we’re pretty sure it wasn’t an accident either."

"But who would do that?" I heard a few other foxtaurs echoing my curiosity and concern.

"We don’t know, but that looks awfully like the kind of arrow that wolftaur hunters use." That was all we were going to learn right now. We’d reached the medical centre, and because it was so small, the staff barred all but the most essential people from entering. I figured that I’d find out more soon enough though, so I left the complex straight away. I needed to get back to my work anyway. Strangely though, I didn’t hear anything more about it later. For some reason unknown to me, the village elders clamped down on the news and I was not to learn more about the situation for a while.

Actually, I think I would have preferred dealing with the arrow. This night’s Obligation was making me feel nervous. I was treading unknown waters here. I turned up at the vulpamours’ den at six on the dot. It was Voshu who answered the door. She merely grunted and held the door open for me to enter. Great. If anything, the situation had gotten even chillier. She indicated one of the lounging mats and then left the room without having spoken a word. I guessed she’d gone to join Merta in the kitchen and that left me with nothing to do other than twiddling my thumbs. Fortunately I wasn’t left for long. Merta came into the room, carrying a large platter of assorted foodstuffs. It seemed she was going to be as pleasant a hostess as her mate was a rude one. We ate with only a little small-talk, and the meal was over more quickly than I might have wished.

"Okay," Merta said. "The social niceties have been observed, and now it’s time to do what you’re here for. Now while I have nothing against males in particular, I just don’t have interest in your sex either, so I intend that Voshu be there to get me in the mood. Anyway, the kit is going to be raised between us, so Voshu should be there at her conception."

My heart sank. What she said was logical, but having Voshu in the room with us was something that I hadn’t planned on. When we got to the bedroom though, it got even worse. Voshu’s possessiveness really took hold as shi practically shouldered me aside to take up her position with Merta. The vixens undressed each other, and then immediately started kissing and fondling one another. I suppose there are many males who’d enjoy watching two vixens getting it on, but I found that only of limited appeal, and now that I was a barely needed third party, I felt completely out in the cold.

Merta suddenly looked around and asked, "Well? What are you waiting for?"

Suddenly my discomfort and humiliation boiled over into rage. "Who the hell do you think you are?" I roared at them. Both stopped what they were doing, shocked at my words. "From the moment we met, the only way that you’ve thought of me was as a tool, and a distasteful one at that! And Voshu hasn’t even the decency to speak one word to me! You expect me to turn up at a precise time, pay lip service to tradition, then basically ignore me. What do you think I am? A fuck machine that you can turn on and off at a whim, then quietly tuck away somewhere so that you won’t have to see it later? I’ve never been treated so rudely and callously in all my life! Even Ketta’s manipulations were better than being treated like this! I tell you right now that I’ve never been so uninterested in sex in all my life as I am now, and I’m just a nanosecond away from walking out on this, and Obligation be damned! I’d rather deal with the elders than put up with this shit any longer. So what’s it to be? Do I leave now, or will you have the decency to treat me as a person and not just as sperm injector?"

Voshu still didn’t say anything, but she had the grace to look embarrassed as it finally sunk in just how badly she’d been acting. Merta was the one who made the apology though. "You’re right, and I’m sorry. We’ve gone about this all wrong. All I can say is that I’ve never done this before and I only feel comfortable in the arms of my mate. What would you like me to do?"

Still angry, but mollified for the moment, I thought briefly, the said, "None of us wants this to be an all-night thing, so I propose that we put all our effort into one mating. You, Merta, must do your best to arouse me so that I can perform my duty. Voshu, if you can’t help, at least don’t hinder. Just be civil and let nature take its course, and then I’ll be out of your way forever." She nodded.

Merta came over to me and looked at me squarely, then sighed. "Garrek, you’re a good-looking tod, but I must confess that I still feel no desire for you."

"Then don’t look at me," I replied. "Close your eyes and fantasise that I’m your lover. Think how you’re doing this for the both of you. You’re going to bring a new life into your family; a kit to share your life and your joys. Every touch you feel is Voshu’s, and I’m just her intermediary."

Merta had closed her eyes as soon as I told her, and I immediately began caressing her, lick-kissing her and fondling her nipples. She started to respond, and I also at last began to get into the mood. Between touching her intimately and breathing the pheromones that close proximity brought to my nose more strongly, I started to think that perhaps I might just be able to do this after all. Then Voshu really surprised me. She broke out of her stasis and walked behind me. Moments later, I was startled to feel her hand upon my sheath, stroking and teasing the organ within. As usual, it responded with a mind of its own and I rapidly gained full erection as she continued to stroke it. I let her keep that up while I concentrated on Merta until I could feel the time was near. I gestured to Voshu to take over from me and she willingly complied. I took up my position behind Merta and mounted her. A small moan came from her, but it was smothered by the deep kiss Voshu was sharing with her. Then I concentrated on a little fantasy of my own in order to bring the deed to its climax. Thankfully, it worked, and I filled Merta with my seed. I didn’t linger within her for long though and dismounted. Merta looked satisfied though, as only a vixen in heat can be. Voshu cuddled her close, still giving her affectionate lick-kisses. Merta smiled at me. "Thank you. I’m glad you decided to stay. The bathroom is right through that door if you need it," she added, waving in its direction.

I nodded. Although her words were polite, we both knew that it was time for me to leave. I quickly cleaned up and let myself out of the den. I knew that the vulpamours would be making the rest of this evening a special night for them both to remember, but I was just glad my part of it was over and I could put it out of my mind.

I headed back to the family den, surprising everyone doubly by not staying the night as I had with the previous two vixens, but also by coming home so early. It was a bit awkward to explain because I didn’t want to talk about the events of that evening. Eventually they stopped pestering me about it though and I could enjoy the rest of the evening with my family. Of course it meant spending the night alone with Malena again. When she snuggled up to me at bedtime though, I felt greatly comforted by her warm familiarity. The events at Merta’s den were quietly relegated to the background and I got off to sleep quite quickly.

A good night’s sleep did wonders for me and I was able to put the previous evening’s events to the back of my mind. Nevertheless, I did pray that I would not have another vulpamour come seeking my services. After breakfast, instead of heading for Pawprints immediately, I went to the community centre with the hope of getting some news about what had happened to Willa. Looking it up on the village net had proved futile, but this event touched me personally and I preferred to try to learn things first-hand anyway. I was turned away from the medical centre though without learning anything. However, I got lucky and ran into Jinni who was on the way in.

"Good morning, Garrek!"

"Morning, Jinni! Aren’t you late for your hunt?" I asked curiously.

"It’s my turn to stay at home, so I’m just taking the opportunity to check on Willa."

"I just got turned away, but I suppose as her hunt-mate, you’d be entitled to visit," I surmised.

She nodded. "Yep. You don’t need to worry about her though. The arrow went into nothing besides flesh. It was painful, and she lost a fair amount of blood, but she should recover from it quickly enough. In the meantime, the rest of us are going to have to hunt for her until she’s back to full strength."

"Have you any better idea of what happened?"

"Nope. It looks as if someone went to the trouble of making it look like a hunting accident, but the circumstances don’t really support it. She was in an open area with good visibility at the time. Also, we never saw the archer. If it had really been an accident, you would have expected the hunter to come over and find that out, but we never saw or smelled a thing. We can only surmise that the culprit was hiding from us."

"So you think some wolftaur is taking potshots at foxtaurs? Why would they do that?"

"That’s our best guess so far, but we can’t figure that out. The wolftaur packs are nomadic and don’t own any land, but they’ve got the right to hunt on foxtaur territory when they’re in it. That arrangement has worked well for us for generations. In fact, we usually send a representative to the pack when we know they’re in the area in order to update them on what game species are in abundance and which should be left alone this season. That works out well for both our species. We don’t compete for limited resources, so we both prosper. Thus it doesn’t make sense for them to having any sort of grudge against us."

"Do you know of any pack in the area at the moment?" I asked.

"That’s another thing. While we know that one is due sometime soon, recent surveys indicate that the nearest is not within hunting range." Jinni shook her head in puzzlement. "It’s all a big mystery so far. Look, I’ve got to see Willa now and get back to the den. If I find out anything more, I’ll let you know, okay?"

"Okay, Jinni. Thanks." I gave her a parting nuzzle and we went our separate ways.

The morning was spent without incident. I bought a meal from my hosts and took it outside to a nearby arboretum to eat it. The Spring weather was extremely pleasant and I dozed off after my meal. This time, nobody interrupted me and I woke up by myself. I was just getting up to head back to the café when a teenage vixen stepped up to me. The timing was such that I wondered if she had been watching and waiting for me to wake.

"Hi!" she said. "I’m Fleete, and I want to claim a night with you."

I blinked in surprise. I was no great judge, but I’d be astonished if she had been of age for very long. "Surely you’re too young to want a kit yet?" I blurted out.

She laughed. "Don’t be silly! I don’t intend to try for one for a year or two yet."

"Then why would you want my services?" I asked in puzzlement.

Here she looked a little embarrassed. "I want to get some experience before my boyfriend and I do it for the first time. I want to give him the night of his life so that he’ll want to choose me as his first mate."

I was floored. "But… but the Obligation is for breeding purposes! Wouldn’t it be a misuse of the service…"

She interrupted me. "Garrek Redfox, I hereby claim Obligation from you!" she said with determination.

Any objections that I had, died on my lips. With the formal declaration, the matter was now out of my hands. Any female of age could claim that right, and what I thought of her motives had no bearing on the matter. With a sigh, I plucked a feather and handed it to her. "When do you want to do this?" I simply asked.

"Is tomorrow night free?" I nodded. "Good. I’ll have the traditional dinner ready about six-thirty. I live at the only den in Cedar Grove. I’ll see you then!"

With that, she trotted off, leaving me stunned. I just couldn’t understand this. All my life I had heard that the Obligation was purely for breeding purposes; a means of getting around the problem of the shortage of males. Now I’d just been tapped as a gigolo, or so I felt. I lowered myself to the ground again, not ready to go back to work yet until I straightened this out in my mind. It would have been much easier for me to deal with her wanting to have a child despite her youth. It wasn’t common, but some vixens liked to have their kits really early. I was still trying to make sense of it when a quiet voice disturbed my thoughts.

"You seem troubled, young man."

I looked up to see an elderly vixen observing me. Her fur patterning was fairly common, although she did have one unusual distinctive feature – one front paw did not have the usual dark brown sock. The rest of her coat had liberal numbers of silver hairs growing in it, and her hair was mostly the same, with only a trace of her original red colouration still showing. Her lower belly fur sagged both from age and several pregnancies, I judged. I realised that I was in the presence of one of the village elders and I jumped to my feet.

"Good day to you, Elder!" I said respectfully.

"And to you too, Garrek Redfox," she replied.

"You know me, Elder?" I asked, surprised at being addressed by name.

"Only indirectly," she answered. "But you still haven’t mentioned why you looked so troubled."

"I don’t want to bother you with my problems…" I began.

"Nonsense! That’s one of an Elder’s duties, to look after the welfare of the clan members. Spit it out, young tod!"

Startled, I did exactly that. I told her all about Fleete and her desire for some instructional sex. Then the Elder surprised me again.

"Oh, is that all?" she said.

I blinked, totally knocked for a loop. This was okay by her?

She smiled at me sympathetically and patted me on the arm. "I’m sorry, that wasn’t very helpful of me, was it? Let’s sit down and talk about this a bit." So, once again, I laid on the grass and the Elder followed suit. "First of all, let me introduce myself. My name is Thayla. It’s no coincidence that I knew your name though. I came over specifically to see you."

"You did?" I was getting tired of all these surprises. "Why?"

"It’s about Shansu, and how your night of Obligation with her went."

I momentarily forgot about Fleete, my concern for Shansu getting priority. "Is she alright? Is something wrong?"

Thayla laughed. "It’s okay, Garrek. Not only is Shansu alright, she’s better than she has been since her accident. Do you know how long and hard we elders have tried to help that poor vixen? Yet in one night, you managed more than all of us combined. She’s like a changed vixen. All yesterday she was happy, and she was even heard to be humming a cheerful tune. Now we know that sex alone couldn’t have achieved those results, so this morning, when it was clear that she was still in a good mood, I asked her about her experience." She held up a hand to forestall a comment from me. "It’s okay. I’m in charge of her case, so it was professional interest, mostly. She told me about what you did for her and, believe me, I’m impressed. You gave her exactly what she needed. I think you made the breakthrough that was badly needed and we’ll be able to make some real progress with her now. We’re hoping that you’ll be able to give us a helping hand occasionally when you’re in town."

"Well, sure, I guess. It’s not as if I’m qualified for that sort of thing though," I said a trifle dubiously.

"Nonsense!" she said again. "All it took was a good dose of empathy, and you seem to have some to spare."

"Comes from being mated to a chakat, I suppose," I replied.

"Somehow, I think you’ve got enough of your own ability without giving the credit to others. Anyway, on behalf of the Council of Elders, we thank you, Garrek."

"You’re welcome," I said with a blush.

I’m sure she realised that I was blushing and she grinned. Then she continued. "It remains to be seen whether she’s conceived yet, but whether she does is irrelevant. It’s what you did in the course of the Obligation that is important, and the answer to your own questions concerning Fleete. You see, while the custom was definitely started for the purposes of breeding, Obligation is far more than that nowadays. It performs an important social function also. Many interactions between tods and vixens are facilitated under the umbrella of the Obligation. Problems between families can be circumvented through the use of the custom. Many nervous potential mates can be wooed when there’s no necessity to make a commitment putting them off. You were able to break through Shansu’s fear of rejection because you could freely give her something she needed, and I don’t mean just the sex. The list goes on. In Fleete’s case, I happen to know that she has found love very early in her life, but she’s unsure about her own body and afraid of making a mess of things. What she wants from you is not merely lessons in sexual techniques, but getting a handle on how to please a lover, to show him that she really cares. The Obligation gives her a means of learning this without misleading another tod."

The light dawned on me. What had seemed to me to be a selfish desire for sex was instead was a very genuine need to learn. My misgivings were all erased, and suddenly I was looking forward to doing my best for the young vixen. I smiled at Thayla. "Thank you, Elder. I understand now."

"I’m glad to hear that. You can thank me in another way though. My mate died about a year ago, and since then my den has been mostly empty."

I looked at her, a little startled. Then this time I really looked at her. Her age was still evident, but there was the fire of life in her eyes, and she moved with sureness and strength. This vixen was still almost at her prime, and it was evident to me now that she badly missed her mate. I knew what I had to do. I plucked one of the green feathers and held it up. "Would you care to spend this evening with me, Elder?" I asked.

She smiled and reached out to take the feather. "Only if you’ll stop calling me Elder and use my name."

"In that case, I’ll see you at sundown, Thayla." I said with a grin.

"I’ll be looking forward to it," she replied, then leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. "Den #2, Birch Way. Come hungry!"

I watched her go with a smile. I really didn’t know what I had just let myself in for, but somehow I knew that it was going to be at least as pleasant as the night with the vulpamours had been the opposite. I spent several minutes reflecting on what I had learned and just done before I forced myself to get up and go back to my work. Learning life’s lessons was one thing, but paying the bills was also still important.

The excitement and anticipation of my rendezvous with Thayla did indeed give me an appetite. When I reached her address, I could easily guess which was her den without having to resort to looking for a number. It was old but beautiful, just like Thayla. The stone and timber were well-weathered but kept in good repair. It fit into the scenery as if it had always been there. In fact, it was hard to tell where the den ended and nature took over. It gave me a sense of having been lived-in happily for decades, and judging by the den alone, I felt that Thayla’s life there had been a happy one. She greeted me warmly at the door and showed me around. The interior matched the exterior in that it had the comfortably well-worn feeling. Everything had its place and probably nothing had changed since she had lost her mate. However, while some might have pined away after such a loss, Thayla had gone on with her life, only keeping the house as it was to remind her of the happy times she’d had with her mate for so many years. All her children had moved out though, and the place seemed just a little empty. This night, I was determined to fill that emptiness, if only just for a while.

We spent most of the evening after dinner just talking. Thayla’s life had been quite an interesting one, and I was hard-pressed to find enough interesting subjects to talk about in return. She did seem fascinated with my descriptions of other worlds, even if she had no inclination to travel there herself. It surprised us both when her antique clock chimed midnight.

"My, but I’ve been talking my head off, haven’t I?" commented Thayla.

"No more than I have," I replied.

"Would you care to step into my sleeping den, young sir," she asked coyly.

"It would be my pleasure, ma’am," I replied in kind.

She laughed, then took my hand and led me to her bedding. There she started taking off her blouse. I stopped her and took over. She smiled indulgently and let me, then waited for me to do the same with her halter. With that off, I could now see that although the years had taken their toll, her breasts were still pleasingly firm despite some sag, and I could see her nipples were hardened in excitement. I cupped both breasts then alternated licking each nipple. She giggled like a teenager at first, then started sighing in pleasure. I took great pains to give her my utmost, and then she started showing me other ways of pleasuring her. At some time that I can’t remember, my own vest was removed and we both engaged in full-on foreplay. I learned so many new things from her that night that I would be bursting to try them out on Goldfur later. After a very long period of mutual pleasuring, we finally joined and I discovered that even there I had a thing or two to learn. Perhaps she no longer had the energy of youth, but Thayla had the benefit of long experience. I’d have to say that she and her mate must have had one helluva sex-life because she certainly gave me a very large sampling of it. We would have gone on all night, but after several orgasms, we were both exhausted. Even then, we both took pleasure in snuggling up together to get some sleep.

My experience with Thayla did not quite end that night. In fact, it seemed to have invigorated her. I woke to find her caressing me. When she knew I was conscious, she shifted her attentions to more intimate areas. Between gasps of pleasure, I managed to ask, "Did you and your mate do this every morning?"

"As often as we could, anyway," was her reply.

I took a chance with a joke. "I think I know how he died!"

My hunch paid off. She could have been offended by my attempt at humour, but I had judged that she was reconciled to her loss and was able to appreciate my joke. She laughed.

"I’d say it was a matter who was going to make the other croak first!" she retorted.

I laughed along with her, then pulled her close to me. We made gentle love for one last time. Technically, now that the sun was up, her allotted time was over. I didn’t care. She deserved it, and I enjoyed giving her what she needed. We even had a lengthy shower together afterwards. We had a leisurely breakfast before I finally had to leave. She gave me a kiss as I left, then as I walked down the path from her door, she called out to me.

"Garrek!" I looked back. "My door will always be open to you. I mean that."

I smiled. "Thank you, Thayla. I will remember that." I resumed walking, reflecting on the strange twists my term of Obligation was taking. I knew already that I’d be taking up Thayla on her invitation some day.

"Why so late this morning?" Markot asked. "I was beginning to wonder if I should stop holding the booth for you today."

"My client kept me back a bit this morning," I replied.

"Oh? More than a bit, I’d say!" Markot said with a knowing grin.

"Perhaps, but if you want the details, you’ll have to wait for her to divulge them."


"Ah! That would be telling!" I replied unhelpfully.

Markot realised that he wasn’t going to get anything out of me, so he just served me my coffee and went back to work. I set myself up as usual and prepared to do the same. I glanced at my armband and at the single remaining green feather. Fleete had tonight, then Kassi tomorrow. I had three whole days though for someone to claim the last night with me. I hardly believed that I’d had six claims already, let alone getting a clean sweep. I shrugged. What would be, would be. I got stuck into my engineering design work. Nobody interrupted me that whole day.

Fleete’s night was pretty much as Thayla predicted it would be like. She was both excited and nervous. After all, it was going to be her first real sexual experience. I made sure first that she realised that first penetration could possibly be painful. She gave me a look that said that even a baby knew that, but I wanted to be sure anyway. I must say that she was a cooperative and fast learner. She had to have it really bad for her boyfriend, whoever he was. Somehow I was pretty sure that she’d land him! The coupling was a bit uncomfortable for her at first, but she rapidly moved past that stage and managed to perform creditably. I diligently tried to teach her how to please her prospective mate and not get too distracted by the physical pleasure of the lessons. Eventually she declared that she had had enough tuition though. She thanked me, gave me a kiss, then politely showed me to the door. I expected as much. I was teacher, not a lover, but I was satisfied with the night’s work. The only sour note was her father. He obviously didn’t approve of her getting sexual experience when so young. However, the decision was no longer his to make, nor mine to refuse. The combination of Vixen’s Choice and Obligation was a one-two punch that couldn’t be resisted. I shrugged wordlessly at him, and he nodded grimly back. We both knew it was out of our control, so he didn’t make trouble for me.

I headed off to bed straight after taking a shower. Malena joined me in bed pretty much straight away. I gave her a lick-kiss before settling down.

"What was that for?" she asked.

"Just because I love you, sis," I replied.

I missed the strange look on her face.

The next day wasn’t quite as uneventful as the previous. I heard that a search had failed to uncover any more clues as to the culprit responsible for the arrow injury. I had a sense of foreboding that it wouldn’t be the last we’d hear of that though. Lorene dropped in on me at the café and left me distracted for a long time. Why on Earth did those four jiggling tits turn me into a randy teenager every time I looked at them? I gave up on trying to work and took an early lunch break.

After lunch, I managed to get back into the work again, but I did have one interruption. I noticed someone walk into my peripheral vision, so I looked up and realised that it was Voshu standing there. That surprised me, but hearing her speak for the first time was an even bigger surprise.

"I thought you should know that the doctor says that Merta’s conceived." Her voice was actually nothing like I thought it would be, considering her demeanour. It was actually quite lovely!

"Thank you for letting me know," I replied, "But why did you come to tell me and not Merta?"

"Because I was going this way, and… and because I owed you an apology." She said the last in a rush, perhaps determined to get it out before she changed her mind. "You didn’t deserve how I treated you."

"Thanks for that too. I hope you remember next time Merta wants a child though."

Voshu nodded, then turned to leave.

"Voshu!" I called.

"Yes?" she asked, turning back to me.

"I hope it’s a girl," I said.

For the first time, Voshu smiled. "Thanks. I hope so too." Then she left me to my work. Months later I was to learn that she did indeed give birth to a female kit. I hoped that Merta would find another tod though if she ever wanted another!

The rest of the day was productive until late afternoon when my excitement started building. At last the time had come that I could once again be with Kassi, and gradually my thoughts were dominated by my daydreams until I wasn’t getting anything done at all. I gave up and packed it in early and headed off to Kassi’s place. I figured that it was unlikely that a vixen would come looking for me this late in the day anyway.

Zendak greeted me at the door. I was pleased to see him, but I was also glad when he announced that he was just on his way out for the evening.

"I really shouldn’t be chasing you out of your own home though," I dutifully objected.

"Rubbish! I’d only be in the way. Besides, I’m going to be spending time with some of my old buddies, something that Kassi wouldn’t have particularly enjoyed anyway, so you’re a great excuse to do it now while I can."

"Have a good time then," I replied.

"I will. I won’t need to wish you the same. If I don’t hear you two yipping in ecstasy halfway across the village, I’ll have to come looking to find out why not!"

I swatted him on the rump. "Get out of here you dirty old tod!"

He danced out of my reach with a grin on his face. He always had been the bawdier of us two. I shook my head in wonder. Some things never change. When he left though, I thanked the Maker for giving me such a good and understanding friend.

I met Kassi just inside. "You’re early," she observed.

"I know. I couldn’t concentrate, so I decided to come around now rather than ruin the rest of my work."

"Dinner isn’t ready. I… I burned the roast."

We looked at each other for a long moment, then we fell into each other’s arms, laughing our heads off.

"Oh what a pair we make!" I finally said.

"Perfectly matched!" she agreed.

The suspense was broken, and we could finally relax. I went into the kitchen to help her salvage what we could of the roast, and tradition be blowed. The result wasn’t bad, especially with the liberal amounts of gravy we put on it. That dinner was the best I had eaten in ages, although it wasn’t the ordinary cooking that was responsible. It was just like old times again when Kassi had cooked up a meal before we went out for some fun at the community centre. We enjoyed each other’s company then and now despite any little hiccups that affected our lives.

We retired to the lounging area where we talked about old times, and our plans for the future. Somewhere amidst that conversation, we started petting. Then the conversation dried up as it turned into foreplay. We never made it to the bedroom. When we came together, it was glorious. Jinni had been fun, and Thayla had years of experience, but Kassi and I discovered that we still loved each other as much as ever we had, and that turns mere sex into something that transcended all those experiences. Perhaps we did make enough racket to be heard halfway across the village, because Zendak didn’t come back that night. We finally exhausted ourselves and dragged our weary bodies off to the sleeping den. Falling into each other’s embrace, we slept soundly and shared beautiful dreams.

The early morning sun made a lovely warm glow in the room, and it also matched the glow in our hearts as we made love once again. We’d chosen a more awkward position that allowed us to be face to face. My cock was buried deeply within her and I alternated sucking on her breasts and kissing her deeply. I felt as if I could do this all day, but Kassi tantalised and teased me until I came with a mighty surge. Panting, I let her lick-kiss me, murmuring how pleased she was with me. If she didn’t conceive now, it sure wasn’t for lack of trying! After just lying together for a while and enjoying the afterglow, Kassi declared that it was time to get up.

"Do I have to?" I almost whined.

"You’ve got work to do, love, and so do I. Moreover, my fur feels like it’s been through a tornado. I really want to freshen up."

I reluctantly agreed, but we both shared the shower.

We both had huge appetites, and ate a very large breakfast. We didn’t talk much at all. I think we said everything that we needed to say in both words and actions last night. Instead, we just smiled at each other as we recalled what we did. Being with Kassi again made me almost feel like I was a teenager again in that I felt strong and ready to take on the world. No, I hadn’t forgotten Goldfur but, as shi often says, love should multiply, not divide. I felt like the luckiest foxtaur in the world to have two such beautiful people as my lovers.

There’s nothing like good sex with a lover to get your day off to a great start. I must have gotten more done that day than I had in the previous two! It helped that I wasn’t interrupted by anything more than Markot asking if I wanted any more coffee, or something to eat. As the lowering sun signalled the nearing of the end of the day, my final feather stayed unclaimed. I closed off the project that I was working on and packed up my equipment. I then thanked my hosts for their generosity and started strolling home. I was a little surprised to run into Shansu, but then again, her way home went close by Pawprints, so it wasn’t that remarkable.

"Good afternoon, Garrek," she said with a smile. She still wore her protective garments, but today they looked as if she had dressed to impress rather than to hide within them.

"G’day, Shansu!" I replied cheerfully. Her eyebrow cocked questioningly at my use of that phrase. "Picking up some speech habits from my mate," I explained.

"It sounds a bit funny coming from you. You still have a local accent rather than an Australian one."

I shrugged. "It doesn’t bother me. Anyway, how have you been?"

"I’ve been great, thanks. I wanted to let you know that I’m still savouring the night we spent together. I went to the doctor this afternoon though to see if I’ve conceived. He says I didn’t." There was a touch of disappointment in her voice.

I gave her a comforting hug. "It’s okay, hon. You’ll succeed soon enough. At least you know you don’t need a kit not to be lonely anymore."

"Yeah, I know, but I really wanted the child to be yours." She sighed.

I felt flattered. There was one thing more that I could offer her though. I pulled a blue feather from the armband and held it out for her. "If you still want that kit, next time I’m in the village when you’re in heat, come see me."

Shansu took the feather, then threw her arms around my neck and kissed me. "Oh, thank you, Garrek! You will be hearing from me! Bye!"

With that, she trotted off in the direction of her den, her slight limp doing nothing to hide the happiness in her stride. I grinned as I watched her go. While it was a big deal to her, it wasn’t that great a decision for me. I reckon that Goldfur would have given me a kick in the behind if I hadn’t offered her another opportunity! (It was to be many months before our schedules coincided again, but I kept my promise. That mating would prove to be successful and, to her delight, she bore a son. If she had a bad case of hero worship before, it was overwhelming after that!) That left Jinni to hear from. The busy huntress probably hadn’t had the time to check with the doctor, or the opportunity to catch me to let me know the news. It could wait another day though.

I got back to my home only to find it almost deserted. Malena was there to greet me though, although I noticed that Blaze’s cub leash was left on the table. I guessed that the two of them had only just gotten home themselves.

"Where’s everybody?" I asked.

"Dad and Mom got a dinner invitation for tonight. If you’d been home you would have known, but they thought that they’d better not take the chance of interrupting something, so they didn’t try to contact you. Instead, all you have is me! I just put Blaze to bed. Shi’s pretty tired. How was your day?"

"Great! Near perfect in fact. Obviously I didn’t get any taker for the last feather, so here I am!"

Malena walked closer to my left arm to look at the armband. "I see that one of the blue feathers is gone though."

"Yeah. Shansu didn’t conceive, so I offered her another opportunity."

"That’s nice of you. I’m glad that your last green feather wasn’t taken though." She reached out and plucked the feather. "That means I can have it!" The deep orange light of the sunset streaming through the window clearly showed the triumph on her face.

Shocked, I reached out to grab it. "You don’t know what you’re doing!" I said incredulously.

"Oh yes I do, Garrek," she said as she kept the feather out of my reach. "I know exactly what I’m doing. I’ve been trying to make up my mind about this for days, and even this afternoon I was watching from a distance, hoping that no one would come to claim your last feather. I’ve been trying to work up the nerve to claim it for myself, and finally I have. I claim Obligation from you, Garrek!"

"But… but I’m your brother!" I couldn’t understand why she was doing this.

"And you’re also my co-mate with Goldfur. I don’t want to be regarded just as your sister. I’ve seen how the other chakat relationships work, and how they have equality between all their partners. And just look at Forestwalker and Goldfur. They’re siblings and they make love all the time! I want the same between us. Anyway, I get to see Goldfur far too little, and I would also like to have a foxtaur tod as one of my mates."

"If that’s all you want, why not try to get one of the other village tods, even as a secondary mate?"

"Why should I go after one of them, when the handsomest, smartest and sexiest one is already my co-mate?"

My jaw opened to answer, but I could think of nothing to say to this. Instead I simply gaped in astonishment. She thought that of me? I had always been very fond of my sister, but I had no idea that she thought so much of me.

"Besides, you don’t think that you’d be the first in such a relationship, do you? I checked it out. The Council of Elders allows a single generation of inbreeding because it’s virtually harmless. There are plenty of vixens who have hooked onto their brothers as one way of getting around the shortage of males, and not even all those love them as I love you!"

"You’re kidding me!" She shook her head firmly. "I… I had no idea that so much... incest... happens."

"Incest is such a human word. They have good reasons for not practicing it too much, but we morph species are much more genetically clean, so it’s not a big problem. However," she came close, put her arms around me and hugged me hard. "I don’t give a damn about that anyway. Do you know how long I’ve wanted you? Ever since I was old enough to appreciate boys! You were my big strong brother at first, then I hit puberty and suddenly I started noticing other things too. I saw the vixens admiring your gorgeous fur and your tall lean body, and I’d get a bit jealous. When you lost Kassi to Zendak, I was quietly sympathising with you. When Ketta tore you up emotionally, I wanted to tear her up physically. And when you couldn’t be there for my coming-of-age, I was enormously disappointed. Garrek, you’ve been a major part of my life for so long now, I can’t imagine not wanting to be your lover! Then when I became Goldfur’s denmate, suddenly I had you there too, and yet you were always just out of reach. The first time that we both made love to Goldfur at the same time, I was thinking of you just as much as I was thinking of hir. I truly love Goldfur, but Garrek, you were always my first love."

It was all too much for me to take in so quickly. I never had an inkling of all this. She called me the smartest. Right now I felt anything but! I looked down into her eyes. Gone was the triumph, replaced by a strange mixture of fear and desire. For the first time when embracing my sister, I was acutely aware of her femininity. I cursed myself when I felt my body respond. Yet everything that she did or said only confused me more. I wanted to respond to the gorgeous vixen in my arms, but it was the very familiar face of my little sister that gazed back at me. Little? She was over twenty years of age and with a child of her own. Makers! I’d even watched Goldfur giving her lessons in making love! Familiar? But it was a good familiarity; something that you wanted to see again after being away for a long time. I remembered the first time that we had teamed up against Goldfur to give hir a double orgasm. I recalled how randy I felt doing this, even more than normal. I suddenly realised something that I’d never even allowed myself to see before: I felt that excited because I was doing it with Malena there! We had never touched each other sexually deliberately, but the contacts we made while making love to Goldfur had surely increased our desire. Omigod! It was true! She did desire me, and I’d been picking up on it but ignoring it all this time!

"You think I’m the sexiest too?" Okay, so I have a lot of self-doubts, but I really didn’t see myself as the best pick in the village.

"Without a doubt. You’re everything I’ve ever wanted in a lover." A shy grin formed. "And it doesn’t hurt that you’ve got the biggest cock of any tod in the village, and I want it in me!"

Just as I was settling down, she knocked me for a loop again. And yet, I couldn’t repudiate it. Back when I was a foolish teenager, I had been proud of my endowment. I was not only the tallest in the village, but I was the longest. Turned out to be a curse though. Those shallow vixens, and Ketta in particular, had only been interested in the tall tod with the big dick. I’d been just a plaything to them and I had hated it. It took a chakat to help me get comfortable with myself again, and it helped that shi was just as well endowed as I was. We’d started on an equal footing, and I had badly needed that. Now Malena was admitting a desire that she’d kept hidden all through those bad years. If she’d said anything back then, it would have probably made things much worse. Now that I’d gotten comfortable with my body again though, she could freely speak and, dammit, she was turning me on!

I groaned. "Why did you wait so long to tell me all of this?"

Malena went back to being fearful and uncertain. "Because I wanted you to come to me first. I wanted you to see me as a grown vixen, independent and desirable. I wanted you to fall in love with me." Her voice trailed off. Then she gathered herself again. "I finally realised though that you’d probably never see me as anything but your little sister, no matter how long we were co-mates. Then when I heard that you were coming home for Obligation, I suddenly realised that I had a chance to make my desires real, and in such a way that you couldn’t blame yourself."

I nodded. "It’s true. I have to accept any Obligation claim, even if it’s from my sister. But that wouldn’t stop people commenting if they found out, nor would it give you any measure of protection."

Malena looked at the feather in her hand, then spread her fingers to let it slip between them and fall to the floor. "I never really wanted it that way. I want you to recognise my claim as your co-mate, accept me as I am, and let me love you. I want to have the privileges that other co-mates have. I know that it’s usually two vixens that have to share a male, and our relationship is unique, but I don’t care. I love you, Garrek."

She put her head against my chest and just held me, waiting for my decision. I could still do this and rightfully claim that it was under Obligation, but I didn’t feel that was the answer. She wanted… she needed me to accept her without that prop. Thayla had taught me that the purpose of Obligation included dealing with social needs. Perhaps in this case, the only thing that it needed to do was to get Malena’s true desires out in the open. The rest was my decision. I gently disengaged myself from Malena’s hold, then stepped back a pace to gaze at her. Malena was puzzled, but I needed to do something first. For the first time, I looked hard at Malena and deliberately forgot everything about her being my sister. I saw instead a very pretty vixen, perhaps not a drop-dead gorgeous one, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. She was graceful and sexy, and she was smart and sassy. In many ways, she was like Kassi, and suddenly I saw that the reason that I’d been attracted to both of them was that they both fit the same mould of my idea of the perfect vixen mate. As soon as I realised that, I knew my decision had been already made long ago.

"Malena, will you join me in the sleeping den? I think we have a few years to make up for."

Malena’s eyes went wide with momentary surprise, then lit with joy. She grabbed my arm and squeezed it tight as she pulled me in the room’s direction. "Oh, yes! YES! Oh, thank you Garrek! I promise to make this a night we’ll both remember for the rest of our lives!"

"My dear, it already is!"

You’d think that after a week of making love to a different vixen every night, I’d be tired and jaded. It wasn’t so. This mating was to prove to be the culmination of all those previous ones. The sheer physical pleasure with Jinni, combined with emotional need of Shansu, Fleete’s eager need to learn, the raw physical demands from Merta, the skills learned from Thayla and the long-term love of Kassi, were all manifested in our love-making. No two foxtaurs ever enjoyed their first mating as much as we did that night. And believe me, I made sure that Malena felt every inch of that big cock of mine as I tried to bury myself within her. My doubts were gone. This was the right thing to do and, by the Makers, I was going to do it as well as I possibly could. Malena matched me for every effort, and between us, we made the universe move.

Eventually though, the flesh failed us, although the spirit wanted to keep going all night. We curled up together, absolutely exhausted but utterly content.

I think we barely woke up while it was still morning. I wondered why we’d been left alone so long. Then again, our parents may have quite rightly thought that I’d be recuperating from another Obligation, and waking Malena would have wakened me also. I carefully stretched, trying not to disturb Malena, only to realise that she was in the process of waking up also.

"Good morning," I said.

She smiled. "A very good morning. And thank you for the excellent evening."

"You’re more than welcome. I hope that it was everything that you’d hoped it would be."

"Hooboy! Was it ever! You fulfilled my every fantasy last night." She snuggled up to me. "I’m going to spend all day recalling every moment of it!"

"Ha! Good! Then I won’t be hearing any more of this stuff about co-mates anymore, okay?"

Malena’s face fell. As you wish. Thanks for giving me this one night though. I won’t bother you with those claims anymmphh…" Her words were cut off as I clamped my hand over her muzzle.

I gave her a reassuring smile. "What I meant, dear one, is that from now on, I’ll only refer to you as my denmate – a full mate with all the rights and responsibilities thereof. Now does that suit you?"

She broke out of my loose grip and start lick-kissing me like mad. "Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh, I love you, Garrek Redfox!"

Laughing, I replied as best as I could, mostly in kind.

We finally stopped, panting to catch our breaths. Something occurred to me then. "We’ll have to tell our parents about this. We can’t deceive them, even if their absence made it much easier to fulfil our destiny. Actually, come to think of it, their going out last night was awfully convenient."

"Yeah," Malena agreed, "We’ll talk it over with them as soon as we have breakfast. But their dinner date wasn’t such a coincidence."

"Oh? Do I detect a bit of manipulation?" I asked.

"Remember when I told you that ours wouldn’t be the only such relationship. Well, one of my best friends is in that sort of a mating. Her name is Tashka."

"Isn’t she the daughter of Jenkul and Mareeth?"

"Yes, and that’s whose den our parents went to last night."

"And they asked Dad and Mom over because Tashka suggested it?"

"Something like that. Tashka wanted me to find the same fulfilment as she had, and this was the best way she could help out."

I shook my head. "Devious vixens!"

Malena laughed. "And aren’t you tods glad of it. Without us, you’d never get pushed in the right direction!"

I swatted her with a pillow!

We showered together first before heading for the kitchen. We really needed it! Malena asked if she could tell our parents about our new status. She wanted to handle it her way. After all, I could leave any time and be back in the comfort of my den back in Australia, but she wanted to remain home still. It suited me to let her do it her way, so I gave her no argument.

Our mother was in the kitchen, drinking some hot tea. Our father would be working at this time, so we could deal with him a little later. I headed to the stove to start cooking some eggs and bacon for both of us. Malena stepped up to mom, intending to get the announcement over and done with.

"Hi, Mom," we both said.

"Good afternoon, dears," Jaleth said. "I trust you got plenty of rest?"

"Yeah, you could say so, although it was a bit of a late night for us," I said. Malena gave me look, and I shut up and left the rest of the conversation to her.

Malena said, "Mom, we gotta talk to you about something."

"Sure, honey. What’s up?"

"It concerns both Garrek and me, and… well… a lot of things changed last night," Malena started.

Jaleth nodded. "Judging by some of the things I heard last night and the scent coming from your room this morning, I’d guess that you finally asked your brother to make love with you."

If you’d told me that the moon had really turned into green cheese, I would not have been as stunned as I was just then. Even Malena was struck dumb for a moment.

"But… but…" Malena tried to formulate a question.

Mother smiled benignly. "My dearest daughter, I’ve been watching you make goo-goo eyes at Garrek for a decade. I’ve seen how both your relationships were going. I had my doubts about the wisdom of what you were doing and, frankly, I would rather that you had found another tod to fall in love with so that neither of your lives would be complicated by this. Eventually though, I realised that no matter how I felt about it, sooner or later you’d be making your move on him. Actually, I’m a bit surprised that it took you this long to do so after becoming Garrek's co-mate with Goldfur."

I rolled my eyes to the heavens. It was true – you can’t hide anything from your mother! That made it twice now that our mother had stolen the wind from Malena’s sails, the previous time being when she announced that she’d asked Goldfur to be her mate. This time though, I’d been caught by surprise too.

Jaleth continued, "When we got that last-moment dinner invitation from Jenkul and Mareeth for the last night of Garrek’s Obligation, I guessed that you were finally going to make your move. I therefore made it a point of making it a late night with our friends, although I had to tell your father why I was dragging things out. Yes, that means you won’t have to explain to him that you nabbed Garrek under Obligation."

"That’s good," I said with some relief, "But it’s not quite accurate."

"Oh? What did I get wrong?"

"Malena did take my feather of Obligation, but after she told me her motives and I took stock of my own feelings, I accepted her as my mate unreservedly, and without the protection of Obligation. The decision was mine and Malena’s alone!" I finished defiantly.

Jaleth looked hard at us both, then she smiled even more widely. "That’s even better. You’ve formed a real relationship, and that is better than anything formed under Obligation."

"Anyway," I continued, "While we’re having a sexual relationship now, it’s not as if we intend to kick out a slew of kits!"

Malena and Jaleth gave each other a look, but they didn’t argue with me. Perhaps I should have asked what they meant by that look.

"Don’t tell me, let me guess!" Goldfur interrupted the detailed account that I’d promised to give hir. Shi’d arrived later that afternoon, bringing along the cubs. Shi had hitched a ride on a Star Corps transport that was going this way and arrived a little sooner than anticipated, but I was glad to see hir. "I’m betting that Malena tapped you for the final night’s Obligation."

I gave up. It seems everybody had figured out Malena’s intentions before even she did. "How did you know that?" I demanded.

Shi smiled and tapped hir head. "Empathic, remember? Every time she was with you, I could sense her true feelings for you. It wasn’t up to me to bring it up though, although if she continued to dither, I might have given her a little push in the right direction."

I always overlooked that chakat talent. It’s so subtle, it got overlooked easily, yet chakats could learn so much about people with it. However I did manage to tantalise hir when I told hir about some of the new techniques I’d learned from Thayla, and I looked forward to showing some of them to hir tonight.

Jinni had called that afternoon to let me know that she had conceived also, so I was able to give Goldfur my tally of successes so far. I’d invited Kassi and Zendak to dinner so that they could meet my family. I knew I wanted to keep seeing them both now that they’d settled back down in the village, so this was the perfect opportunity for everybody to learn about each other. We didn’t know if Kassi had conceived yet, but if she did, I wanted to follow every moment of our child’s growth.

When I’d completed recounting my exploits, Goldfur began updating me on what had been happening back home. "We’ve got a new guest staying with us for a while," shi started. "You’ve never met this person, but you’re going to find the face awfully familiar!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Next story in chronological order is Forest Tales #16: Transformations - Part 1.

Next Foxtaur Clans story is Unexpected Attractions.

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