Consequences
Chapter 7: Identity Crisis
by Honeymane

 

To many people, chakats often appear to be nearly perfect compared to other beings, and while itís true that their numerous physical and psychological differences allow chakats to excel in various fields, chakats themselves are quick to point out their numerous disadvantages, such as bigger bodies that have greater dietary needs and the long periods of time they must devote to grooming in order to appear anything but bedraggled. Detractors are naturally quick to point out that most of these disadvantages are partly solved anyway, and taking the time to make oneself presentable is no different than any other species.

To which chakats will often reply, somewhat shortly, "Have you ever tried grooming a horny chakat?"

Chakats are sensuous beings who enjoy being touched. This is not a bad thing per se, but as a chakat approaches the peaks of hir male/female hormonal cycle, grooming can ó and normally does ó becomeÖ interesting. While the chakat doing the grooming is happy to indulge in relieving hir partner, such actions typically undo any grooming they had managed to do up to that point, forcing them to start over. It is not unusual for a session that should only take one hour to end up taking several.

Sunspot purred, and reached over to hug Dancer. "Thanks, hon." The two of them had been trying to finish this particular grooming session for two hours. Unfortunately Sunspot was nearing hir male peak. While Dancer was quite happy to relieve Sunspotís resulting sexual tension, doing so invariably ended up undoing all their grooming.

"Youíre welcome," Dancer said, licking hir lips. "But if weíre going to get to the archives today, youíre going to have to try and ignore it next time."

"Sorry." Sunspot frowned and flopped back down on the pillows that made up the guest bedroomís bed.

Dancer shook hir head and swatted the fiery chakat on hir rump gently. "Stop saying that! Thereís nothing to be Ďsorryí about, hon." Shi picked up hir brush from where it had been left, and started running it through the matted fur on hir young charge's right hindleg. "I just donít have every day of the week off, hon, and I did promise Iíd help you out ó even though I seem to have been failing miserably in that regard so far."

Over the past several weeks, Dancer had been trying to help Sunspot locate hir family, but it wasnít easy going. The obvious starting point had been to look up Sunspotís and hir parentsí names, but chakats were notoriously informal about a great number of thingsóincluding formally stating in the eyes of the law whether or not they were mates. Lifemates were typically registered, but not necessarily denmates and certainly not Companions. In fact, it was often estimated that as many as two thirds of all chakats living on Chakona did not have their status as mates recorded. Sunspotís case was made worse by the fact that shi wasnít completely sure whether ĎSunloverí was hir motherís real name, and shi certainly didnít know what hir fatherís name had been before he had changed it.

"Itís not your fault." Sunspot shook hir head and purred as Dancer worked over some more sensitive areas of hir thigh with the brush. "I wish my dad hadnít been so anal about this stuff."

"He was just trying to protect you, hon." Dancer started to work through the tail fur with hir brush; thankfully the last interruption hadnít messed up very much of Sunspotís fur. "He probably didnít want you going back and being killed as well."

"Maybe," Sunspot sighed.

Dancer nodded and continued working. They had discussed this before. Shi didnít really feel like going over the same ground again, so shi kept hir silence.

"Is Pond mad at me?" Sunspot asked suddenly.

"ErÖwhy do you say that, hon?" Dancer could tell the other chakat was quite concerned.

"Welló" The fiery chakat propped hir upper body up and looked over at hir friend and mentor. "óthe other day I asked hir if shi had any other children besides Darktoes, and shi just gave me thisÖlook, and shi felt really mad. And now shi hasnít said a word to me in a while."

Dancer shook hir head and sighed. "Yeah, probably. Itís nothing to worry about, Sunny; shiís just a bit sensitive."

"Why?"

Dancer smiled inwardly to hirself. Even though Sunspot was almost fully grown, shi still had the inquisitive spirit of a kitten. In a different life, perhaps shi would have been a scientist or an explorer. Outwardly, however, Dancer frowned. "Iím not really sure I should tell you, hon; itís kind of personal."

"Well that just makes you a big tease, doesnít it?" Sunspot stuck out hir tongue. "I can understand, though. I just wish I had known so I could have avoided the question."

"Well, Iíll have to remind Pond that innocently asked questions donít deserve such reactions when we get back." Dancer put down hir brush and gave the other chakat an appraising look. "I think I got everything smoothed down and nice. You ready to go?"

Sunspot nodded and rolled carefully to hir feet, only disturbing the fur a little bit. "Yup. Maybe we could stop for ice cream on the way back?"

Dancer giggled and shook hir head in disbelief. If shi didnít know better, shiíd swear Sunspot was a cub. "Sure hun."

Leaving the room, the two of them headed to the den area of the condo, to pick up the papers they had amassed during their investigation. The condo felt empty with almost no one home; everyone but Browneyes was working or otherwise out, leaving Browneyes to babysit the two children of the familyósomething shi made sure to voice hir concerns about when shi saw the two enter the den.

"I see you two are done grooming," Browneyes said, as shi tried to keep the two cubs from knocking over one of the stacks of papers on the denís coffee table. "You know, mom, Iím supposed to be studying for exams next week. I really canít be babysitting today."

"I know, hon." Dancer hugged hir daughter. Normally Dancer would have taken the day off to babysit the children while Browneyes studied or wrote papers, as shi and hir mates had been doing for the past two years to help Browneyes continue hir education. "Weíll be back in a few hours. Maybe you can put them down for a nap and study?"

Browneyes sighed and rubbed hir forehead. "If I put them down for a nap, Iíll have to join them myself! Iím dead tired from all this running around."

"I can help babysit tomorrow," Sunspot offered, as shi stuffed several files full of information into a satchel. "I used to look after several kits back home."

The calico chakat gave the younger chakat a incredulous look, before leaning over and grabbing hold of hir daughter, who was coming dangerously close to hitting hir head on the table corner. "Itís nice of you to offer, but Iím not sure foxtaur kits are anywhere near as rambunctious as chakat cubs can be."

The fiery chakat shook hir head. "Iíd still like to help out somehow. Back in myóI mean the village, Iíd be helping do all sorts of jobs around the place. I feel so useless here."

Both Dancer and Browneyes exchanged a look over the younger chakatís slip of the tongue, before Dancer bid hir daughter and the children goodbye and ushered Sunspot out the door; shi didnít want to waste too much of the precious time that they could be spending at the archives.


 

The Central Chakonan Archives was one of the most stunning buildings in downtown Amistad. Designed and built within a few years of the original colonization, it was an imposing black granite monolith in the heart of the bustling city. The insides werenít too shabby either, with wood paneling and computer terminals integrated into nearly every table.

"So what exactly are we going to do today?" Sunspot asked as they passed through the foyer. "Iím pretty sure the records havenít changed in the week since we were last here."

Dancer grinned and directed the other chakat to the elevator that led to the basement. Although the primary function of the Archives was to hold records and documentation, it also held a number of valuable artifacts from Chakonaís history in its basement. The artifacts could be viewed as holograms in the main area, and the basement wasnít normally open to the public. "I had a thought last time we were here, and Iím putting it into action! Iíll explain when we get down there."

The elevator ride only took a few seconds, and when the doors opened they were greeted by a rather old-looking, formally-dressed male Rakshani standing in what appeared to be some sort of storage area. Upon seeing them, he smiled and bowed his head slightly towards Dancer. "Welcome, Chakat Dancer by the Sea. Itís a pleasure to see you again."

Dancerís grin grew even wider and shi laughed, before walking over and giving the older and taller Rakshani a hug, "Youíre always so formal, Nu." After releasing him from hir hug, shi turned and introduced the Rakshani formally to hir young charge. "Sunspot, this is Nurio ap Iortia na Nurio, an old college roommate of mine and curator of the archives. Heís graciously allowed us the use of the facilities."

"Nonsense, Dancer. Iím always eager to help a friend, especially one to which I owe so much." The old Rakshani smiled and gave the fiery chakat a once-over. "So youíre the young one Dancer is so determined to help, hmm? Well, if there's a will Iím sure we can find a way, to paraphrase an old Terran saying. This way please."

"I donít mean to complain," Sunspot said, trotting in the direction the Rakshani had indicated, "but what exactly are we doing here?"

"Youíll have to wait and, see mídear," Dancer replied merrily. Shi still wasnít completely sure hir plan would work, but at least shi was enjoying hirself.

"Butó"

"Youíre not going to get anywhere Sunspot," Nurio said with a laugh. "If Dancer wants a grand reveal, shiíll get hir grand reveal."

Sunspot glanced at the aged felinoid. "But you must know whatís going on? Surely you can tell me?"

The curator inclined his head slightly and smiled. "I do, but I also know what itís like to be on the wrong side of an angry chakat." He placed his hand on the much shorter chakatís shoulder. "Patience is something we can all cherish, young one. Take some advice from someone much older and wiser than you, and be patientóyouíll find that a lot of lifeís worries disappear when you are."

Dancer nodded to hirself. Chakats enjoyed having large extended families, typically composed of members of all ages, and because of it older Longtails would try to instill their wisdom upon the younger generationsósomething Dancer hadnít been exactly able to do hirself with this wayward chakat. Part of the reason shi had contacted hir old friend was for this that very reasonóbut shi also enjoyed seeing him again.

Thankfully, before the frustrated young chakat could reply, they arrived at their destination: a large robotic arm mounted on a circular track, and its control panel. Instead of a manipulator claw, however, this arm ended in a bundle of cameras and other sensors.

"Ta da!" Dancer said spreading hir arms dramatically for effect. "Behold the device that will hopefully solve our problems!"

"What is it?" the fiery chakat asked curiously. "What does it do?"

"If I may, Dancer?" Nurio waited until Dancer nodded before continuing. "This machine is what we here at the Archives use to digitize and make records of all the artifacts that we have here. Once weíve done that we can produce a hologram for display upstairs, all while keeping the originals under lock and key and in a state of perfect preservation." He smiled, then shook his head. "Iím not completely sure what Dancer wishes to use it for, however."

Dancer grinned as Sunspot turned towards hir, with a questioning look upon hir face. "Well, I suppose itís time for the Ďtellí part of this little show and tell, hmm? But first, strip down and stand in the middle of the circle, hon, and weíll start the scans."

Sunspot sighed and removed hir top and did as shi was asked, while the dappled chakat tapped some controls on the panel and cautioned hir to not move. It wasnít long before the arm began to move up and down around the younger chakat, scanning hir from all angles.

"Now that weíre started, have you ever heard of the Federation Medical Act of the 2280s?" Dancer laughed at the distressed feeling coming from the younger chakat; shi had been told to not move, so naturally shi couldnít reply. "The details aren't important. The gist of the Act is that at a sentientís first checkup with a doctor, they would be given a full-body scan. This scan would go into a common medical database, to help with diagnoses and such."

"How does this help Sunspot?" Nurio asked. He hadnít been lying when he had said that he didnít know what was going on.

"Well, as you can imagine, privacy advocates were quite concerned about this sort of information being collected, and because of their concerns itís kept in ultra-secure databases." Dancer paused, and winked at the very immobile Sunspot. "But you see, itís rather expensive to hold all these records, so people who are dead are put into a less secure database, and after so many years they become public record.

"Unfortunately for us, literally millions of records are declassified every year, far too much data to look through. Than I remembered an old computer trick." Shi paused and pressed a few more buttons on the scannerís control panel as the scan finished, naturally Sunspot pressed on.

"Which is?"

"Data read error diagnostic." The older chakat replied, concentrating on hir work for a moment longer before looking up and elaborating. "Basically what Iíve done is sent this data to the medical database I was talking about, and asked it to find me a match. What will happen is that weíll get back an error messageóit recognizes your fur patterns and so on, but doesn't expect to be getting a live scan of a Ďdeadí chakat. When the error pops up, the system will run a closest-match diagnosticówhich, if Iíve thought this all out right, should bring up your medical records."

"Leading us straight to my parents." Sunspot said excitedly, hugging hir friend. "Thatís brilliant."

"Thanks, hon, but I should warn you it may take some time to process it." Dancer returned the hug and nuzzled hir friend.

"Brilliant indeed. Itís a pity you never went into computer sciences," Nurio remarked.

"So how did you two meet, exactly?" Sunspot pulled away from the hug and pulled hir top back on. "I mean, you said you were college roommates, butÖno offense Nurio, but you look nowhere near fifty. What?" the fiery chakat said in response to the look on hir older friendís face. "I asked Browneyes one day."

"That is likely because I am not nearly as young as Dancer by the Sea," Nurio said in reply. "Iím somewhat closer to one hundred and ten Terran years myself. During my sixties I decided my current career choice, while honorable and admirable, was not something I really wanted to doóso I emigrated to Earth and studied history."

"What did you do before that?" Sunspot sat down looking somewhat uncomfortable on the cold, unadorned floor. "And why did you decide to call it quits?"

"I wasÖ." The aged Rakshani paused thoughtfully, trying to put his thoughts in order, before continuing. "Öthe equivalent of a captain in the Raksha home navy. As I said, an honorable career, and I was the pride of my House." He paused again, then went on. "I decided to resign after they offered me a promotion. I did a lot of soul searching and I realized I simply didnít want it. In fact, I realized I didnít want any of it. So I resigned. My family was quite angry, although Iíve regained their respect and any honor I may have lost with my work here."

"Nurio is a big sweetie," Dancer said. "He was kind enough to rent his home out to other college students, which is how we met. We didnít really become close friends until I tutored him so he could pass a computer course, before I switched majors to nursing."

"The relationship wasnít completely lopsided of course. Dancer and I dated for a while, although I must admit I fear shi did more for me then than I was able to reciprocate," Nurio said, giving his friend a quick hug. "I wish there was some way I could reó"

The console beeped twice, drawing Dancerís attention and halting any conversation. "Well it looks like we have a hitómuch quicker then I expected." Shi turned to Sunspot and smiled. "Are you ready for this, hon?"

Sunspot nodded slowly. "As ready as Iíll ever be. Letís see it."

Dancer nodded and tapped the control panelís touch screen, bringing up the medical file that had confused the computer. Shi moved aside and offered the panel, then began reading over Sunspotís shoulder. As they had postulated, Sunlover hadnít been Sunspotís motherís name at all, but rather Riverbed. Slowly Sunspot read over the information, before bringing up hir motherís profile, and reading over it.

"Why do you think it came up so fast?" Nurio asked, shifting position slightly to interpose his body between Dancer and the display. Judging by the emotions coming from Sunspot, he felt the young chakat deserved some privacy from Dancerís prying eyes.

Although Dancer was just as curious as hir charge, shi realized hir older and wiser friend was probably correct and turned away. "According to the files, theyíve only recently been declared dead."

"Oh?" Nurio looked puzzled. "Havenít they been missing for nearly twenty years now?"

The dappled chakat nodded. "Thatís true, but sometimes it can take a family of chakats a long time to accept that their child may be dead. I suppose weíll find out when we meet them."

Sunspot let out a sigh and deactivated the control panel. "Iíve got the information we need. When do you think we can meet them?"

Dancer smiled. "How about tonight? I wonít be free for another week, and thereís no time like the present."

"Well, itís a bit soonÖ." The fiery chakat hesitated.

"Nonsense!" Dancer declared boldly, clapping the younger chakat on the back. "Weíll go home, eat supper, and then weíll go visit them." Shi turned towards the old Rakshani and gave him a hug. "Thanks so much for your help, Nu."

"It was my pleasure, Dancer." He leaned down to nuzzle his friend on the cheek. "Perhaps Iíll pay you a visit sometime soon. Itís been too long since we last talked."

Dancer quickly agreed and exchanged address information with hir old friend before gathering their belongings and turning to leave. It was getting late; shi would have to work quickly if shi was to make supper for the whole family.


 

Despite Dancerís lateness, shi still managed to whip up a full spread of food for the family, with a bit of help from hir daughter and Sunspot. After eating, the family retired to the den, while Dancer worked to clean up the mess from cooking for seven chakats. Wanting to kill two birds with one stone, Dancer press-ganged Pond into helping hirógiving hir an opportunity to talk to Pond over hir incident.

"I know youíre not really open about that sort of thing, Pond, but you really shouldnít have bit hir head off like that, and certainly you shouldnít be holding a grudge or such against hir for it," Dancer said as shi gathered up the various utensils left over from the meal.

"I know," Pond sighed, while shi gave one of the pots a pre-wash scrub. "Itís just difficult to talk about."

"That may be," Dancer said as shi dropped the utensils into the appropriate rack in the dishwasher. "But you could have simply declined to answer."

Pond said nothing and continued hir work for several minutes before speaking again. "What do you think I should do?"

"Apologize, firstly, and perhaps answer hir question. I think you owe hir that, but itís up to you." Dancer paused and leaned over and gave hir mate a one-armed hug, while being careful not to accidentally smear hir greasy hands on Pondís back. "I know itís hard, hon."

The green-and-gray chakat sighed again, leaning into hir mateís comforting embrace. "If I did tell hir, would you be there toÖyou know, help me out?"

"Of course!" Dancer smiled and gave hir a lick-kiss on hir cheek. "Like I said, itís up to you; Iíll support you in whichever decision you make. That being said, if youíre going to tell hir, you probably should do so sooner rather than later, honóIím not sure shiíll be coming back here tonight."

Pond nodded, then washed hir hands and trotted out to the den and called for Sunspot. Dancer quickly finished up the remaining dishes and turned the machine onóalthough chakats had excellent hearing, Dancer hoped that as long as they kept their voices down, theyíd be able to have some measure of privacy.

It didnít take Pond too long to return with the younger chakat in tow, and judging by the conversation they were having, Pond had already apologized.

"So why did you two call me?" Sunspot asked looking from Pond to Dancer and back again. "Are we going to go to see about my...family?"

Dancer nodded. "Yeah, we will, but I believe Pond has something to say first, donít you, hon?"

Pond nodded slowly. "Iím really sorry about how I acted towards you, Sunny."

"I know, you said," Sunspot replied somewhat impatiently.

The green-and-gray chakat paused thoughtfully for a moment. "Perhaps youíd like to know why I reacted how I did?"

The fiery chakat frowned. "Well, I am curious, but Dancer said it was a personal thing, and I donít want to impose or pry."

"Thatís true, it is fairly personal, butÖ." Pond seemed to struggle to put hir thoughts together. "Like Dancer said when you first came to stay here, youíre family, and psychologists have been telling me for years I should talk about it. Itís just not very easyÖ."

"I understand if you donít want to talk about it, Pond," Sunspot said. "Iím not exactly comfortable about telling people about my circumstances either."

"But you did." Pond took a deep breath and slowly tried to explain. "When I was a cub, Dancer, Spadespot and I were the only chakats of our age in our town, so we were the best of friends. Now, as you know, both me and Spade are farmers by tradeóand so were my parents."

"Okay," Sunspot said slowly, sitting down.

"Well, a lot of farming back then was pretty automated, just like it is today, and for the most part farmers just sit back and manage the robots doing the work and such not." "Pond paused, rolling hir eyes up as if searching for something. "It was an autumn morning. Spadespot, Dancer and I were all playing along the road that led to the storage barn, trying to play a game of chakker whenó"

"Not to be rude, but whatís chakker?" Sunspot interrupted.

Dancer stared at hir. "Youíve never heard of chakker?"

"No?" Sunspot replied, slightly puzzled.

Glancing at Pond, Dancer quickly tried to explain, so not to disrupt hir mateís thought processes. "Chakker is a sport, sort of like football or soccer, but itís normally only played by chakats because of the rules. Itís very popular here on ChakonaóIíll take you to a game sometime maybeóbut I think itís best to let Dancer continue hir story."

Pond nodded and thanked hir mate, than continued. "Like I was saying, we were playing chakker, when the ball accidentally got kicked out into the field where the harvester was harvesting." Pond closed hir eyes, and Dancer could see tears beginning to form, so shi leaned over and gave hir mate a hug, and tried to comforter hir.

Sighing and wiping hir tears on the back of hir hand, Pond forced the rest of the story out in a rush. "I should have realized something was wrong with the harvester when it didnít stop when the ball entered its sensor range, but I was young and stupid. I ran after the ball, and it wasnít until it was too late that I realized the machine hadnít stopped for me. I tried to jump out of the way butÖ."

Pond stopped, and began to cry, before asking Dancer to continue the story for hir. Dancer nodded and started from where hir mate had left off. "The robotís external sensors were malfunctioning at the time, but luckily the sensors inside the combine were still functioning normally, and they shut the blades off before they could do too much damage. WellóĎtoo muchí being relative, anyway."

Pond hiccuped and took a couple of deep breaths, before continuing hirself. "It still managed to almost completely mangle the back half of my lower body. Iím lucky to be alive, to be frank. But my father was able to have me transported to a hospital before I could die, and they were able to put me back together."

Sunspot nodded slowly. "I suppose youíre lucky you were born a chakatóthat sort of injury sounds like it would have killed anyone else."

Pond dried hir eyes again and smiled. "I am very lucky to be a chakatóor at least we all thought so at first."

"Oh?"

Pond nodded. "They had to amputate most of what was left of my tail, both of my hind legs below the ankle. Nearly every bone from that area was broken several times, including part of my lower spineÖalmost two thousand stitches. But, every day the doctors and nurses would come into my room and tell me how lucky I was. WellÖuntil one day."

"What happened?" Sunspot was clearly rather horrified, judging by the look on hir face.

"Well, you know chakats have a natural ability to regenerate, which is why they kept coming in and telling me how lucky I was, because even though I had lost so much blood and body parts, they were all regrowing nicely." Pond paused, as shi thought back to that day. "Then they foundÖa complication."

The younger chakat opened hir mouth to speak, but Pond promptly cut hir off. "Being able to regenerate so much is a great thing, but you see a number of my internal organs were fairly damaged after the accident, but they had gone in and repaired them all fairly nicelyÖbut what the doctors hadnít realized was that both my ovaries and testes were pretty beat up too, but they thought theyíd just leave them to regenerate on their own. A few months down the road into my recovery, they realized they had tried to regenerate, but they had been damaged so badly that all my natural regeneration had done was create four very large tumors." Pond sighed once more, trying to dry hir eyes again on the back of hir hand. "They had to remove them before they started to do damage to my rather delicate insides, you see. IÖIím completely sterile because I donít have any gonads."

Sunspot Ďohhedí, before giving the much older chakat a hug hirself. "Iím sorry Pond. If I had known I wouldnít have asked."

Pond sighed and gave the younger chakat a lick on hir forehead. "How could you possibly have known, young one? Iíve spent most of my life trying to make sure no one knows, except close friends and family. Thatís why I dye my fur green and donít let people groom me, except Dancer and Spadespot. I donít really want people to know."

"I can understand the whole not grooming thing," Sunspot said pulling away, "but why dye your fur green?"

"Well, before the accident, I was gray and red, and patterned in almost the exact manner as a chakker ball." Pond rubbed hir forehead. "At the time, I was actually called Ballcub because of the similarities. I wanted to be a player, once, butÖI kind of fell off the wagon after the accident, and I started dyeing my fur so people wouldnít try to make any sort of connection between myself and the sport."

"Thatís kind of silly," Sunspot remarked, before hastily adding, "No offense."

"Iíve been telling hir that for years." Dancer remarked.

"No offense taken," Pond replied softly.

"Well, in that case, Iíd like to add I also think itís a bit sad," the younger chakat said. "I know it was a bad accident, but not following your dreams because of it seems rather sad. I mean, look at me: Iíve always wanted to find my motherís familyóand here I am, nearly there." Sunspot paused, then shook hir head. "I canít tell you what to do, Pond, but I think you should give yourself another chance."

Pond looked at the younger chakat rather uneasily.

"But I need to run! I donít want to miss meeting my family!" Sunspot said. Shi gave the gray-and-green chakat a hug, and zipped out of the kitchen to prepare for the event.

Dancer watched hir charge go, and shrugged. "Shiís right; I really should get ready as well. Are you okay, Pond?"

Pond shook hirself out of hir reverie, and nodded. "Yeah, Iím fine. I actually feel better now that Iíve talked about it."

The dappled chakat smiled. "Iím sure Browneyes would agree with you. Iím not sure when Iíll be back; probably late."

Dancerís mate nodded and gave hir a hug. "Iíll tell the others, then, so you donít have to waste time doing so. Now go! Get ready!"

Dancer grinned and gave hir mate a lick on the cheek before taking hir advice and getting ready hirself.


 

Once they had found out the names of Riverbedís parents, it had been a simple matter of finding their address in the directory and then programming their PTV where to go. Luckily, Riverbedís parents only lived a short distance out of Amistad, in one of the many residential areas. Of course, simply knowing a street name and number doesnít always reveal much about the areaósomething both Dancer and Sunspot found out firsthand when their PTV pulled over at the address they specified.

"Your grandparents must be pretty well off, hon," Dancer said, stepping out of the vehicle. Chakats tended to have as large homes as they could afford, but this home was owned by some well-off chakats indeed. In addition to its generous yard, the house was fairly spacious and surrounded by well-tended gardens.

"I guess so," Sunspot said, taking a good look at the property, and more importantly, the lit windows of the home. "Are you sure we shouldnít have called ahead?"

"Positive." In truth, Dancer had tried to contact them, but the houseís AI had informed hir that unless shi was known to them, it wasnít likely that shiíd be able to get through and talk to them. Chakats werenít the most private of people perhaps, but some valued privacy more then than others. "Shall we go then?"

Dancer waved off the PTV and both shi and Sunspot walked the relatively long distance to the door. As they get closer, they could both hear some sort of music and merry-making occurringóclearly, some sort of party was in progress. Dancer again wished shi had been able to get in contact with these people; shiíd rather not appear to be some sort of party crasher.

"Shall I knock, or you?" the dappled chakat asked hir younger charge. In spite of hir earlier bravado, it was pretty clear that shi was feeling pretty nervous about the whole affair.

"Could you?" Sunspot asked, the edge of nervousness clear in hir voice.

Dancer nodded and picked up the knocker, and banged it several times against the door, then waited, but with all the noise coming from inside, Dancer wondered if anyone had heard hir knocking, and was reaching for the doorbell when the door suddenly swung open, revealing a smartly-dressed, sandy brown chakat, holding a drink of some sort.

"Who are you?" shi asked somewhat rudely. "As you can probably hear, and see, Iím having a celebration here."

"Iím Chakat Dancer by the Sea," Dancer replied, "but I suspect youíll be more interested in my friend here." Dancer nudged hir charge to get hir talking, but Sunspot was displaying a classic "caught in the headlights" stare.

The sandy brown chakat, however, was looking at Sunspot fairly intently. "Do I know you?"

Hir question seemed to snap the younger chakat out of hir stupor. "Are you Chakat Sandbrown?"

"You shouldnít answer a question with a question mídear," the chakat said, "but yes, I am."

"Oh." Sunspot paused. "Then you likely do know me. Iím your daughter Riverbedís daughter."

"Is this some sort of cruel joke?" Sandbrown frowned angrily. "Showing up at the funeral for my daughter and hir family and pretending to be one of them?"

Dancerís hearts sank. It really was terrible timing on their part, and Dancer should have guessed something like this might be happening once shi realized that the files had been recently declassified. Shi had to act quickly if shi was to save the situation. "I assure you, shir, that this isnít a joke. If you have a picture of your granddaughter, you can see they have the same fur pattern."

Sandbrown looked the fiery chakat up and down several times. Luckily, Sunspot had opted to go nude to make such identification easier. After a moment or so, Sandbrownís eyes came to rest on Sunpotís black splotch, which shi stared intently at for several moments. "You do look like hirÖ."

Dancer sighed. Shi hadnít expected Sunspotís grandparents (or at least this one) to be so suspicious. "Surely you can sense weíre not lying, shir?"

Sandbrown frowned more deeply, and took a short swig of hir drink before speaking. "I donít think you areÖ." Sandbrown took another long look at the fiery chakat. Dancer herself could sense shi was fairly confused, and becoming more agitated by the minute at the mystery in front of hir.

Suddenly shi lunged towards the younger chakat and swept hir into a hug.

Dancer smiled. Chakats were generally unique in two ways: their coat and their scent. Although the first was typically used by computers because they could easily discern even minute differences in fur patterns and shapes, a chakatís nose was an even more valuable tool for identifying people. Part of the reason they hugged everyone they met was to acquire that scent, and nowhere was it more pure and unadulterated on a chakat than around the scent glands at the nape of hir neck.

It only took a moment for the skeptical chakat to get a nose full of Sunspot, and very quickly hir confusion and agitation turned to joy mingled with a great deal of sadness. "It is you! We thought you were dead!"

"IóuhÖ" Sunspot sputtered. "I can explain?"

Dancer gently placed hir hand on Sandbrown's back. "Let the poor thing breathe, hon."

Sandbrown smiled, pulling back and holding hir granddaughter at armís length looking hir over once more.

"Sandy, are you okay?" asked another chakat emerging from the house. The newcomer was gray-speckled, with a rather erratic black stripe running along the length of hir body. "Weíre about to toast toÖwhat the hell is going on here?"

"Volty, something wonderful has happened!" the sandy brown chakat exclaimed, as shi began to cry. "Onespot has returned to us! Shiís alive!"

The newcomer looked startled, before stepping out to get a better look at the chakat Sandbrown was holding so closely. "HowÖhow is this possible?"

The three chakats seemed rather stunned, looking from one another and back, after a few moments, Dancer spoke up,. "Iím sureÖOnespot will be more then than happy to explain everything, but perhaps you should take hir inside and let hir explain to the family as a whole?"

"Who are you?" the speckled chakat asked, turning towards hir.

"Iím ó" Dancer began.

"This is Chakat Dancer by the Sea," Sunspot said, smiling. "If it hadnít been for hir, I wouldnít be here now. And shiís right, I really should explain to everyone at once; itíll make things easier."

Both chakats nodded, and ushered them into the foyer of the home and down the hall to a den area. This room was filled with dozens of chakats, gathered to celebrate the lives of the departed. Even though it was many years after the fact, the expressions on many faces showed they still felt the loss as freshly as if they had just found out about the deaths. Their faces soon turned to amazement, however, when the two chakats explained who the two new chakats were.

After several minutes of being hugged and nuzzled by just about everyone in the room twice, Sunspot was able to relate hir story. By the end of it, everyone in the room (including Dancer) was crying or on the verge of tears. It wasnít as if it had been the first time Dancer had heard the story of course, but the empathic backwash from every other chakat in the room was quite overwhelming.

"Öso thatís whatís happened to me up to now," Sunspot finished. Shi stood and walked over to where several pictures of hir mother, hirself and hir father were on display. She picked one up and looked at it. "If it hadnít been for Dancer, I would have never have found you."

"But you have," Sandbrown said, getting up and wrapping hir arms around hir granddaughter once more. "And me and Highvoltage are more than happy to have you."

"I think we should all thank Dancer here," Highvoltage, walking over and giving Dancer a hug and nuzzle. A murmur of agreement went up around the room. Before Dancer could blink, shi found hirself buried up the neck in furry arms and torsos, all giving their thanks for helping the familyís wayward daughter find hir way back home again.

Dancer, of course, tried to do hir best to be modest, and had to turn down several offers of Ďsleeping companionsí. After a few minutes they pulled back and Dancer was able to breathe again. She Shi listened to the chatter for a while before trying to strike up a conversation with Sandbrown. "You have a lovely house, Sandy."

The sandy brown chakat sniffled, "Yeah, but itís not ours."

"Oh?" Sunspot said, turning hir head away from the chakat with whom shi had been chatting animatedly. "The address listed was for here."

Sandy nodded. "I mean, itís not only ours. Itís a clan homeóeveryone here is a part owner, or their parents were. Back thirty years ago, me and my sisters were hitting a bit of a rough patch in our lives, and we decided to pool our money and buy a single dwelling together. Over the years, other family members have moved in and weíve expanded the home quite a bit. Not everyone in the family lives here, but theyíre always welcome."

"That sounds nice." Dancer smiled. Different families of chakats had different ideas about family life, but Dancer had always wanted to do something like thisóbuild a house where everyone could live together. Of course, with Makrana waiting on a condo to free up in their building, and with hir daughter and granddaughter living just down the hall from them, perhaps that dream was slowly becoming reality.

"It does." Sunspot smiled hirself. "Tell me more about the family."

Naturally, this perked everyoneís interest, and it wasnít long before each member of the gathered family was sharing hir life story, complete with tales of children and lovers and work and play. It was all very long winded, but as a proud grandmother hirself, Dancer was soon swapping stories of hir own family with anyone who would listen while Sunspot tried to absorb all that information shi was receiving. Dancer told story after story, until nature called and shi excused hirself to relieve hirself.

Due to the large nature of the family, it wasnít really surprising that the bathroom was also quite large, with several stalls and a very large six-taur walk-in shower. Not surprisingly, shi was soon joined by Sunspot; Dancer could sense the younger chakat had wanted to talk to hir for a while now.

"So," Dancer said as shi relaxed and let nature take its course. "How are you finding them."

"Theyíre great." Dancer heard Sunspot close the door of the stall next to hirs and began to relieve hirself as well, "I wish I hadnít asked about the family, thoughóI nearly lost an ear!"

"Live and learn, hmm?" Dancer chuckled, as shi finished up, "Anyway, hon, I need to get going; I have work in the morning."

"Youíre going?" Sunspot asked with a slight edge of worry in hir voice. "You arenít going to stay?"

Dancer shook hir head, even though shi knew hir young friend couldnít see hir. "Iím afraid not. Weíre doing a public health drive, and we need everyone we can get." Shi stepped out of the stall as the taur-style toilet automatically flushed itself, and washed hir hands. "Youíre welcome to come home with me, of course. Our door is always open to you."

"No itís fine," Sunspot said as shi emerged from hir own stall and stepped up to the sink next to Dancer's. "I just wantedÖI donít know."

"A familiar face? I can understand that."

"Exactly." Sunspot nodded and dried hir hands. "But Iím a grown up. I donít need you here."

Dancer smiled, and gave hir friend a hug. "Glad to hear it. If you run into any trouble, my door is always open."

The fiery chakat nuzzled Dancer on the cheek and gave hir a lick-kiss. "Thanks Dancer. Youíre a wonderful friend. But before you goÖhow do you think I should handle this whole family storytimeÖ?"


 

Dancer yawned as shi let hirself into hir home. It was quite late, far later then shi had anticipated; after shi had returned to the den of Sunnyís family home, shi had foolishly allowed hirself to be drawn into another conversation about children. Shi simply couldnít resistóbut shi was sure shiíd be paying for it in the morning when shi had to get up early. Judging by the darkened condo, everyone else had already gone to bed, which was beginning to sound excellent to Dancer.

However, shi wouldnít feel right going to bed without making sure everything was in its place and nothing dangerous had accidentally been left on. Upon giving the den a cursory glance, shi realized the balcony doors were open. Moving to close them, shi saw Pond was still on the balcony.

"Burning the midnight oil?" Dancer said coming up behind hir mate and giving hir a cuddle.

"Sort of, yes" the green-and-gray chakat admitted. "Did the meeting go okay?"

"I think so, yes." The dappled chakat leaned in close, and nuzzled hir. "Nuzzle for your thoughts, hon? You seem rather pensive this evening."

Pond smiled, then frowned. "I was thinking about what Sunny said, about giving up on my dreams and such."

"Oh?"

"I was thinkingÖ." Pond sighed heavily. "I was thinking maybe shiís right."

Dancer purred and gave hir mate a lick-kiss on hir cheek. "Mmm, I wouldnít necessarily disagree, but if you could elaborate some more?"

"About not following my dreams thing because of the accident." Pond sighed again. "I suddenly feel like Iíve wasted my whole life running away from nothing."

"The general philosophy around here does seem to be that you should follow your dreams," Dancer said, "and Iím not sure I believe itís all that bad of one either."

Pond frowned, and stared out across the cityscape. "Itís been a long time since I played it."

"Yeah, it has; forty years at least."

Judging by the look on Pondís face and the empathic waves coming off hir, shi was deep in thought. "Tomorrow after workÖ." Shi paused before continuing. "Iím going to go and buy a chakker ball. For teaching purposesósomeone has to teach Honeymane and Sugarback about Chakonaís national sport."

Dancer grinned widely. To an outsider, it might not seem like much, but ever since the accident Pond had avoided everything to do with the sport, denying hirself one of the things shi loved so much. Everyone had tried their best to pull hir out of the slump shi was digging hirself into, but nothing had worked, and eventually everyone had given up. Even getting hir mate to pick up a chakker ball was a major change in attitude, and one Dancer was more than happy to nurture.

"Itís just for teaching purposes!" Pond protested, seeing and feeling Dancerís excitement. "Iím far too old too play, even if I wanted to."

"Iím just glad someone is going to be teaching my daughter and granddaughter." Dancer grinned even wider, before leaning in and giving hir mate a kiss on the cheek. "Anyway, itís getting cold and itís past both of our bedtimes. What do you say we retire to one of the bedrooms? I donít want to wake the others, but Iíd like someone to snuggle with."

"No argument there!" Pond said, letting Dancer lead hir back into the condo and to the room shi had selected. Once settled, it wasnít long before both chakats were sound asleep.

 


Sunspot


 

Unsurprisingly, the backyard of the clanís home was just as spacious as the front yard, if not more so, and filled with flowerbeds and shrubs. It also boasted a small ornamental pond, complete with various colorful fish and water plants native to Chakona. But as beautiful and interesting as hir surroundings might be, Sunspot found hirself staring off in no particular direction, deep in thought.

The last week or so since rediscovering hir family had been hectic, and this had been the first time in a while shi had been truly aloneóapart from being introduced to a great number of relatives and friends, shi had had to deal with hir male peak. Thankfully, in spite of what Dancer had said before shi had left, Dancer had managed to Ďfindí the time to keep visiting hiróas did various other members of hir adoptive family. Shi suspected the two families had by now forged a relationship that might last for centuries.

"You do seem to have a rather stormy look on your face for someone with such a bright name." said another chakat as shi stepped out from behind a row of shrubs. This chakatís pelt was off-white with several wiggly rings circling hir lower body. Shi wore a brown halter, and carried a tray with a plate of cookies and a pair of porcelain teacups on it.

"Just thinking," Sunspot sighed, snapping out of hir reverie. Shi accepted a cup of tea from the tray as the newcomer sat down.

"Are you going to tell me, or will I have to coax it out of you?" The off-white chakat giggled and wrapped hir arm around Sunspot. "Or would you prefer I stroked it out of you like I did last night?"

"For someone with the name ĎPoetí," Sunspot said, smiling back at hir friend, "you sure have a dirty mind."

"Comes with the territory Iím afraid," Poet said with a chuckle. "Youíd be surprised how much art has some sort of sexual subtext to it." Poet was, according to everyone in the family, Sunspotís cousin, and one of several chakats within the clan almost exactly the same age as shi. Ever since shi had arrived, Poet had been following Sunspot around and helping hir with various things, including dealing with hir rut. "So what exactly are you thinking about, hon?"

"I donít know," Sunspot said, shaking hir head. "I know it sounds stupid, but I just havenít been feeling like I fit in here."

"What makes you say that?" Poet asked with a quizzical look on hir face, "Iíd say youíve been fitting in very well thus far."

"Only because of Dancerís training in all things chakatish," Sunspot said. "I didnít understand a lot about what it was to be a chakat until shi started teaching me, either directly like the first time IÖmet hir, or various other small little lessons."

Poet tilted hir head slightly. "You donít like being a chakat?"

"It's not thatónot in so many words." Sunny shook hir head. "Itís just that these last few daysÖitís felt like Iíve been wearing a mask, pretending to be someone Iím not."

"Well, just be yourself then, hon." Poet nuzzled hir friend. "We, as a family, understand you may not act like other chakats, but we still love you all the same."

"But Poet, itís not that simple," Sunspot protested. "I donít know who I am."

"How do you mean?"

Sunspot shook hir head again. "When I was growing up in Big Rock village, I was raised by my father, but growing up in a foxtaur villageÖwell, no one wants to be different when youíre a cub you know? So I started acting much as a foxtaur would. As I grew up through, especially after my cycles started, I started becoming more interested in myself as a chakatÖ."

Poet nodded, asking hir to go on.

"Well, as you know, I didnít exactly have the best resources to learn from, and my dad was really tight-lipped about my mother so I had no real ideaÖmind, it wasnít until I left the village and began trying to save money up to go to Chakona that I started acting like a Ďchakatí." Sunspot sighed and smiled, a little bit embarrassed. "Though to be perfectly honest, I probably acted more like a whore then anything elseÖI did things Iím not proud of nowóbut at the time I was because I thought I wasÖ."

"Acting like a chakat?" Poet supplied.

Sunspot nodded slightly. Although shi had never said what exactly shi had Ďdoneí, shi knew that Poet and everyone else didnít really think anything of it, or any less of hir. Still, the exact details were not anything shiíd be disclosing anytime soon. "Exactly, but once I had saved up enough and began making my way to Chakona, a lot of people reacted to me a bit strangely. I always put it down as them just not being used to how chakats were. It wasnít until I met Dancer and shi set me straight that I realized they were reacting to me as they did because I was the one who was in the wrong."

"So after Dancer Ďset you straightí, as you put it, whatís changed?"

"It just feels like a façade. It feels like a lot of my life has just been me trying to be someone Iím not. IÖdonít know how else to explain it." The fiery chakat frowned. "This is all very confusing."

"I can see how it would be," Poet agreed. "Iím always here to talk to, if you need it."

"Thanks."

"Have you every tried just being yourself? Going with what feels natural?"

"Itís not that simple, like I said," Sunspot replied. "Werenít you listening?"

"I was," hir cousin said. "I heard someone whoís spent a great deal of hir life trying to be accepted by other people based on hir perceptions of what shi thinks other people want to see from hir."

Sunspot blinked. "UhÖ."

Poet smiled, "I donít mean to be cryptic, hon. What Iím trying to say is that throughout your life youíve tried to be the sort of person you think other people want you to be. But no oneóand I mean no oneóis really Ďnormalí. Everyone is different, some just more so then others. Ióhave you ever heard of something called the nature-versus-nurture debate?"

"UhÖmaybe?" Sunspot had heard the phrase, vaguely, during a history lesson at school, but foxtaur education wasnít exactly broadly focused; anything that wasnít useful or directly important to the foxtaurs was glossed over in less detail in favor of more important information such as the Gene Wars and the history of their people.

"Well, itís a very old debate. Basically, the idea was that a person was either a product of their upbringing, or who their parents were. The two sides were diametrically opposed to one another, like e-Poets and t-Poets. The debate went on for a long time, before finally being concluded after the Gene wars."

"E-poets?"

Poet waved hir hand. "Itís a debate within the literary community over whether or not empathy should be used as part of the poetry piece to convey an emotional impact beyond that of the text. Itís not important. What is important is that you, like everyone else, are a product of nature and nurture. You need to do what feels right for yourself, not what you think would be right for the stereotypical foxtaur or chakat or whatever else. Youíll always be a chakat physically, but how you act is up to you. What do you want to do?"

"IÖ." Sunspot paused for a moment and thought. "IÖI want to go home. To the village."

"Of course you do," Poet said simply. "You grew up there."

"But surely this is my home? Maybe I should stay here?" Sunspot looked at hir friend. "You are family, after all."

"True, but so are those wolftaurs who murdered your mother," the off-white chakat said. "But that doesnít make their pack your home."

Sunny nodded slowly, and Poet pressed on. "And Dancerís family is also your family too, if you feel close to them. Iím sure one day this will feel like home if you stay here long enough, but you donít have to stayóno one is forcing you to."

Sunny picked up a cookie from the tray Poet had brought, and nibbled on it. "Youíre not mad at me?" Ever since shi had arrived, there had been a non-stop stream of people praising the Makers for hir return, and trying to make up for lost time. Sunspot hated to think what they might say if shi told them shi was thinking about leaving.

"Should I be?" Poet smiled softly. "Iím not going to tell you there wonít be tears, hon, but they know youíre an adult, and youíre free to go or stay."

"I think I should," Sunspot said, eating the rest of the cookie. "Even if I did feel better staying here and what-not, I donít really have an education. My choices in careers will be limited. At least back at Big Rock Iím partly trained in a number of jobs around the village."

"Well, I wouldnít worry about that. If you feel you lack the education, we can always help you," Poet pointed out. "There are a lot of great schools here on Chakona, and itís never too late to enroll."

"Iím sure you would, and I know there are." The fiery chakat smiled, taking a drink of hir tea before it got too cold. "Dancer already offered when I brought my lack of education up with hir a while back. ButÖ."

"It wouldnít really solve your problem, would it?" Poet gave hir cousin a hug. "When are you planning on telling them you want to go?"

"Iím not sure," Sunspot admitted. "Iíd like to talk to Dancer before I do anything. Do you think you could keep this a secret until Iím ready to tell them myself?"

"Of courseómy lips are sealed. But you have to do something for me."

"Oh?"

Moving aside the tray, Poet lay down on the grass and rolled over, looking Sunspot directly in the eyes. "Tell me more about your village."

Sunspot smiled. "Where to begin? Well, itís located in North America, and itís built around a small lakeÖ.


 

Sunspot idly nibbled on a slice of bread cut from the loaf the waiter had brought to the table as shi waited. After shi had finished telling hir cousin about the wonders of Big Rock, shi had made a call to Dancer and arranged the meeting. Although shi had fully intended to just go to a much smaller and homely diner, Highvoltage had overheard hir talking and insisted that they go to a much fancier restaurant for their Ďdateí.

Despite hir protests, both hir grandparents and number of other relatives had spent the rest of the day playing dress-up with hir. The end result made hir feel stupid. Shi had a number of bows in hir hair, a frilly halter with a shawl, several pieces of clip-on jewelry, and a tail ring on loan from Poet (which shi found rather uncomfortable as it nestled right between hir butt cheeks). Hir fur and hair themselves had been teased, washed and brushed until it shined. Although Sunspot had to admit shi certainly looked good, shi still felt incredibly out of place; growing up in a foxtaur village had meant that Ďfancyí might be a nice vest or perhaps a freshly-cut flower in oneís hair.

"Would you like to order now, Madam?" asked a fox morph waiter, interrupting hir thoughts.

Sunspot sighed. It had been the sixth time he had came about and asked, but unfortunately, as a nurse, Dancerís schedule was more of a guideline than set-in-stone fact. Shiíd get there when shi could, but Sunspot wasnít really sure when thatíd be, and that meant shiíd be waiting.

"No, thank you. Iím sure my dining companion will be along shortly." Sunspot smiled fretfully. "Thanks."

Shi sighed and rested hir head on hir hand as shi continued to nibble at hir bread. While Sunspot didnít want to ruin hir appetite, shi was starving! Then shi smiled; shiíd just felt Dancerís familiar empathic signature approaching. Sunspot turned hir head, and hir smile turned into a full-on grin as shi watched hir friend come through the door.

Unlike Sunspot, Dancer was dressed far more conservatively, and plainer. Judging by the non-descript appearance of the form-fitting white top shi was wearing, it was part of hir nurseís uniform. Shi also, unlike Sunspot, looked worn out and stressed, with parts of hir hair and fur out of place. Upon seeing hir, however, Dancer brightened up and hurried over.

"Iím sorry Iím late," Dancer said, taking a seat on the taurpad opposite Sunspot. "About half an hour before I was due to let go we had a couple of kittens being born. I donít normally work in the maternity ward butÖ." Shi paused and smiled sheepishly. "I didnít have anything else to do and I couldnít resist seeing some newborns."

"Thatís all right." Sunspot smiled. "Letís just hurry up and order, thoughóIím starved!"

The meal was as good as it was expensive, and neither chakat had enough space in hir mouth to discuss anything of any magnitude for quite a while. In fact, it wasnít until they had both stuffed themselves and were leisurely trying to eat their way through their desserts that they managed to strike up any conversation at all.

"Howís things been going?" Dancer inquired, slowly toying with the cake in front of hir.

"You should know." Sunspot smiled. "Youíve been visiting almost every day."

"True, but this is the first time Iíve seen you without your family surrounding you," the dappled chakat pointed out. "I just thought you had some reason to invite me out like this." Dancer paused and stuck out hir tongue in jest. "Or is this really the 'date' Highvoltage insisted it was."

Sunny shook hir head and pushed aside hir slice of cake. "Well, I havenít had any complaints, so I havenít had any reason to try and get you alone, so to speak."

"Judging by your phrasing, somethingís come up?"

"Sort of." Sunspot paused, wondering how shi should phrase hir next thought. "Dancer, I want to go home."

"Well, my homeís door is always open," Dancer said with a frown, "but I thought you said everything was fine?"

Sunspot sighed. "Everything is fineÖbut thatís not what I mean. I want to go back to Earth, back to the foxtaur village, my village."

"Oh." Dancer looked down at hir cake, and toyed with it a bit more before speaking again. "I thought you didnít have any ties there, which is why you travelled here to find some."

"I donít have any family ties; my dad never found another mate, or even looked for one. But I do have friends there, and I grew up there," Sunny replied.

"I see."

"Youíre mad at me." It wasnít really a question; Dancer was giving off a great number of jumbled emotions, which mostly seemed to have an overall angry tone to them.

"NoÖ" Dancer said. "I donít really know what to think. I mean, I put a lot of work into helping you find your family, and now youíre just going to uproot and leave after not even two weeks of being with them. It seems like a waste of time, my time, and my familyís time. None of us have tons of time to spare, and what we did have in spare time we used to help you." Dancer stopped, hir throat clenching up in anger. It took hir a moment, and several deep breaths before shi could continue. "Why?"

Sunspot quickly explained hir motivations to hir friend.

"Thatís it?" Dancer replied angrily. "You donít feel like you Ďfit iní?"

"Ió"

"Do you think anyone ever really feels like they fit in, Sunspot? I certainly donít right now. Look at me! Iím dressed in work clothing in one of the fanciest restaurants in Amistad. I stick out like a sore thumb! Or look at my daughteróhir whole situation is just fucked right up, but shi makes the best of it. Thatís what everyone doesóthatís what grown-ups do, they take shit-ass lemons and make the best lemonade they can out of it. They donít run and hope the next situation or setting will fit them like a glove and everything will be hunky-dory."

"I thought youíd be supportive." Sunspot was close to tears. While shi didnít necessarily enjoy being abused verbally, shi was having a hard time refuting anything hir friend was saying. "Iím sorry."

Dancer took several other deep breaths, visibly calming hirself down, before speaking again. "Iím sorry, too. It's been a long day. I didnít mean to rant like that."

The two of them stared at one another in silence, before their waiter arrived to clean the table of their remaining dishes. Using the card hir grandparents had granted hir, Sunspot easily paid for the meal, and the two of them were off. Sunspot didnít know where they were going, but Dancer led hir into one of the parksóapparently looking for somewhere private to continue their conversation. After a few minutes, Dancer selected a spot under a large tree-like plant. Shi lay down, patting the ground next to hir.

As Sunspot sat down as indicated, Dancer unzipped hir top and removed it. "Nice to let the old tits breathe a bit, eh?" shi said rhetorically.

"I suppose. Just a second." Sunspot curled up and pulled the offending tail ring all the way off, and placed it in hir belt pouch. "That damn thingís been bothering me all evening."

Dancer nodded. "They do tend to take a bit of getting used to."

"Look, Dancer, Iím sorry," Sunspot said after a moment, "I know Iíve been hard on you and your family, but it really wasnít all for naught. As you said, my goal was to find my family, and I didówith your help. And Iíll always be grateful for it, but I donít think my place is here on Chakona."

"Youíre probably right." Dancer sighed. "Itís still all a bit frustrating. I know you donít feel like you fit in, but I think you should give it more of a try then what youíve done thus far. It takes time before youíll feel like you belong, it always does."

"I donít know, maybe youíre right." Sunny shook hir head, "I just thought that, as a chakat, everything would just fall into place."

Dancer snorted, "Hun, weíre peopleówe have all sorts of faults and failings, just like everyone else."

"But you hear stories about chakats with near perfect lives andÖyou know, stuff like that."

"Thatís because those are stories." Dancer smiled, hugging the younger chakat. "Iím not going to deny that we have an easier time then a lot of people when it comes to relationships, but thatís only because our empathy and culture help lubricate things. All the same, I canít tell you the number of times Iíve gotten into fights with my siblings or parents or mates. And even though weíre empathic, thereíve been times Iíve made friends uncomfortable with how I acted because I forget that theyíre not chakats, and they donít necessarily see things as I do. Hell, Iíve even met other chakats whom I donít get along with, or fit in with."

"So you think I should stay and see if I start to fit in." Sunspot rubbed hir forehead.

"It just seems like a rash decision to me," Dancer said, "but if itís what you really want, Iíll help you."

"I do want it. At least I think I do." Sunny thought for a moment. "Iíll tell you what. Iíll go ahead with my plans to go back to Earth, but Iíll keep my plans as open as possible, as well as my mind. If I still feel this way when Iíve arranged everything, Iíll leave. If I donít, I cancel everything and stay here."

"It does sound like a plan," the dappled chakat agreed, "but how long do you think that will be? It shouldnít take more than a day to buy a ticket and gather your stuff up."

"Aye." Sunspot nodded. When shi had originally arrived on Chakona, shi had had very few possessionsómost of what shi could sell shi had already sold on Earth to build up cash. Other than a suitcase of clothing, shi didnít have much of anything. Hir time with Dancer and hir own family had swollen hir number of possessions by a bit, but not a whole lot. "Iím planning on taking the time to get a Fedcom ID number and buy a comm system, as well as a few other items."

"Why?"

"Well," Sunspot said, "I may be leaving, but I still want to keep in touch. Iím fairly certain that my family wonít let me leave without some way of getting in contact with them anyway."

"Sound reasoning." Dancer grinned, giving hir young friend a lick-kiss. "Iíll miss you, Sunny, Iíve grown quite fond of having you around."

"Even though Iím a pain in the ass?" Sunspot asked cheekily, before returning the kiss. "Iíll miss you as well, Danceróyouíre a good friend."

"Thanks," Dancer said, getting to hir feet. "Speaking of which, I wonít be much of a friend if I keep you out here all night. Címon. If you want to tell your family tomorrow, I have the day off."

Sunspot nodded. Shi climbed to hir feet as well, than leaned against hir friendís frame. "That sounds like a good idea. I hope itíll go a bit smoother than tonight did."


 

Much to Sunspotís surprise, hir family was more than understanding and supportive of hir decision when shi finally worked up the nerve to tell them a few days later. It wasnít until one of them accidentally let slip about hir plan that shi realized that Poet had apparently ratted hir out. Naturally, shi was somewhat steamed, but part of hir was also grateful; besides being a poet, hir cousin was also a skilled debater and had managed to explained hir position fully, while taking any of the backlash for hir.

Nevertheless, it was still an emotional affair, and shi was very glad to have Dancer by hir side through it. The older chakat had come to be a great comfort to hir over the past few weeks shi had been there and it saddened hir that shiíd very likely never see hir again. It took some time to sort out all hir affairs, including having hirself declared alive legally, which had some unforeseen benefits Sunspot hadnít thought of. Shi had been quite shocked when Sandbrown had handed hir an E-cash card.

"Whatís this?" Sunspot asked, turning the piece of plastic over in hir hands.

"Itís your inheritance," Sandbrown said wistfully. "Your mother and father had a fairly large sum of money saved up, whenÖ. When we finally decided to declare you and your father dead, we gained access to the account." Judging from hir grandmotherís voice and the empathic waves coming from hir, shi was still having a hard time dealing with the loss of Sunspotís mother. "There should be more than enough to get you to Earth and buy a home ofÖof your own with some left overÖ. Iím not sure foxtaurs use credits."

Sunspot smiled, and gave Sandbrown a large hug. "They do. Iíll be sure to transfer the funds I have on hand into the account. Thank you."

"Youíre welcome." Sandy nuzzled hir cheek. "IÖI wish you werenít leaving, Sunspot. Youíve just came back into our lives, and now youíll be gone so suddenly."

"I know," Sunspot replied with a nod, "but Iím not really leaving your lives; everyone is welcome to visit me. And Iíll be calling on a fairly regular basis."

"Youíd better," Sandy said half-heartedly, before breaking down into tears, while Sunny did hir best to comfort hir.

And such were the last few weeks of hir stay. Thankfully, most of the other chakats within the household werenít so emotionally affected by hir leaving, or else Sunny suspected shiíd be suffering from empathy-induced depression.

Finally the day came and shi stepped onto the passenger ship that would take hir to Earth, and twelve days later shi stepped off onto the planet where shi had spent so many of hir years growing up. After a quick walk though security, Sunspot called up a PTV and directed it towards Big Rock. It was a long ride, and not surprisingly the machine ground to a halt several kilometers outside of hir village. While Big Rock was one of the more isolated foxtaur villages, part of the treaty that gave the land to the foxtaurs from the world government also allowed them to restrict who could visit their lands; without a special code, the PTV would go no further.

Thankfully the rest of the road was a fairly unused dirt one, which was soft on Sunspotís paws. While it didnít take hir all that long to reach Big Rock, it was already an hour after sundown when shi finally arrived. At least it was pleasant weather for traveling; being midsummer it was quite mild out and the moon was full. Even before shi really was upon the village, shi could see the lake shining, and the figures of several couples out for a moonlit stroll.

Sunspotís first order of business, of course, was to check in with one of the village elders. It didnít take hir long to find the den of the one shi was looking for: Artumi. Like every other foxtaur in the village, Artumi lived in a structure designed to blend itself into the natural wilderness. If Sunny hadnít known exactly where shi lived, shiíd probably have a hard time finding the place in the dark.

At the door Sunspot hesitated; the reason shi knew Artumi so well was that she had taken hirself and hir father in and helped nurse them back to health, not to mention given them both a home. In a very real sense shi was family, and shi didnít need to knock, but part of hir wondered if shi should. Finally shi took the inintiative and opened the door, stepping into the foyer of the den, yipping in greeting. Or at least, as close as shi could get to yipping; it was one of the vocalizations foxtaurs used on a regular basis that shi had never quite mastered.

Sunspot paused and waited for a moment, straining to hear any movement. Generally speaking, shiíd expect Artumi to be home; although it was reasonably early in the evening, Artumi was getting on in her years, and she often found the need to retire early.

Sure enough, after a few minutes Sunspot could hear some movement coming from the communal bedroom; until Sunny and hir father had shown up practically on hir doorstep, Artumi had lived alone, being one of the many vixens within foxtaur society unable to find a mate; unless something had changed in the year or so shi had been gone, shi suspected this was still the case.

"Hello?" called a voice softly as the bedroomís door opened. "Is someone there?"

"If you count me as someone, then yes," Sunspot replied.

Suddenly the door slammed open and an elderly vixentaur came dashing out with a speed uncharacteristic of her years and practically pounced on Sunny. "Sunspot! Youíve returned! How are you? How long are you going to stay?"

"One question at a time!" Sunspot laughed joyously, as shi nuzzled and hugged the old vixentaur, before being led by her to the sitting room.

After turning on the lighting, both shi and Artumi lay down on one of the taur-pillows around the room, with Sunspot allowing hir elder to select the softest one.

"I canít believe this is happening!" Artumi exclaimed. "After you left, I thought you were gone for good." Then she paused and held her head. "Goddess, I hope this isnít a dream or hallucination of some sort."

Sunspot reached over and rubbed hir friendís back. "I assure you itís not. Iím really home."

"Iím glad," Artumi said, looking up and leaning into another hug. "Iím guessing by your use of the word Ďhomeí you have something to tell me."

The fiery-pelted chakat grinned. You didnít get to the position by being dimwitted and shi could see Artumi had lost none of hers in the intervening years since shi had last seen her. "Yes, I do indeed." Sunspot paused before continuing, trying to organize hir thoughts. As shi did shi gave the elder a sweeping look.

Unsurprisingly, at her advanced age, most of Artumiís coat was graying, and a significant amount of skin tone had been lost, especially around hir breasts and face. Nevertheless, shi looked as good as the day Sunspot had left, and shi told her so.

Artumi winked. "That may be, my young chakat, but I donít think youíve traveled several billion kilometers just to pay me a compliment, so get on with it."

Sunspot sighed. "I was able to find my family on Chakona, with the help of some friendsÖ."

"Iím glad Sunny," Artumi said with a smile. "However, I sense a Ďbutí there."

"But when I stayed there, with my family, IÖI realized I didnít belong." Sunspot paused. "One of my cousins helped me understand, andÖand come to terms with my difficulties. After a while I realized the only place Iíve ever really felt was home was here. I may not fit in wholly as a foxtaur, itís true, but Iím not really much of a chakat either. I donít know if Iíll ever fit in as one, and itís just a general feeling, nothing specific. I have no real difficulties with things like sexuality or customsÖ." Sunspot shook hirself to clear hir head, realizing shi was partly babbling, before continuing. "Elder Artumi, Iíd like to formally apply to be able to live here, on foxtaur lands, as part of the Big Rock community."

Artumi grinned, and leaned over to give the chakat a hug. "Done."

"What? Just like that?" Sunspot said. "I know itís not that simple! I mean, first I need to submit my application formally and verbally to an elder and then I need to be sponsored by another elder who then forms a committee of three other elders and the shaman and three randomly selected non-elder members from the community to get a judge of the applicantís charaó"

Artumi cut hir off by pressing hir finger onto Sunspotís lips. "Your knowledge of clan law is impressive Sunnyóyouíll make a fine Elder yourself one dayóbut you need not worry about all that; as far as Iím concerned, youíre already a member of the community."

"But-but the law!" Sunny stuttered.

Artumi waved her hand. "Think nothing of it; tomorrow I will propose a motion to bypass all of that nonsense in the meeting."

"But what if someone disagrees?" Although Sunspot had never really felt any sort of discrimination towards hir or hir father growing up in Big Rock, a number of vixens had made it well known that they only tolerated their presence because of hir fatherís injuries and hir own youth. Many had made it clear that theyíd prefer it if they werenít there.

"Then I shall brow-beat them with my tongue, and make them see my point of view," Artumi said with a wink. "One way or another."

In spite of hirself, Sunny laughed. Artumi, like a good number of vixens, was a lesbian, a vulpamour in foxtaur terms; although she had never formally mated any other vixen over the years, she was fairly well known for herÖskills. Even at her age, she still retained that reputation.

"Iím relieved your sense of humor is returning to you, Sunny. I was worried that you had become a bitter old lawyer in your time apart from us." Artumi grinned. "But worry your pretty little head not, my dear. As far as Iím concerned, youíre a full member of the community already."

"Thank you, Artumi," Sunspot said softly. "Youíve always been very good to me and my father, but I donít think Iíve ever thanked you for it."

"Every time you smiled, you were thanking me, Sunny," the old vixentaur said solemnly. "Youíll learn this one day, but a child doesnít need to thank his or her or hir mother. A motherís thanks comes from seeing her child smile and grow and learn and blossom as a person. And that, my young chakat, is something true of all caregivers the world over." Then Artumiís weathered face split into a grin. "Thatís not to say a few thank yous here and there arenít welcome!"

"I can see that!" Sunspot replied laughingly, before pausing and frowning. "Actually, I should sort this out as soon as possible. Given my gender, how do you think Iíll be treated?"

Artumi looked Sunny up and down before replying. "Well, you look almost exactly like a female; you shouldnít have too much trouble on those grounds. I donít doubt youíll have a number of tods and vulpamours lining up. Hell, if you were fifty years older, and I was fifty years younger, Iíd be hitting on you myself."

"ErrÖthanks." Sunspot wasnít sure how to respond to that one! "But I was actually referring to the Obligation that tods have. I know I look female, but Iím still partly male as well."

"ThatísÖa good question," Artumi admitted, frowning. "Plus, thereís the difficulty with your seed making any children you sire chakats like yourself. Which isnítÖ." Artumi paused, hesitating.

"Something thatís necessarily wanted," Sunspot finished. If shi hadnít been so well-versed in clan culture, shi might have been insulted by the elderís words, but Sunspot knew full well that they wouldnít really want to start a micro-colony of chakats within the Big Rock community. Too many of the laws and inter-clan relationships were based on the various traits governing foxtaurs, such as Territory Attachment Syndrome, or the imbalance between females and males. Ever since gene theory treatments had become more readily available there had been an ongoing debate within the various communities as to why they simply did not fix their creatorís mistakes and be better for it, and every debate ended in the same way, with the solution being acknowledged to exist, but that their Ďimperfectionsí were the foundation of their society, and to fix them would be to destroy themselves.

"Still," Sunspot continued, "I feel I need to know. Itís important to me; foxtaur society doesnít function if every member doesnít do his or her part."

"It should be." Artumi nodded thoughtfully. "Which, if I maybe permitted to bring up a topic for a change, leads me to my next question: what do you plan to do in the clan, now that youíre back?"

"WellÖ." Sunspot considered the question carefully; once foxtaurs reached a certain age, they were required to select one career path or another and apprentice under someone in that field. At the time, however, Sunspot had already made up hir mind to go and find hir family, and hadnít wanted to commit to anything. Shi had managed to get around that fact by exploiting hir natural lack of TAS and helped with several foxtaurs whose jobs revolved around visiting other clans. It was quite interesting work, and shi got to meet a number of foxtaur subspecies shi normally wouldnít have, but it wasnít something shi really wanted to do as a career. "I had thought of perhaps being a hunter?"

"Ah!" Artumi grinned. "A most noble profession indeed! Have you thought of whom you will ask to apprentice you?"

Sunspot shook hir head. "Not really. My mind has been so occupied with getting here, and the process required for me to become a full member of the community, I hadnít. Plus, I wouldnít know whoís available."

"Well, in that case, I do know one vixen whom Iím certain is free," the aged vixen said slyly.

"Oh? Who?"

"Me!" Artumi grinned.

"You?" Sunspot said skeptically. "You havenít been out on a hunt in years."

Artumi nodded. "Thatís true, but Iíve taught most of the hunters in the village youíd be going out and apprenticing to, so why not go directly to the source, eh? I might not be as young as I used to be, but I still have my skills."

"Well, if you feel that youíre up to itÖ." Sunspot smiled. "Iíd be honored to be your apprentice, Elder Artumi."

"Excellent!" Artumi exclaimed, before her jaws opened in a massive yawn. "Oohh! Now, if you have no other pressing matters to discuss, itís past my bedtime. Will you be joining me? Itís been lonely without you or your father here."

Sunspot nodded. "Yes, thatís all I can think of at the moment. Er, well, there is one other thing."

"Well, spit it out, Sunny! Iím not getting younger!" Artumi said with a laugh.

Sunny stuck hir tongue out cheekily, before standing up and offering hir hand to Artumi. "Itís not another question or such. I was just going to go visit a couple of my friends before turning in, letting them know Iím back."

Artumi yawned again, before accepting the outstretched hand and hauling herself to her feet. "Of course, of course. Itís probably better to hear it from you personally than secondhand. Should I expect you back later then?"

"Iím not sure," Sunspot said slowly, as shi shrugged. "I may be out all hours of the night."

"Alright mídear. Just try not to make this a regular thing," Artumi said with a smile, before leaning over and lick-kissing Sunny on hir forehead. "Itíll be nice to have the den full of life again; you know, I was seriously thinking about trying for another kit before tonight?"

"Well, I do plan to get my own place when I can, Artumi," Sunspot replied, stroking the elderly foxtaurís cheek. "I donít want to spend my whole life living on your generosity and kindness. So I wouldnít throw away your plans just yet if I were you."

"Iíll keep that in mind, young chakat," Artumi said, turning towards her bedroom. "Have fun, and Iíll see you tomorrow."

After dragging hir bags into one of the guest rooms so theyíd be out of the way, Sunny set off across the village. Although shi had said shi had wanted to visit a couple of friends, shi really had only one on hir mind: Zegen.

Zegen had been one of Sunspotís most loyal, and close, friends through the years, and shi had shared a number of experiences with her as theyíd both grown up, such as sharing their first sexual encounter together. Of all hir friendships within the village, hers was the one Sunspot was most eager to rekindle.

Like a good percentage of the foxtaur population, Zegen had banded together with several other vixens, and shared a den. Unlike most of the foxtaur population, however, Zegen and her housemates hunted the bounty of the lake, not of the forest, and because of it their den sat on the shore beside the lake on stilts, with the dock the vixens used to secure their boat to stretching out behind the structure into the lake. But Sunny wasnít there to sight-see, and shi quickly bounded up the steps to the front door, and eagerly knocked.

After a few minutes, Sunspot was beginning to wonder if Zegen was even home. Glancing through the doorís side window, shi could tell the kitchen light appeared to be on, yet no one seemed to be coming to the door: even if Zegen herself wasnít home, there should be at least one vixen still around.

After rapping sharply on the door one last time, Sunspot sighed and turned to leave, only to see the hallway light flick on and that someone, finally, was coming to answer the door. The door swung open to reveal a very haggard looking nude vixentaur around the same age as Sunny; Zegen.

"Hello?" Sunspot grinned as the vixenís jaw dropped and hir eyes grew wide in shock. "Sunny?!"

"Hi, Zegen." Sunspot leaned forward to give hir friend a hug.

Zegen returned the hug with fervor and gave Sunspot a very wet lick-kiss on hir cheek. "I canít believe youíre back!"

"Indeed I am." Sunny said softly, nuzzling hir. "Permanently too, if all goes well."

"Really?" Zegen exclaimed excitedly. "Thatís wonderful news! But ó oh, I guess that means you werenít able to find your momís family after all. Iím sorry Sunny."

"Oh no," the fiery-pelted chakat replied. "No, I did find themÖI just realized I belonged here more then I belonged elsewhere." Sunspot gave hir friend a lick-kiss before pulling back and taking a good long look at her. Zegen was fairly average in appearance for a red foxtaur. Her major distinguishing feature was the socks on her front legsóthey were longer than most foxtaursí, extending nearly all the way to her body. She hadnít changed much while Sunspot had been gone, except that she was perhaps a bit older looking, her breasts a bit fuller, or her hair was a bit longerónone of which surprised Sunny. What did surprise hir, however, was how unkempt and disarrayed her friendís fur was; Zegen was hardly a Ďclean freakí but she did invest a great deal of time in grooming herself and making herself look pretty. "Are you alright Zegen? Youíve not been having trouble sleeping, have you?"

"What?"

"Your fur," Sunny replied, pointing at hir friendís chest. "It looks like youíve been tossing and turning all night."

"UhÖyeah, I suppose." Zegen giggled nervously. Empathically, Sunspot could tell Zegen was quite embarrassed, but shi had no idea what about.

"Zegen, are we going to do this or not?" called a masculine voice coming from deeper within the structure.

"Just a minute!" Zegen shouted back, before smiling lopsidedly at Sunny.

Sunspot frowned, puzzled. In all the time shi had known Zegen, she had never shown any interest in anyone other then hirselfóSunny suspected that she was a vulpamour like Artumi, and had been attracted to hir because of hir obvious female attributes. That being said, people do change, Sunspot reminded hirself. "If this is a bad time, I can come back, Zegen."

The vixentaur opened hir mouth to speak, only to be cut off by the tod coming up behind her. "Damn it, Zegen, I need to get home! My youngest wonít go to sleep unless Iím there to read her a bedtime story. Who the hell are you talking to thatís so damn important?"

The tod was pretty average-looking as far as male foxtaurs went, although he was fairly good-looking, and certainly well-toned. However, he appeared to be at least thirty years older then Zegen, and apparently happily mated and a devoted father. Thankfully, all was explained when shi spotted the armband around the maleís arm, containing two feathers.

"Listen, you," Zegen exclaimed angrily as she turned towards the tod. "Donít you damn well take that tone with me, mister! I have you and your services all night if I want them. Itís my right as a vixen!"

"It doesnít give you the right to abuse me! I told you when you started that I didnít want to be out all night, and you agreed with me," the tod said angrily. "And when we finally get down to it, it takes you nearly two hours to get aroused, then she shows up and youíre out here having a conversation with her!"

"Shi is my friend, and to hell with you," Zegen growled. "Get the hell out of my home."

"Fine!" The tod turned and picked up his vest from the coat rack inside the doorway. "My mates will appreciate me more then you would anyway." And with that, he stormed away.

Sunspot glanced from Zegen to the retreating tod and back. "Iím sorry Iíve ruined your evening Zeg. If Iíd known you were trying to get pregnant, I wouldnít have dropped by."

"Itís nothing to worry about. I was having second thoughts anyway." Zegen waved her hand dismissively and ushered hir into the den. "Besides, I wouldnít say long lost friends showing up on my doorstep is Ďruiningí my evening."

Following the vixentaur into the denís kitchen, Sunny could see the remains of the would-be coupleís dinner, and felt a pang of guilt. Clearly Zegen had brought out all the bells and whistles in attempt to make the evening go as smoothly as possible, and shi had managed to destroy all her hard work.

"Would you like some tea?" Zegen asked, interrupting hir train of thought, as she placed a pot on a burner and turned it on.

"Yes, please. And some cookies if you have them; Iím starving." In hir excitement, shi had forgotten to eat anything in several hours.

"Of course." Zegen turned pulled a decorative cookie jar over and started placing a number of cookies on a plate.

"So, youíre trying for a child?" Sunspot asked as shi helped clear the table. "Last time we talked about it, I was under the impression you didnít want a child for a number of years yet."

Zegen sighed and shook her head, before placing the plate on the table and sitting down. "Iím not really sure I do want a child."

"I doubt I fully understand the situation," Sunspot began, as shi sat down opposite hir friend and began munching on a cookie. "But taking an Obligation feather seems ratherÖdangerous, if youíre not certain you want a child."

"Yeah, it is." Zegen sighed again. "Iíve just been so lonely since you left."

"But I know you have other friends, Zeg. Whatís happened to them?"

The vixentaur shook her head, before looking down at the table. "Nothingís happened per se; itís justÖ."

"Itís just what, Zeg?" Sunspot asked softly. Hir friend was just giving off waves of sadness and despair.

"Itís just thatÖ" Zegen began slowly, before blurting out the rest. "Iíd just always envisioned spending my life with you, Sunny. Even when you told me of your plans to leave, I never really believed it would happen. I kept telling myself that youíd call it off, and weíd be together. I was in denial for a long time. ThanThen, when you finally left, I found I didnít know what to doóI tried everything: work, friends, and finally I very nearly got myself pregnant tonight trying to find any sort of meaning in my life without you in it. ButÖyou came back, you saved me from that. I love you, Sunspot! Please take me as your mate!" Zegen was positively quivering with excitement by the end of her spiel.

"IÖ." Sunspot paused. Shi had always known that hir friend had some attraction to hir, but shi never knew it was so powerfully ingrained in her psyche and self-image. With difficulty, shi spoke. "Iím not really sure what to say. I ó"

"Say yes!" Zegen urged. "Say you love me and you want to be my mate and hold me in your arms and ó"

"No," Sunny said, a bit more flatly then shi had intended.

"N-n-no?" In an instant, the empathic feelings Sunspot was getting from Zegen changed. "H-how can you say that?" Zegen managed to say, before she began to cry.

Sunspot reached across the table, and grasped hir friendís hand, doing hir best to project an empathically-induced calm in her, before speaking. "Zegen, I do care about you, very deeply in fact, but one of the lessons I learned while away is that you canít simply rush into stuff like thisóyou canít see a pretty face on the street or what have you, and go up and ask hir to go on a date with youóor be your mate. Even chakats who fall in love at first sight donít go and move that fastÖyou need to know the person."

"B-but you do know me!" Zegen sobbed. "And youíre not some stranger on the street!"

"Yes, I know that Zegen, but Iíve changed; Iím not the same person you knew, and youíre not the same person I knew either," Sunspot said softly.

Unfortunately, this just made Zegen cry even harder. "S-so youíre saying thĖthe Sunny I kn-knew, is dead? Oh Goddness!"

Sunspot sighed. Clearly this wasnít getting hir anywhere, and it really cut hir emotionally to see hir friend like thisóand to know shi was the cause of it. Perhaps, shi thought, a more direct approach would work.

Standing up, Sunspot walked around the table and used hir considerable strength to draw the weeping foxtaur to her paws, and fiercely kissed hir. As shi had hoped, it was enough to shock the poor vixen out of her tears, which gave hir a moment to explain hirself better. "Zegen, I do love you, Iíve always loved you, but weíre both different people now; we canít just jump into denmateship and start forming a family. Itíd be irresponsible. For both of us."

Pausing, Sunny waited to see if the vixen was going to say anything, but clearly she was too shocked by the kiss to think of anything, so shi continued. "IfÖif you really do want this sort of relationship, youíre going to need to get to know me first, and so do I with you. I canít promise you that itíll work out, I canít really promise you anything at allÖbut if youíre willing, as I am, to try weíll both be all right."

At that, Zegen whimpered and leaned her head on Sunspotís shoulder, and began to cry softly again. Although it stressed hir to see hir friend like this, Sunny could tell she needed it; as she wept, Sunspot could feel a lot of the tension that had built up over the course of their conversation (which, Sunspot suspected, likely had built up over the last few years that shi was gone) drain out of Zegen.

"Iím s-so sorry," Zegen stammered after a few minutes, as her crying subsided.

"Thereís nothing to be sorry about, Zegen," Sunspot said as shi gently licked away hir friendís tears. "I shouldnít have upset you like that."

"Itís my fault," Zegen moaned. "Youíre right, we are different peopleÖor at least you are. Iím still the same naïve vixen I was before you left. You, on the other handÖyouíve grown, Sunny; you seem more mature then I remember."

Sunspot laughed. "Youíll have to say that to Dancer; Iím sure shiíll be pleased all hir hard work has paid off."

"Whoís Dancer? You didnít happen to find a mate while you were gone, did you?" Zegen asked curiously.

"Oh goddess, no." Sunny shook hir head vigorously. "As to hir identity, and with the rest of my storyÖthatíll have to wait until tomorrow. Both of us are tired and could use a good nightís sleep, which, judging by the time, wonít happen if we donít go to bed right away."

Zegen nodded slowly, before speaking again. "DoÖdo you want to spend the night, Sunny? I have the den to myself because I shooed everyone away so I could have some privacy. Anóand we donít have to have sex or anything!" she said, more then a little bit frantically. "We could just snuggle or something! Or not even that, I mean we donít have to if ó"

"Zegen," Sunspot began, cutting the vixen off. "I said we had to get to know one another, get to know our relationship. I did not, however, say that we had to don habits and become nuns! I donít think we should have sex tonight, no, but only because youíre in heat and neither of us is ready for a child yet." Pausing, Sunspot gave hir friend a cheerful lick-kiss on hir nose. "Snuggling sounds wonderful, and all I want to ask is Ďwhen can we start?í"

 


 

To be continued in Names.

 

Chakats, Chakona and other concepts © 2009 Bernard Doove.

Browneyes, Darktoes and other characters are copyright me, Honeymane.

ĎChakkerí word from Chris Meadows.

Feedback is greatly appreciated. Please send your questions, comments, etcetera to HoneymaneFeedback@gmail.com

And a special note of thanks for Sandwalker for his help putting these stories together.


 

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