Lei curled up in his bed and tried not to think; the thoughts raced through his head anyway, heedless of his wishes. The harder he tried not to think of Arvik, the harder it was to envision anything but that warm, open smile that so seldom seemed to falter. Then that easy smile melted away into uncertainty and sadness as he replayed the kiss over and over in his mind, the tightness in his chest almost unbearable.

Why had Arvik kissed him? Arvik was a fi... orca. A creature of the sea. He should be with his own kind, who could swim and hunt with him in the place where he belonged. In the water. Not the land that Lei was restricted to.

Lei couldn't go in the sea, but neither could Arvik remain on land. He'd said such himself. So there was no way such a thing could work, even if he wanted it to.

Did he want it to? Lei shied away from that thought, focusing instead on why it couldn't work, rather than his own tangled feelings. Arvik's smiles should belong to someone else. Someone who could be with him in ways that Lei never could. He deserved so much more than a worthless fox whose own family considered him to be strange.

Sighing, Lei hugged his furs a little tighter before pushing them away and sitting up. This was ridiculous. He needed to just get over it. If he could just avoid the coast for a few months then Arvik would forget about him and go be with his people like he was supposed to. And Lei... Lei would just go back to his normal life and forget all about Arvik.

If he could. He didn't think he'd ever be able to forget that smile. He'd never seen one like it before and probably never would again. His people were not particularly inclined to smiles. Not like that. Fox smiles were sharp, cold. Nothing like Arvik's.

He growled at his own thoughts, but before he could do anything about them the door to his little house swung open and a petite woman stepped in, her coat and tail beginning to change from winter white to summer's deep brown, much like Lei's own. He hid a sigh.


She bustled in, nose crinkling as she looked around his little cabin. It wasn't much, only one room with a handful of things, but it was his, every bit of it. He'd built the whole thing with his own two hands, and he really wished she wouldn't treat it like it was discarded feces.

"Lei. When are you going to grow up and behave like a proper fox?" she demanded, crossing her arms.

Lei got up and crossed the small room to close the door, since his mother never bothered to. "There is more to life than hunting for food and raising kits, mother," he said tiredly. "The trader that brings me goods from the south says that in some places groups of different animals have actually started living together and helping each oth-"

"Trader," his mother scoffed. "That empty-headed reindeer will tell you whatever you want to hear just so you'll purchase his pointless items. You are a predator. You should not be consorting with plant-eaters, Lei. Give up this... dwelling... of yours, and come back to the ancestral dens with the rest of your siblings."

Lei grit his teeth. "He's not lying, mother. If you bothered to think about anything beyond your own family you'd be able to tell that yourself. Things are changing, if not here, then in the south. There are great and wonderful things out there. I don't understand why you won't-"

"'Great' and 'wonderful' things will not keep your children fed during the frozen months. All of this," she gestured around them with a sneer, "Serves no purpose in life. Wanting more than you have will only make you miserable, Lei. You're already miserable, I can see it in your eyes. Give up this foolishness and start behaving like what you are."

Lei stiffened. "I am a fox," he admitted slowly, "But I am also a man. Why should we who can shift behave just as our four-footed cousins do? We are special, mother. We are meant for more than just fighting the elements all our lives. I don't know why you can't see that."

"I am not the one who is blinded by the sky and cannot see the earth beneath his paws," she snapped back. "One of these days you are going to be so busy looking for 'wonderful things' that you walk right into a wolf's jaws. When that day comes, I will not mourn for you." She whirled and stalked to the door, fumbling a moment with the unfamiliar latch before flinging it open and storming out.

Lei slowly paced to the open doorway, watching his mother's retreating form as she shifted back to her fox shape and bolted off for her burrow. Once she was out of sight he carefully shut and latched the door, then made his way back over to his bed, sinking down into the warm furs.

He'd long since resigned himself to the fact that he and his family would never really understand each other. He wasn't really sure why he still tried to get along with them. Or why his mother still tried to make him 'see reason'. He was grown, a full adult, and had been for two whole summers. She had new litters to raise and those of his siblings who hadn't yet taken mates of their own to harass. Why she insisted on scolding him for his preference of living in a home more suited to his two-footed shape than his four-footed one was a mystery.

He wondered what fish families were like. Did they have homes under the sea, or did they sleep in the open? Did they prefer their fish shapes or their man shapes? Did their mothers harass them for wanting more out of life than hunting and raising young? Did Arvik's?

Blinking slowly, Lei sat up again. Arvik. He, more than anything, proved just how strange Lei was. If his mother had known about Arvik, he'd never have heard the end of it. Making friends with the reindeer trader that came through during the summer months was bad enough. She'd never understand what he saw in Arvik. She'd probably be horrified to know that Arvik had kissed him.

That he wished Arvik had done more than that, well, she'd never, ever be able to understand.

Oddly, that thought didn't upset him. His family might not be able to accept who he was, but there was one person who did. One person who might, just might, feel the same way.

Lei surged up out of his carefully hoarded furs and grabbed his coat, yanking it on and buttoning it tight before flinging open the door to his little cabin and darting out into the night. He barely remembered to latch it shut again before shifting and taking off at full speed for the coast.

He had a fish he needed to find.


The sea breeze was cold, and the spray that blew up with each rush of the waves colder still, but Lei refused to budge from his spot. Three days and no sign of Arvik, or any orcas. He was managing to feed himself well enough on sea birds that nested in the cliffs, but it was only sheer luck that a polar bear hadn't yet chanced across him.

But he refused to go home until he'd had a chance to apologize to Arvik, and if that meant waiting three more days, or longer, then so be it. He still didn't think he deserved the interest of someone as wonderful as Arvik, but if the orca would still have him then he wasn't about to refuse again. Not when Arvik was likely the only creature in the whole arctic that could really understand him.

Opening his jaws he yipped into the air, the strong sea breeze whipping the sounds away from him and scattering them into the sky. Even the birds failed to take flight, by now used to his random vocalizations and content to ignore him until he began stalking them again. What was one sad, lonely fox calling out his misery to the sea?

He lay down on the very edge of the bluff, folding one paw over the other and resting his chin on top. What if Arvik didn't come? What if he didn't hear? Or worse, what if he did hear, and didn't want to come? What would Lei do then? Go back home? The thought held little appeal. Even his little house, which he'd been so proud of, was only a distant thought. What did it matter anyway? A memento of stone and wood. A symbol of the freedom he no longer cared about.

Maybe he should just find a polar bear and let it eat him. Then he wouldn't be interfering in anyone's lives anymore.

Lei whined, low in his throat, and stared out at the endless shimmering sea. Where was he? Why didn't he come? Was he too busy? Had he found someone else? Gone somewhere else? What if he-

"... Lei?"

Lei jerked, whipping around so quickly that he almost overbalanced himself, heart in his throat as he took in the sight of Arvik standing uncertainly and watching him. He'd come.

Before he quite realized he was moving, Lei had started running across the separating space, shifting out of fox form as he reached Arvik and throwing himself into the startled man's arms.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled indistinctly as Arvik's arms slid around him automatically. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."

Arvik's arms tightened, his voice thick with surprise. "Sorry? For what?"

"For running away," Lei said quietly. "I shouldn't have run. I was... I didn't know what to think. I'm sorry."

"And now?" Arvik asked softly.

Lei pulled back enough to reach up and wrap his arms around Arvik's neck, pulling himself up enough to press a soft, fleeting kiss to the man's mouth. Before he could quite begin to slide back down powerful arms tightened, pressing him up against a strong, wide chest, his toes dangling in the air. Arvik inclined his head, Lei arched up to meet him, and this time the kiss was anything but brief.

This was what he wanted, this hot melding of mouth and tongue, strong arms holding him close against a body that all but begged him to touch it every time he saw it. Arvik, with his easy smiles and gentle nature that hid a strength that could best a polar bear. Arvik, who he could cling to and never let go.

Though the need to breathe did eventually force them apart. Still, Arvik seemed as reluctant to actually let go as Lei, his arms still holding Lei tight against his body, and the smile finally - finally - back on his handsome face.

"Can I keep you, then?" Arvik asked, somewhat breathlessly.

"For as long as you want me, fish," Lei shot back, fighting the smile that was rapidly spreading across his face.

Arvik laughed. "I told you, I'm not a fish."

Lei grinned. "Close enough," he said cheerfully, and kissed Arvik again before the orca could protest further.