One Winter's Night

"Five days until the Lover's Night."

Kerri's words echoed in Roma's head as he bounded up the stairs to his den, shaking off the snow that had landed on his fur from the walk down the street. As if he needed her to remind him. Five days.

But not even five days, not really. He had to ask Dunst tonight. Before anyone else did. So they could spend the lover's night together.

He slid across the floor, claws scratching into the stone as he tried to catch himself, then dropped to all fours to change direction and dart into his storage space. Carefully he lifted the necklace he'd welded to look exactly like Dunst's and hung it around his neck. His body tingled in anticipation, but he wouldn't be rushed. Instead, he laid himself out on his bedding and began grooming himself, taking care that his face and chest were especially clean since the white fur always showed dirt the easiest.

He brushed his teeth and trimmed his whiskers, checking in the bathing room mirror that there were no eye crusts or snot, then gave his entire body a once over, fluffing his tail and taking a deep breath. He looked good. The black iron necklace hung stark against his fur, shining like a beacon of his love for Dunst. His whites were white and his black stripes were visible in his sleek gray coat. Giving himself a look of encouragement, he set off.

The paths to the feeding hall were covered with a light dusting of snow, but what fell was barely more than a flurry. His nose wiggled in the cold air, but his winter coat had grown in thick and his booties kept the pads of his feet free of snow. It was a lovely night, the moon already shining down, nearly full. Five more days. He grinned, wanting to run the rest of the way to the feeding hall, but holding back, bundling that energy for later. He nearly exploded in joy at the thought of later, curled up with Dunst, their tails twined--

His fantasy was interrupted by a noise. his ear twitched toward the location, but when he glanced over, there wasn't anything. After watching a moment more, he shrugged and continued on his way. He had more important things to do than be distracted by some imaginary sound. The final stretch of pathway vanished beneath his excited stride and out in front of the feeding hall stood Dunst, his sleek black coat glistening in the moonlight. So handsome.

"Dunst!" Roma permitted himself to bound the last few steps, keeping to his hinds.

"Greetings, Roma!" They butted their foreheads together gently. "How are you?"

"Good," he smiled, tail flickering nervously behind him. "I wanted to ask you something."

"Oh?" Dunst paused in his glancing around to look down and Roma couldn't help but admire those bright green eyes.

"Yes. Will you spend Lover's Night with me?"

The smile on Dunst's face faded into pity. "I'm sorry Roma, I already promised myself to Hosyin. But I'm honored that you'd ask."

"Oh. Of course." He forced his ears not to droop and plastered on a smile. "Well congratulations. She's really great."

"Yes, I'm very happy about it. Err, sorry." His ears perked up as he looked beyond Roma to where he could hear the lighter step of a female.

He couldn't face Hosyin just then. "Well, have a nice evening." He turned to bolt.

"Aren't you eating?"

"Had a big lunch." True or not, he wasn't hungry and he certainly wasn't in the mood to be surrounded by the clan. He waved, then jogged off, only breaking into a run when he knew Dunst could not see him.

For three days, Roma only left his den for work and breakfast, slumping home after he'd finished his duties to hide beneath his blankets and lick his wounds--so to speak. He wasn't avoiding Dunst, although it was a benefit of his seclusion, but he couldn't stand being near so many others when all they talked about was the upcoming festivities. Even if he wasn't the only single one, everyone else wanted to be single, or would pair up the day before the lover's night.

Roma didn't want anyone else. He'd done random pairings in the past, but he wanted to be promised to someone this year, and for every year. He'd wanted Dunst. He moaned and rolled over, burrowing out of his nest of blankets enough to see it was snowing outside in the dark. He loved when it snowed, like it was, lightly drifting down to cover the world.

A walk. He needed a walk. To clear his head and numb his heart.

Decided, he slunk from his nest, stretching and yawning as he did, then pulled on his booties. The first burst of cold air made him shiver, but once it passed through his tail, he felt alright. It was cold, rather too cold for a walk, but he was outside already and a quick jaunt around wouldn't hurt. He dropped to all fours and began jogging.

He'd looped around the playground where mothers could take their kits when he heard it and he paused, silencing the crunch of the snow to listen to the silence. Not quite silence. In the muffled quiet of snowfall, he heard a chatter of teeth and a huff of breath. Not seeing anything, he twitched his ears, waiting to hear it again, then followed the sound onto the playground and to a play pipe.

Crouching down, he found a cat, nearly a kit, curled into the small space.


Had the cat not been wedged so tightly in, Roma was certain he would have bolted. Instead he just froze--well, froze more than he was already frozen. Roma couldn't tell if the shaking was fear or cold.

"Are you alright?"

"Pl..please don't hurt me!"

"I won't hurt you. What are you doing here?" He sniffed. "You're not clan, are you?"

The cat shifted so he was facing Roma, yellow eyes gleaming in the light that crept in from the end of the tunnel. "No." He was so cold his breath didn't even form a cloud.

Roma frowned. "Were you planning on sleeping here?"


He frowned harder. "Why didn't you approach the clan heads?"

"Because I'm useless. My leg's lame. I'm not a good addition." He didn't sound hurt by this, just stated it. Roma continued to frown.

"Come here." He shuffled back so the cat could move. After a moment's hesitation, he pulled himself out.

Aside from the right hind leg, which was twisted and lame, the cat was rather attractive aside from the scruffy fur and being far too skinny. He'd have a lovely patched coat when it grew out and wasn't missing chunks.

"Did your clan kick you out?"

He nodded, setting down on his haunches, the malformed leg setting down awkwardly but taking the weight. "They didn't have a place for me. No one does. So am I allowed to sleep here?"

"No." When the cat's eyes widened, he added, "You'll come with me, we can share my nest. Come on." Roma stood, waiting for the cat.


"Because it's nearly the Longest Night. And you'll freeze out here. Come on."

The cat stood, gripping the pipe's rim, then dropping to all fours, his lame leg tucked under. "Okay."

Roma went no faster than the cat could keep up, taking the most direct path, but also the clearest. "Do you have a name?"

"Quita. You?"

"Roma." He smiled, lightly brushing the top of Quita's head. "How long have you been on your own?"

"Four months. Once I was no longer a kit and couldn't do anything worthwhile."

They walked in relative silence back to his den, and it was only when he turned to open the door that he realized Quita was leaving splotches of blood in the snow. "You're hurt!"

He rested on his haunches in front of Roma's den and held up his fore paws, the pads on his hands chapped and cracked open. "It's just my hands and feet. I'm not used to the cold without booties on, but I wasn't permitted anything." He shrugged. "I can stay out here if you don't want a mess in your den."

Roma snorted and pushed open his door, then knelt down and picked up Quita without asking, the other cat only giving a yowl in surprise. He stepped inside, closed the door, and headed to the bathing room before sitting Quita on the edge of the tub.

"We'll get you a bath and all cleaned up, then bandage your paws. I have a few treats on hand for you to eat, but you'll have to wait until morning for breakfast."

"I can cook, if you would like me to."

Roma raised a brow. "I thought you said you had no skills."

"Well, nothing useful. What good is one cat feeding himself? I can't afford to buy the food or make it."

"You don't have a central feeding hall?"

"A what?"

"A feeding hall. Everyone gathers there for meals. Cats best at cooking work there, while the rest of us work doing what we do best."

"No, No, we didn't do it that way."

"Hmm." He started the water, adding some oils to help with the healing and the cleaning. "Well, it's how we do it, so I don't have a kitchen to cook in. Sorry."

"No! I'm grateful for everything you're doing!"

He ruffled Quita's head then helped him into the tub. "Do you need any help bathing?"

"Ah--no, thank you."

"Alright, just call when you're done and I'll help bandage you." He set out towels and left, pulling some extra blankets from his storage space to make a second bed nest on the ground for his guest, then he found his bandages and other supplies. By the time he had everything ready, he heard the tub draining and he headed into the bathing room.

Quita was on his second towel, fluffing his wet fur as he started to shiver from the chilly air. "I have your bedding set up near the heater, but first let's deal with your injuries."

The younger cat quickly finished drying then sat on the edge of the tub, offering his paws out to Roma, his ears perked forward and wearing a timid smile. "Thank you for everything you've done. You're sure your mate won't mind me being here?"

Roma's ears sagged a little at the reminder. "I don't have a mate."

"Sorry. Um," he leaned over, licking the paw that was wrapping up Quita's own paw. "I could keep you company."

A pity screw, this close to having his heart broken? He didn't think so. "No." It may have been a little short, but he was going to just fuck the next available tail. He was tired of that. Too old for it, really. Time to settle down, his sister had said to him. Five days until the Lover's Night. Surely you have someone you'd like to share it with?

Quita shifted pulling his lame leg over to the other side of the tub so Roma could more easily access the cracked pads on his hind paws. "Of course, sorry." He fiddled with the bandages on his hands while Roma applied salve and wrapped the paw.

"There you go. They might be tender walking on them, but you should be okay, unless you'd like me to carry you to your bed?"

"No. No, I can do it." With a wince, he slid to all threes, tucking his bad leg up self-consciously, his tail tucking under to wrap around that part of his rump. "Thank you, again."

"My pleasure." And he meant it. At least he had company. And it felt good to take care of something other than himself. "Let's get to bed, we can wake early for breakfast, then I can show you to the clan heads so you can talk to them."

"But, I can't--"

"Do anything?" He snorted as he showed Quita into his den and curled up on one pile. "In our clan we'll find something for you to do. Maybe I'll introduce you to Nemmi." He yawned. "But bed now."

He watched with drooping eyes as Quita padded in a circle before curling up, pulling the blankets around him and burrowing so only his eyes peered out before they closed and the darkness lulled Roma to sleep. It was warm and good listening to another breathing in his den. It reminded him of when he and Kerri would curl up to sleep. It reminded him of Tonk, his last lover, on the nights he'd stay over. Roma purred. It was a nice sound.

Two days until the Lover's Night.

Roma rolled over and blinked out the massive windows of his den. The light was just barely breaking over the horizon and a new sheet of snow covered everything, leaving a white glittering world. His moment of kit-like rejoice was muted by knowing he would make his way through it, and today he'd have to consider how Quita would travel. If he walked on his own, his bandages would be ruined, but he didn't think the young tom wanted to be carried.

Speaking of which. Roma stretched and rolled over, looking to the heater where he'd set up the second pile of blankets. There was still a lump in the center and a tail twitching.


The sound was quiet, and it made Roma smile. Oh, to be young. He rolled back to the windows to give the young cat some privacy, watching the sun slowly make its way over the thick trees of the woods that made up his clan's home. He entertained himself watching the wildlife emerge from their homes and listening to Quita's attempts at being quiet. It sounded so pleasant, so strange and yet familiar, that it stirred warmth in his stomach. Perhaps he'd been too quick to push the tom away. Quita didn't know he'd been heartbroken, and it was nice to have the affections of a younger tom--although he wasn't that much older.

The hum of a purr clued him to "wake up" and he made a fuss of noise as he stretched and yowled, flicking his tail and enjoying the pull of muscles. The pile beside him went very still, then Quita's head popped out, ears flicking nervously.

"Morning, Quita."

"Morning, Roma."

He smiled knowingly. "You can use the bathing room first."

"Thank you." Quita carefully maneuvered from the blankets, gingerly walking on his paws into the bathing room. He watched him go, then Roma got out of bed, taking a moment to look out the window before following Quita to the sink where he was trying to flatten his slept-on fur with his bandaged paws.

Roma chuckled. "Here, let me." He raked his claws through fur, glad to feel it soft and untangled, before licking it down and continuing to the other trouble areas. "With the new snow, it'll be difficult to walk without getting your bandages wet. How do you want to handle it?" He continued grooming until Quita looked presentable, then raked his claws over his thickly furred shoulders and back.

"I..." he looked down at his paws, then back up. "What are my options?"

"Well, I can carry you or tug you in a trolley." He started grooming himself. "Or I bring you back and clean everything off and replace it."

"Well, I'll have to take it off to eat anyway, won't I?"

He hadn't considered that. "I could feed you."

"I'm not a kit!"

Roma chuckled, lightly cuffing Quita's ear. "No, you're not. But you are in my care. It's up to you."

Quita considered while Roma continued grooming.

"Maybe undo one paw so I can eat, and you can carry me?"

"You don't mind?"

"Not if I ride your back." His tail flicked. "If you don't mind. I just figured then you could leave me with the clan heads so you can work. You said you work, right?"

"Yes, and I don't mind carrying. Shall we undo your paw now?"

Quita nodded and Roma carefully undid the work from the night before. The skin already looked better, but he rubbed in some oils just to be sure, then turned and let Quita crawl onto his back, one arm hooked around his neck, the free paw clenching softly in his fur. Roma pulled on his four booties, Quita's weight barely noticeable on his back. Then he jogged down the stairs and dropped to all fours to run.

There were no problems as they went; Quita stayed balanced on his back and shoulders, his head tucked beside Roma's as they left a trail of snow in the air. Their noses were cold by the time they reached the feeding hall, but it was worth it. Quita's yellow eyes were glowing as he slid off Roma's back and dropped to all threes, favoring his unwrapped paw by walking more on his knuckles.

The hall was only half filled as they entered, Quita watching with wide eyes as they headed to the troughs where the foods were laid out. "What would you like to eat?" When Quita just looked up at him with wide eyes, Roma laughed. "Okay, is there anything you don't eat?"


With another chuckle, Roma ruffled an ear and then began loading a tray with two of everything, figuring Quita would be quite hungry. Several different meats, a small pile of grains and vegetables, a glass of milk and a treat for each of them. All while Quita watched with rapt attention at what was going on the tray. It almost made Roma want to laugh. Instead he led them over to where Nemmi was sitting with his mate Larro.

"Greetings, Roma." Nemmi smiled at him, those glassy black eyes only looking in his general direction. His nose twitched. "And who do we have here?"

"Nemmi, Larro, this is Quita, I found him stranded in the snow yesterday. Quita, this is Nemmi and his mate Larro."

Greetings were given all around and Roma sat them down, making sure Quita was situated before wiping his unwrapped paw and putting a plate of food in front of him. The poor thing nearly dove into it he was so hungry. Roma smiled sadly and tucked into his own food. "See, Quita, Nemmi is blind, but he's found a place in the clan. He works in the healing space. He's very keen on hearing and smelling things that other cats would miss."

Quita looked up in surprise, but politely kept his mouth closed as he chewed. His whiskers were also surprisingly clean considering how quickly he ate. "Really?" He glanced between the couple, then to Roma. "You think they might have work for someone like me?"

"As long as you can earn your dinner, yes," Larro said, her soft voice nearly a purr. She could soothe anyone, which is why she helped care for kits. Quita's reaction was immediate: his tail stopped twitching, his breathing slowed, and he smiled. Roma was glad he sat them here.

The longer they sat and chatted, the more relaxed Quita became, until his plate was clear and he was obviously sated. He actually looked ready for a nap, but Roma had to rouse him so they could head to where the clan heads met, which meant carrying him through the snow again. Once in the center, Quita slid off, following demurely beside Roma as he led to where the heads met to discuss clan business.

"Greetings, Roma! You're up early." Jota was all smiles and perky ears.

"Yes, I was hoping to meeting with the heads before they started."

"I'll check!" She opened the door, peeking her head in and talking quietly before returning to them and motioning them through. "Have a nice day!"

He smiled and nodded as he led Quita into the room. Four females and three males sat in various spots around the room, some reading, some chatting, one flipping through a pile of notes on the desk. They all looked up as he and the stranger came in and moved closer with quizzical looks. "Who do you bring us, Roma?"

"I went for a walk yestereve and I found this young tom curled up trying to find protection from the storm. He was half frozen and his paws were raw from exposure." He motioned and Quita showed the unwrapped paw. "I took him home and wrapped him up and fed him this morning. His clan exiled him because they saw him as worthless because of his leg." He motioned again and Quita flattened his ears, but turned and lowered his deformed leg from where he kept it tucked. "He knows how to cook and is willing to learn other skills, if we have a place for him among us."

"And what is your name, young one?"

Quita turned back around, sitting on his haunches before bowing his head. "Quita, good mother."

She smiled endearingly and nodded. "His has temporary approval. Obviously we will revisit this once he's healed and we can see what help he can offer. Do you mind denning him until then, Roma?"

"Not at all."

"Good. You'll be relieved of kitchen duties then, even though you aren't claiming it for a Lover's Night."

"Thank you, good mother. I'll be sure to help with washing during the day."


Chocha, one of the males chuckled, "We're also happy to keep you out of the kitchen, Roma."

He flicked his tail in mock irritation. "Thank you, Chocha."

The clan heads all laughed and the pair was excused, Quita watching him with open curiosity.

"My lack of cooking skills is rather famous among the clan."

Quita smiled. "Well, that explains why you were so impressed. But you don't mind me housing with you?"

"No, it's just me there." He lifted Quita onto his back again. "It's nice having company, anyway. And I'm sure you'll heal quickly." He began jogging through the cleared path back to his den. Quita shifted, his lame leg rubbing against Roma's belly.

"Thank you. For everything. I mean, no one's even looked twice at it. You're all so nice."

He laughed. "I assure you, we're not all nice. And we have our bad days too. But this close to Longest Night puts people in a good mood. Well, those with lovers at least."

"Roma! Greetings!"

Roma pulled up short, turning stiffly to see Dunst waving and trotting over to him, the Lover's collar around his neck bright against his black fur. "Greetings Dunst." How he wished he could just run away!

"Who's this?"

"Quita, meet Dunst. Dunst, Quita. It was nice seeing you. I have go to get him back to den before I head to work. Bye!" He turned and trotted off before Dunst was even able to say a true farewell. He huffed, dropping to all fours as he moved quickly over the ground.

"You like him, don't you?"

Roma grunted.

"His collar is new. Did you ask him for Lover's Night? Is that why you're alone?"

"Do you want to be dropped?"

Quita tightened his arms and legs, resting his chin on Roma's shoulder. "I'm sorry I'm nosy. I'm just always curious. I wish I could help."

"You can help by not talking about it."

"Okay." Quita buried his nose against his shoulder, but Roma got the impression it wouldn't stop there.

After his day's work was done, he stopped by his den to gather Quita before heading to the feeding hall. He found the young tom curled asleep in his blankets, so deep his tail wasn't even moving. Asleep, the worry and stress faded out of his body, leaving him relaxed and easy, his limbs all tucked under him, his coat shimmering in the moonlight that shined in through the window. He hesitated waking him, but figured Quita hadn't eaten since breakfast and the skinny thing couldn't afford to miss too many meals.


He stirred, just a little, tail flopping over, head adjusting on the pillows. Roma rolled his eyes, moving over to crouch beside him, shaking his shoulder. "Quita."

His whiskers trembled, then those deep yellow eyes blinked open. "Roma?"

"Should it be someone else?"

"No." He smiled a goofy smile and Roma shook his head indulgently.

"Come on, time for dinner."

He waited while Quita stretched and woke completely, then they repeated the business from before with Quita riding his back to the feeding hall. Instead of walking on three legs once they were in the hall, Quita stood so he could see what was being offered, holding onto Roma's arm as they made their way through the hall. It was awkward, but probably best for the crowded condition, and Quita was smiling shyly at everyone who glanced at them.

"Greetings, Roma!" The twins, Maxi and Mika bounded up, blinking with open curiosity at Quita and his leg. "How are you?"

"We're fine. If you leave us alone while we're getting food, I promise to sit with you."

They grinned, running off hand in hand.


"They're just kits. Excitable, but harmless. They like to hear about my work. Very curious creatures. Inseparable. You don't mind sitting with them?"

"No. I'd like to hear about your work as well."

"Oh." His ears warmed, absurdly pleased. "Good."

It took longer to get food, as Quita couldn't move as quickly and took the time to ponder over what foods to get. Too much choice after not having much of one seemed to make him a little dizzy with delight, and Roma couldn't help but watch amusedly as his eyes would widen, flickering between the different options before finally taking a little of each. His plate was full by the time they finally sat down with the twins and he looked relieved to take the pressure off his good leg. Roma imagined he didn't walk on his hinds very often.

"Wow, you're really hungry," Maxi said, while Mika chimed in. "Where are you from?"

"Farther east." He tucked in and cut off any other questions--or at least attempted to.

"What happened to your leg?" Mika asked with Maxi adding, "Were you born that way?"

"Kits," Roma growled and they both flattened their ears in embarrassment at being called on their behavior.

"Sorry, Quita," they said in unison, Maxi adding to answer Roma's raised brow, "We heard Dajel talking about the new cat who came to see the clan heads today."

There was a moment of silence with Roma glaring at the twins, but Quita quietly answered their previous question. "I was fine when I was born. There was an accident when I was still a kit though and I never really got better. It doesn't hurt."

"Wow," Mika grinned with awe. "You must be really strong."

Roma could feel Quita's tail twitching nervously. "What makes you say that?"

"Because you've overcome great obstacles! Heroes always overcome struggle and triumph in the end!" Mika said.

"And you have. You're here, aren't you? You survived in the wilds on your own. Starving!" Maxi made a wildly romantic gesture and Mika caught him. "And when you couldn't go any farther, a brave cat rescues you!"

Quita glanced over to Roma, his eyes asking if he was being mocked, but Roma just shook his head. The twins were curious and creative, storytellers in the making, but rarely mean. Most times they just didn't realize how what they said could affect others. "Why don't we let our guest eat a little, okay?"

"Yes, Roma." They grinned when they spoke in unison. Cheeky things. He wondered if they'd ever grow out of their kit phase, number of years or not.

The rest of the meal settled as Roma spoke about the metal work he was doing and the addition he was making for the stage.

"Stage?" Quita looked up from his meat.

"Yes, for the Lover's dance. On the Shortest day, couples who are promising to one another come out to present a dance to honor their union and announce it to the clan. The stage is in the center of our home, raised up so everyone can see the performance. And most everyone comes out to see it."

"Except some couples," giggled Mika.

Maxi grinned, but turned his attention to them. "I bet you two will have a lovely dance one year."

"Oh, I can't, I mean, we're not..." Quita started, then flattened his ears, looking down at the food on his plate.

"I'm just helping him until he can find his place in the clan," Roma explained, his stomach lurching a little. Quita looked so sad. If he found someone, would he even be able to do a dance?

The twins glanced at them, then at each other before silently agreeing on something. "Whatever you say, you're the adults."

"But we've got to be going. We promised to help Momma clean her den before Longest Night."

"Even though we don't live there."

"Even though."

"But she promised not say anything about our choice of coupling for Lover's Night."

Mika grinned. "Won't say anything."

"Bye, Roma!"

"Bye, younglings. Enjoy the festivities if I don't see you."

"We will! May your Night be warm!" They gathered their trays and vanished. Roma returned to eating, observing how quiet it was with the twins gone. He ate a few more bites before noticing Quita was just staring at his food. "Done eating?"

He looked up, then back down, nodding. "I don't want to be wasteful."

"Oh, don't worry. Next time just don't put as much on your plate. It must be hard with so much being offered when you're not used to it. But leftovers go to the herd beasts, so it's not wasted. Come on, you look tired, I bet you still have a few more hours to catch up on."

Quita looked up, trying a little smile. "Thank you."

Roma wolfed down the last bites of his dinner, then gathered both their plates on his tray to carry to disposal. Quita dropped to all threes to walk beside him. It was still rather busy, but Roma didn't think he had the energy to stand. Once they were free of the masses in the feeding hall, Roma pulled him onto his back and they returned to his den. Although he'd been teasing a little about Quita resting, the cat went and curled into his nest, falling asleep almost immediately. Roma stayed up for a while longer reading and thinking, then followed Quita on the path to dreams.

The sound of chattering teeth woke him. Groggily he poked his head from his burrow and noticed the air was chilly--the temperature outside must have dropped and the heater hadn't been able to keep up. He yawned, prepared to pull his head back in and go back to sleep when the chattering started again. He had to blink a few times before he realized it was Quita, shivering beneath his blankets.

"Quita?" he mumbled.


"Are you cold?"

"I'm fine."

A lie if he ever heard one. He untangled from his nest enough to reach the small distance between them and drag Quita from his burrow. He struggled an instant, then stopped when Roma embraced him, folding his warm body around him until the muscles stopped shaking. Pulling the blankets up to trap in their heat, Roma nestled Quita against his body, then settled down to sleep.

"Thank you," Quita whispered.

"You were cold," he yawned. "I was warm. It just made sense." Then he went back to sleep.

The day before the Longest Night, he woke from a pleasant dream with Quita's body tangled around him, arms holding on tightly, their legs hooked together and his tail unconsciously stroking Roma's lower back. It was no surprise, with Quita's head tucked against his chest and his dream having been so pleasant, that he was aroused. His initial reaction was to pull away, but when he made the slightest move, Quita nestled closer to him, rubbing his cheek against his chest and making Roma smile as he felt Quita's own arousal nudging against him.

Rolling them so he was on his back, he licked Quita's forehead then rubbed his cheek against it. "Quita."

He was expecting more of a fight, but the body on him wiggled, the golden eyes blinking open. "Oh." He blinked a few more times before he realized where he was. "Oh! Sorry!" He moved to pull away, but Roma easily tightened his arms and held him close.

"No need, you're warm." He kept his arms tight until Quita sank back against him. "Why did you offer to be my companion for the Night two days ago?"

"I'm sorry, it was a stupid thought. You're just so..."


"So handsome. And kind. I just thought you shouldn't be alone, but it was stupid, I'm sorry."

"Why was it stupid? You were attracted to me, it seems like a natural offer."

Quita was silent, and when Roma didn't say any more, he looked up surprised. "You're going to make me say it?"

"Yes," Roma said, confused. Why would he ask if he didn't want Quita to tell him?

"Because your handsome and I'm...I'm..." He started pulling away but Roma drew him back, understanding dawning when the deformed leg hit his thigh.

"You think you're not attractive? Your very appealing. A little thin, but attractive."

"Don't laugh at me!" Quita was able to get away that time, but not far. Roma sat up and pulled him into his lap, pressing his back against Roma's chest and using one leg to weigh Quita's body down.

"I'm not laughing. When I first saw you I thought you were very handsome beneath your neglect."

"Then why did you refuse me?"

Roma chuckled, nuzzling against Quita's cheek. "Because I'd just had my heart broken and I wanted nothing but forever with my next Lover. But I've reconsidered and I'd like to share the Night with you, if you're still interested."

"Just this year?"

"Just this year."

Quita nodded, wiggling against Roma, but Roma took hold of Quita's arms. "But for today, we should see how your paws are doing."

"Really?" Quita whined, trying to free his paws.

"Well, yes. What did you have in mind?"

"A dry run," Quita gasped, rubbing himself against Roma's groin. "Just to make sure we're compatible."

"Well, I wouldn't want to tire us out. Especially you, you've been through so much."

"We'll be fine. Please."

"Wanton little thing, aren't you?" He laughed as he pulled Quita back into his bed and rolled on top, putting the younger cat down. Quita looked up with earnest eyes as he wrapped his arms around Roma's neck.

"Very few cats have wanted to touch me. Please."

He nuzzled against Quita's cheek, making his way to lick at his lips that opened for him. The hand not supporting his weight stroked down Quita's body, claws slightly extended so he could feel the combing while being wary of the patches of missing fur. His poor little cat arched into the contact, his tongue lapping out as his claws dug into Roma's back.

"Tonight I will learn every bit of your body," he promised as he slid down, licking at the smooth, fur-covered chest and rubbing his cheek against it. "But for now..." He went a little lower, tucking his lips around his teeth as he sank his mouth around Quita's swollen sex.

Quita yowled in pleasure, his claws digging sharply into Roma's back, only going so far as to prick but not hurt. He was more beautiful in his pleasure, the sounds he was making egging Roma on, to push him higher and higher as he used his rough tongue to stroke the underside of his arousal. And while Quita was distracted, he slowly slid his hand down his hip and along the atrophied thigh to the knee where the deformity began. He could feel the twisted muscle and disjointed bone as he sucked harder and Quita cried out.

He swallowed Quita's seed and then lapped his rough tongue over the oversensitive skin until Quita gasped and pulled back into his sheath. Cleaning the surrounding fur of any stray drops that spilled on his coat, his one hand massaged just above the deformed part of Quita's leg.

"You don't--You don't have to touch it," he said, tugging on Roma's shoulders until he moved up, his hand shifting to cup the back of Quita's leg and rubbing there.

"Does it bother you?"

"No. No, but I should be--" he reached with one hand toward Roma's arousal.

"Leave it be. I want to save it for tonight. I'm not as young as you, you know."

"I know." He was quiet a moment, silenced by kisses, tenderly clawing against Roma's chest. "You don't mind it?"

Roma shook his head, lapping at Quita's mouth. "It's just part of you."

He smiled, his tail twining around Roma's wrist and up his forearm. "And tonight?"

Roma kissed him. "And tonight we give our blessings to the Night."

Two Years Later...

Quita spun on his good paw, his body swaying and twisting as he told the story of how his clan had expelled him and left him bewildered to find his own way. He "stumbled" around the edge of the stage, his body an arch of grace and strength, his tail performing its own teasing dance as he dropped to his front paws and continued moving, sinking closer and closer to the floor until he was a huddled mass tucked in on itself.

This was where Roma entered, casting off the black blanket that mostly covered him and beginning his dance across the stage, his movements slow and heavy, burdened by the emotions he carried, until...

He stopped in front of Quita, dropping to his haunches and offering out a paw. In response, Quita startled backward, standing suddenly and losing his balance on his one leg. Roma was there, of course, to catch him, continuing the motion to arch him over his one arm then bend him over the second, his back paws flying in the air overhead.

There was a gasp as Quita's foot didn't land straight and instead he slid down, but Roma was there, guiding him down as their dancing continued on the floor, both moving easily and gracefully on both sets of paws as they ducked under torsos, tangled tails and wrapped their bodies as close together as they could while still moving, moving, moving. And as they moved they slowly stood, first Roma, then Quita, unsteady at first, then more brazen as any stumble was prevented by Roma as they danced. They stepped quicker until they were running, Roma acting as Quita's lame leg as they sped around the stage.

They stopped in the center, froze, staring deep into the other's eyes, then folded in together, Quita's arms and legs wrapping around him as he settled to the floor, supporting him in his lap, his own arms encasing Quita and finally their heads tucked beside one another, peaceful and quiet.

There was silence as the audience could only stare, then the yowls began, raucous cries of approval as he and Quita untangled themselves and stood, his lover strong and barely leaning on him. They shared a smile, a kiss, then exited the stage as the watchers continued cheering until they were off. Kerri was the first to approach, tears in her eyes, little droplets frozen on her cheeks. "Oh, brother!"

Her pounce nearly knocked them all to the ground, but Roma kept his footing and caught her, laughing at her exuberance. He was still laughing and trying to disengage his sister when he heard the familiar unified voices say, "Told you so."

"Lovely." "Brilliant."

"Thank you Mika and Maxi," Quita said dryly--but Roma could hear the smile there. Nothing could ruin this Night for them. Kerri finally crawled off him and gave a tamer hug to Quita before backing away so others could congratulate the couple. Although they'd been together for two years, and officially exclusive half a year after that first solstice, they'd waited to do the dance. It had needed to be perfect.

It was.

He quietly chirped and Quita stepped closer, his tail wrapping up Roma's arm as his body leaned into his torso and he finished the conversation. "Thank you for attending, good mother. You and your mate honor us with your presence."

"We're just glad to finally see the dance. We've been waiting two years."

Quita and Roma shared a glance and a private smile. "Yes, well, we had to make sure it was right. What with my leg and all." They didn't look away from one another.

"Of course, of course. I guess you won't be staying?"

"No. If you'll excuse us, I think we'll be going now, actually."

She chuckled and they took that as an opening. Dropping to all fours, they bounded away from the gathered crowd, both chasing and being chased as they headed toward their den.

And once there? They would celebrate the Lover's Night.