Painting their nails had always calmed Sascha down. The simple act of dragging a brush slowly and carefully, following along the contours of the curved nails in smooth strokes, moving deliberately so as not to bump those nails already painted. The whole act seemed to be almost a meditation, calming to the core.
At least, usually it did. It was difficult to contain the nervousness and excitement that filled them, and they found themself anxiously cycling over the list of things that needed doing before they headed out. Clothes: packed. Cat: fed. Tail and paws: in the bag. Phone charger…
Cursing quietly under their breath, Sascha quickly finished up the last two nails on their right hand – always the hardest – and ran down the hall to snag the charger from the plug by the bed, being mindful of their still-wet nails. No sense in having to clean polish off the wall.
No such luck with the charger, unfortunately, which received a dash of glossy paint.
“And of course. Piece of shit.”
Moving slower now, Sascha made their way back to the kitchen table and settled into their chair. They took a few deep breaths to calm themself before delicately twisting the cap off the polish again, straightening up, and working on adding an additional coat to cover up the ding in the polish they’d received from the charger.
“Getting all gussied up for the con?” their housemate asked sleepily, drifting through the kitchen toward the coffee pot. Mike had a way of moving that looked almost effortless, a testament to his laid back life as professional dreamer. Sascha had always admired him for that, along with so many other things.
“Yeah, I figure if there’s any one place where I can be assured to not be the weirdest one around, a furry con is probably it.”
“Oh, come on,” Mike said, rolling his eyes and polishing off the coffee pot to fill his mug. “You’re hardly weird around here. College towns are full of people weirder than you, no need to drag yourself through the mud.”
Sascha sighed. It was a conversation the two had had enough times before that they didn’t feel the need to list out all the counter-arguments they kept in stock. No amount of discussion could seem to dispel the deeper insecurities involved, anyway, much as Mike might try.
So the two shared an easy silence – or perhaps it was easy on Mike’s end; Sascha simply held still, fingers splayed, and watched the floor as they waited for the polish to dry. Their mind rolled through waves of anxiety and forced relaxation, focusing on holding still and not simply jittering right out of their chair.
“So,” Mike finally said, voice softer than before. “What’s got you so nervous? Meeting up with whats-his-face?”
Sascha slumped, “That obvious, huh?” They bought themself a moment to think by blowing across the nails of one hand, then the other.
“Yeah, meeting Shadow,” they continued. “I’m not…really sure what to do. I mean, I really like him, and I guess a con’s a safe enough place to meet up with someone, since if it doesn’t work out, it’s not like you’re trapped alone with them with nothing to do but feel awkward. And at least with this one, I can drive home if I absolutely need to.”
Mike eased into the chair across from Sascha and nodded, clearing a space for his coffee. “Do you think you’ll hit it off, though?”
“Maybe? I mean, we certainly get along well enough online, but you never really know in person until you meet. We talked through that, too, about how maybe things won’t line up that well, and how this is just sort of an experiment.”
Sascha found it hard to meet Mike’s sleepy gaze. They had tried dating each other once, earlier in college before they’d moved in together, and it only took a month or two before the realized how much better friends they made than a couple. They clicked well, just not on a relationship level. Ever since, though, Sascha had a hard time discussing relationship things with Mike. The fact that they now shared an apartment had instilled in them a hesitancy around relationships that had kept them out of anything more serious than a crush or fooling around online. This was the closest Sascha had gotten to another relationship since Mike, and it felt a little exciting, as well as more than a little scary.
“You’ll do fine, kiddo,” Mike laughed, sipping at his coffee.
The pet name got a smile out of Sascha – the height difference between them and Mike when they were dating had led to them being confused as parent and teenaged child more than once. “I know, I know. Thanks. And thanks again for watching the cat so I can go be a ridiculous furry.”
“Oh, that shithead and I will get along fine. We’ll totally ignore each other except around dinner time.”
“Sounds about right, yeah.”
Mike finished his coffee and stood again, wafting easily toward the hall and giving Sascha’s shoulder a squeeze on the way out. “Good luck, kiddo, for real. Call me if you need.”
Sascha managed to make it through the rest of the morning without dinging any more nails, a real accomplishment. They had already packed up clothes and furry gear, and got the over-stuffed backpack into the back of their shitty Civic. They even managed to only turn around and retrieve a forgotten item once (the phone charger, natch), and that before they hit the highway. The trip was off to a good start, all told.
The drive itself was uneventful, a mere two hours from home down to the hotel hosting the convention. They were pretty confident that some of their friends would already be there, and thus would provide some distraction from the way their stomach seemed to be doing its level best to pirouette inside their abdomen.
Sascha had moved comfortably through the furry fandom for more than a decade now, having found it sometime in high-school, sticking with it through college, and into post-college life. More so than any other community, furry had helped them through some of the toughest parts of their life, from the divorce of their parents, to coming out – first as gay, then genderqueer – to moving away from home life. They’d tried to fit themself into countless other structures: gender and sexuality support groups, writing groups in college, all with more or less the same result: fading interest, spotty attendance, and eventually moving on.
The most comfortable thing about the fandom was that it provided a place for them to be themself. At times, pretending to be an animal person on the internet was almost ancillary to the sense of community, of just being able to feel comfortable with friends, something they’d never experienced in more structured environments such as all those carefully curated groups and meetups.
And furry is where they had met Shadow.
Shadow was, as his name suggested, a black wolf. Wolves were one of the more common species out there in the furry community, and Sascha had even known a different wolf named Shadow years back. Despite the rather plain name and everyday species, Sascha had found him to be a sweet, mature person who had seemed genuinely interested in them.
They had made an unusual, even rather awkward couple, Shadow the wolf and Sascha – or Skylark, online – the mink. Sascha had initially resisted getting much closer than friendship with Shadow, but he had eventually won them over. They had spent countless hours talking, role-playing everything from going for walks together to sexual encounters, and otherwise getting to know each other over the last four or five months. They’d even had a few short, tense phone calls, something Sascha avoided at all costs, getting to know each others’ voices.
Shadow had seemed open to Sascha’s gender identity and expression, saying that while he generally considered himself more straight than anything, he was willing to explore outside his normal comfort zone. They had both agreed that sex may not even be a thing for them, as it tended to make Sascha uncomfortable and Shadow had said he wasn’t exactly sure what all he would enjoy with someone of indeterminate gender who nonetheless lacked a vagina. It was that open-mindedness that had convinced Sascha that meeting up, even if it wound up only being casual, would be okay.
Now, making their way down the highway and trying to drown out the rattling dash with music, Sascha felt less sure than ever that this was a good idea. Mike and their other friends had been pushing for them to find more of a relationship for years now. They knew their friends were right, too, given how much they talked about companionship and how much that meant to them. Still, though, this just felt like all the scenarios their parents had warned them about, and here they were deliberately going into it.
They shook their head and settled back into the seat. They were committed to going. They’d been telling themself that for weeks, now, and now that they were more than halfway to the hotel, where they’d already reserved a room. There was definitely no turning back.
“Well if it isn’t Skylark, pretty as always.”
The voice from behind the chair Sascha had managed to commandeer in the lobby made them jump, startled at first, then hit with recognition. “Maverick! Holy hell, I didn’t know you were planning on making it down this weekend!”
They jumped up out of the seat, tail smacking against the coffee table nearby. They remembered to put their purse on the chair to claim it as best as possible, and dashed around to throw their arms around Maverick, who picked them up in a tight squeeze in turn.
“I managed to wrangle some time off. I’m only down here through Sunday at stupid-o’clock in the morning, but hey, at least I made it.”
Sascha settled down once Maverick let them go and straightened their skirt out, nodding. “Well, still, glad you could. It’s been forever since I’ve seen you. Haven’t caught up with any of the rest of the crew, I figure I’m probably here a little earlier than most.”
“Oh, well, I’m here, and I know Volare’s around somewhere, I ran into him at the bar, naturally.”
“Of course, I’d expect nothing less.”
Maverick laughed, straightening his badges and lifting Sascha’s purse from the chair before plopping down into it, “I’m sure the bar’s gonna make plenty good money this weekend.”
Sascha snagged their bag from their friend. Online, Maverick was a rather glowy cheetah whom they’d known for years, and met several times in person at local meets. They settled for sitting down on the arm of the overstuffed chair, leaning against Maverick and draping their stuffed tail across his lap. The two caught up on recent happenings – who was quitting furry forever, what art had caused a big stir among their group of friends, what they had been saving up to buy in the dealer’s den this year.
It was Maverick who finally broached the subject of Shadow.
“So when does your…uh…guy friend get here? You’ve been looking left and right since I spotted you.”
“Not until later tonight,” Sascha sighed. “I’m just so nervous, I can’t stop thinking maybe he’ll somehow magically get here early.”
“I’m not even sure it’s that, really. Just nervous.”
Maverick furrowed his brow. “What, do you think it won’t go well or something?”
Sascha buried their face in their hands and trailed their fingers up through their hair, freshly dyed a subdued red just for the occasion, mumbling behind their forearms, “Yes. Well, no. I mean…I guess I don’t really know. I haven’t been this close to someone since Mike, so it just feels so weird. I don’t know what to do about it.”
Maverick nodded and brought a hand up to rub up over Sascha’s back, tracing along their spine soothingly. “You’ll do fine, minkypie, and you know you’ve got a bunch of us here to take care of you if things don’t go well. They will, though, trust me. Shadow’s a little plain, given the rest of us, but he’s good people.”
“Oh, come on, he’s not that plain. You just say that because your spots glow blue and Volare’s bright pink. By your standards, I’m plain.”
“That you are, girlie.”
Sascha groaned and draped herself dramatically across Maverick’s lap, “Girlie, huh? I haven’t been called that since…well, ever. Congrats on being the first.”
“Skylark the delicate minkygirl, plain as day, swooning wildly into the muscle-bound arms of her manly wolf lover.”
Sascha’s groan turned into giggles, muffled by their hands as they hid their face. “Seriously? I should hit you for that. And lay off the ‘girlie’ and ‘her’ nonsense.”
“Oh? Feeling more boyish of late?” Maverick asked, still grinning.
Sascha sat back up on the arm of the chair, twisting around to settle more comfortably against their friend as they toyed with the fluff at the tip of their tail, “A little, I guess. Maybe it’s the possibility of meeting up with Shadow, though. I don’t want to come across as…as…I don’t know, disingenuous.”
“Hey now, I’ve heard you talk about gender enough to know that you’re hardly disingenuous about it. You talk convincingly enough to get me doubting my own gender, for Christ’s sake. Shadow really has you feeling more like a boy?”
“Um, there’s just…it’s just…there’s more to it than that, I guess. I’ve been honest with him and all, but he’s so much more, well, active than I am. I don’t want to surprise him or anything.”
“Because you interact with him mostly as a girl online?”
“Yeah and…” Sascha stammered for a bit, hunting for the best way to convey the way they’d been feeling. “And I just don’t want him to think I’m dishonest or anything.”
“Hey mink,” Maverick said soothingly, “I don’t think you’re being dishonest, and I don’t think Shadow will think you’re being dishonest, either. If you’ve talked about gender already, then I don’t think there’s anything you need to worry about. Heck, you’re wearing a skirt and have your hair done up all nicely, you’re certainly not looking boyish.”
Sascha couldn’t think of much to add, nodding and murmuring a quiet “thanks” in reply.
The two sat for a little longer, watching the congoers and confused non-attendees streaming past the lobby chairs in various amounts of costume.
It was Maverick’s phone buzzing that brought their attention back to the moment.
“Oh, hey, Volare found Vish, and they’re at the bar, want to go meet up with them?”
Sascha gave one last look around searching for the buzz-cut that they knew they would spot first, that first sign of Shadow, then finally nodded, “Sure, I could use a drink, anyway.”
The initial meeting between Skylark and Shadow was widely panned by critics as a romance, though some praised its comedic aspects.
By nine that night, Sascha was still in the bar, nursing their second Manhattan and making sure that Volare stayed on his stool more often than not. Maverick had gone off to the restroom something like fifteen minutes ago, and Vish, a non-drinker, was looking more than a little hemmed in. Everything was that delightfully confused mix-up of a convention, and everyone was settling into it in their own way.
“Your hair is…redder than I was expecting.”
Sascha whirled. The voice was undoubtedly Shadow’s – Peter’s – recognizable from the phone. And sure enough, the buzz-cut towering nearly a foot over their own head had them immediately feeling dwarfed. The second thing to catch Sascha’s attention was the crash and tinkle of not one, but two glasses as the back of their stool knocked into the bar table and tipped both Volare’s and Vish’s drinks.
Rather than rushing to hug their partner as they had immagined, Sascha was overcome by an intense feeling of self-consciousness and guilt at what they’d done. They quickly helped pick up pieces of glass and ice, mopping up spilled beer and soda while muttering hasty apologies to their friends. In the process, they managed to cut open a finger on a piece of glass, adding to the confusion.
“Whoa, whoa! Slow down. Skylark!”
By the time Peter had gained their attention, Sascha was fighting to hold back tears and refusing to meet anyone’s gaze, never mind that of their boyfriend.
The waitress rushed over to the table with a rag and a bandage for Sascha, and was helping to clean up the sticky mess. She commented on how lucky everyone was to have been spared the deluge for the most part – Volare and Vish both had only a few scattered droplets on their shirts, the rest of the beer-soda flood having made its way onto the floor.
Sascha managed to pry their eyes from the mess and look sheepishly up to Peter, who simply held his arms out. No leaping to the offer of a hug, nor collapsing, weeping, into his arms. Instead, they hesitated for a few seconds – long enough for the entire table to go silent – before slowly leaning into the offered embrace, covering their face with their hands and crying as quietly as possible as Peter held them.
“I’m sorry, that was…that didn’t go as planned,” Sascha said, once they were sure their voice wouldn’t crack.
“Hey, hey. It’s okay. I’ll just take it as you were really happy to see me. Everything’s okay.”
“Sorry, I’m just a little anxious, awkward…”
Peter leaned down and placed a tentative kiss to the top of Sascha’s head, cooing gently, “It’s okay, I promise. Come on, let’s sit back down, and we can grab a drink and relax and catch up. You look really good, by the way.”
Sascha felt a good portion of their tension melt away at the relaxing murmuring of their partner, enough that they could disentangle their own arms enough to slip around Peter’s stocky middle and finally return the hug, taking comfort in the fact that he practically enveloped their smaller frame.
Eventually, Sascha let go and dried their eyes, tugging another stool over for Peter and introducing him to the crowd, most of whom he’d known online for the last few months of hanging out with his partner, and a few of whom he was just meeting for the first time. Peter made his dramatic arrival up to everyone by covering a replacement beer and soda for Volare and Vish, another Manhattan for Sascha, and a beer for himself.
“So,” said Volare, sitting up as straight as he could, a sure sign of his drunkenness. “You’re the Shadow that we’ve been hearing so much about! You and Skylark make a really cute couple.”
While Sascha hid their face behind their drink, Peter grinned widely and nodded, “It’s been an interesting few months for me – for both of us, I think. I don’t think Sky was really looking for much in the way of a relationship, and I wasn’t really looking for someone like him.” Realizing his mistake quickly, he rushed to add, “Er, them. I’m sorry, Sky…”
Sascha hunched their shoulders in an attempt to get even smaller, feeling the attention shift from Peter to themself. “It’s…it’s okay. I appreciate the correction.”
Vish and Volare let their gaze linger on the couple, one smiling and the other looking nervous.
“Anyway,” Peter continued, hoarsely. “I think it’s worked out well, there should be plenty to do this weekend, anyway.”
Feeling their courage return after having tripped over themself so much early on, Sascha nodded. “That’s why cons are so awesome. We can all hang out together, and we automatically have stuff to do.”
Maverick finally made his way back to the table, having been gone for nearly half-an-hour on some minor adventure. Introductions were made and the conversation began to wind comfortably around the group, settling into rhythms at once familiar from all the time they’d spent together online, and foreign in this strange and new setting. A hotel, Sascha decided, was not the most comfortable of places, but the convention was a sort of force working actively against that, bringing comfort to a comfortless place.
“Sky, I’m really sorry about earlier, I promise I’ll do better about the pronouns thing.”
Sascha laughed and leaned themself in against Peter, slipping their hand into his and entwining their fingers. “Oh, don’t worry about that. I dumped my friends’ drinks all over them and fucked up my finger in the process of trying to say hi to you, I’m pretty sure I’m the one that owes you the apology.”
Peter laughed as well, and the two of them settled in to the bed they would be sharing for the rest of the con. They had splurged for this trip since Sascha wouldn’t be flying and Peter was paid fairly well. They’d gotten a room to themselves with a king bed, and had piled all the myriad pillows up against the headboard in order to create a sort of cozy nest for themselves. After an evening of drinking and watching Volare get drunker than everyone, they had felt the need for a space that was quiet and soft. It was here that Sascha felt most at ease, opening up around Peter, leaning closer and closer to him as they had talked, getting more and more affectionate.
“Sky, I promise, it’s fine! I’m just, uh…I’m just really happy to see you. Like, I don’t think I’ve been this happy to meet someone for the first time in a long time.”
Sascha tucked themself comfortably against Peter and nodded bashfully, “It’s really good to get the chance to actually meet up in person, and I’m really glad-”
They were cut short as Peter fumblingly nudged their head toward his and pressed a shy kiss to their lips. The kiss lingered for a brief second or two before Peter settled back, averting his gaze and admitting shyly, “I, ah…I just wanted to…have wanted to for a while.”
“It’s okay,” murmured Sascha, twisting a little to face Peter more directly and slipping their arms around him. “I’m not complaining one bit.”
Peter smiled and helped to tug Sascha a little closer to him, saying, “I’ve never really kissed…I mean, I guess I should say I’ve only really kissed girls…er…women in my life. Oh…that sounded bad…”
Sascha laughed and leaned up to kiss Peter once more, shaking their head. “It’s fine, Shadow, really. Is it any different?”
“Ohh, I dunno,” he said, trying to pull what was obviously his best attempt at a sly look. “Might have to continue experimenting to find out.”
Peter, Sascha discovered, tasted slightly of beer, and slightly of the sea, in some inexplicable way. Mike had never been much for kissing, though it was something Sascha had always found to be enjoyably intimate, so they relished the opportunity. Peter was an active kisser, too, leading his partner through his actions, guiding them with his hands on their sides and back, first closer to his side, then, with a gentle tug, up into his lap, leading Sascha to straddle his thighs and lean against him as he leaned back on the headboard. The kisses grew in intensity, as did the tension in both of their bodies.
“Mmn, slow down, just a sec,” Sascha whispered, pulling back.
“Everything alright, mink?” Peter asked, looking concerned.
“Yeah just…just need to slow down for a few, little bit of vertigo, feels a little sudden.”
“Okay, didn’t mean to rush, that was just really nice.”
Sascha smiled and slipped their arms up around Peter’s shoulders, “It was nice. Very nice, trust me. Just needed a second.” They relaxed against his front and calmed their breathing, “Did you figure out if kissing me was different?”
Peter laughed at the question and nodded, “It is, but damned if I know how. Maybe it’s just that everyone kisses different, who knows.”
Sascha grinned and nodded, “Thought so. Here, lets just get a little more comfy on the bed and we can go back to exploring.”
Through concerted effort, the two slid a little further down onto the bed so that Peter rested mostly on pillows instead of the headboard, and Sascha was able to rest their weight more evenly against his front, stretching almost luxuriously along him as they leaned up to meet him in another kiss, moving more slowly and deliberately this time. Tongues teased at each other and hands gripped at shoulders as the couple worked on gaining the comfort that had come so quickly online in a new context.
This time, as the kisses grew more intimate, Sascha quelled their anxiety and opened themself to Peter’s obvious desire. They clutched themself closer to him with hands on his shoulders and pressed warmly to his front, feeling the way he moved slightly against them, feeling the slight bulge of his erection grow into a firm ridge against their thigh, feeling his hands move down to the small of their back and pull them to him as his hips nudged gently upwards.
“This okay?” he breathed quietly. Sascha nodded in reply and pressed gently down to him in time with his own motions, slipping back into the comfort and intimacy of the kisses. Their mind was focused on that warmth, focused on making sure that Peter felt as good as they could make him in the moment. Their own arousal, much more constrained by panties and an undershaper, felt secondary to sharing the moment.
Over time, Peter’s motions became more insistent and he rolled the two of them onto their sides, still clutching close as he ground his hips firmly to Sascha’s. Kisses grew more passionate and hands rubbed along sides and back as the couple rocked together in the bed, both seeming content to be simply be that close, even fully clothed.
Sascha’s nervousness began to pick up once more at the thought that Peter might want to go further than simple grinding and kissing in bed, unsure if they were ready to feel that exposed before someone they had just met in person for the first time earlier that evening. However, Peter broke the kiss first and gave a sudden buck of his hips, then shuddered in Sascha’s arms, letting out a shaky moan that trailed off into something like a sigh.
Understanding dawned on Sascha and a feeling of intense emotional warmth overrode their anxiety. They simply clung tightly to their lover as he shook gently against them, reveling in the feeling of someone experiencing the rush of pleasure in climax so close to them, sharing in that through proximity as best as they could. There was too much fabric in the way to feel much more than a gentle pulsing of that firm ridge pressed to their thigh, but Sascha could tell that the orgasm was intense, if unexpected.
“S-sorry,” moaned Peter, turning his head slightly toward the covers as if to hide his face. “I think…I think I was a little more pent up than I thought…”
Sascha, practically purring in contentment, replied quietly, “No, no, it’s okay. That was actually really delightful. Are you okay?”
Peter worked to calm his breathing as he slowly settled down against Sascha, nodding. “I’m fine…I’m fine. Though I’ll need to change pants before too long. Um…thank you, Sky.”
Sascha laughed and pulled themself even closer to Peter, placing a delicate kiss at the corner of his mouth and marveling at how perfect it felt to be so close.
Sascha woke slowly, curled at the edge of the bed, to the gentle sound of Peter’s snoring – quiet enough to be more endearing than annoying. They had fallen asleep in a tangle of limbs, once they’d gotten cleaned up and into pajamas, but, as had always been the case in Sascha’s experience, had separated during the night and slept in late on opposite sides of the bed.
The evening of drinking, talking, intimacy, climax, and more quiet talking drifted back into focus, and Sascha curled up a little tighter, smiling against their pillow at the memory. That things had wound up heading in the direction of sex wasn’t all that surprising, given how the two generally acted online. Sex had loomed large in their relationship, and although the idea of getting too much further into it still made Sascha nervous, they found themself relaxing in a warm afterglow the next morning. The simple act of being so close to someone during such an intense moment filled them with happiness. Even if they themself hadn’t reached climax, it still felt as though they had gotten a chance to share something special.
Sascha was startled out of their reverie by Peter’s quiet mumbling, smiling, “Hey, morning.”
Peter tugged the covers up under his chin seemingly still asleep, but after a minute or two of silence, he asked, “Time is it?”
Sascha yawned and peeked back over their shoulder at the alarm clock, “Nine-ish, bit after.”
Peter nodded and rolled onto his back, muttering, “Sleep. Gooood.”
With a quiet laugh, Sascha shifted closer to him under the covers until they were nestled in against his side, head resting on his shoulder and arm slipped over his front, finding the most comfortable way to fit against him. Peter slipped his own arm around their shoulders and rumbled quietly in contentment, though he still hadn’t managed to open his eyes.
The two stayed like that for half an hour more, Sascha nearly dozing off before Peter finally stretched out and yawned. He tilted his head down to kiss lightly at Sascha’s forehead, leaving behind a gentle tingle from the soft, not unpleasant bristle of his stubble.
Sascha leaned up to return the kiss, but after a moment Peter turned his head to the side, then carefully slipped out from under their arm to stand up out of bed.
“Mm? Is everything alright?” Sascha asked.
“Just wasn’t expecting…I mean, would it be okay if you shaved?”
Sascha brought their hand up to feel their own unshaven face – barely a hint of coarseness, but enough to feel – and felt their body tense. They nodded and sat up in bed, crossing their arms over their knees and settling their chin down behind them, doing their best to hide any shadow that might be showing, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Peter mumbled, slipping into a T-shirt. “I just wasn’t expecting it, I guess.”
Sascha nodded again and slid quietly out of bed, grabbing a change of clothes – jeans today – and their toiletries bag and headed for the shower, hoping they’d remembered their razor.
The embarrassment didn’t last long. A good shower fixes a lot of things, and Sascha always felt better after shaving, often to the point of doing it twice a day to ensure they had as little shadow and stubble as possible. It was one of those things that wouldn’t go away without an investment, and they’d had enough trouble scraping up for this splurge of attending the con.
Sascha thought back to the previous day’s conversation with Maverick about not wanting to appear dishonest to Peter about gender. They winced, but got themself cleaned up well and even added a touch of makeup, just a bit of concealer and eyeshadow to feminize their features somewhat. Something conciliatory to make things go a little more smoothly. Soon, that warm afterglow they had felt before was back, along with a smile.
Getting dressed, they belted on their tail and opted for fuzzy paws instead of shoes. Now that the con would be in full swing, it wouldn’t hurt to furry things up a little. After all, just paws and a tail would put them at the low end of the dress-up spectrum.
Sascha packed up their kit and slunk out of the bathroom to find Peter gathering his own things up for a quick shower. They leaned down and kissed him lightly on the cheek, “This better, Shadow?”
He smiled up to them bashfully and nodded, “Sorry about before. I know it wasn’t very nice of me. I just was caught off guard.”
“No, it’s alright. I don’t like it either. Go ahead and get ready, and we can get some food. There’s a coffee shop down the street that does good breakfast burritos.”
While Peter showered, Sascha caught up on how their friends’ nights had been. Volare had gotten drunk, of course. Vish had gotten upset, of course. Maverick had apparently spent much of the evening trawling the lobby and Friday night dance in hopes of running into anyone else he knew with little luck. His job kept him busy enough that he wasn’t totally in touch with the furry scene, so it wasn’t a big surprise. A few more of Sascha’s friends and acquaintances had shown up, and they made a note to say hi at some point during the day.
They spent a few minutes poking at Twitter, drafting message after message
Fantastic night last night :)
Really good evening, so good to meet up with @ShdwWolf.
Delete delete delete.
Good evening last night. Caught up with friends, had a fantastic time with @ShdwWolf. Glad I could make it.
They pondered for a second before hitting send. It would be enough to state that the night had been positive without necessarily tipping their hand as to how positive it had been for them.
Peter eventually made his way out of the bathroom, clean-shaven and damp, and smiled to Sascha. They finished getting dressed – standard furry wear of con shirts, jeans, paws, and tails – and made their way to the elevators.
Sascha leaned against Peter’s arm in the elevator, taking his hand in their own. He smiled down to them and gave a little wagging motion of his backside. It made Sascha laugh.
Once in the lobby, they ran into Maverick looking bored, and roped him into going to grab breakfast and coffee with them. The three chatted amiably as they made their way to the coffee shop and through the line to order, each getting a breakfast burrito or other treat and a coffee drink to finally wake up.
Peter excused himself to go wash his hands, and Maverick pounced. He took Sascha’s hands in his own and grinned widely at his friend. “So! A fantastic time, huh?”
Sascha did their best to not look embarrassed, “Yeah, it was a good evening all around.”
“Come on, you’re glowing!”
“What? Am not!”
“Trust me. Take it from the glowy cheetah. You’re glowing.”
Sascha couldn’t do much other than bow their head to keep their blush from being seen.
“It’s good, minky,” Maverick continued, voice softening. “I won’t pry, I’m just happy for you.”
Sascha smiled shyly and drew one of their hands back, enough to take a sip of their coffee and hide their face for a moment. “It was a good and comfortable night. We didn’t…you know, do much, but it was just good.”
“Well, hey, ‘good’ is what cons are for. Oh, hey Shadow, promise I’m not mackin’ on your mink.”
Peter pulled his chair up to the table and grinned, adopting an air of incredulity, “Macking? Really?”
“Yeah, come on, Maverick. We left the nineties behind a while back,” Sascha laughed.
Later that day, by the time they’d made it back to the hotel and met up with Volare, an icy Vish, and a few others from the IRC channel they all hung out on, the glow that had obviously suffused Sascha had calmed down to a sense of peace and happiness. They were pleased to tag along after Peter and the crew as they made their way slowly through the dealer’s den, ogling books and art, carefully noting commission prices (and snagging one or two that were within their range), and just generally being a giggly group of friends.
The day wound down slowly, and since all had been out and about on their feet all day, none were all that keen on heading to the dance. Dinner had been a simple, if stressful affair at an overcrowded sandwich place.
Afterwards, everyone had decided to congregate in Maverick, Volare, and Vish’s room. The fourth member, Anna, hadn’t been able to make it to the con, and they hadn’t been able to pick up anyone else by the time the con rolled around, so Maverick had a bed to himself while Volare and Vish alternated between cuddling and arguing in their own bed.
Volare had, of course, procured a fifth of rum and a two-liter bottle of coke, despite Vish’s grumbling. Everyone sat down on the beds and the single office chair, passing around one of the two water glasses filled with rum and coke, while Vish claimed the second glass as his own without any rum. Eventually, Peter caved and ran up the one flight of stairs to his and Sascha’s room to get a few more glasses.
“So how’s it goin’, Sky?” Volare asked, his voice perfectly level, but the redness in his cheeks showing that he’d had two rum-and-cokes to everyone else’s one. “With Shadow, I mean. Seems like things are going well.”
Sascha blushed as Maverick immediately laughed. “Ignore him. Things are going well. We had a good night, and today was good. It feels…I don’t know. It just feels good to be close to someone again. Some awkwardness, you know, with the gender thing. Nothing bad, just kinda finding ways to work it out, I guess.”
Volare nodded, hugging an arm around Vish next to him. “You sure everything’s okay, though? I hate to go all motherly-gay-dude over you, but I just want to make sure.”
Passing the last of the drink off to Maverick, Sascha nodded. “I think so. I worry that I’m too outside of the realm of experience, for him, though it seems like he’s trying, in his own way.”
Volare nodded again, and a silence fell over the room as Maverick set about mixing another drink, this one stronger than the last. He was larger than anyone in the room (though that was hardly a stretch, given how small Volare and Sascha were), and tended to make things to his own tastes and constitution.
There was a quick knock on the door, and Sascha jumped up to open it, letting Peter back in carrying two glasses and a small metal flask. “I’ve got the glasses, and I’ve also got some crappy whiskey some rando in the hall filled my flask with. Evan Williams or something equally awful.”
“Mmm, shitty bourbon,” drawled Volare.
The group laughed and welcomed him back into the circle, letting him take his spot by Sascha. He poured a finger or two of whiskey into one of the glasses and beckoned for the coke, passing the other glass to Maverick in exchange, then topped off his own glass with soda.
The pleasant banter continued around the room, minus the bits about Peter now that he was there. At some point someone put some music on through their cell phone, though later, Sascha was hard pressed to say who exactly had done so. Something chill, calm, something to fill the silences when conversation waned.
Sascha noted that, when he wasn’t drinking from the communal rums-and-coke going around the circle, Peter was also sipping from the flask that he carried, and quite obviously getting drunker as the night went by. That was okay, though, they figured. They were drinking plenty, themself, and it was good to feel the warm buzz surrounding everyone as the night wore on. Even Vish seemed to be getting in the spirit, laughing along with jokes and getting closer and closer to Volare through the night.
”’m glad you all seem pretty cool with me tagging along like this. Know I’m new to the channel and all, but I’m glad Sky put in a good word for me,” Peter said quietly during one of the little lulls in the talking.
Maverick, always a happy person and a happier drunk, laughed and leaned over to give Peter an awkward sort of sideways hug. “Of course, man, you seem cool, and I know we trust Sky.”
Peter returned the half-hug and grinned to himself, looking sleepy. “Yeah, he’s a good mink,” he said, sounding satisfied.
The silence lingered on for a few seconds before Sascha hunched their shoulders and quietly murmured, “‘They’re’.”
Peter laughed loudly and hugged his arm around Sascha’s shoulders, pulling them firmly toward his side. Definitely drunk. “He, they, whatever. You can be my good little minkyboy too, right?”
The silence continued to stretch out, glances were exchanged. Eventually Sascha sat up a little straighter, trying to look as dignified as their drunk self could manage. “I’m not feeling very boyish. I know I’m maybe not as much of a girl as you’d like, but I’m not a boy.”
There were a few nervous laughs around the group, but Peter furrowed his brow. “I’m trying to compliment you, Sky. I think you make as good a boy as a…as a…as a whatever.”
Sascha watched Peter fall into a sulk and frowned. They didn’t feel like there was much that they could do. The drunk reasoning with the drunk is a fancy way of talking in circles.
It was Vish, of all people, who saved them the trouble. “Hey, it’s getting late, and I want to crash. Sounds like folks have stuff to work out, too, so maybe we can catch up tomorrow?”
Maverick caught on and stood up right away, only wobbling a little bit. “Hey, Shadow, was really good to get the chance to catch up. I’m out early in the morning, so…” he trailed off, offering Peter a hug, as was customary.
Peter struggled to his feet and leaned silently into Maverick’s hug, then seemingly on impulse, hugged Vish and Volare as well. He straightened up deliberately and made his way back to Sascha, who had made it to their feet by then as well, and held their hand, firmly entwining fingers with fingers.
“Drive safe, Maverick. See you guys later,” Sascha offered, trying to sound light-hearted
“I feel like I’ve let you down,” Sascha said quietly. “I feel like I’ve lied to you.”
Peter stomped up the stairs, two steps ahead of them. “Tell me about it.”
Sascha followed on in silence up the next flight and out the door by the ice machine, making their way after Peter down the hallway to their room. They unlocked the door and entered in silence, Sascha sitting carefully on the bed and Peter falling gracelessly into the desk chair. Silence, thick and tangible, hung between them.
“I feel like we had a really good night last night,” Sascha offered, after a minute or two. “I feel like we connected in a really important way-”
Peter cut them off, “I feel like I was imagining you as my little girl, like you were the person I’ve been imagining the whole time these last six months.”
Sascha fell quiet again. They stood, paced to the end of the bed, paced back, sat again, and stood once more. Finally, they buried their face in their hands and mumbled, “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to…you know, be difficult. I want to be that person for you, I just…there’s just so only so much I can do.”
“You could’ve not been…” Peter started. “You could’ve acted like what I should have expected from the start. You’re not really what I expected at all.”
Sascha clenched their fists and stuffed them into the pockets of their hoodie, “I want to be something good for you, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. I don’t know how to be anything else.”
Peter looked away in silence.
Sascha lowered their head, closed their eyes, and resumed their pacing circuit. They didn’t look at Peter, they didn’t look at the ground, they simply paced and did their best to cut out all input. Anxiety welled in their chest like some awful, noxious bubble aiming to burst in the form of some horrible meltdown. They focused on breathing. Count of four in, hold for a count of five, count of seven out. Anything to calm the situation, even if only internally.
“Here, I’ll tell you what you can do, sweets,” Peter slurred, sounding half angry, half something else.
Looking up, Sascha found that Peter had unzipped his fly and tugged his boxers down, and was aiming his erection in their direction. “Even boyminks got warm muzzles, hmm?”
Sascha was shocked. Their head was spinning, and they couldn’t tell if it was from the alcohol or the proposition.
“Well, c’mon, you were eager enough last night, though you must’ve had some rockin’ panties on, didn’t feel a thing,” Peter sneered.
“You want me to give you a blow job,” Sascha asked incredulously. “But you just said I wasn’t what you expected.”
“Come on. Bygones and all that crap. Take care of me and I’ll forget about all this gender shit. I came here thinking we’d have a good time together, so let’s have a good time.”
The combination of vague threats and an act that Sascha had rehearsed in their mind over these past few months countless times – had acted out through role-play online with Peter more than once – was too much for them to handle. Their mouth went dry, they couldn’t swallow, the room seemed closer and closer.
“Fuck it,” they whispered. “Fuck you, if you think sex’ll clear this mess up.”
And they stepped out the door.
Sascha made it to the stairwell before the tears hit, and when they did hit, they hit silently and with no force, simply spilling down over their cheeks and into the waiting sleeve at the crook of their elbow. Growing up a boy, taught to be a man, had left them much that needed to be unlearned, but the secret of crying quietly when one was supposed to be strong felt like an inheritance of sorts.
Their phone buzzed. Twitter.
Direct message from @ShdwWolf
The tears came harder.
SkylarkMink: you awake?
Mavcheets: Just getting ready. What’s up. You okay?
SkylarkMink: can i come by
Mavcheets: Sure, just be quiet. V and V are asleep, was packing
Sky I’m sorry, drank too much :(
Direct message from @ShdwWolf
Sky, take your time, but please come back :(
Direct message from @ShdwWolf
Mav sent me a dm, can we talk
Direct message from @ShdwWolf
Mav says your okay and sleeping there, talk tomorrow pls? :(
Direct message from @ShdwWolf
Sascha awoke neatly wrapped in Maverick’s – they still didn’t know his real name – arms when their friend’s alarm went off. Maverick was well attuned to his alarm and reached across Sascha to turn it off with ease before returning to the hug that had apparently lasted all night, burying his face against the back of Sascha’s neck.
They had fallen asleep with their clothes on, for lack of any pajamas. The night had drawn out for another hour or so of whispered conversation in bed, keeping quiet lest they way Volare and Vish. Sascha had fallen asleep dressed and crying, but safe against their friend, feeling his bulk behind them as something of comfort rather than as a source of anxiety.
Maverick had done admirably. He’d asked if everything was okay several times, and gotten the full story of what had happened after Sascha and Peter had left. He didn’t pass any judgements on either of them, and had let Sascha talk until they had started to doze.
Even so, Sascha wasn’t sure what to make of the remainder of the evening. Everything felt so safe with Maverick and so…well, cold with Peter. They were hesitant as always to draw conclusions on that – just because a friend was nice to them when something had gone wrong didn’t mean that…well, it meant that he was a good friend. To be honest, their first instinct had been to take Mike up on his offer to call whenever, but it had been so late, and only a little bit since they had left Maverick’s room in the first place with alcohol buzzing through them. Nothing to feel sorry about.
Maverick grunted and leaned up on an elbow in bed behind them, then leaned forward to give a friendly kiss to their cheek. “Hey, morning. I gotta start getting ready, but you sleep in, okay? I’ll send V and V a note explaining that you needed a place to stay for the night and took my bed.”
Sascha curled themself a little tighter in bed and nodded silently.
“You keep in touch, okay hon?” he murmured, giving one last gentle squeeze. “And be safe, minkypie. Things got rough, but you’ve got friends here.”
“Thank you,” whispered Sascha, clutching briefly at Maverick’s hand before letting him get up and get ready to drive.
Later that morning, once Volare and Vish had woken up and learned what Sascha would tell them of the night before, they made plans to get them back to their room. The two flanked them as they made their way up the flight of stairs and preceded them into the room in case Peter was still in there and upset.
Instead, they found the room to be empty, and Sascha followed after to find the room neatly kept – the bed made hastily and Peter’s clothes stacked neatly atop his bag. The bathroom was humid, a shower taken there not long before.
“At same coffee shop, meet me there?” read a small note on the desk.
“That’s good,” remarked Volare. “A question you don’t have to answer. And he wants to meet in a public place. Shitty what he did and all, but I’ll give him credit for trying to do the right thing today.”
Sascha was inclined to agree, but asked Volare and Vish to follow them to the coffee shop all the same. “The sooner we can get this sorted, the better, I think. Otherwise I’ll just fuck things up all the more.”
Vish pulled the door shut behind them as they left the room, and thumped Sascha on the shoulder lightly with a fist. “Don’t go blaming yourself, mink. There was booze, things went sideways. It’s not your fault.”
Sascha stuffed their hands stubbornly into their pockets and hung their head, then nodded as they made their way to the elevators. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I guess I was just worried that I’d chicken out on seeing him again.”
Vish grinned, “Wouldn’t blame you, but no, this is something that needs talking through before too much time passes, or it’ll turn into something ugly.”
Peter met them at the fence of the coffee shop’s patio, correctly foreseeing that Sascha would have a hard time making it through the doors if they knew that he was waiting inside.
He didn’t hug them, he certainly didn’t act out, he didn’t do anything but stand with his hands in his pockets and quietly say, “Hi.”
“Hi,” Sascha offered, at a loss for anything else to say.
“Look, about last night…” He stared at his shoes for a moment before continuing, “I’m sorry. I had too much to drink, and I know that doesn’t excuse what I said, just…I’m sorry.”
Sascha looked around to find that their friends had backed off and were standing by the entrance. Still within sight, but giving the two privacy.
“It’s okay, but maybe we should talk about it,” they offered cautiously.
Once inside and at their own table, each with a coffee, both Sascha and Peter seemed to relax. There was the requisite fiddling with condiments, lids, and hot drink sleeves to occupy them and get them used to each other’s company in the wake of the previous night, but once seated, there was nothing left to do but talk.
“I’m really sorry,” Peter began. He paused for a moment as if to collect his thoughts, then continued. “I can’t say I didn’t mean to make it about gender, last night. I know we agreed that this would be an experiment, and I can’t say yet whether it’s passed or failed. I’ve never been with a guy-” he held up his hand to forestall a response, “I’ve never been with a guy, not to mention someone like yourself. I think you’re wonderful, I really do, but I don’t know how to make it work in my head.”
They sat in silence, Peter staring down at his coffee lid and Sascha down at their hands. Finally, they dredged up enough words to come up with a reply. “I…don’t feel good about last night, but I don’t feel bad about this, I guess. I mean, I kind of want to yell at you about that, but I also get what you’re saying. I definitely accept your apology, but I need to think a little more about what you said.”
Peter nodded and sipped at his coffee, while Sascha’s thoughts whirled wildly around their head. They wanted desperately for this thing that they’d been working on for months to work out, but they also wanted to feel safe, not to mention welcome to be who they were. Neither of those things seemed to fit in their mind with what had happened last night.
Finally, speaking slowly, they said, “I know a con breakup isn’t what either of us really wanted, but I don’t know that this is going to work.”
Peter let out a heavy sigh.
“I’ve got a lot I can say on that, but I don’t want to seem like I’m beating around the bush or anything,” Sascha continued.
“No, no, I agree,” Peter said quietly, clutching at his coffee. “I really want it to, but when I think about you, I think about…I think about my little minky girl, and I just can’t make that jive in my head…I don’t know what I’m saying.”
“Mm, I think I get it, though,” Sascha said gently, wary of the bright look of tears in Peter’s eyes. “I spent years having it not jive – ‘boy this’ and ‘boy that’ didn’t work, but neither did anything girly – so here’s how I am now.”
They drifted back into quiet for a good long while afterward, each watching the room from a different angle as furries bought coffee and early-sermon churchgoers boggled at those in tails and rave gear. They both stayed quiet until each had finished their coffee.
“So,” Peter began. “We’ve got one more day and one more night.”
“And everything after.”
“And everything after,” he agreed.