8: Meet the Furries
Cinnamon paced anxiously, wringing her paws, frequently glancing at the front door. Her fur was groomed to a sheen, and she wore a long, dark green halter top and a matching skirt that reached just below her knees. Ian, working on his laptop, looked on in a blend of amusement and sympathy.
When a knock sounded at the door she physically jumped two inches into the air, tail stiffening, then gathered herself and hurried to answer it. She beamed at the sight of Leslie, hugging them.
"Give me a moment to get my coat and lead." She gestured towards the sofa. "This is Ian, my owner. Ian, this is Leslie, aka Lapis."
Ian stood, and walked over, offering a hand. "Delighted! Cin's said a lot of nice things about you."
Leslie shook it, smiling self-consciously. "Oh, I'm just a goof who likes to dress up as a giant mouse. Thank you for letting us take Cin to the Meet. I promise we won't let her get into any trouble."
Ian smirked fondly at the cat, who now had a raincoat pulled over her shoulders and her lead clipped to her collar. "You'll have a job on."
Cin batted his arm. "I'll be a model of good behaviour, and be back in time for supper."
"That's my girl." Ian ruffled her ears, then stooped to hug her warmly and swap kisses. "Have fun."
Waving goodbye, Cin accompanied Leslie outside, the young woman holding her lead. In the lane beyond the gate a modest hatchback was parked, Jan at the wheel; he waved cheerfully. Leslie directed the cat to sit in the back, alongside a pair of bulky cases, then she slipped into the front passenger seat.
"You'll love the meet, Cin!" she gushed, buckling up. "So many great people, and some gorgeous suits!"
"Sounds great." Cin clicked her own belt into place, the butterflies in her stomach picking up their pace a little. "Any other AnthroPets?"
"Not that we know of, but never say never," Leslie replied, as the car got moving. Her smile faded slightly. "I just hope Eric doesn't show."
"Even if he does, we'll cope," Jan assured her. "How much trouble can he stir up in a room full of people?"
"True. And even if he does, he'll be out on his ear pretty quickly." The smile returned fill force. "We'll show Cin a good time or die trying!"
The cat laughed. "Don't go to such extremes on my account. I'll call it a success if I can go more than an hour without humiliating myself."
"You'd have to go some to top my first meet," Jan told her. "I got lost, went into the wrong bar - twice - then when I did finally find the right one - an hour late - I blundered right into the meet's main organiser, almost knocking them to the floor. I stepped on tails, I knocked a drink over; I was a bumbling, nervous mess. Worst of all, I stumbled into a suiter, and somehow managed to grab their breast and very nearly pull their head off." He sighed, then his voice softened. "And yet, even after all that, the group accepted me. The next meet went like a dream."
"Yeah that's...pretty bad." Cinna was sympathetic, but couldn't help a twinge of amusement. "How was your first time, Leslie?"
"Awkward." The young woman gave a wry grin. "I just sat in a corner and didn't talk for most of it. I plucked up the courage to speak at the next one, though, and never looked back. Don't be afraid to take your time getting used to things, all right?"
Cin nodded. "Any potential problems to be aware of, Eric aside?"
"Well, some people can get a little rambunctious," Jan admitted. "And conversations can sometimes turn to the more...explicit...art many in the fandom make, but never without warning. You don't have to see it or talk about it if you don't want to."
"Okay. Guess that means no kids'll be there?"
"No. The bar we meet at doesn't allow anyone under sixteen." Leslie explained. "Does allow accompanied AnthroPets, though."
"I'd hope so, or this'd be a wasted trip!" Cin smirked. "How long until we get there?"
"Twenty minutes, traffic willing," Jan estimated.
"All right." Cinna passed the rest of the trip in silence, all manner of scenarios playing through her head, butterflies stirring sporadically in her stomach. They grew livelier when, right on Jan's estimate, the car pulled into a multi-storey park close to the centre of the town. The cat tried to swallow them as she left the car, but with little success.
"It's just a short walk from here," Jan told her, helping Leslie take out the two cases.
Carrying one each, the young woman holding Cin's lead, they led her out of the car park, along one fairly busy street, then into another, not quite so active one. A short way down it, just before an old, red-brick railway arch spanned the road, was a bar named 'Off The Rails'. That it was their destination was left beyond doubt by the giant orange-furred cat of full figure and generous curves standing outside of it, clutching a plush fish and waving at passers-by.
Cin's eyes bugged. "They look like me! Did you..." The barely held in laughter of the others was all the evidence she needed. "You knew."
"Just wanted to see your reaction!" Leslie's eyes were bright; raising her voice, she called to the other cat. "Hey, Ginger! We've found your long-lost twin!"
The big feline span, reared back comically, then, paws going to their muzzle, sank to one knee. Finally they spread their arms wide.
Cinna giggled and, encouraged by Leslie, stepped forward to embrace Ginger. The hug she got in response was effusive, the other cat rocking her from side-to-side and purring loudly, her face smothered by their huge cushion breasts. They released her the instant she started easing back, then politely offered the plush fish. She took it, turned it over in her hands, then, a wicked glint in her eyes, hit their muzzle with it.
Ginger started, then shook with silent laughter, snatched the fish back and used it to bop Cin repeatedly between the ears. The smaller cat's hands swiped at it, trying to knock it away, then seized it and threw it behind her, to be caught be a beaming Leslie. Finally, the two felines batted at each other in a thoroughly kittenish play-fight, Cinna giggling the entire time.
"All right; break it up!" a strong female voice ordered; it belonged to a tall, dark-skinned lady in her mid-twenties with a reptilian tail attached to the back of her her belt, whose attempt at a serious demeanour was undermined by her twitching mouth. "This is a no-fighting zone."
Both cats desisted, hanging their heads in shame.
"That's better." She smiled a particularly bright smile, then gave hugs to Leslie and Jan. "Great to see you again." Her attention moved to the smaller of the two orange cats. "So this is the famous Cin."
"What have you two been saying about me?" Cinna asked, raising an eye ridge.
"Just that you're the loveliest feline I ever did meet," Leslie's tone was syrupy sweet, and she petted the smaller cat's head.
Ginger sagged, chin dropping to their chest, then started to pad sadly away, paws clasped together.
Leslie chased after them. "I didn't mean you weren't lovely too!"
"Oh, Leslie." The dark-skinned lady chuckled, then offered a hand to Cinna. "Call me Verity. I'm one of the meet organisers."
The cat shook it. "Pleasure."
Verity ushered her deeper into the bar, Jan following close. Towards the back, a little separate from everything else, was a cluster of tables and a screened off area. Populating it were about three dozen people, most sporting tails, ears, or both, a few in partial or full fursuit. The air was filled with lively chatter, and the tables were littered with drinks, snack food, tablets, phones and sheets of paper.
"Guys!" Verity called out. "The guest of honour has arrived!"
All eyes turned to the cat. Butterflies flurrying back to life she waved awkwardly, ears sinking. "H-hi."
To her intense relief there was no mass surging forward, just a couple of people getting up to approach with beaming smiles, while greetings rose loud and excited. She returned them, shyly, and allowed herself to be escorted to a spare seat. Jan and Verity joined her, as did Leslie a moment later.
"Made up with Ginger?" Jan asked.
"Promised them a chin scratch later," Leslie responded; she looked to Verity. "How's the campaign going?"
"Campaign?" Cin's ears canted.
"D and D," Verity clarified. "And it's getting exciting. Chasing treasure in beholder-haunted caverns. I play a kobold druid, who's actually, in a different form, my fursona, as well, hence the tail."
"I don't know much of D and D," Cin admitted. "But I'm pretty certain kobolds are enemies..."
"In the core game, yes." Verity smiled. "But there are expansions that have them as playable races. Besides, much of the fun of the game is putting your own spin on it. Being a furry's the same." She reached for a large bag behind her, pulling out a tablet. "Want to see her?"
"Please!" Cinna's nerves were fading fast.
Verity brought up an image of a pale green reptile girl with small curls of horns and long, dark green robes; she had a rugged little figure, and was clutching a staff that had a luminous blue stone held in fingers of wood at its summit. "Meet Sheavah Spellscale, level six druid, doughty adventurer and passable lute player."
"She's lovely," Cin complimented. "And that's wonderful art."
"Thank you." Jan inclined his head.
The cat's snapped to him. "Wait - you drew this?"
"Guilty as charged. Done a few pieces of that character, actually. Fun girl to draw."
"Here's a favourite." Verity swiped to a new picture, of a Sheavah with a more shapely form and her robes in ashes around her feet, huddled up and covering as much of her nude body as she could with her arms while grinning sheepishly, cheeks bright. "A memorable moment from early in the campaign, as wonderfully captured by dear Jan. I decided to apply fire protection but wasn't careful enough in my wording, and our mischief-maker of a DM took the opportunity and ran with it."
Cinna giggled. "I hope it didn't happen anywhere too awkward..."
"Oh, no, no; just right in the middle of a pitched battle with the odds heavily against us." Verity flashed a lop-sided grin. "Never been so glad I always carry spare robes."
"I bet!" Cin was completely relaxed, now. "Not entirely sure that was fair of your DM, mind."
"Oh, he made it up to us with particularly good loot. That's where I got my staff."
"Good." The cat studied the picture closer. "Am I right in thinking this is Sheavah the fursona, and the first was her in the game?"
Verity nodded. "You are. Game Sheavah only lost her robes once, but it's become something of a running joke with fursona her." She scrolled through a series of images of the kobold by four different artists, each time having lost their robes in some comical fashion; their demeanour shifted from coy embarrassment to more frustrated than embarrassed to long-suffering weariness. "All right, a few people are annoyed they never get to really see her, but..." She smirked. "They can go hang."
"Safe For Work only, I guess?" Cin surmised.
"Well, not entirely," Verity admitted. "I do have an artist, the only one I trust to do it, working on a nude pin-up of her at the moment, but it's not for public release, and I am debating...other things..."
"Other things?" A young man with smart, dark brown hair, low-rider jeans, a dark t-shirt emblazoned with a wickedly-grinning hyena, and a long, plush black-and-gold tail, dragged a chair over and lounged in it, a lazy smirk on his fairly handsome face. "Do tell."
Everyone else at the table stiffened up, Cin's tail starting to lash.
"None of your business, Eric." Verity crossed her arms.
"Oh, come now," he wheedled. "You can't leave me hanging like that, Verry. You know I've long wanted to play with that cute kobold 'sona of yours. Maybe we could come to an arrangement?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Not a chance. And don't call me Verry."
"Sure about that? I mean, it's not like you can get Jan to draw you up some tasty yiff, now is it? I've tried to tempt him to it for ages, and he just won't bite."
"I've no interest in drawing the kind of stuff you do, Eric," Jan stated, firmly, nearly glaring at the other man, and taking hold of a subdued Leslie's hand. "Why can't you understand that?"
"What I can't understand," Eric responded, undaunted, "is what kind of self-respecting furry artist doesn't draw porn. All the most popular artists do. I've got five times the watchers you have, after all. If I felt like it I could probably live off my art. You can't."
Jan sighed. "I'm happy where I am. Please respect that."
"Respect?" Eric snorted. "Where's the 'respect' in being pilloried for 'bringing the fandom into disrepute', huh? If anybody's 'bringing the fandom into disrepute' it's those idiots who can't accept what I choose to draw, and have to keep trying to change it to fit their narrow idea of what the fandom should be."
"Hypocrisy," drawled Cin, "thy name is Eric."
The man's smirk fell from his face, and he directed a cold glare at the cat; then his manner abruptly softened, verging on ingratiating. "Good point; well made," he acquiesced. "You're certainly astute. I wonder...I wonder if you'd agree to help me with something?"
"What?" the cat asked, guardedly.
"A comic I'm working on, about an AnthroPet and their owner. If you could help me ensure accuracy I'd be indebted to you."
"Careful, Cin," Leslie warned. "There'll be a catch. There always is. I learned that the hard way."
"I'm sorry for ditching you the other day," Eric apologised, sounding sincere. "Something came up, but that's no excuse."
Leslie was unmoved. "Something always comes up. Luckily, I have a much more reliable handler, now." She squeezed Jan's hand.
Something hard flashed in Eric's eyes, but only for an instant. His face was politely enquiring as he turned back to Cin. "Well?"
Curiosity got the better of the cat. "Ensure accuracy...how, exactly?"
"Well, make sure I've gotten the master-pet dynamic correct, that the pet behaves as a pet would, that all the terminology's right, and, most importantly, that I get across exactly what it's like when a master and an AnthroPet have sex."
Cin choked. "What," she ground out, tail lashing violently, "makes you think my owner and I have had sex?"
Eric's demeanour turned a little smug. "You're not denying it. Care to share? In the interests of accuracy."
"No," the cat spat, glowering, teeth baring. "I don't."
"Why not?" Eric pressed. "There's nothing to be ashamed of, surely, unless...unless it's illegal? Against the law? Bestiality?"
Cin started to hiss, ears flat back.
"Or maybe," Eric continued, oblivious, "you like it really kinky. Whips and stuff, or maybe..."
The cat lunged, only to be held back by Leslie and Jan.
"Eric." Verity's voice was thunder. "Stop talking, right now, or I'll have to ask you to leave."
The man stared steadily at her, then sneered and stood. "Don't worry; I'll show myself out." His smirking gaze lingered on Cin. "We'll pick up this conversation another time."
In unhurried fashion he collected a tablet, a backpack and a coat from another table, then sauntered out of the bar, whistling a tune.
Leslie laid a hand on Cinna's shoulder. "I...I'm so sorry..."
"Not your fault," the cat assured them, taking controlled breaths.
"I knew Eric could be tactless, but..." Verity shook her head. "I really hope this hasn't soured your view of the fandom."
"No." Cin's ears were lifting, slowly. "Just of Eric."
"Good." Jan sighed, rubbing his temple. "True, we're far from perfect, and we can be our own worst enemies sometimes, but..."
"But that shouldn't eclipse all the good things." Cin smiled at all three of them. "Like you. Thank you." She exhaled, long and slow. "I'm sorry for reacting so violently, but...sensitive subject..."
"Of course," Verity sympathised. "Much too personal to share."
"With him, definitely." Cinna smoothed the fur of her neck. "I think I owe you some explanation, though. Ian, my owner, and I did share, a little while ago, a very intimate moment. I was in season, and he was kind enough to help me through it. I treasure the experience, deeply, and the very idea of Eric exploiting it..." She shivered, then gave a wry little chuckle. "At the very least I now know exactly why you won't let him draw Sheavah, Verity."
"I've even more reason not to, now. Besides, if I do decide to get an erotic piece of her, I've a much better candidate in mind."
"Who?" Leslie wondered.
Jan raised his hand, smiling.
"You?" Leslie blinked. "I didn't think you..."
"I said I had no interest in drawing the kind of stuff Eric does. I didn't say I had no interest in erotica. There is a difference. Besides, who do you think drew the pin-up of Sheavah?"
"Of course." Leslie grinned. "It's all in the details."
"Or, indeed, lack thereof. I'll show you the couple of pieces I've done later, if you like."
"All right," Leslie agreed.
Verity's eyes were wide. "Wait - drew?"
Jan's eyes sparkled. "Check the shared commission folder."
Gasping, fingers fumbling in her excitement, Verity loaded the folder on her tablet. A visible quiver ran through her at the sight of a brand new thumbnail. She lifted the tablet, selected the file, then the shiver grew, and her mouth fell open, and moisture pricked the corners of her eyes. "Oh, Jan...she's beautiful..."
"Thank you." He looked emotional, too.
"Can we...?" Leslie asked, agog with curiosity. Cin's ears were keen.
"Since you're all friends." Verity turned the tablet round, to reveal her kobold fursona standing simply nude, one leg bent at the knee so the foot rested on just the toes a short way back from the other one, about which their tail loosely curled; their hands were folded neatly behind their back, and their head tilted slightly down with a shy little smile.
"Oh, that's lovely!" Leslie breathed. "You've outdone yourself, Jan!"
The man's cheeks coloured. "She's a wonderful subject. Thank you for trusting me."
"Trust well placed. "Verity turned the tablet back round, and gazed at the image some more, enraptured.
Cinna smiled at Jan. "If you ever wanted to make an AnthroPet comic I wouldn't have any issues helping."
"Funnily enough, I have been trying to create an AnthroPet character, recently," the man revealed. "Not having much luck, though. Your help would be invaluable, no argument." He solemnly held up one hand. "I swear I won't ask any questions about your sex life."
Cinna laughed. "Pretty sure one brief moment doesn't count as a 'sex life'. And don't take me for some kind of 'ideal Anthropet'; as Ian will vouch, I'm anything but. I do try to keep up with A-Pet things, though."
"So," Leslie posited, "you'd know if someone's planning or working to create AnthroPets with digitigrade legs, for example?"
"There is a group working on that," Cinna informed him. "Proving a little tricky, though. Balance issues." She focused back on Jan. "Is there anything in particular you need help with?"
"He nodded. "How strong your senses are, for a start. As strong as a, for want of a better word, normal animal, or not? Some clear anatomy reference would be very useful, too."
"Ah, OK." Cin's gaze grew thoughtful, drifting to the screened-off area behind them. "I wonder..."
Verity twisted round to follow her gaze, then aimed a quizzical look at the cat. "Are you thinking what I think you're thinking?"
"That's for suiters to change in private, right?" the cat asked.
"So no-one would see us."
"Most likely not, no."
"And is anyone in there right now?"
Verity looked around. "No." She frowned. "I'll admit I'm curious, but I'm really not sure this is a good idea. If one of the bar staff sees..."
"It'll just be for a few seconds," Cin assured her. "So Jan can take some reference pictures. Someone keeps watch, and we should be fine."
"You're serious about this?" Jan was dumbstruck.
The cat nodded. "If we're gonna do it, better do it now."
"I'll bring Lapis," Leslie grabbed the cases. "As cover."
"Good thinking." Cin led the way to the screened-off area. Once she, Leslie and Jan were inside, and an anxious Verity was casually lingering at the entrance, on guard, the cat quickly got undressed, then stood in a simple, straight pose with her arms at her sides. "Go."
Jan used his phone to take a picture, then a second when she turned side on, and finally a third when she presented her back. Cinna pulled her clothes back on, and Verity heaved a big sigh of relief. Once they'd stepped away, Leslie opened her cases, and started to put on Lapis, a lengthy, involved process that needed a little help from Jan.
Finally, though, a giant blue mouse stood before them. "You three talk anatomy a while," she instructed. "I owe Ginger a chin scratch."
The cheerful rodent ambled off to find the big cat, while the smaller one, Jan and Verity returned to their table.
The man pored over the photos. "How curious. I wonder why they went so human-like for the most part, yet kept the multiple nipples?"
"Multiple nipples?" Verity leaned in. "Oh. That is curious."
Cin shrugged. "Our weird scientists were especially weird. Works for me, though."
"Oh, I'm not criticising!" Jan assured her. "It does work for you. Do all physically female AnthroPets have them?"
"As far as I know. I believe male dogs still have baculum, too."
"Are any other species being worked on?" Verity wanted to know.
Cinna checked them off on her fingers. "Ferrets, rats, and mice."
"Mice?" Jan cocked his head. "That seems...ambitious."
Cin shook hers. "Apparently, once they'd cracked the process for one animal, it wasn't too hard to apply it to others. Well, unless they have hooves. Or feathers."
"What about scales?" Verity wondered.
"Lizards, likely. Snakes, nearly impossible. I could go into more detail about what's planned, but my eyes would glaze over, let alone yours."
"Curiosity demands I at least try to listen," Jan stated, laying down his phone.
"Don't say I didn't warn you. I'll start with the colour experiments..."
When Lapis ambled up to the table, the best part of an hour later, the three of them were deep in a conversation that set the mouse's head to spinning.
"Should we go on the walk without you?" she asked.
"The walk!" Verity sprang to her feet. "Can't believe I forgot! Let me get into character, then we'll head out." She grabbed her bag, hurrying to the changing area.
"Character?" The cat wondered. "Wait, she has a suit of Sheavah?"
"Partial. It's pretty cool."
Cin saw for herself a couple of minutes later when Verity came out of the changing space as the kobold, wearing large, scaled paws and feet and a head that looked impressively like the art, complete with curling horns and a bright smile. She even moved differently, almost floating across the room.
"Want to be my handler, Cinna?" she asked, her voice softer and just a little higher.
"Happy to!" the cat answered. "Any particular rules?"
"No touching the horns." Sheavah indicated one. "They're magnetic, and the last thing I need is somebody running off with one."
The kobold moved to the front of a crowd of a dozen and a half furs, half in partial or full suit, and raised her voice. "Everybody ready? Got handlers, water and props?"
A chorus of confirmations.
"We'll follow the usual route," she instructed, "but since we can't rely on the weather to hold forever, try your best to keep up a good pace. I want to be back here within three quarters of an hour, okay?"
"Okay," came the massed response.
Sheavah's gaze locked on a certain large orange cat. "And if you don't take off that suit when we get back, Ginger, we'll peel you out of it."
They held their paws up meekly.
"Right." The kobold clapped hers. "Follow me!"
The route was a short and simple loop around the very centre of the town, keeping as much as possible to the pedestrianised areas, whilst only passing along a brief section of the main, busy through road. The group only really lingered in the octagon, and most of the interactions were very positive, Cinna only having to deter someone from touching Sheavah's horns once. She also met the wide-eyed girl again, learning her name was Violet, and posing with her, Sheavah, Lapis, Ginger and Jan for a lively picture.
As they neared the bar once more, only slightly behind the schedule, Cin and Sheavah were at the back, ensuring everyone was still present and correct. The cat was separated from the kobold by a thick knot of people who refused to accommodate them, just as they were passing a narrow side-road, and before she could get back to Sheavah a hand latched onto her wrist and pulled her sharply into the alley.
Another clamped over her snout, and she, struggling enough to shed fur and leave scratches in walls and pavements, was dragged roughly and rapidly round corners, along two further, tighter alleys and inside a long-disused yard, where she was pinned to a wall by an arm across her shoulders and found herself staring into the leering face of Eric.
"Well, isn't this a stroke of luck!" he laughed. "Glad I decided to stick around. Now, I do believe we have some unfinished business."
"Piss off," Cin spat, struggling, ears flat back.
"Swear and strain all you like, kitty," Eric sneered. "No-one's going to find you, no-one's going to hear and come running, no-one's going to interrupt us." He leaned closer, expression darkening. "So I can take all the time I like to find out what I want to know. Hands on."
Driven by a rush of panic Cin's feet flailed wildly, one catching his shin with enough force to make him yelp in pain; the arm pinning her gave slightly in response, so she was just able to wrench down and sink her teeth into his wrist. He roared, cracked her across the face and flung her away, sending her skidding and tumbling across the ground. Then he leapt on her, squeezing her throat enough to choke.
"Bad kitty," he growled, his own teeth bared. "Just for that, I'm going to make sure this really hurts." He gripped the collar of her halter top.
"Some...one's...coming," Cinna hissed, hoarsely, ears twitching.
"You're lying," Eric dismissed, then stiffened, and craned round. His eyes flared. "How?! How did they...? Forget it." He sprang to his feet and sprinted from the yard.
Less than a minute later Sheavah, Jan and Ginger rushed in, the three of them huddling round her, cradling her between them.
"Cin?" The kobold's voice was taut with worry. "What happened?"
"Eric." The cat fervently nuzzled all three, body trembling. "He caught me. He was...he was..." She couldn't finish. "But you scared him off."
"Bastard," Sheavah spat. "He's lucky he bolted..."
"We knew he was trouble, but..." Jan was guilt-ridden. "If we had any idea..."
"How could you?" Cin shook her head. "This is all...on him. How did you...find me?"
"You left a trail of fur and scratches," Sheavah explained. "If you want to just go home, we'll fully understand."
The cat shook her head. "I'm not going to let Eric ruin the meet. And don't think this will stop me coming to future ones."
"All right." The kobold smiled. "You're always welcome. Eric, on the other hand..." Her paw clenched.
"Think he'll try again?" Jan asked.
"If he does, he's stupid," Sheavah averred, then sighed. "Let's get back to the bar. Leslie's waiting."
The cat threw herself into the rest of the meet, talking with Verity and Jan, playing with Lapis and Ginger - a slim, brunette thirty-something out of the suit - and almost succeeding in forgetting Eric. The evening was largely spent nestled in Ian's arms, and before she went to sleep she spent quite some time staring at a photo on Ian's phone, of herself, a vibrant blue mouse, a playful orange cat, a cheerful kobold, a smiling young man, and a beatific little girl.