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Ratty couldn't believe his luck. Mole was staying with him. Mole was living with him.

Not with Toad. Ratty liked Toady, of course. They were good friends. But Toady had green skin and bulging eyes and...well, that tongue. Ratty shuddered. He didn't like to think about Toad's tongue even under normal circumstances. The thought of it wrapping its greedy, lecherous, sticky length round his innocent little Moley.... It wasn't to be contemplated, really.

And not with Badger. Badger was a useful person to know, certainly. He was even admirable, in many ways. Resourceful, tenacious, wise. But there was something indefinably creepy about him. He stayed down in that bleeding hole all winter, and heaven only knew what he got up to, or with whom. Why, just imagine what he might do down there with Moley -- sweet, innocent Moley who loved the underground. He'd probably tie Moley to a tree root, take his spectacles off to render him blind and helpless, and then -- molest him. Nibble at him. Run his nasty snout through Moley's soft, velvety fur until the poor lad squeaked for mercy.

Ratty's tail twitched at the thought.

But Moley hadn't gone with Badger, even though that subterranean den must have been powerfully tempting to him. No, he'd said it quite clearly. "I'm staying with Ratty." Ratty hadn't been able to suppress a grin of triumph at that.

And now here they were. Ratty was proud of his home in the drainage ditch. True, the sitting room floor was always under several inches of water, but the upper-level bedroom -- ah, the bedroom was warm and dry. He'd found that the mice and squirrels and hamsters he entertained preferred it that way, and he was willing to make the sacrifice.

"If you'll get undressed, Moley," he said, with as much nonchalance as possible, "I'll go and put the kettle on. Then we can tuck up all nice and comfy and toasty warm in our bed, and have a nice cup of tea and a bit of pleasant conversation. Won't that be lovely?"

Moley squinted uncertainly round the bedroom. "There's -- there's only one bed, Ratty?"

"Ah, yes, yes, only one, but it's quite all right, Moley, quite all right. Why, it's big enough for three rats!" Let alone one rat and one small, cold, grateful mole. He sighed inwardly with anticipation.

Moley smiled. "All right. But there's no need for tea, Ratty. You've done so much for me already, I wouldn't like to put you out."

"Oh, nonsense, nonsense, it's nothing! I'll just -- "

Moley caught him by the arm as he was turning to go. "No, no, really, Ratty. I'd really prefer it if -- if you'd just stay. I don't mind getting undressed with you in the room." He smiled again, and it was an altogether adorable smile. He had unusually large incisors, for a non-rodent.

Ratty quite fancied large incisors. He covered his own, with difficulty, and said huskily, "All right. I'll just turn my back, then."

He listened, a-tremble, to the rustles of fabric behind him as Moley shed his clothes, the quiet click as he set his glasses down on the nightstand. His ears pricked as he heard the bed covers being drawn back, and the soft whisper of a body sliding beneath them.

"I haven't a nightshirt," Moley said. "It was ruined when the weasels -- when they destroyed my home."

The melancholy throb in his voice sent a surge of righteous anger through Ratty. Those blackguards. Those scoundrels. To rob a poor animal of his only nightshirt -- to leave him unclothed, exposed, vulnerable....

"Oh, don't think about that, Moley!" He disposed of his own clothes impatiently, almost tripping in his haste to remove his trousers. "Don't think about them." He scurried to the bed and slipped in, whiskers vibrating. "You're safe now." He pulled the blankets up and extended his arms to his young friend. "My, it is cold, isn't it?"

Moley shivered, and snuggled delightfully close. "Yes, but -- I'm sure I'll be warm now." He burrowed his head comfortably under Ratty's chin and sighed.

Ratty closed his eyes. His tail was twitching uncontrollably. He couldn't stop it. It was an involuntary physiological reaction to the feel of a warm, furry body in his arms. He pushed the tail discreetly out from beneath the blankets and let it hang, jerking, down to the floor. He didn't want to frighten poor Moley. One had to lead up to these things gradually.

Oh, Moley was so soft and furry. Ratty ran his hands slowly up and down him. Moley said nothing, but his breath was warm and rapid against Ratty's throat.

"Your fur's lovely," Ratty whispered. "I like touching it."

Moley raised his head and looked blurrily into his eyes. Bereft of the spectacles, Moley's own eyes looked heartbreakingly young. "I like touching yours, too," he said, and put out a hand to stroke Ratty's thigh.

Ratty drew in a sharp breath. He hadn't expected such boldness.

"That's nice," he murmured. "Oh, that's nice, lad." He felt his teeth creeping, involuntarily, from beneath his lips.

Moley's tiny eyes widened. "Beautiful teeth," he whispered. He touched one gently with a finger. "You're not going to eat me, are you?" His voice was soft, coy. Flirtatious, Ratty realised, and a flutter began in the pit of his stomach.

"Rats eat anything," Ratty answered, somewhat breathlessly. "But no, I shan't." Unless, dear heart, you'd like that. He pushed the thought away quickly.

Moley gazed guilelessly into his eyes. "Isn't it terribly awkward when you kiss lady rats? The teeth, I mean. Doesn't it hurt them?"

"No," Ratty whispered. "No, it doesn't hurt them. But I seldom kiss lady rats, lad. I have -- well -- other interests." He touched Moley's face gently.

Moley's lips parted. "I simply can't believe it doesn't hurt, Ratty," he said in a soft voice. "Perhaps it's one of those things that must be experienced to be believed." He leaned forward slowly, slowly, agonisingly slowly, until his lips touched Ratty's.

Ratty was afraid to breathe, afraid to move, afraid to wake from what must be a dream. He lay still and let Moley shyly explore his lips, kiss his fangs, lick delicately at his whiskers. So sweet, so innocent, so willing. The pulse pounded in Ratty's tail.

Moley retreated as slowly as he'd advanced. He closed his eyes and, with a long sigh, laid his head against Ratty's shoulder. "You were right," he murmured. "It didn't hurt at all."

"Mmm," Ratty replied faintly, for he hadn't the strength to say more.

"Ratty," Moley said, after a moment's blissful quiet, "will you -- will you do something for me?" "Not," he added hastily, "not that you haven't done more than enough already, of course, but -- "

"Anything," Ratty whispered fervently. "You can have anything it's within my poor power to give you, my dear."

Moley lowered his eyes. "Your tail. I'd like to touch your tail."

Ratty's mouth went dry. "My tail?"

Moley nodded. "Mine is so short, you know, and I can't reach far enough to touch it. Actually, I've never touched anyone's tail. Not ever." He raised his eyes then, and Ratty was powerless before them. "I'd like yours to be the first, Ratty," Moley whispered. "Please."

Ratty swallowed. "It's -- it's -- naked, you know." Most non-rats hated touching his tail. Except the mice. Bless the mice.

"I know." Moley smiled. "It's so beautiful, so shiny and slick. I've admired it so, Ratty, but I never had the courage to ask. But now, now when we're so close, you and I..."

"Yes," Ratty whispered. "Yes."

He took hold of it and pulled it under the covers. Moley reached out a hand towards it, and hesitated. Ratty took the hand in his own and guided it gently to its destination.

Oh, how lovely. He gasped as Moley's soft, shovel-like hand caressed his throbbing appendage. His eyes slipped shut in ecstasy, and he felt tears of gratitude prickle behind his lids.

"I didn't know." Moley spoke in an awed whisper. "I never imagined -- oh, Ratty, it's so smooth, so lovely." Ratty heard the hitch in his voice. "So long."

Ratty writhed helplessly beneath his touch. "It's -- it's all for you, sweet. All of it."

"I want you to teach me, Ratty." Moley's breath tickled Ratty's whiskers unendurably. "Teach me everything."

"Yes," Ratty panted. "Yes. Everything." He groaned as Moley wrapped the tail round his legs, and then between them. "Oh, lad..."

Moley pressed closer to him, as close as he could get. "I've heard," he said softly, "that male rats are called bucks. Are they, Ratty?"

"Yes," Ratty breathed. "We are."

He felt Moley's mouth curve against him in a smile. "I like that," Moley murmured. "I like it very much."

Ratty moaned. He liked that word too, he realised. It sounded young and strong and virile.

"Buck," Moley repeated. His voice dropped to a silky whisper. His hands stroked Ratty's aching tail exquisitely. "My buck."

"More," Ratty gasped. "Please..."

"Anything." Moley kissed the tip gently. "Anything."

 

*****

 

Late, late that night, while Moley slept (and he was angelic in sleep, Ratty noted tenderly), Ratty slipped out of bed and padded quietly downstairs to his roll-top desk. It wasn't easy to leave that lovely bed (scene of indescribable ecstasies!) but he'd best write it now, whilst he was thinking of it. The weasels deserved a sincere thank-you note.