Option Three

The blame for this lies with three ridiculously disparate sources. The first is Planet Earth/Blue Planet, which feature episodes that deal with squid and cuttlefish (with a pinch of information on slugs). The second is Katy Perry's song Extraterrestrial, which has horrible verses, but a stupidly catchy chorus. Last but not least is a call for submissions to an anthology, the theme of which is abduction and/or kidnapping. I couldn't keep this under the word count for the anthology, but that was all right -- I'd missed the deadline anyway. I may write more of these two in the future, but I don't know, yet.

The basic premise is as follows: at some point in the future, humanity discovers that aliens do in fact exist. After a period of unrest, a compromise is reached between other beings wishing to settle on Earth and the people who live there. In the US, this compromise takes the form of centralized intake centers, where settlers are introduced to the local culture and so on before being set loose. As in all ventures of this sort, bureacracy and bureaucrats are rampant, and as usual, it's the customer service that suffers.


Shelby Foster didn't like the way the occupant of A137 looked. Not from an aesthetic point of view—Shelby had discovered that, like humans, the population of the Muriel P. Granderson Memorial Extra-Terrestrial Quarantine And Processing Center spanned the spectrum from 'eh' to 'hot damn'. No, the being in A137 just didn't look healthy.

"Hey, Denathiq?" He hoped he'd pronounced it right.


The creature's voice was breathy, bubbly, and strained. Denathiq's skin looked dry, and he seemed to be collapsing in on himself. Bands of light and dark grey chased themselves over the parts of the creature that weren't wrapped in the same shapeless industrial-beige coverall that were issued to all the "guests".

"Are you all right?"

"Need water."

Shelby frowned. "Don't you have a cup? You should." He touched the infopad on the wall beside the door to A137, his frown sharpening into a scowl as he found that Denathiq had no infractions, no reprimands, not even a warning or a note on his chart. Nothing except a complaint from a member of the housekeeping staff about mold and mildew, followed by a refusal to continue cleaning the room.

"Not enough." Denathiq rose from his chair, swaying for a moment before approaching the transparent panel. "So dry."

"Are you dehydrated?" That would explain why Denathiq looked like a piece of crepe paper. Shelby poked at the infopad, putting his authorization code into the system and opening the door. "Come on, let's go down to the infirmary."

* * * *

"I'm sorry, there's just no room for him in here. I can put him on fluids, but that's about it." The nurse sighed and shook her head. "If you'll just have a seat here, I'll go grab an IV."

"I need to get back to my rounds," Shelby said, as Denathiq dropped into one of the waiting-area chairs. "But I'll be back in about an hour and a half to check on you, okay?" He jumped a little as something that felt like cool vines wrapped around his wrist.

"Thank you." Denathiq said, then released the guard.

"No problem. It's why I'm here." He smiled, waved, and walked off.

Ninety minutes later, Shelby was back in the infirmary and Denathiq was still slumped in the chair. "Have you had your IV?" He doubted it, since Denathiq still looked papery and the grey stripes were still strobing over his skin.

"No. Need water."

"Just a moment." Shelby went through the door that led into the treatment area of the infirmary.

"Excuse me, can I help you?" A short young woman popped out of what seemed to be a store room.

"Yeah. I've got a dehydrated guest out in the waiting area. He's been there for an hour and a half, and the nurse that said she'd get him an IV didn't come back." Shelby crossed his arms, doing his best to look intimidating. "Can you get him some assistance, please?"

"I'm just an assistant, but I'll see what I can do," she said, pointing back toward the door. "Please go wait out front."

"Right. Thanks."

"Water?" Denathiq's voice was a whisper.

"Someone should be out, soon," Shelby said, checking his watch, frowning as he realised it read 3:30 AM. "Wow, is it really that late? Tell you what, I'll wait here until my shift's over."

 "Mm." Denathiq sat very still, seeming to suspend even his breathing as they waited.

Half an hour passed, Shelby's watch beeped, and he shook his head. "That's it. I've had it with everyone and everything, here. On your feet."

"Hm?" Denathiq blinked and looked up at the man.

"You're coming with me. Now. Don't argue, just follow me." Shelby's hands felt numb. What the hell did he think he was doing?

"Mm." He stood up, closing his eyes for a moment as he wobbled, opening them again as Shelby steadied him.

"Come on."

Ten minutes later, they slipped into the employee's locker room, more or less unseen. Shelby rummaged through the lost-and-found until he found some clothes that Denathiq could wear. "Here, can you put these on? Or should we just wrap you up in this coat?"

"I wear." He took the clothing, then opened the front of the jumpsuit.

Shelby did his best not to peek as Denathiq changed, aided by the fact that he was having trouble with his own clothes. Nervous fingers fumbled over buttons and slipped from zippers, and at one point he tried to put his head and his arm through the neck of his T-shirt. He managed to get dressed, and when he turned around, found Denathiq had successfully changed as well. "Okay. Here's this coat, and a hat, and we can get out of here."

"Out?" Denathiq slowly drew the coat on, then plopped the hat onto his head.

"Yeah. Out, outside. Into the world." He was pretty sure he'd lost his mind. He didn't know a damn thing about Denathiq—not what he needed, not what he was allergic to, not even what he ate, not really—and he was going to drag him out of the Center and into typical American life. "And I will get you as much water as you need, okay?"


That seemed to settle it. Shelby opened the employees' exit and looked around. No one was in the parking lot, so he waved at Denathiq; the two of them crossed to Shelby's car and got in.

"Buckle—Uh, see the strap, there?" Shelby pointed at the seatbelt.

"This?" Denathiq touched the nylon webbing, a flicker of orange slipping in among the greys.

"Yeah. You pull it down, like this," Shelby demonstrated with his own seatbelt, "then put the metal end into the thing, the reciever, here. Yeah, there. Great."

"Why?" Denathiq straightened up, looking at the human from the corner of his eye.

"It's a law, and it's been proven that a seatbelt keeps you safer in a crash than not wearing one. Plus, for me, it's habit." He started his car and backed out of his spot, carefully; the trip out through the gate was as sedate as he could make it. Shelby didn't really expect to get away with it, since his digital fingerprints were all over Denathiq's door, but he ignored that for the moment. "What kind of water do you need? We put chlorine and fluoride and stuff in the tap water, but I can get you distilled water, or filtered water, or even salt water if you need that."

"Just water."

Shelby glanced at Denathiq as they waited for the light to change. The stripes were moving sluggishly, now, and his voice was softer than Shelby'd heard before. "Okay. Just hang on, 'cause in another ten minutes or so, we'll be at my place."

* * * *

Shelby helped a groggy-seeming Denathiq into his little house and into the kitchen. "You should probably start with slow sips," he said, as he filled a glass at the sink.

"Give," Denathiq said, holding out both...hands. As humanoid as the rest of him was, his hands were actually four branches at the ends of his arms, which each split into two smaller branches. They weren't stiff but coiled fluidly, like the tendrils of pea-plants in fast-forward. A closer look showed that each of them was lined with small suction discs, and when Shelby relinquished the glass there was no way it could have fallen to the floor.

"Small—" Shelby's reminder was cut short as Denathiq removed the hat with a third (a third!) hand that slithered out of the neck of the coat and then poured the water over his head.

"More water."

"Are you just going to pour it over yourself?" Shelby shook his head and took the glass back. "Because if you are, forget the glass and let's get you in the tub."

"Tub?" Denathiq's skin flashed orange again. He allowed Shelby to pull him to his feet, though, and followed the man out of the kitchen and up a set of stairs.

"Yeah. You're only allowed to shower at the Center, so I bet you'll love this. In here." He flipped the light on, frowning a little as it revealed his messy bathroom. "Sorry about all the junk. I gotta do laundry. Anyway, so you get out of your clothes and I'll fill up the tub. You want hot water, warm water, or cold water?"

"Just water. Must have." Denathiq shed his borrowed clothing, revealing not only the third limb, but a fourth as well. His legs were much like his arms, though a bit wider and flatter where he stood on them.

"I'll make it warm, then." Shelby turned the taps, then adjusted them before closing the drain. "Come see if this is okay for you."

Denathiq slipped past Shelby, trailing one hand over his arm even as he leaned over and reached for the water pouring from the faucet. "Water good," he said, and flowed into the tub without saying anything else.

"That's what you need," Shelby said, watching Denathiq settle into the rising water. The grey stripes had been replaced by a steady dark grey on the underside of him, while the upper part of him was about the same shade as the porcelain of the fixture. Denathiq still looked pinched and dry, but Shelby was pretty sure that was only temporary.

"Water good. Thank you."

"Yeah, no problem. Hey, are you hungry? Of course, I have no idea what you eat, or if I even have anything you can eat..." He shrugged and ran a hand through his hair, glancing at Denathiq's face. "So, um, are you hungry?"

"Eat fish. Crab. Shell-fish."

"I think I've got some tuna. You probably don't want a sandwich, huh?"

"Tuna." Denathiq drew the word out, weaving his finger-tendrils together to catch water, then lifted his hands to pour it over his face. "Tuna."

"Okay, tuna it is. I'll be back in a minute, okay?"

In the kitchen, Shelby opened two cans of tuna and dumped them into a bowl, found a spoon, and headed back up. "Here you go, tuna. And it's about time to turn off the water, 'cause it won't get any deeper."

"Thank you." Denathiq took the bowl, lifting what passed for his feet, wrapping his toes around each of the taps and turning them off.

Shelby decided that he really needed to do laundry. He really, really, really needed to gather up every towel and pair of underwear littering his bathroom, and he needed to do it as soon as possible. He absolutely didn't need to think about what it might feel like to be wrapped up in six flexible limbs, with forty-eight soft supple tendrils creeping over his skin. "I'm gonna go start some laundry and then I'm gonna find you a towel and stuff. So, uh, you just enjoy your bath and your tuna, okay?"

"Water good, tuna good. Thank you." Denathiq reached out and touched Shelby's arm again, leaving damp trails on his skin.

"No problem. See you in a minute or two."

"Come back?"

He paused in the doorway, turning to look at the being in his bathtub. At least at his face, anyway. "Yeah. Yeah, of course I will."

On his way down to the basement, Shelby kept reminding himself that not only was it unethical to get involved with any of the Center's guests, it would get him fired. It wasn't until he closed the lid of the washing machine that he remembered he was likely to be fired, anyway: he'd kidnapped one of the guests. That was pretty damn close to being involved, wasn't it? So there was that. Shelby dug clean clothes out of the dryer. "Of course, on the other hand, he's probably totally uninterested in humans. Probably thinks we're ungainly sticks or something, about as attractive to him as pigs are to us..."

Stripping off his shirts, he stuffed them into the washer, then pulled on a clean, short-sleeved button-down before gathering up the rest of his clean stuff and heading back upstairs. Shelby was still grumbling when he poked his head into the bathroom, after depositing his laundry on his bed. "How're you—Oh."

Denathiq was completely submerged, limbs curled up against his body. Pale stripes of color—shell pink, robin's-egg blue, just-sprouted green—slid over his skin, the bands moving slowly. His skin looked better, smoother, even if he did seem to have developed some interesting frills.

Reminding himself to keep his hands off of his...whatever he was, true guest or kidnap victim, Shelby ducked into his room and rounded up more laundry. When he returned to the bathroom, Denathiq had lifted his head above water. "Hey. Better?"

"Water good. Tuna good. No tuna." Denathiq offered the bowl to him.

"You got the last of it. I might have some fish sticks in the freezer, though. If you're still hungry, I mean." Shelby took the bowl and waited. A flare of blue, darker than the earlier color, passed over him. "No. Enough. You eat?" Orange, this time.

"Nah, I'm okay. How are you? Getting rehydrated?"

"Water so good." Denathiq reached up and touched Shelby's arm, stroking the skin of his wrist. Dark red streaks flowed up from Denathiq's hand, melding with deep pink stripes at the shoulder; the two colors twisted together and ran down his sides.  "You... You good."

"Thanks," Shelby said, a half-smile pulling the corner of his mouth up for a moment. "Hey, y'know, I totally spaced your towel and some clean clothes. I should go grab those while I'm thinking about it."

"No." Denathiq's second hand rose to rest on Shelby's arm, just under his first one. The tendrils curled and uncurled, softly, slowly. The red and pink stripes spread across his chest, while lines of electric blue touched the backs of his arms and the edges of his frills. "You...stay?"

Another flicker of orange, followed by a grey-yellow which disappeared so quickly it was as if it had never been. Shelby was sure that all of the colors meant something; he wondered if it was considered rude to ask. "You want me to stick around? Okay, sure." The gentle touch of Denathiq's hand was almost a tickle, and he resisted the urge to rub at his arm. "I have no idea what we can talk about. You don't watch TV—not that I do, either, not really—so... Read any good books, lately? You'll have to tell me about them, 'cause I don't really read, either." He switched the bowl to his other hand, then set it on the stack of magazines on the toilet tank.

He looked up at Shelby, moving his hands higher up the man's arm. "No read. Listen Stravinsky. Fire-bird. Music...like water." Denathiq made another cup of his free hands and scooped up a little water, letting it pour back into the tub. "Moves."

"Oh? Cool. I'm not a big fan of classical music, but I can see what you mean." Shelby nodded, then looked down at his arm. "I'm not trying to be rude, not at all, but... What are you doing?" He pointed at Denathiq's hands. "You're not hurting me or anything, it's just kind of weird."

"You taste...good. Ready," Denathiq said, his eyes half-closed as black added itself to the cascading colors. "Not want hurt."

"I taste good. I taste ready?" Puzzlement, arousal, and concern collided inside Shelby. "That's great, I'm glad you don't want to hurt me. Or be hurt yourself. Whatever, the thing is... The thing is, I don't know what you're talking about, tasting good and ready."

Denathiq drew his legs close, then sat up so he could take Shelby's other arm with his free hands. "Ready. Touch." One pair of hands wrapped around Shelby's wrists while the other brushed up and down, from his wrists to the edge of the arms of his shirt.

"Oh." He had to make a decision, and make it fast; before he could, he had to have more information. "You want to touch me, right? You want...me?"

"Touch good, yes," Denathiq said, his hands moving over Shelby's skin. The black was replaced by a turquoise and he tipped his head to one side. "You not want?"

"It's, uh, it's great." Shelby had never realized that his arms could be an erogenous zone. "Thing is, is it going to make you sick or something, if I let you touch me? You're okay with the air, and you're okay with the water..."

Thin lips stretched into something approximating a smile, revealing the edges of black, chitonous teeth; the deep pink and dark red seemed to get brighter for a moment or two. "Touch good. Shell-be taste good. Shell-be give food, give water."

The fact that Denathiq knew his name, along with the tone of Denathiq's voice, tipped the balance. He was already fired anyway, what else could happen? "That wasn't an answer, but I guess that you'll tell me if things aren't good. Uh, just so we're both clear on it, I can't breathe underwater. I'm a mammal and all that."

"Mm." Denathiq's blue accents brightened and dimmed, brightened and dimmed, as he rose from the water. "No wear."

"Help me out?" Shelby raised his brows and lifted his hands, surprised when Denathiq didn't prevent it.

"Yes." He found Shelby's buttons with his free hands. They were easily manipulated, and when Shelby's shirt hung open, he stared at the man's skin. "Not...same."

"No." Shelby swallowed as Denathiq's cool tendrils brushed through hair and circled his nipples.

"No gh-dha," Denathiq said, drawing one hand up his own arm, where thin lines of blue pulsed between the bands of pink and red. "But taste good."

"Guh—Yeah, I'm not gonna even try saying that," Shelby said, looking down to follow the movement of Denathiq's hand. "You mean the colors?"

"Gh-dha. Yes, mean." Another pass of his hand, before he put them on Shelby's chest once more. "Not want?"

"Is it, uh, wrong? To ask you what they mean?" He shook his head and put his hands over Denathiq's. "Yeah, I'm still interested, I promise. I'm just not sure if we need to stay here, or if we can go get in bed. And I probably need to go get a rubber and maybe some lube, except I don't know if it'll be okay to use with you..." Shelby tried to focus on the fact that Denathiq's...fingers were still gently exploring his skin.

"Mean..." Denathiq's mouth twisted, what passed for shoulders moving in a clear shrug. "Much. See. Touch?" He moved Shelby's left hand, placing it on the frill on his right side.

The skin under his fingers was soft, slick; there was some firmness and some give to it. Shelby was reminded of tofu, then immediately tried to forget the association. The fact that ribbons of blue shimmered out from where his fingers pressed into Denathiq's flesh helped. "Cool." He glanced up, noticing that Denathiq's eyes were half-closed again. Shelby let his hand slide down, then dragged it back up, smiling as Denathiq's eyes closed completely.

The buckle of Shelby's belt was of no consequence, nor was the button and zip underneath it. The fabric that lay below the man's pants, however, gave Denathiq pause. "This not good."

"Hang on," Shelby said, gingerly testing the strength of Denathiq's grip. It was as slack as before, and he quickly shimmied out of his jeans and underwear. "Better?" Uncertainty prickled at the back of his mind—would his cock seem repulsive? His dry skin, sprinkled with rough hair? What did Denathiq find attractive, besides apparently the way he tasted?

"Oh." Orange and aquamarine replaced the pink and red as Denathiq opened his eyes, his free hands resting on Shelby's hips. Four tendrils crept across Shelby's skin to slink through crinkly hair, the pink and red returning with a bright flare. "Oh. Yes."

"Yeah?" Shelby touched himself, just the barest rub of fingers over his half-hard cock, then gestured toward the juncture of Denathiq's legs. "So, can I see yours? I mean, if you have one, and of course if you don't mind, 'cause that was kinda rude."

"I show." Denathiq drew back, though without releasing his hold on Shelby, wrist and hip alike. A slit lying between his legs opened, widened; another appendage emerged with a little rush of fluid.

"Can I?" He moved his fingers, not quite reaching for it.

"Yes!" Denathiq pushed his body forward, making a burbling sound at the back of his throat as Shelby's fingers closed around him.

"Do you kiss?" The member in his hand was as smooth as the rest of Denathiq's skin, surprisingly narrow, and featured a rather abrupt upturn about an inch from what was presumably the head. Shelby stroked it anyway, checking for the telltale blue, nodding to himself as he caught a flash of it. "Do you want to go lay down, or something?"

"Kiss?" He wrapped eight tendrils around the warm shaft, letting his eyelids fall as the taste of the man filled his senses. "Not know."

Shelby leaned over, putting a hand on the side of Denathiq's face, then kissed him. "Like that." Inspiration struck and he smiled. "That's how people here taste one another."

"Taste more?"

"Sure," Shelby said. He licked at Denathiq's lips, catching the faint wash of tuna as Denathiq opened to him. Under that was something else, a bit metallic, a bit salty, but not unpleasant. His hand kept sliding over Denathiq's cock, but Shelby broke away from the kiss in order to look down. "Uh, you're longer than you were, earlier."

"Not good?" Grey-yellow flared in place of blue, Denathiq looking down as well.

"It's fine!" Shelby shook his head, then kissed him again. "We're still discovering each other, right? My dick changes, so why should I be surprised that yours does, too?"

"Yes. Hot. Big. Want gh-dha, want know you think good..." Denathiq's skin had regained some of its blue, but threads of the grey-yellow remained.

"I can't give you color, not really, but I can give you sounds," Shelby said, now petting the frills on both of Denathiq's sides. "I'll tell you, okay? The way you're touching me, right now? It's great, but if you started kinda rubbing, it would be amazing. Like this." He moved his left hand back to Denathiq's cock, stroking carefully.

"This?" The skin under his tendrils was soft, and when they moved across the tip of Shelby's erection he stopped to explore. There was a different flavor, there, and skin that moved easily.

"Oh, yeah, that's great." Shelby let his head fall back, shivering a little as Denathiq's fingers found his foreskin. Looking down again, he blinked as he realized that Denathiq's cock had gotten longer again, curling around both his wrist and the tendrils that still rested there. The base of it was thicker, too; Shelby wondered if it was at its full extent. "I don't know how you, uh, usually do this, but I need to either lay down or sit down. We can stay here, if you need the water."

"Water good; Shell-be good. I go with Shell-be," he said, lifting his free hands to Shelby's face.  "Yes?"

"Okay, yeah. No problem. This way." Shelby let go of Denathiq, then stepped backward until their arms were stretched out. He watched the curling, fidgety movements of Denathiq's cock with mild trepidation, but then he glanced at Denathiq's face and realized that he wasn't the only one feeling nervous. Most of Denathiq's torso was dominated by the dark red and pink, shot through with the bright blue; however, the sides of his neck and the tops of his shoulders retained the grey-yellow. Shelby wasn't sure how to reassure him, so he just led him into his room.

"Here's my bed, and if you'll gimme a second, I can get this stuff off it..." He nodded as Denathiq released him, then turned on his lamp before unceremoniously shoving the drift of books and clothes over the far side of his bed. Shelby dropped his shirt on the floor, then climbed into bed, stretching out in the center. "So, uh... You wanna come lay down? I'd like to kiss you again, if you don't mind. Or if you have a way that you need to do things? Like, maybe you've got certain steps you have to do first?"

"Kiss," Denathiq said, the blue brightening as he curled up on the edge of the bed, then leaned over to press his mouth to Shelby's. He pushed his tongue out, past his odd teeth, rubbing the end of it against the skin below.

"Mm," Shelby said, inviting him in with a flick of his own tongue. He groped across the sheet and found one of Denathiq's hands, running his fingertips over the back of it, tugging gently as the tendrils stuck to them. He made another approving sound as Denathiq shifted toward him, his hand following Shelby's back to Shelby's chest.

The bedding under him was dry, sucking up the moisture that remained on his skin, but Denathiq ignored it. It was more important to press his hands to Shelby, to wrap tendrils around wrists again, feeling the thrum of the man's pulse there; more important to touch him down where he was hot and stiff and exuding a delicious mix of scents and flavors.

"Mm-hmm." Shelby tilted his hips as Denathiq's tendrils tightened around his cock. "Where's—There you are. Is that good?" His own hand caressed the curving length of Denathiq's erection while he kissed the corner of Denathiq's mouth.

"Good, good." He licked Shelby's lips, traced the shape of Shelby's calves with his toes, tasted the liquid that Shelby produced. Complex strings of chemicals interacted and reacted within the being's soft body, waking needs and desires from dormancy, shifting fluids and internal structures in preparation. "Taste good."

"Great," Shelby said, part of him amused by Denathiq's insistence that he tasted good. He squeezed the base of Denathiq's cock, then, curious; moved his fingers up to explore the edges of the slit from which it emerged. Denathiq stiffened (as much as he could, anyway) and Shelby jerked his hand away. "I'm sorry, did that hurt?"

"Not hurt!" Denathiq moved, curling up so that he was looking down at Shelby. Several shades of blue dominated, radiating up from what would have been his navel if he'd had one.

"No? Okay," he said, putting his hand back. Another squeeze—yes, Denathiq's cock was thicker than it had been—and then Shelby traced the shape of the opening. There seemed to be some room, at the apex of it, so he tentatively dipped a finger inside and was rewarded with an actual moan. Blues with feathery splashes of white cascaded over Denathiq's skin, too, and Shelby backed off.

Denathiq's male-part wrapped around Shelby's wrist, holding the man's hand there while Denathiq moved his hand to Shelby's belly, searching through the hair there. "Where?"

"Where? Oh, uh, nowhere. I mean, I don't have the same thing, not there. But it's pretty awesome if you touch me here," Shelby said, pulling his right leg up and setting his foot on the mattress. He guided Denathiq's third hand down between his legs, stricken for a moment or two by the idea that maybe he should have showered. Then Denathiq was kissing him again, tendrils squeezing and pressing and tickling and inevitably tasting. And then they began to squiggle backward, which sent Shelby's hand diving for Denathiq's. "You...might not like what you find, there."

"Shell-be," he said, the swishy bubbly tones somehow managing to convey a sense of chiding. "Like taste. Want taste all."

Shelby let go of Denathiq's wrist with a shrug. "Okay, if you want to, I won't stop you. I just hope it won't make you sick." That was it, he was never going to get laid. Every time he turned around, all he could think about was how possibly incompatible they were.

"Shell-be want taste? Kiss?" Denathiq's skin flashed with orange bars as he arced backward, his male-part loosening around Shelby's wrist.

"Sure, I'd love to." He shoved the worry that maybe the germs in his mouth would make Denathiq sick and concentrated on untangling himself. Once they were rearranged, Shelby took a moment to examine the member. It had thickened along the entire length, including the oddly-bent tip, and was an interesting shade of pale blue. He started with little licks, then moved on to sucking and stroking as he moved down to the base of it. Shelby gave Denathiq a moment, then began to tease the edges of his slit with the tip of his tongue.

"Shell-be, Shell-be, Shell-be," Denathiq said, turning loose of the man in order to pat at his head and back.

Given the bright flickers of blue that he could see from the corner of his eyes, Shelby was pretty sure that it wasn't an objection. He turned his head and slipped his tongue into the space above Denathiq's cock, glancing upward to be sure that the blue stayed present while Denathiq wiggled. The little hollow was moist, filled with something slick that tasted more salty and less metallic than Denathiq's mouth.

"Shell-be, ntho-ita!" He plucked at Shelby's skin, the little pads holding fast to it longer than they had before. "Ntho-ita, now?"

"Mm? What?" Shelby blinked and pushed himself up on his elbows. The blues were almost black, slashed by bright bolts of white edged with fuchsia, and all of them rolling across Denathiq's skin from the sides of his neck down. The frills on his sides were deep pink, the folds and curves touched with blues and white.

"Ntho-ita. Want Shell-be ntho-ita." He could taste it, on Shelby's skin and in the wetness that kept coming from Shelby's male-part; the man was ready for conjunction. The trouble in communicating—the fact that Shelby didn't change colors, that Shelby didn't know what his colors meant, that he himself understood far more of Shelby's speech than he could ever repeat—had merely been a minor irritation until now. Now, now it was keeping them from what they both wanted.

"Show me? Because I don't understand," Shelby said, smiling to soften his words. "Unless you're gonna eat me, I'm happy to do anything you want, okay?"

"Not eat Shell-be." Denathiq wrapped his upper hands around Shelby's biceps and pulled, careful not to exert too much strength. As the man crawled along his body, his second set of hands found Shelby's male-part and tasted him again. "Want Shell-be ntho-ita. Here." One upper hand tugged one of Shelby's hand down, into position above the base of his male-part.

"Do you want... Do you want me to, uh, touch you? Here?" Shelby swallowed as he ran his finger over the sensitive spot.

"No. Yes. Want... Want this," a quick squeeze of Shelby's male-part and a shiver of blue as Shelby's finger moved, "ntho-ita."

"Okay... You want my dick? Inside... Will it fit? Which is kind of a silly question, 'cause I know I can fit inside, um, other people..." Shelby rolled his eyes at himself, then focused on Denathiq.

"Yes! Yes, ntho-ita, Shell-be." He nodded, eyes wide, hoping the man would say yes.

"Sounds like fun." Shelby grinned, but the expression faded as he realized that they had another little hurdle to get over. "But first I need to show you a couple of things and see if they'll be okay for you."

A bright flash of red skipped down Denathiq's chest. First he said yes, then he said no. What was wrong with the man? "Not show. Ntho-ita."

"I... You've been tasting the pre-come, right? It's okay?" Shelby still had qualms about barebacking with an alien, but between latex allergies in humans and the fact that most lubes had ingredients that only scientists could pronounce, it seemed less risky than exposing Denathiq to potentially deadly chemicals.

"Shell-be taste good. Say much." Denathiq gave a bubbly snort and another squeeze-stroke.

"Okay. In that case, forget it. We'll see what happens, yeah? Nthuh-eata, or whatever, right?" He wiggled his finger against the edge of the opening, smirking as Denathiq groaned and pushed toward him.

"Ntho-ita, yes, yes, yes."

"Okay. So, do I just, you know, push it in? I've never done this before, and even though I've had a couple of girlfriends, we never got that far. It was a long time ago. And I'll just shut up, now." Shelby hitched his knees up under himself, trying to decide whether he should kneel between Denathiq's legs or straddle them.

Denathiq considered the question, as well as their position. He couldn't recall a conjunction in which he'd been on his back, before; usually, he'd twist around his partner as they twined around him. All he wanted was to wrap around Shelby, their male-parts in the places they were meant to go, and to move until ithami. Of course, he'd have to find the place on Shelby before he could put his into it... But for now, he would try to answer. "Not know. Try?"

"Sure. Um..." Humming in thought, Shelby decided that he would start between Denathiq's legs—they could always move, after all—and start as if he were fucking anyone else. "Okay, here I go. Just hold still for me, baby." The endearment slipped easily from his lips as he lined up the head of his cock with the wedge of space above Denathiq's. It seemed too small, refusing to yield to his gentle pushes, so Shelby reached down and slid two fingers inside. Denathiq burbled and went still, but the blue and white remained; Shelby crossed his fingers and twisted them, getting them as slick as possible.

"Good," Denathiq crooned, as Shelby's fingers pressed deeper, as they stretched his rlh-nys open. "Good, good, Shell-be good." Three of his own hands petted Shelby's arms and sides, while the fourth kept hold of his male-part. The sensation of Shelby's fingers delving into him was strange but pleasant, like so many other things about the man.

"Lemme try again," he said, mostly to have something to say. Shelby spread his fingers, then used his other hand to press the head of his cock into position. Denathiq's exterior was kind of lukewarm, a little clammy, but the slick welcome of his body was more than enough to distract Shelby from such minor details. "Yeah, there we go. Gonna start slow, okay?"

"Want Shell-be... Shell-be good." Most of Denathiq's tendrils were busy with Shelby's skin, stroking and tasting and generally making sure that Shelby was enjoying himself. Two hands, however, were making a systematic map of the man's body, cataloguing all possible places where Denathiq's male-part might slip inside. The task was made difficult by the fact that Shelby's male-part was working its way inside him, slowly, pressing against every sensitive ridge and nub within his rlh-nys.

Shelby looked down, surprised to see that he was halfway in. He shifted his weight backward and withdrew, then dipped his head and kissed Denathiq. "How is it, baby? Feel good?"

"Not stop," Denathiq breathed, hands curving around Shelby's buttocks, the backs of his thighs, and pulling. "Shell-be, not stop, ntho-ita, you say yes..."

"I wasn't going to stop," Shelby said, closing his eyes as he slid into Denathiq once more. "God, you feel incredible. Is this enough to make you come, too, once I start fucking you? Am I hitting all the right places? Tell me how to make it good for you."

"So good, yes," Denathiq said, "not stop!"

"Won't, I promise."

"Good, good. Mm. Shell-be want Denathiq ntho-ita?" His tendril-tips flattened against the skin around the little spot he'd found, hoping that the man would say yes. "Here?"

"Uh..." Shelby paused, blinking at Denathiq. Little specks of orange and dark red sparked across his shoulders and upper chest, and the tendrils moved again. "Do you need to?" He knew he'd had all of his shots, but still.

"Not must. Want touch Shell-be, want Shell-be say good and not stop."

Shelby huffed a laugh and dropped his head to kiss Denathiq. "This," he rolled his hips and smiled against Denathiq's lips, "this is so fuckin' good, you don't even know. I don't need you, uh, inside me to feel good. And I know, fuck, I know you don't wanna hear it, but where you've got your, uh, hand? That's, uh, where waste comes out. I don't want you to get sick, okay? You know there's all kinds of germs in waste. It's not a good idea to go poking in there without, uh, protection." Yep. Hard-on officially starting to fade, despite the slick grasp of Denathiq's body.

"Hm." The grey reappeared, in thin stripes edged with black. "Sick not good. Not must ntho-ita Shell-be. Shell-be want ithami? Give Denathiq ithami?" He withdrew his hand, moving it to hold Shelby's hips with one pair while the other touched Shelby's face.

"Dunno what ithami is, but I definitely want to make you come. Gotta make it good for you 'cause that makes it good for me." Shelby kissed him, again, shifting his weight and kissing Denathiq once more as his cock remembered that there was more to things than worrying about illness.

The little motion of Shelby's male-part inside him made him squirm a bit. "Shell-be make good, yes. Give ithami; move?" 

"Mm-hm," Shelby hummed, then rolled his hips again. He could feel Denathiq, pressed flush against him from his cock on up. "Ready?"


"Then I'm gonna fuck you, baby." He drew back, then slid home in one easy stroke.

Denathiq's skin went a blue-black, from the sides of his neck down, with ragged bolts of white flashing across it as Shelby moved. He cried out with every thrust, his hands falling from Shelby's face to grip his own male-part.

"Good? Harder? Faster? Tell me," Shelby gasped.

He could only manage a string of syllables, at first; could only writhe and whine and beg with his body. Denathiq took advantage of Shelby's pause to adjust the position of his left leg to clutch at the man's ass and moan, "Good, good. More."


"Yes," Denathiq hissed, squeezing his own male-part with a glissade of pleasure. That was the last clear word he spoke as Shelby moved against him, within him; as he was stretched and Shelby's male-part pressed into every sweet place. As his climax neared, Denathiq's legs shifted, wrapping around Shelby's hips and clinging to the backs of Shelby's thighs, giving him leverage.

"God," Shelby groaned, as Denathiq wiggled below him and took him just a little deeper than before, thrusting into him as hard and as fast as he could without losing complete control. "Fuck, baby, you gotta come for me. C'mon, do it." He tried not to listen to the sounds his partner was making, trying instead to remember both the designated-hitter rule and the definition of a ground-rule double. "Please."

He had no words, not in his language or in Shelby's. All Denathiq had were breathy, desperate noises; even those failed him as ithami came over him. The ecstasy built like a wave, rolling up and out from his rlh-nys, spreading over his skin from his male-part, until like a wave it broke and fell hard on him. Denathiq's cry, too, started soft; it grew to a hoarse shout as each of his senses were subsumed and all that remained was the fullness of their joining.

Shelby peeked through his lashes just long enough to see bands of blue light strobing across Denathiq's chest before he let himself go. Ten seconds of abandon and he made a strangled sort of sound as his orgasm hit, as he buried his cock as deeply in the being underneath himself as he could.

Denathiq watched Shelby's face go slack as the man slowly collapsed to lie half on him. He whimpered a little as the hot hardness shifted, rubbing sensitive skin, but mostly he just tried to catch his breath. After a minute or two, Shelby heaved himself up to lean over Denathiq once more. His softening cock slipped easily from its delicious seat, and he glanced down more out of habit than anything. "Are you still hard?"

"Ah," Denathiq said, as Shelby's fingers brushed the head of his male-part. He pushed it up into the man's hand, making a needy little noise as warm fingers closed over it.

"God, that's gotta hurt. I'll take care of you, baby, okay? Just let me." Shelby kissed his way down Denathiq's body, paused to tease the slick-salty edges of the opening, then licked over Denathiq's fingers to the upturned head of his cock. Despite its odd shape, it turned out to be flexible, and Shelby had no problems taking it into his mouth.

"Shell-be," he squeaked, his hands patting and tugging at the man, "yes, yes!" And though it was almost painful, at the moment, he twisted several tendrils around one another and worked them into his rlh-nys, in time with Shelby's sucking-licking-squeezing.

He could feel the tension building as he moved his mouth and his hands over Denathiq's cock. Catching a glimpse of Denathiq fingering himself was enough to make his own cock twitch; Shelby couldn't wait until he was ready to go again.

Ithami. It was almost there, lying just under his skin, waiting for Shelby to coax it out once more. "Ha-hard," he said, shoving his self-made part into himself.

"Mm," Shelby said, and gave him long, steady strokes while sucking at the head of Denathiq's cock.

This time, ithami was a sudden thing, making him quiver. Denathiq gave a few sharp little cries, feeling the spill of his ngo-ath drip onto his leg.

Hoping that Denathiq wouldn't notice, Shelby grabbed the top sheet and did his best to clean out his mouth without running off to gargle. It hadn't tasted horrible—kind of like salty pool water, with maybe a touch of hydrocarbons, or maybe it was cedar—but he just didn't want to take any more chances.

"Shell-be?" He turned his head and wondered about the way the man was dabbing at his tongue.

"Hm." Shelby dropped the sheet, grabbed the corner of the blanket, and settled down beside Denathiq. He pulled the bedding over them, leaving his arm draped across Denathiq's torso.

"So good, Shell-be. Shell-be think good?"

"God, it was amazing," Shelby said, giving him a little squeeze and kissing what amounted to his shoulder. "Even if it hadn't been a while since I last got laid, it would have been good. What about you? Did I get something wrong? I mean, because you didn't completely come."

"No! No, Shell-be not not-good!" Denathiq's skin was the ugly grey-yellow, compounded by an equally unpleasant yellow-green—it reminded Shelby of old bruises. "Shell-be much good. Ithami... Same ithami, Denathiq must ntho-ita."

"Oh, okay, that makes sense." Shelby nodded, then kissed Denathiq's shoulder again. "I was just making sure. We should get a little sleep, then get you back to the Center." Not that he wanted to take Denathiq back there. "Do you want to get back in the tub?"

"Sleep with Shell-be," Denathiq said, turning onto his side and curling two arms and a leg over Shelby. He would need to soak again, but for now, he wanted to stay where he was. "Sleep good."

"You too."

* * * *

Getting back into the Center was easier than digging up the motivation to leave Shelby's house. Explaining his actions was a little more complicated, and eventually, Shelby ended up following both Denathiq and the Center's Director back to unit A137, where he opened the door for his former guest.

Denathiq, the arms of his coverall tied around his waist, crossed his room to a set of shelves.  He picked up his translator band—standard issue for everyone that wasn't human and which he'd been too dry to care about using—that he then fastened around his neck. A flick of a finger brought it to life, and he strode back to stand before the Director. "Shelby saved my life," he said, as jagged red streaks, edged with black, flashed over his sides. "Shelby took me into his home, gave me water, and gave me food. He showed princely hospitality to a prince, unlike you and your officials."

Shelby blinked and looked at Denathiq. Maybe it was just a metaphor—there were a surprising number of aliens for whom metaphors were almost a way of life.

"You fed him? What the hell did you feed him?" The Director was staring at Shelby.

"Tuna," Shelby said, with a shrug. "White chunk albacore, in water. I just put it in a bowl and handed him a spoon. I didn't even ask if he wanted salt or pepper or anything." He wondered if Denathiq would mention what they'd done after, both Denathiq's bath and their little nap, then wondered why he cared. He was pretty much fired, after all.

"So he gave you water? What's wrong with the water here?"

"I can never get quite enough water here," Denathiq said, one hand sweeping out to take in the whole facility. "The shower is better than nothing, but between showers I am forced to wear this...thing," he pulled at a sleeve of his coverall, "and it takes the water away. Shelby showed me something I did not know existed here, a tub. He filled it with water, and I was able to regain the proper balance of water within myself. And while I was enjoying the water in the tub, he asked if I would like to eat. The tuna was delicious, without extraneous substances. Also unlike here."

The Director made an exasperated sound and glared at Denathiq. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"I have said something. I spoke to Arlene. She said I should not be picky. I spoke to Wendel. He said I should thank my lucky stars—which I do not have—that I am able to eat anything. I spoke to Shelby, and while he did ask me if I had a cup—and I do—he also was the first to inquire as to my health. He was the first to attempt to secure help for me, by taking me to the infirmary. I was ignored. He returned, and we were ignored together."

"And I wanna tell you that I did ask people for help," Shelby said, before the Director could say anything. "I asked a girl down there to go get a nurse 'cause Nat—Denathiq—was dehydrated. If I'd known all he needed was a kiddie pool, I would've gone and bought one." He caught the orange flash over Denathiq's side and smiled at him. "It's a big plastic thing about this deep," Shelby held his hands eighteen inches apart, "that you can fill up with water. I can't remember how wide they are, but pretty good-sized."

"See? Shelby thinks of my needs. Should another of your "guests" ask him, I'm sure he would find them a solution as well."

Shelby bit the inside of his lip at the sarcastic twist Denathiq gave the word.

Denathiq spoke again, ignoring the fact that the Director was clearly getting ready to speak. "What will happen to Shelby? He was concerned, convinced, that he would be dismissed from his position."

"Well, um. That is..." The Director harrumphed and shifted from foot to foot as he struggled to come up with something that wouldn't become an instant PR disaster. "We can't have people just dragging guests home willy-nilly," he said, at last. "So there will have to be something done about that. Suspension, probably. Reprimand in his file, and so on."

"But Shelby will stay here? Will work here?"

"It's not your fault that he made you go home with him," the Director said, shaking his head. "You didn't do anything wrong."

"Of course I did nothing wrong," Denathiq said, a flicker of pale pink-and-green blotches racing over his skin. He waved the words away. "And I would like it to be very clear to you that I felt no fear with Shelby. That I am capable—was capable, at the time—of defending myself. I went with Shelby because I felt that he was most interested in helping me. If rendering aid is an incorrect action, then I should hope Shelby will be incorrect many more times in the future."

Shelby wondered if Denathiq actually meant "tasted" when he said "felt", but he wasn't about to ask, not with his boss standing there.

"It's just the way that he went about it," the Director said, waving his own hands. "There are rules. Chains of command. We can't just have anarchy and chaos, you know! There are certain procedures that must be followed."

"Like reporting dietary requirements and requests to the kitchen staff?" Shelby was proud of his innocent tone, though it took an amazing amount of will to keep a straight face.

"Exactly!" The Director frowned at Shelby, though, and glanced at Denathiq, who now sported flickers of blue among the red and black patches. There was something off about the question, but he wasn't sure what. "Anyway. Shelby will probably be suspended for a while, then allowed to return for a probationary period. As long as you keep your nose clean, you should be reinstated without problems." He addressed the last to the man in question.

"Fine with me," Shelby said, with a nod. "It's more than I was expecting, so I won't complain at all."

"As long as Shelby will not go away, I will not complain, either. And I would like a tub. Or a kiddie pool. And plain good food." Denathiq nodded once, as well, the red and black slipping down and fading away to be replaced by the same sort of non-descript color of the room around them.

"Yes, yes, you'll get a tub or something and I'll tell the kitchen you're not to get any additives unless you request them," the Director said, then took a deep breath and blew it out again. "Anything else?" "I want to be allowed to visit Shelby at his home." The request was imperious, Denathiq's gaze steady. "I will only go with him, leaving when he is finished with his shift, and returning with him when it is time for him to come back."

"I don't think I can authorize that," the Director said, reflexively, but he held up his hands. "Not without completing some paperwork. And it's not likely to be approved until after Shelby's probationary period is over, either. I'm not going to commit myself to anything more, all right?"

"That makes sense," Shelby said, even as a petulant voice whined in the back of his head.

"I do not like it, but I will accept it." Denathiq gestured toward the door. "In the time between then and now, I will keep company with him here. Privately. That is all; you may go."

"I—Excuse me, what do you mean, I may go?"

"Precisely that, Director. Please remove yourself from my room. Go visit another of your "guests". Perhaps Iliqi, of the sharp teeth." Denathiq actually pointed at the door, this time. "I thank you for your time, but I am tired."

"Iliqi?" The man's eyes went wide and he shook his head emphatically. "I need to go start working on the paperwork for Foster's suspension and probation," he said, heading for the door.

After the Director left, Denathiq secured the door, then pressed the button to darken it. "Shelby?"

"Yeah?" He shook his head, trying to decide if he was really awake.

"Should I have demanded more, for you?"

"Huh?" Shelby frowned at the grey-yellow he could see, closing the distance between them to touch Denathiq's hands. "I didn't expect you to demand anything for me, not at all. I'm kind of thinking that maybe I should go talk to the Director and HR about maybe making a new position, one where I can talk to everybody here and find out whether they're actually okay, or if they're just getting by."

"You would be good at it," Denathiq said, a stripe of blue passing by. He wrapped his fingers around Shelby's, the grey-yellow joined by a dull beige. "I must say I do not want to not see you again."

"This morning was..." Shelby shrugged, the words escaping him. He was distracted by several possibilities, though he only managed to voice one. "Are you really a prince, or were you just saying that?"

Blue, along with the pink and green blobs, blossomed. "Do you think I would say something untrue?"

"I think you're teasing me and avoiding the answer," Shelby said, but he was mostly teasing as well.

"And what if I am? Would you find me too... Would you stay away, out of fear? Or would you cling, out of greed for what I might give you?"

"I want option three, please," Shelby said, swinging their hands as he rocked heel-toe.

"There was no third option," Denathiq said, orange and turquiose going by.

"I know, and that's why I want it. It's the one where I stick around because you're interesting and you tell me I taste good and we spend time with certain parts of ourselves ntho-ita, which is awesome, and we see what happens," he said, a smile starting to curl his mouth, "and who knows? Maybe someday we'll both be working to see how we can make the time spent here better for everyone, or maybe we'll move to Fiji and spend all day on the beach, or maybe you'll take over the world and I'll be your number-one sex slave, or something else equally silly that I haven't thought of, yet."

Denathiq was silent for a minute. "Maybe someday... Someday, you and I will watch our small ones learning to swim and feed them fish we caught ourselves?"

The question was soft, so soft Shelby had to think a moment before he was sure he'd heard it properly. The idea was staggering, nearly overwhelming, but after another few seconds, he lifted his hands and cupped Denathiq's face. "It's always a possibility, you know?" He kissed him, sweetly.

"I like option three," Denathiq said. "So yes. Option three it is: let's see what happens."


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