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Child of the Stars

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            Arin had been feeling weird the past week .  Not weird in the sick way, not weird in the world seeming to align around him to make everything go wrong way, not even weird in the way that he was pretty sure his friends were all planning a surprise birthday party!  It was all just…  Weird…  He had recurring dreams, but those were nothing new, what was new about them was that his dreams always had some blinding, multi-colored light associated with them and complete silence…  Sometimes, he wasn’t even sure if he was dreaming or he was awake…  Okay, but, this time, Arin was pretty sure he was awake and he was getting his answer about all the weirdness going on.
             Or the weirdness was just deepening, it wasn’t every day he woke up strapped to a hard, metal table under a bright exam light.  With a start out of his sleep, he tried to sit up, but found it impossible, so he struggled.  When struggling didn’t work and his panic mounted he screamed, “Where am I?!”
             “Oh…” A voice answered from…  Seemingly all around.  Arin shivered, this was too much like some awful rape scenario.  He looked down his chest at himself and breathed a secret sigh of relief that he was still perfectly clothed.  He even still had his socks on…  Had he gone to bed in socks?  Well, it was “cold” out, so maybe he had, anyway, now was really not the time to be consider--oh fuck what was that?!
             “What the fuck are you?!” Arin screeched as a waifish, glowing being appeared to levitate over to his bedside.  His eyes shot up and down the insubstantial being, the best way for him to describe it was clear jelly that darkened to an unsettling purple at the center had been poured into a vaguely human-shaped mold.  Vaguely human-shaped was a key descriptor here as the top of what Arin assumed to be the being’s head puffed outward in many placidly waving tendrils.  It was almost like hair, but it didn’t appear any different than the rest of it’s body.  Beneath the waving fan of wigglers were two very big, dark, round features--about as big around as Arin’s fist, he would say--that protruded from the thing’s face.  They shined like the rest of it’s body, but in a different way, they didn’t seem nearly as soft as the rest of it, or, if they were, they ostensibly did more.  Until Arin could figure out otherwise, he was going to hazard a guess that these things were the being’s eyes by the way they were so intently pointed down at him.
             “There isn’t a word for my people on your planet, so it’s not worth trying.  My apologies.” The thing answered without opening a single orifice or even vibrating with its words.  It just kept staring…  Was this the thing that was even talking to him?
             “Are you gonna fuckin’ apologize for tying me to a fucking table?!” Arin shouted back, seeing the way the being recoiled from him and raised its thin, noodle-like arms up over the spots on it’s face.  It didn’t seem to Arin like it really would’ve done anything, with how thin and squishy it’s arms looked.  As a side note, each arm seemed to have about three fingers at the terminating end, but Arin could’ve been wrong, the creature was outside of the exam light.  Nonetheless, it gave off a very faint glow even as the dark, purple center of the being’s body darkened to nearly black.  “Why did you take me?!  Where am I?!”
             “You’re, uhm…  On my ship.” It answered, “And I took you to perform… Um… A study.”
             Oh no, no, no, no, no!  Was he about to get probed?!  Arin wasn’t ready for this!  Was he going to get vivisected?!  Maybe screaming at the creature wasn’t in his best self-preservation interests…  But also the creature seemed very physically weak, maybe, if he could get up, he could overpower it somehow.
             And then do what?  You don’t even know how to fly a plane in a flight simulator, how the fuck would you figure out how to fly a ship that’s not even made on Earth?  Arin logically concluded internally.  He was going to have to find some other way out of this…  The being didn’t seem opposed to talking to him as it had, largely, answered all questions put to it.
              “What kind of study…?” Arin hesitantly questioned.
             “Um…  My people are curious to see whether or not your people are a match for us.”
             “A match?  In…  In what way?”  Arin squinted, trying to see the thing as it moved outside the bright light.  It didn’t have legs, more just like a silently undulating lower half.  He decided that they probably moved a lot like snakes did, just more upright.
             “A diplomatic one.” The thing said.  “We are on a trial period right now… I am a researcher, here to collect information on the temperament of your species.”
             Oh shit, really?  These things wanted to be friends with humans?  That didn’t seem right, maybe there was something else going on here.
             “A diplomatic match…  Okay, um…  You’re off to a very bad start by abducting me…  Have there been others?”
             “Yes, I’m aware of that.  I have tried at least twenty humans prior--you’re all so diverse, it’s very interesting!--but…  None of them gave me satisfactory results.” The thing deflated almost, reaching an appendage up to angle the bright, irritating light away from Arin’s face to allow him to adjust his eyes to the rest of the dark atmosphere.  The thing was a slightly lighter shade of its previous purple-black, almost a navy blue, the edges of it’s person almost appearing clear, the only thing differentiating it from the rest of the background being the way light bent through it.
             “Satisfactory…  Results?” Arin swallowed, starting to get nervous again.  “What kind of results were you looking for?”
             “I have been seeking a human to play host to me during my studies on Earth…  None have agreed to the terms so far.”
             “Uh…  Host?  Like… As in a parasite?”  This was some… Yerk, Animorphs shit going on!
             “No, not like that, I meant…  Your people seem to live in domiciles made out of wood and stone and other materials.  I require shelter from the elements just as you do.  Especially because it’s so cold on your planet right now.  My species isn’t meant for such inhospitable weather.”  It very gently explained, gesturing out from itself towards a wide window just out of Arin’s view.
             “Oh…”  That didn’t…  Sound too bad, actually, however…  “You know it’s only winter on one side of the planet right now, right?”
             “Oh, yes, I know, but those other places are also too hot.”  For once, the creature made a noise that wasn’t all-encompassing, it made a light trilling noise that vibrated it’s whole body, “It’s significantly easier to handle colder temperatures than hot ones.”  Wow, the thing almost sounded exactly like a persnickety human.
             “I live in California man, it’s really not that cold…  It’s like… Fifty tops.  And it gets super hot in summer.”  Arin explained.
            “Yes, I understand your winters are mild in your part of your world.  It also has a very diverse collection of your population and seems a good place to begin my fieldwork.”
             “And that would be…?”
             “Integrating myself into your culture and living as you do.  Intermittently I will have to submit reports to my superiors back home about the progress of my research.  If my research goes well, others will come to your planet to study, to make sure my results are correct.”  It rattled off as if it has had to give this spiel at least once a night.  “After our research has concluded, we will all vacate your planet and it will be left up to our leaders on how to proceed then…  They might choose to offer a hand in alliance with your planet, or we might just leave you to your own devices.  You’re very far away from most everyone else in this galaxy.”
             “Uh…  Okay, and…  What kind of research would you be conducting in this person’s house?  You wouldn’t be abducting people would you?  Because that’s kind of against the law…  Basically everywhere.”  Arin informed, getting really uncomfortable on the table.
             “Oh, no, these preliminary studies are the only time individuals will be taken in for study.” It responded, sounding rather bright about this prospect.  “I’ve been studying you, for example, for about…  What you would call a week!”
             “What?!”  Arin tried to sit up again and found it impossible, just as he had before.  As if anything had changed at all.  He was still the captive subject of this…  Extraterrestrial.
             “Oh, yeah, I’m sure that must be upsetting.  Let me explain…  Uh, if it makes you feel somewhat better, my interest in you isn’t personal, you were just a random selection.  You are subject…”  Arin had to squash his love of science fiction very hard as he saw the being pick up some kind of device that projected a screen above itself.  Bright, glowing marks that resembled chicken scratch shone on the screen and the creature read, “Subject thirty-two of the B category.  For research purposes, that’s your designation, although, I understand that members of the dominant Terran race each have individual designations.”
             “So…  I’m Subject Thirty-Two-B…?”  Arin pronounced carefully, he really hated being reduced to a number, however, he already reconciled that that was basically what a social security number in the United States was.  “Why am I not an A?”
             “Oh, because Subject One-A had a different physical make up than you did.  Subject One-A did not have your distinctive lower protrusion.  Subject Two was of the B class.  It is merely the order in which I distinguish--”
             “You took my clothes off?!” Arin shrieked, the alien recoiling again.  His face burned hot and red, had this thing touched him as well?!
             “Uh, yes… Uh… It was only for study purposes…  I understand it was… Uhm…  You were in stasis, you see and--”
             “That doesn’t make it okay!”  Arin continued yelling, completely forgetting that he was supposed to be diplomatic here.
             “I understand…  My people, euh, don’t often engage in the wearing of garments, so it…”  The alien seemed to give up on explaining itself and let out another noise that was similar to the trill earlier, only this one sounded--what Arin could guess--more irritated.  “My intentions are objective study of your species, nothing else.  I am not here to alter the way you live or perceive your world, I am here to watch and learn.  It’s not good policy for our people to just come plop ourselves onto your world with no idea of how your people function.  It would be a disaster for us to go in blind.”
             “What have you been doing to me…?” Arin angrily ground out from between his teeth.  He wanted to say more, but bit his tongue.
             “Taking notes of your anatomy and physiological processes.  Your patterns of activity and stasis are not unlike ours, following the cycles of your chief star.  You are carbon-based, unlike us, and, also unlike us, have digestive chambers inside your being that eventually excretes.”  The alien went on and on about how they were quite similar while being very different at the same time and it was starting to bore Arin.
             “Why do you have me up here… Not asleep for once?” he grumbled, cutting off the expositing being.
             “Oh…  Actually, you woke up early.  I still need to remove the implant.”
             “Implant?!  What does it do?!”
             “Nothing adverse.  It merely transmits to me your location at all times, taking notes of things like…  Your change in body temperature throughout the day… Uhm…  It records social interactions where there is a significant change in biochemistry, I have found with your species that those generally occur during the presence of others.  Those you find it pleasurable to be around; confirming to us that you are social beings that prefer pleasant, non-threatening interactions.  It’s very promising for a future alliance.”  As Arin glared at the creature who was, yet again, rambling on, having completely forgotten the original reason for addressing this issue, the being trailed off, “Ehm, given how your body produces skin, it would’ve fallen out on its own in a few days time, but, it’s not recommended that we leave any trace of our technology on your planet.  So, I need it back.”
             Arin flinched as the thing came forward and picked up an instrument that looked very much like a hypodermic needle, “H-How…?”
             “Do not worry, this will only hurt for a moment, and if you remain still, it will go much faster.”  The thing bent over Arin’s arm--which, now that Arin really paid attention--was strapped down in a very specific position with his wrist facing upwards.  One of the being’s fingers touched his skin and Arin had to marvel at the odd texture it had.  It was warm instead of cold as the crystalline-appearing body suggested, soft and very gentle as it palpated his wrist.  “If you will relax, please.”
             Arin squeezed his eyes shut and looked away, trying to, nonetheless, do as his captor suggested.
            “Do medical procedures upset you?”  It asked.
            “No, not usually but needles--Ah!” Arin tried his hardest not to squirm as the needle was in his arm for less than a second before retracting. “You jerk!”
             “That wasn’t so bad though, was it?” It held the needle up, a very tiny dot of red on the end of it.
             Arin just grumbled to himself, wanting to reach over to rub his arm, “Okay, the things out, can you let me up now?”
             “Uhm… I can’t do that.  I’m sorry.” The alien sat the needle down in a tray and set it aside for later, “I am alone on this ship and your species are more substantial than we are.  It’s for my safety.”
             The thing was afraid of him?  Inside, Arin wondered if it was maybe saying more than it was supposed to.  What species wanted to make its own physical weaknesses apparent?
             Unless they really are just peaceful…
             “Psh, afraid of these guns?” Arin tried to indicate his arms and for a second, he saw the creature flash an array of bright hues of yellow and orange before darkening to a gloomy, purple.
             “You have firearms on you?!” It asked, seemingly in panic.
            “Uh…  N-No… Man…”  Was that right?  “It’s a joke.  Um…  We… Uhm… That is, us that live in our part of the world, sometimes call our arms, if we have really large muscles, ‘guns’.  Sayin that they’re, big and dangerous or… Yeah, I don’t know where it comes from.”
             “Your muscles are large?  But your fat-to-muscle-ratio is--”
             “It was a joke, man…  Does your species have those?” Arin prodded, seeing the tendrils above the thing’s eyes waggle as its body pulsed a shade of pastel green.
             “Yes we do…  I was considered the funniest researcher in our pod back home.”  Then, it’s tendrils seemed to deflate, going back to their sluggish waving, “Though, I’ve been alone for awhile, it was a long trip out here.  I wonder if someone else has replaced me as the funniest…?”
             Arin watch its body downshift in color again, radiating less light and turning a particularly nasty shade of greenish-yellow.  As it also appeared to slouch, Arin banked that these things probably experienced emotions very similar to what humans did as it somewhat already exhibited surprise and fear.  Likely, what the creature was trying to express through its color, light and physical display was loneliness.
              “Did you have a lot of friends back home?” he figured he’d ask.
             “Oh, yes.  We create social circles like you. Those that make us happy.  Mine was larger than most…  Alas, I didn’t have a choice when I was sent here.”  It sat up straighter, “I have contact with home, but it’s not the same.  Most all of my time is spent studying terrans--which isn’t all that bad, you’re new, fascinating and unique subjects--but I was considered a singer and a performer outside of my profession.”
             “Ah…  Stuck doing a job you don’t really love as much as other things?”
            “Is this a common feeling among terrans?”
             “So common it’s considered out of the ordinary if you enjoy your job.”  Arin was one of those lucky few that made his living doing something he genuinely loved doing.  However, so much of his job was dependant upon the people he worked with and his fanbase.  It was as uplifting as it was humbling.
             “That’s…  A concerning statistic.  I am considered odd for not enjoying my job as much as others.”
             “Ah, different planets, different norms, right?”  Wow, Arin was actually holding a conversation with a real alien!  Now that the initial terror had died off and he was pretty certain this thing meant him no harm, this was, actually, pretty cool!
             “That much is certain.”
             “Am I the only human you’ve studied tonight?” Arin wondered aloud.
             “It’s a very slow process, yes, you are.  I get distracted easily and forget to log my findings if I don’t focus on one thing…  You’re the only human I’ve examined for the past…”  It seemed to have to search for a word… “Week…  Around… Seven of your days.  Yes.”
             “Okay…  Um, can I ask how you talk?  I mean… You don’t have a mouth.  Also, your grasp of English is very impressive.”
             “My species produces our language by vibrating the surface of our body.  However, that is not the only way we communicate, much of our conversations are covered without sound.  I am not verbally communicating at all.  I have tapped remotely into the language center of your brain and am searching for words that carry around the same meanings as the words of my language…”  It seemed to wait…  As if wondering if Arin was going to scream again.  When all Arin did was stare at it with his mouth hanging open in wordless “That’s so fucking cool!”, it continued.  “The way I speak changes from person to person.  I have conversed with those with larger vocabularies than yours and those who have had smaller.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to access a word I need, or you just completely don’t have it available and it makes connecting very difficult.”
             “You trying to say I’m dumb, bro?” Arin joked, very comfortable in his intellectual level in actuality.
             Arin’s interlocutor flashed a bright yellow, “No!  I did not mean to offend!  I was…”  The creature vibrated, sounding almost frustrated, “I am not doing the best at expressing myself…”
             “It’s cool man.”  Arin giggled, watching the alien’s body bleed a hue of powder blue.
             “What was that noise you just made?”  It wondered.
             “It was a laugh…  I thought you had been recording social interactions.  Haven’t you figured out what it is?”
             “None of your people have laughed in my presence before.  It’s a different experience getting to see it happen than merely hearing a recording.”
             “Oh, uh…  They are… Um… Expressions of happiness, I guess?  I mean, we don’t always laugh when we’re happy, we laugh mostly when some shit’s funny, or…  There are a lot of reasons we laugh, but, most of the time, it’s a good thing.”  Arin couldn’t help his smile seeing the alien’s powder blue body glow in the darkness of the ship.  “I could ask you if you guys only glow when you’re happy or something?”
             “Our…”  It was silent for a few seconds, apparently seeking very hard in Arin’s vocabulary for something useful…  “Our glowing” It must’ve given up, “is caused by small chemical reactions inside of us, most of the time caused by our digestion, but the brightness is somewhat dependant upon our mood.  When we are scared, our digestive systems stop so energy can be directed elsewhere, so we don’t glow during those periods.  Or when we haven’t consumed for quite some time.”
             “Ah, cool.”  Silence followed for a short period, Arin looking around the room his eyes had finally adjusted to.  “So…  Am I in space?”
             “Yes, we are in orbit around your planet.”
             “Do you have any windows I could see out of?” Arin wasn’t even going to bother hiding his excitement.
             “Yes… Over here.” It waved one of its skinny arms hesitantly.
            “Can I see?”
            “I am…  Unsure about letting you stand…” It logically answered.
            “I’ll let you live at my place if you let me see!” Arin offered, this really didn’t seem like a bad idea.
             “You cannot take your offer back when I let you up, you know…”
             “I didn’t intend to…  But, uh…  What would you do if I said ‘no’ anyway?  Not that I’m taking back what I just said, the offer still stands…”
             “I would erase your memory of ever having spoken to me and I would move on to the next subject.”
             “Wow, you drop a girl cold turkey, eh?”
             “I have access to your language centers and understand your words at face value…  Some things I can tell what they mean, but…  I’m going to assume that’s another euphemism or a saying?”  The alien puzzled, the powder blue of curiosity returning from earlier.
             “Uh, yeah, kinda… I don’t know how to explain it.  It was just a joke anyway.”
            “So, you are a ‘girl’?” It inquisitively pressed.
            “No, no.  I’m a guy.  Uh, boy…  Or dude--wait, everyone’s ‘dude’ these days--a bro.  Yeah, not a girl.”  Arin cleared up, he was going to have to be very careful with what he said for awhile, he figured.  He couldn’t give the alien any wrong impressions, “But, uh…  What would you be?”  Although Arin had accepted that some people weren’t men or women, he refused to keep referring to the mystical being as “it” in his head like some object.
             “Hm, that’s a difficult question for me to answer as we don’t differentiate like your people do.  We only have one physical set-up, each of us with the possibility to procreate.”
             Great, so it’s like a giant, uh…  What are those wiggly things underwater?  Anemones?  Looking up to the beings gently swaying head things, he decided that was actually quite accurate.  “So…  Do you guys like… Not pair up?  Or…”  Wow, he was seriously asking an alien about how they made little aliens.
            “It is recommended that we keep bloodlines ever moving forward.  Self-procreation is very frowned upon and has been for quite some time back home.”  By the way the alien spoke of this process, Arin determined that this sort of thing must’ve not been private information.  He determined that, anyway...
            “Whoa…  So, you don’t even need someone else to get pregnant?”
            “No, but there are…  Things we must go through…  Legal, um…  Hoops to navigate for us gain permission.  As you can guess, the offspring of self-fertilization is an exact copy of it’s progenitor.  We have methods of population monitoring as well, a penal system and having copies of yourself running about would be very… Inconvenient.”
             Arin had to laugh at the implications of that.  It was such a completely ridiculous concept!  However, the man could guess that he probably was being insensitive or something by laughing at this.  The alien’s body turned an unsettling shade of purple.
             “Do our societal regulations amuse you?”
             “No man, it’s not like that.”  Arin quickly amended, “More, um…  Well, I guess, on Earth, we have jokes about people having doubles and stuff and…”  Seeing that the creature’s colors didn’t change in the slightest with this explanation, he decided that maybe an apology would be the better option here, “Sorry man…”
             “It’s okay…  Different cultures…”
             Another short silence filled the space.
             “So, about that window?” Arin cleared his throat.
             “Are you still offering to host me?”
             “Yeah, of course.” Arin swallowed when his new “friend” came close to the bed he was on and loomed over him.  As he was unable to see anything beneath the bed, he could only wonder at what the being was doing to the mechanism that created such an awful screeching noise.
             “It is a deal.” Arin heard it respond, it’s deep, rather melodious voice unhindered by the loud sound.  To accompany the loud sound, the restraints on Arin’s arms fell away limply and retracted into the surface he was laying upon.  “Do you need help standing?” it asked.
             “No… I should be fine…  Have you figured out some kind of artificial gravity for your ship?” Arin sat up, obviously finding that even without the restraints he wasn’t floating everywhere.
             “Something like that.” The creature made some sort of episodic trilling noise.
             “So, what was that noise?”
             “Similar to your laughter.” It shortly explained, offering it’s boneless, three-fingered hand out to help Arin down.
             Not that he figured he actually needed help, but Arin was just looking for an excuse to touch the alien again after his brief experience earlier.  Carefully reaching out, he grasped the hand-like structure, marveling at it’s warmth and texture.  Arin considered for a moment that it’s skin was a lot like silicone gel and thus he determined it to be rather insubstantial until his momentary host pulled him from the bed by his arm.
             “Whoa!” Arin yelped, feeling himself suddenly suspended from the being’s single hand, his toes only barely brushing the chilly ground.  With such strength, why was this thing worried about Arin attacking it earlier?  If he’s from a peaceful race, maybe he just doesn’t have the stomach to fight back… He reasoned and it seemed a pretty sound conclusion.  On another note, as the alien set him down on his feet, Arin noticed it was taller than most humans!
             “I did not mean to surprise you.”  By the greeny color that bled into the crystalline body, Arin banked that the creature was not being completely truthful.  He was known as a jokester on his planet right?
             “Yeah, yeah, I’ll get you back later.” Arin cordially joked back, seeing a desired pastel green pulse move throughout its body.  As he then chuckled, the creature waved its arm towards the aforementioned window and Arin went still.  He turned his head and carefully crept over the cold, hard floor to the window.  His mouth gaped as he stared down at the blue planet he called his home.  “Fuck…” he whispered appreciatively, a fog forming on the glass before him.  Ostensibly, the alien wanted to keep Arin at least in the same side of the globe he was from during these study sessions, so the world Arin saw was blanketed in peaceful night time.  He saw the lights from major cities shimmering from between clouds and saw the ominous emptiness beyond his home…  “Dude…  You said that…  That we’re really out of the way here?”
             “Yes, in this galaxy, you’re far away from the main clusters of inhabitable worlds.  You’re not alone, but it’s a trip to get out here.”  The alien explained, looking down at him curiously, “Is it somehow comforting to know you’re not the only ones here?”
             “It’s…  Kind of scary, actually.” Arin was still in awe of the view before him.  He wondered what sunrise would look like from this perspective.
             “I can imagine…  Your planet has made attempts to be very loud, indiscriminate in who may pick up your signals.” It commented, raising a hand, but pausing, “Your people offer gestures of comfort by touching, correct?”
             “Uh… Yes, we do?” Arin raised an eyebrow, but quickly found why the being asked as the wide, spidery hand rested itself between his shoulders.  He smiled, the thing was trying so hard.  Which… Again…  Back to the earlier topic…  “So, I know you said uh, your race’s name can’t be pronounced by us--”
             “That was, um, actually a lie.” The being let out a short, unsure trill.  “I am merely not permitted to speak verbally around your people…  It’s to avoid leaving evidence of my presence.  No recordings of my voice are allowed to be kept.” He carefully expounded.  “You just don’t have a word for it in your memory.”
             “It’s not like I’m wired or anything.” Arin shrugged, looking up at his host’s big, black eyes. “I can’t just keep calling you ‘thing’ or ‘that alien’ all the time…  I dunno, it just seems rude.”
             “You’re concerned about being rude, suddenly?”  More green pulses of amusement rippled over the jelly frame.  “How unexpected.”
             “C’mon man, I’m gonna be living with you for…  I dunno, however long, shouldn’t I at least have something to call you?”  Arin kept his tone joking, not wanting the being to accidentally misinterpret his words as aggression.
             “Um…  Okay…  I guess…  I guess I should trust you… Um…  Okay…  So, we’re called,” And the mental dialog died as the extraterrestrial’s body began to vibrate, “Zilbyrgh,” it alternated back to it’s mental voice “for singular, and plural would be” and it’s body vibrated once more “Zilbyrghr.”  Well…  Arin wasn’t exactly sure what he had been expecting, but he needed to be careful not to accidentally trip over the syllables.  Separate from the difficulty of the name, Arin rather enjoyed the sound of the Zilbyrgh’s voice, it wasn’t unlike the voice he heard in his head, just a different language.
             “Zil…  Beer-g?” He tried his hardest to replicate.
             “Close enough.” The Zilbyrgh rippled with amused colors, the tendrils on top of it’s head wiggling with a bit of excitement.
              “And, uh…  I would appreciate it if you didn’t call me Thirty-Two-B or something…  I mean, if you have to refer to me in your reports that way, it’s fine, but my name’s Arin.”
             “Arin.” It answered easily, its body vibrating, apparently those syllables being rather common in it’s language.  “And… Uh,” it switched back to mental speak momentarily, “you’re free to shorten this… If you’d like…  But my name’s…”
             Arin leaned towards his new friend, trying his hardest to decipher syllables as soon as he heard them.
             “Lyrdaanaavydaa.”  As far as pronunciations went, Arin relaxed, that was significantly easier than the word for its species.  Though… That was pretty long…
             “Leer-dahn-ah-vee-dah?” Arin nodded, “Can I just call you Dan?”
             “Dan?” Lyrdaanaavydaa vibrated back, the tell-tale blue of curiosity painting its glittering body.
             “Yeah, it’s short for Daniel…  A common name.” Arin shrugged, “Um, another word is, like, Danny?  We give each other nicknames if we like each other…  Most of the time…  Um, it is a male name though…  If you’re okay with that.”
             “I do not understand the difference between one sex or the other beyond physical makeup, it does not matter to me.” Dan assured him, “I am Dan…”  Dan then flushed a deep shade of hunter green, “Thank you for the name, Arin.”
             “No problem man, uh, welcome to Earth!”  There was just one thing bothering Arin, however…  “Question, uh, why didn’t you, like, try to contact, like, a space scientist or something?  Wouldn’t you learn more about us that way?”
             “It was a thought, but I figured that it would skew my results and observations too much.  I would rather be with humans who aren’t so analytical over everything they do.” Dan giggled…  If Arin could call it a giggle, it was pretty close to one, actually.
              “Ah… Uh, so…  Are you going to take me back and come with me?  Or…?  How’s this going to work out?” Arin moved on to more practical questions, hiding an alien was going to come with some challenges, obviously.
             “I can send you back, you’ve not had enough time in stasis.” Dan responded, moving over to a control panel.  Arin couldn’t quite describe the Zilbyrgh version of locomotion as slithering as only the lower half of the body was involved, but it was close enough.  “I will not be joining you for a few more days, however.” Dan continued, “I have preparations to make.  And it should give you time to also make preparations for a houseguest.”
             “Um, okay.  Cool…  Will you just like, knock on my door?  Or appear in my kitchen?”
             “I will approach you somewhere, don’t worry.  I will try to make this as painless as possible.”  Arin heard some beeping beneath the ministrations of Dan’s fingers and he inquisitively stepped over to the smooth, glass-like screen it was manipulating.  “Curious?”
             “Yeah,” Arin chuckled, “we’re known for that.”
             “It’s a sign of intelligence.  Not an insult.” Dan giggled, carrying on with dragging it’s fingers over the black piece of glass-like material.  There were lights and sounds and what Arin assumed to be letters.  This was all so fucking cool!  And he got to see all of it!  Like, fucking hell!  Who the hell could ever pass up a chance like this?!
             “So, what does this do?”
             “Things.”
             “You…”  Arin grumbled, watching pastel greens take over Dan’s body.  By now, Arin was starting to connect this with the idea of a Zilbyrgh smile.  “Can you be more descriptive?”
             “Not really.  You don’t have words for it.”  Dan explained, finally tapping the center of a round, glowing button that appeared in the center of the glass.  “I can tell you, this will send you home, though.  You need to lay back on that pad.” Dan pointed back to the bed Arin woke up on.
             Shuffling back over to the bed, Arin looked over his shoulder to Dan again, the ethereal being glowed green in the darkness, the Earth below providing a stunning backdrop.  He had really met an alien…  And it was going to be living with him!  He let out a breath and climbed onto the table, laying back.
             “Is this right?”
             “Yes.  Sweet dreams.”  Arin registered Dan pressing the button, but he fell back into the darkness of sleep not a moment later.

             Arin rolled over in bed, the piercing rays of the sun rousing him from sleep.  Groaning, he let his eyes crack open, squinting at the far wall his shadow was cast on.  What in the ever-sweet-living name of fuck was that dream?  Deciding he could think about it later, he reached out for his phone on his bedside, reading the time as “You’re fucking late” before groaning again and sitting up.  He was fully clothed still, sweatshirt and sweatpants, but his toes were bare, unlike in his dream.
             He sighed, it was a pretty cool dream, seriously.  He would love to meet aliens, especially ones that looked as weird as that one.  It was actually really pretty…  Maybe he had been watching too many animes or had hentai on the brain or something.  Anyway, he was going to be late for recording if he didn’t get his ass in gear.
             Shuffling to the bathroom, he trimmed his facial hair and decided whether or not he needed to wash his hair.  Figuring he could go another day or two without it and he was also running late, he skipped the shower, grabbing for his toothbrush, paste and deodorant.  As he reached for these objects, however, he noticed a raised, red bump on his right arm.  He raised his arm up to his face to examine the divot in his skin, wondering what it could’ve been.  In his dream it was where Dan had inserted the needle to remove an implant from his arm, but…  That couldn’t possibly have really happened.  No way.  He was so not that important.
              He just decided it was a spider bite in the end, ignoring it as he went the rest of the way through his morning routine.  In the middle of changing his clothes, he pulled his cellphone to his ear, “Hey, Ross, sorry I’m running behind.”
              “No big deal, no one else is here yet.  They were all up late looking for another of those UFO sightings.”  Arin could hear the eye-roll in his voice.  “I think they’re all hungover, actually.” Ross chuckled.
              Silent at first, Arin asked in the middle of buckling his pants, “Was there one?”
             “Not last night, it was closer to this morning.  Some people got footage of something flying around on their way to work this morning.  It was like at five or something.” By Ross’ tone, Arin could tell he didn’t put any stock into this sort of thing.  “Videos look pretty convincing, but stuff’s flying around here all the time.  I don’t buy it.”
              “It’s been going on for like a week anyway, aren’t those kinds of sightings supposed to be few and far between?”  Arin muttered, this did explain his dream pretty well.
              “Everyone else seems to be having fun with it.  Just get here so we can get to work.  You sound like you were up late, don’t skip the coffee.”
             “Yeah, see you in a few minutes.” Arin answered, ending the call and pocketing his phone before reaching for his shirt.  Time for another day in the life.  Not that his life was exactly boring or annoying, but it was just another day.

Chapter Text

             Arin was happy to say that as two days passed, so did the weirdness he was feeling.  The prominent dream of that night hadn’t returned--though he tried many times to will it--and everything was normal.  Well, those sightings of UFOs had been traded for sightings of sea monsters off the coast, something massive moving about underneath the water.  Obviously, there were some people trying to say it was just the submerged UFO.  Everyone was fucking nuts.
             Moving along, back to the normal parts of his day.  He played his games with Jon and Ross, though, Jon seemed a little bit like there was something he wanted to say…  Well, it seemed for awhile that he had something to say and Arin was starting to get irritated that he hadn’t just come out with it.  Anyway…  Normal day.
             It was all perfectly normal, all the way up until Arin was on his way home.  As he walked, he swore he was being followed…  Every time he paused to look over his shoulder, he saw a wisp of brown hair just disappearing from sight.  When walking through a crowded area, the sound of faster, frustrated footsteps followed him, but he was never able to pin down just who they belonged to.  No one looked familiar from place to place and to make things even weirder, he ran into something that wasn’t even there!
             He was just walking gaily along, la-dee-da-dee-da and slammed right into something that must’ve been invisible!  Everyone present on that street stared at him in curiosity as Arin scrambled to his feet.  With a huff and a swiftly reddening face, Arin to note of his surroundings.  There was nothing though…  Nothing at all…  What was going on?  Flustered, Arin took off down the street, taking the longest route home possible, going around twists and turns, alleys and overpasses.
             Panting, Arin stood out front of his building, swinging his head around, looking for his pursuer…  There was nobody.  Of course…  There never had been.  It was ridiculous to assume otherwise.  Who would’ve been following him?  He wasn’t big enough for “crazy” fans, he was just a very popular nobody.  He was being super paranoid.  Everything was okay…
             Once settling on that decision, Arin headed up to his apartment.  He tried to decide what he wanted to do to distract himself from the earlier upset and, in the end, settled on doing some animation work.  Staring down at the screen of his tablet, the silence was getting to him--or relative silence anyway as he did live in a big city and that came with a certain amount of background noise--so he turned the TV on and was met with another of those odd reports.  They were all so common recently and completely ridiculous that how could he not watch it?  He didn’t even have to change to a comedy channel to get his daily dose of laughs.
             “Amature footage” was flashing on the screen in the bottom corner as a very shaky cameraman caught the form of what appeared to be a tall, thin man with a full, fluffy head of hair.  The cameraman settled behind some bushes with his phone and zoomed in as the subject stepped out of the ocean.  His jeans and black, leather jacket didn’t seem the least bit wet in spite of the fact that at the video’s beginning, he had been chest deep in the surf.  Not to mention, that wild mop of hair just couldn’t be tamed by moisture!
             “What’s he doing?” The owner of the camera murmured, ostensibly out at this secluded beach early in the morning.
             “I don’t know…” The other person answered and the subject of the camera looked around.  “I think we should go, what if he sees us?”
             Suddenly, the man just disappeared!  Completely!  He was there one minute and the next he just wasn’t!
             “Oh shit!  Did you see that?” The person behind the camera gasped, trying not to make too much noise as both people got up and ran.
            The footage gave Arin chills.  What was that?  He suddenly remembered his earlier run-in with absolutely nothing on the way home, but…  That couldn’t possibly have been this.  No, he was just finding connections where there were none.
             Don’t be ridiculous.  Aliens?  Come on, this isn’t the sixties.  Arin kept on with his work, trying his hardest to block out the meanings of what was being said on the television as the report continued.  He found a marginal amount of success in reducing the words to a dull roar of white noise as he threw himself into his work.  His focus on his work was so encompassing that it was already midnight by the time he finished most of his animation slides.  At least with this project he didn’t bother matching the cartoons’ mouths to the words he had recorded.  That was a whole other “ow my hand” situation.
             Seeing that the earlier report with the video footage was being replayed, Arin thought back to his dream.  It had seemed very real…  He could remember the texture of the alien’s skin perfectly and that sight of Earth through its spaceship window…  Just… He had to breathe a sigh of appreciation at how wonderfully his dream had sculpted the view.  The alien itself was also a beautiful sight…  It was like…  Living liquid crystals that shined all kinds of different hues, reminding Arin of a prism.  His mind had done a wonderful job of constructing such a gorgeous being.  Thinking of when the alien had been scared and turned the inky, purple color, it almost looked like its body had become the void beyond Earth, little flecks of stars caught on its body.  He found himself smiling.  He wanted to revisit that dream.
             Peering down at his tablet, he smiled wider, drawing up a new canvas and starting a whole new project.  He doubted he had all the skills necessary to exactly reproduce the etheric beauty of his dream’s creation, but he could at least try.  Try…  And get frustrated by two in the morning and realize that he needed to get up early and go to work again tomorrow.  He couldn’t afford to be drop-dead tired for two workdays in a row.

             Arin wished he could say the trip to work the next morning was uneventful.  Walking out of the coffee shop he snagged his morning cup from, he looked across the street to see a man--tall, thin, a heavy, fluffy mop of hair, a prominent nose and an even more prominent grin--staring at him.  As he was still in his pre-coffee morning phase, having bought it but not yet drank it, his brain did not connect at all that the man across the street very closely resembled the figure in last night’s news report…  Instead, he looked at the man warily for other reasons; he was bouncing up and down with excitement…  Well, Arin supposed it was possible for him to have really enthusiastic fans…  More often than not, he just hoped that they were all female.  There were always exceptions though.
             Just pretend you didn’t see him… Arin resolved, crossing the street with a drove of other people, hoping to get lost in them somehow.  At it turned out, that was not what happened and it looked like Arin was destined to have this conversation.
             “Arin!” The enthusiastic, taller-than-all-get-out man cheerfully called.  He pranced his way over to Arin on spindly, awkwardly gangly legs, wiggling his fingers…  “Look, it’s me!”
              “Uh…  Do I know you?”  Okay, that was rude, “I mean, uh, you know, have we met somewhere before?”  He was pretty damn sure they hadn’t, with that cute bounce in his step and broad smile, this man was not likely to be someone he would forget.
              The cheerful man’s face fell, “Oh…  It’s me…  Dan?”
              Arin knew many Dans, this was not one he recognized.
             Undeterred, the Dan continued, “I know I look so different right now, but, I guess that just means I’m better at impersonations than I thought!”  Excitedly, he continued, “I’m so glad you’re going to let me stay with you, but I need some hel--”
              “Whoa, whoa!”  Arin raised his hands, gesturing for the peculiar man to stop and nearly spilling his coffee.  “Man, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you got the wrong guy.”
              “Uh…  Are you not Arin Hanson?” Dan suddenly looked very self-conscious, like something had just gone fatally wrong.
             “I am…”  Arin wasn’t too freaked-out, he had never made attempts to hide his last name, after all.  “But, I don’t remember ever meeting you, dude.  I’m sorry, I’m late for work.  Have a good day.”  he turned from the man and continued on his way down the street.  However…  The dude just kept following him!
             “Wait, wait!  You don’t remember being in my…”  Dan paused and peered around at all the other listeners and onlookers.  He was making kind of a scene with all his enthusiasm and Arin’s evident irritation.  Many bystanders had that look of “are we about to witness a street fight?” in their eyes.  “Don’t remember being in my house?” he whispered.  “A few days ago?”  The strange dude’s hair could’ve been blowing in the wind by how it moved on top of his head, but there was no wind at all.
              “No, man, I really don’t.  Only house I’ve been to is my own the past few days.” he had been a bit of a hermit as of late.
              “You came at night!  And…  Slept on my table?  Uh, my bed?”
              Okay, Arin had had enough, “I did no such thing!  You’re really pissing me off, man, I’m going to suggest you go somewhere else now…”
              Arin saw Dan’s eyes go wide and he backed up, his fingers wiggling and his arms raising up as if to defend his face from harm.  It was actually so pathetic it made Arin feel sorry for him…  Evidently, this man honestly thought he knew Arin and was just trying to jog his memory.  Geez, he felt like an ass.
              “Okay, look,” Arin sighed, sipping his coffee, “I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.  or the last week.  Maybe we have met, but it hasn’t been recently.  I’m sorry I don’t remember you, maybe we’ll see each other again at a party or something and I’ll remember you there.  But now, I have to get to work.”
              “Did I press that button?” The man mumbled, “Oh, fuck, did I press the wrong button?”
              “Button?” Now Arin was just confused all over again, “What the hell are you talking about?”
              “Oh… Shit… Did I?” Dan raised his hands up into his poof of hair.  “No… No, I know I didn’t!” he looked to Arin, “I know you remember me!  Just…  Just…” He paused, thinking, “Just go somewhere private with me, I’ll show you!” His hands flew from his hair, gesticulating outward.
              “Show me what?” Arin was now passing from confused into freaked out.  Who even was this guy?
              “What I really look like!  Come on, man…  You know me…  You said you were going to host me while I was…  Visiting…”  There was a pleading look in his eyes, begging Arin to remember such a conversation.
              “Dude, I don’t know you, why is that so hard to get?”  Though, this was starting to remind Arin of his dream a little…  Had he offered, while drunk, or something to let someone stay in the spare room in his apartment?  And that had bled into his alien dream?  No…  That reasoning sounded dumb.  “I really have to go to work.”
             “Oh…  Okay…  Uh… I’ll… Uh…  See you later, then…” Dan answered, standing still in the crowd as Arin kept going.
              “Yep, whatever.” Arin waved over his shoulder back at the strange person, continuing on his way to work.

             “What took you?” Ross asked upon Arin’s arrival.
             “I ran into this weirdo on the way here…” Arin explained, sipping his coffee, “He thought he knew me…  And…  I think maybe he might, but I don’t know him.”
              “Weird stuff all around this past week.” Ross agreed, scratching the back of his neck.  “Freaks everywhere, you know?”
              “Yeah, I guess.  Let’s get started.  Is Jon here yet?”  Arin moved throughout the studio, it was still very shiny and new.  He couldn’t believe he had a real studio for his silly show.  It was more than most people of his background could dream of.
              “No, not yet, he seemed to have something important he was doing this morning.  Usual him as of late.”
              “Okay, fine, play something with me then.  We have to put up some content today.” Arin grumbled, wanting to forget the mess on the way to work this morning, “We need to get something done early.  You know, time for Barry to edit it.”  With the last week’s vibe pervading work--especially in the case of Ross, who was quieter than normal--the queue of videos had run out.
              “That guy really shook you up, huh?” Ross followed after him, his movements sluggish.
              “I don’t know, this whole week.” Arin shrugged, “I mean… More recently it’s been cool, but…  Ugh, I just need more sleep.  That’s what it is.” Another sip of his coffee and Arin entered the recording room, swinging around to plop down on the couch.  His eyes scanned the rows of available games on the far shelf, a Sonic game would ease his nerves.  Those were always great, though, he and Jon were in the middle of one of them already, so he needed to pick something else.  “Any ideas?”
             Ross shuffled on into the room, a laptop swung under one arm along with a bunch of cabling.  At the question, he raised an eyebrow and shrugged, “I bought some more stuff off Steam, we can sift through all that.”
            Arin, in the middle of rubbing his face, paused and looked over the back of the couch to him “I meant for an episode, man.”
            “Mn,” Ross nodded, “Jon will be here soon enough, I thought you just wanted to pass the time.”  Ross smirked, “With little ol’ me.”  He was rewarded with Arin chuckling.
            “Right, right, with a British twat.”
            Chuckling at the prod, he sat down on the couch next to Arin and booted up his laptop.  While everyone knew that Ross’ home computer was a complete monster--just the display itself expanding to three monitors--few knew that his laptop was as well.  Just with all of his custom electronics, it had processing power like no other laptop.  Nobody really questioned it’s capabilities in comparison to it’s size just because it was Ross’ computer.
              “How many games do you have now?” Arin wondered, he knew that Ross had a lot, but he had never gathered an exact number.
              “As of January sixth…”  Ross stared at Arin as the computer booted up…
             “Uh… What?”  Wait…  What day was it?  “Oh…”
              “Happy birthday.” Ross chuckled, “I can’t believe you forgot.”  He continued to laugh as Arin relaxed back into the couch, equally dumbfounded.  “It has been weird though, just add this to another thing that’s weird.” He continued, finally looking at his steam account, “Ah I have 301 games.”
             “Holy…  Holishit, dude!” Arin stared at the staggering number.  According to the platform as well, Ross only had roughly fifty of them installed between his two computers.  “How many have you actually played?”
              “Mmn…  Maybe around thirty.”
              “Are you serious?”  There was some seriously untapped material there.  It got the cogs rolling in his head, he would have to run it by Ross when he had a more solid idea and talked to others about it, but whoa.
               Arin didn’t have much more time to think because he heard the door to the studio open and a booming voice called, “Arin!  Where are ya?!  Get out here!”
                Oh, here we go.  Arin hopped off the couch, Ross tailing him out to the hallway.  Everyone was fucking late because they were picking up stuff.  Jon had a cake under one arm, a bag full of bottles of booze hanging from the other.  Suzy and Barry were both laden with bags of snacks--as if the studio didn’t already have enough of those--as well as drinks.
              Skipping over the traditional, awkward, copyrighted “Happy Birthday” song and careening straight into the joyous screaming of getting older, it went without saying that the studio got nothing done that day.  There was feasting!  On cake and junkfood.  There was drinking!  Oh god, there was drinking...
              That day progressed…  Drunkenly.  Jon, in his mild inebriation, alluded to having ideas about other forms of entertainment, but Arin had been expecting it for awhile.  He was trained in musical theatre, of course he would have his own creative artistic ideas that he wanted to pursue.  It was obvious to just about everyone in the studio that he was just waiting for the best moment to say anything about it.  It was wise, no need to make everyone worry until it was actually a problem.
                “Are we going out, guys?” Jon asked, glancing about the room, especially to Arin.
               “I need to put on something else if we are.”  There had been a very loving smash of cake down his shirt courtesy of his best friend Suzy.  She was still sitting back giggling in self-satisfaction, very cutely.
               “Gotta go home and put your face on?” Jon supposed humorously.
               “That too.” Arin laughed, standing up, “Just text me where you’re going.”  And with some vague goodbyes, Arin exited the studio.

               As soon as Arin had left the sight of the building, he was met with someone he really didn’t want to see again.  Thank god he was still feeling a buzz from the earlier party or he would’ve straight up punched him in the face.
               “Hey, Arin!”
              “You’re not going to just be my friend if you try to talk to me whenever I’m not at work.” Arin grumbled, shooting the tall, skinny Dan a venomous look.
              “I just figured I’d… You know…  Follow you home so I can--”
              “Follow me home?  No, dude, that’s creepy.”  Arin made a face, walking faster, but it was for nothing as Dan’s legs were, naturally, longer than his and he easily kept pace.
             “Well, I already know where you live, but I think it’s more polite to--”
             “Have you been stalking me?” Arin puzzled, remembering his paranoia of yesterday.  “Was that you?!  Yesterday?!”
              The man’s face was blank for a few seconds as if frantically searching for the meaning of a word he didn’t know, “No!  I wasn’t…  Uh… Stalking you!  No!  I was just… Too nervous to say hello yesterday…”  He looked down at the ground and kicked at the sidewalk, “I thought you wouldn’t recognize me…  Actually.”
             “Well, you should’ve gone with your gut there, because I don’t.” Arin grunted, “Now go away, I can’t go home if you’re following me.”
             “Arin!  You agreed to host me while I’m on Earth!  Seriously!  Do you really not remember?!  Any of what we talked about?!”  Obviously, the man had had enough of this cold shoulder business, “You can’t just-just-just, make promises and go back on them!”  The frustrated man wiggled his arms all around as if they were made of noodles rather than joints and some meat. “Is this what you humans do?!  Make deals and-and, just…  Just say you forgot about them!”  His puff of hair had also since erected itself straight up towards the sky, no longer relaxed and bouncing all around.
             As Arin took a step back and witnessed the disturbing display, his eyes widened and his mouth fell open.  Was his dream…  Not a dream?
              “I demand an explanation!” Dan yelled, his lips curling back angrily.  His gaze flashing down for just a second to take into account that Arin had smears of cake icing still on his shirt.  In the tensity of the moment, however, he forwent comment.
              “Dan… Um…”  Arin swallowed, looking at the man’s thin, jointless-appearing arms.  “Do you… Um… N-Not have any bones?”  He pointed to the arms, concerned.
              “No.” Dan huffed, “My species don’t have internal skeletal structures and mimicking one is tiresome.”  The arm snapped back from it’s graceful curve to a more rigid, movable angle.  Arin looked on in awe, yeah…  There was no way that was just a dream now… And he had been an absolute asshole to his new friend all day long.  “Why are you making that face?” Dan interrogated, obviously waiting for some other kind of bullshit answer.
              “Oh, shit.” Arin raised his hands up to his face, rubbing the skin.  His fingers traveled up through his hair and he looked up to observe Dan’s face, still frustrated and anxious, “I… Uh…  I’m sorry, man.  I know I’ve been awful all day, but… Uh…  Are you…  An alien?”
              The man’s eyebrows pulled more deeply into aggravation, “On your planet, yes.  You’re the alien to me though.”  He grumbled, “I’m Zilbyrgh, remember?”
              Okay, yeah, Arin really fucked up.  Suddenly panicking that he had offended the first alien species to ever want anything to do with his planet, he gestured to Dan, “Shit, well, um…  How to explain this?  When you guys, uhm…  You sleep, right?”
              Dan’s hair began to deflate at the question, relaxing into its earlier cloud, “We have periods of resting stasis…”  He looked around, now suddenly self-conscious after his earlier blow-up.  Thankfully, they were in an isolated-enough side street that few people could’ve possibly witnessed his weirdness.
              “So… Do you dream?”
              “Aspire…?”  Dan thought for a second, tapping his cheekbone with a finger, “We consolidate memory in our stasis.  And we heal if we are ill or injured…  I’m not sure what you mean by an aspiration.”
              Arin crinkled his brow, confused by the word that wasn’t the one he used, “No, not an aspiration, though you can call a dream an aspiration in some cases, that’s not what I mean here.  A dream, while sleeping, is completely different.”
              “Aspiration is what I hear the word as…”  Dan explained, “It’s the closest word we have and must obviously have around the same connotations.”  The alien continued to tap his cheek, “If the two words are different, can I have a definition so I can understand when that word is applicable?”  Wow, Arin had never considered the idea of dreaming being a human concept. “Also, how does that relate to what you’re trying to apologize for?”
              “Well, when we sleep, um…  Our brains--well, I don’t know how dreaming actually works, but, like, our brains produce these, most of the time nonsensical, images and sensations and stuff…  Some dreams make more sense than others, so…  Occasionally it can be hard to tell what’s a dream and what is not…”  Arin nervously explained.  “Especially when we haven’t gotten enough sleep.”
              “That sounds like a lie, but okay.” Dan folded his arms over his chest.  He still looked sort of pouty after earlier.
              “I can get you something to watch on dreams, they can be really vivid and crazy for us.  They’re actually a big part of going to sleep.  And, I think, if we don’t dream, we don’t actually feel any better when we wake up.”  Now that he had explained himself and the alien still seemed just as nonplussed as ever he felt very awkward.  “Um… I’m sorry, again…  I really thought it was…  Hey, wait, you told me ‘sweet dreams’ before you sent me back the other night…  Are you shitting me?”
               “No, that is how you understood that saying.” Dan explained, “You merely have an idiom that’s similar to the meaning of what I said.  So that’s what you heard.”
               Arin felt his confusion redouble, “But… Then why is ‘aspiration’ the closest word you have to dream if you used an idiom that--ugh!” He reached his hands up into his hair and huffed.
              “Idioms are about whole meanings…  They’re like… Many words that mean a single concept like how single words also represent single concepts…”  Even the alien deflated after a few seconds of explanation though, “I’m a cultural xenologist, not a linguist.”
             “I’m neither of those things.” Arin chuckled, motioning for them to start heading back in the direction he was originally traveling, “Well, since we had all that cleared up…  I’m, uh, sorry again, but, do you want to come home with me still?”
              “You really didn’t believe that what you were experiencing was real?” Dan asked, taking a step to follow after him.
             “What is reality anyway?” Arin blew a raspberry, “I guess if I had seen you…  As you originally were I would’ve believed you but…” Arin recalled the previous night’s news, quickly forgetting that he was trying to explain his horrible behavior, he said with a bit of urgency “Someone has a video of you, dude…”
              “What?” Dan looked quite alarmed by this news.
              “Were you on the beach yesterday morning?”
             “Y-Yes…  And?”
             “Someone got a recording of you walking out of the water,” Arin looked him up and down, “And you made yourself invisible…”
             “Shit… Um…  What can we do about that?”
             Arin sighed, “Nothing, unfortunately, they submitted the footage, whoever they are, to a news station and it got broadcasted all over the city last night.  You haven’t exactly been discreet with all of your flying around in your ship.”  At least, Arin was now assuming all the UFO sightings were of Dan’s ship, “And you parked the thing in the water?”
            “Yeah…” Dan’s face was still troubled, however, he straightened up and looked around after only a few moments of moping, “Can we wait to talk about this until we get back to your domicile?”
             “You mean my apartment?” Arin smiled up at the alien.
            “Apartment, yes.” Dan nodded, looking around the city now that he finally had an envoy to explain things to him.  “I have so many questions about your city.”
             “Uh, like what?”
             “Like, what are these holes in the ground?”  Dan pointed over to a storm drain and then to a manhole cover.
             Oh boy.  Arin realized he was going to have to describe in detail what even the simplest of things were.  This was going to be a long first night.

             “So, this is where you live?”  Dan entered the apartment after Arin pushed the door open.  He raised his hands up and tapped his fingers together, peering about curiously.  “You must describe to me in detail what each of these objects do!” The alien gleefully skipped about the home.
             Arin, meanwhile, sighed and closed the door.  It was difficult enough to explain what a sewer system was to a species that didn’t even excrete like humans did.  Then having to explain water-treatment plants and other stuff that even he personally didn’t understand--such as the process of purification itself!--and now he had to describe his belongings?  As Dan flitted around the room, enthusiastically picking up the television remote and palpating all the buttons individually until the television turned on, Arin smiled.  He was cute, really…  Not that Arin had really found too many men in his past to be cute…
             Is it…  Is it really a man though?  Dan said his species doesn’t have different sexes…  Arin reminded himself, again landing back at a question he had asked while on Dan’s ship…  As Arin had already started calling him ‘he’ he was going to stick with that until he was told otherwise.  What if Dan’s too shy to correct you though? he went on to wonder, sighing afterwards, this was confusing.  Dan didn’t have trouble in the past explaining himself anyway, so…  He probably would if it was a problem.
             “Arin!” Dan called, “This screen, it broadcasts news programs and entertainment, does it not?” Dan wiggled an arm--very noodly and jointless--at the television screen displaying the last channel he had been watching.  In this case, he had been watching Adult Swim last night as it had a weekly anime broadcast, so, for now, it was playing some childish, colorful cartoon.  Arin was, actually, fond of children’s cartoons, more for their evolving animation styles and dramatic use of color than anything else.
             “Yes, it’s called a television.”  Arin explained, “That thing behind you is a couch, you sit on it.  The things on either end of the couch are lamps.”  Obviously they gave off the light in the room, so Arin didn’t think he had to exactly explain their function.
             At the news that the couch was for sitting on, the skinny alien…  Well, he did something that was uncommon for humans as they lacked the ability to do so--Dan puffed up his body, making himself look momentarily like a balloon, but then shrunk himself back down to his prior shape and flopped down onto the couch.  He almost appeared to melt as he sat, his human body becoming a bit less shapely and more like goo.
              “Uh…  You know, dude…  How do you look so human?  Aren’t you like…  Jelly?”  Arin questioned, walking over to his desk to deposit his bag of things.  He still casted glances over to his seemingly exhausted friend, seeing his more human coloration fade.
             “I have compacted my form into a denser shape.” Dan began, lifting his hand to peer at it as he let his five fingers shape back into three.  “And have colored myself to match the typical human skin tone of his area.  It was difficult to choose, there are so many.”  His hair became his mass of swaying tendrils atop his head and the rest of his face just melted into his featureless--aside from his fist-sized eyes--landscape.  It was actually disturbing for Arin to watch, he had to look away.  “I found a database of deceased individuals, picked one, and assumed their shape.”
            “That’s…  Really morbid, dude…” Arin murmured, looking over to the alien on the couch.  His body was as it had been when Arin met him, a clear, jelly-like substance, but he darkened to a pale green in the center.  Arin assumed this meant contentment as green only ever seemed to appear with positive reactions.  It was kind of funny, his clothes must’ve not been part of his body because they had since fallen to the couch in the same position he had sat down in. “But smart, I guess…  No one you can run into with your face.  What was the guy’s name?”
            “I do not know, it is a pity, I understand, but I cannot read your language.”  Raising himself gracefully up from the couch, Dan ambled around the space again.  “Your increased gravity here is very tiring.” he explained.
            “Is…”  Arin thought for a second why planets had greater gravity, it had been quite sometime since he read up on the subject, “Oh, is Earth bigger than your world?”
             “No, your planet is merely denser than mine.  Spatially, we are larger, but with a significantly thinner crust and mantle.”  Dan ambled over to Arin’s mantle beneath the mounted television screen, looking at the pictures.  “Like your planet though, we are predominantly covered in water, the mean temperatures of our oceans are higher, however because we are more geothermally active.”  Dan then paused, “Because of the lower gravity of course.  It’s a minimal difference, I suppose, but great enough to fatigue me.”  The alien seemed particularly curious at the picture of Arin with his parents and brother.  “These are your progenitors, correct?”
             “Uh…”  Arin walked over and peered at the family photo, “My parents and my brother, yeah.”
             “I have a sibling too.  Younger than me.  They hit me all the time when we were adolescents.” Dan’s body trilled, the pleasant, pastel green pulsing throughout him, “And I told my…  Parents?”
             “Yeah?” Arin was smiling at the story, it seemed that siblings were the same no matter what planet you were on.
             “One of my parents told me just to hit them back…  And I did, and they, well…  They started shriveling up and were silent, and I just felt awful.  I don’t like hitting people.”
             “Did they start crying?”  Arin asked, chuckling.
             “Why would they have started screaming?  That’s often an expression of joy for us.”
             “Oh… Uh… Crying and screaming are different things…  But uh, I guess you sometimes scream when you cry, but…”  Damn, another human concept, “But our eyes… They, like…  Leak salt water when we’re sad?  Or when we’ve been hurt.”
             “Why?”
             Arin suddenly gestured, frustrated by all these questions he was under qualified to answer, “Hell, man, I dunno.  I’m not a biologist.  It’s just something that we accept happens.  It’s…  It’s a thing.”
             “Like dreams?” Dan questioned, tipping his weird head to the side.
             “Yeah…  Like dreams…”  Silence followed and Dan continued to examine the pictures, “Uh… So, how many parents do you have?”
             “The normal amount.” Dan answered.
             “Uh…  Okay, how many is that?”
             “The same as most all other zilbyrghr.”
            “And that’s like?  What?  Two?  Three?  Four?  I don’t know these things!”
             “Just the average amount.”
            It took Arin a few seconds to realize that the green color inside of Dan’s body was growing more and more vibrant with each question.  Arin huffed and crossed his arms, wishing the alien had a mouth to smile with so he could punch him in it.
              “Very funny, come on, man.”  Arin shoved what the alien had for a shoulder, playfully. Unexpectedly, his hand left a clear imprint on Dan’s “shoulder” and Arin drew back, wondering if he had hurt him.
             Instead, the zilbyrgh just giggled, his head-finger-things wiggling back and forth with great vigor, “I have three.  They don’t always agree with each other either.  Sometimes two fight, the third helps break up the fight and resolve the conflict.  Others have as many as six, but I don’t know what I would’ve done with any more than the three I had...”
              “Three?  Wow, that’s pretty cool.  And…  Do, uh…  Do all three contribute to… Um…?”  How was Arin supposed to ask how three aliens got jiggy with the making baby aliens thing?  Maybe it wasn’t any of his business, but he sure was curious.  He had to admit, three people did sound a good deal more stable than just two.  Especially in the case of fights…  Well…  If the third one could be kept from choosing one side over the other.
              “Contribute to….?”  Dan questioned, his body turning lavender.  That was a new one…  He only seemed to turn purple when he was scared or aggravated, what did this lighter purple mean?
            “Nevermind.”  Arin waved it off, feeling his face heat up.
            “Okay, yes.”  The lavender color deepened on Dan and he slithered elsewhere.  Actually, he slithered right on into the kitchen, his slug-like lower body making a disconcerting sliding noise across the tile.  Arin ignored it, however, just remaining silent and letting Dan explore all the things.  Like a new puppy introduced to a home, he inspected everything, even going so far as to stick his fingers inside the toaster and his head into the microwave.  With each question, Arin answered to the best of his ability, but questions like “And how does this ‘microwave’ function exactly?” Arin had to look up on his phone to answer.
             “Is that a communication device!?” Dan reached out for the smartphone as Arin held it out.  He swished through web pages with childlike glee and excitement.  Though, Arin was very glad that he was unable to read as some of the stuff he had pulled up on the phone was quite inappropriate.  “Very fascinating what you can do with such limited technology!”
             “Hey…” Arin mumbled, reaching out for his phone, “If you’re going to insult my things give it back.”
             “Oh, do not take offense, by our methods of dating, your planet is approximately only two thirds the age of our planet.  Our only reasons for being more advanced are that we have been here longer.  Do not distress, I am not at all discounting the ingenuity of your species.”
               Arin huffed and folded his arms over his chest as Dan kept playing with his phone.  Children, old people, pets and now--apparently--aliens were all so endlessly amused by smartphones.  Arin found that it was no less annoying…
             “Hey, you guys eat, right?” As they were in the kitchen, Arin found it wise to eat something as his stomach grumbled.  Also, it really felt like he was forgetting something…  Just what was it?
             “Yes, we do.  Not the same way that you do, but it is necessary for us.” Dan didn’t look up from the device between his fingers.
             “And…  Can you eat Earth food?  I know you said you’re not carbon-based like everything else on this planet…”  Arin remembered reading somewhere that silicon was a viable option for life to latch onto.  It seemed likely Dan could be silicone by his crystal-like body, even if he was soft.
            “Don’t worry, our bodies are equipped to break down and synthesize all kinds of compounds so nothing goes to waste.  Anything that we find completely useless--which isn’t likely--I’ll just expel as radiation.” He hummed, not the least bit concerned about that last part…
            “Whoa!  Okay!”  Arin stepped as far away from the alien as he could get in his kitchen, “I don’t know if you know this, man, but radiation kills us.”  Oh god, what if he had radiation poisoning already?!  Was he going to die?!  Dan had been around him extensively the past week, touching him!  He could feel the cancer growing inside of him just thinking about it!
             Dan looked up from the phone and set it aside, “Don’t worry, I put off no more radiation than your communication device.”
             Yeah, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to have phone-shaped tumors developing in our heads in a few more years.  Arin pessimistically thought, but, Dan still had a point.  “If you say so…  Can you…  Ever put out toxic amounts?”
             Dan raised a spindly finger, tapping on the space below his left eye, “As a defense mechanism, we have such an ability.  However, it is less to cause damage, and more used as a distraction.”  He carefully explained, “Many of the indigenous species of my planet, ourselves included in grave circumstances, derive nourishment from certain kinds of radiation.”
             Arin’s mouth fell open, utterly astonished, “Radiation kills most everything on our planet and you guys…  You just eat the stuff?”  That was a level of hardcore Arin didn’t even know a word for.
             “Yes!” The bubbly alien responded, swaying his body to and fro.
             “So, wait a second,” Arin walked to the fridge, “when you guys, like, eat the stuff…  Is it just gone?”
              “It’s absorbed by us, yes.  My species can only handle so much, however, it can only be used if we are starving.  Other creatures on our planet, such as…  Some forms of…”  Dan was silent for a few moments, “Flora…  Subsist upon it.”
               “Whoa…”  Arin could only imagine what Dan’s people could offer Earth if an alliance was formed.
             “Something wrong?”
              “No, I’m just thinking, there are parts of Earth that are uninhabitable today because of high levels of radiation in the area.  They weren’t always like that, they happened because one or a bunch of us fucked up.” Arin told the curious being, pulling out some chilled spaghetti leftovers.  Damn, what was he supposed to be doing right now?
              “Oh?” Dan tapped again at the space beneath one of his eyes, “Do you have methods of containing the problem?”
             “Psh, just pouring lots of concrete on the stuff.  But everything that got into the air,” Arin shrugged, “it’s everywhere now, nothing we can do about it.”
              “That is something worth noting in my report.” Dan commented, “Thank you.”  Speaking of his reports…
              “Do you have anything to move in here?” As he asked, Arin took down two bowls, splitting the pasta and meat sauce evenly between the two.
              “Oh, yes, thank you for reminding me…”  Dan looked about, plunging three of his fingers into his body.
              “Ah!”  Arin stepped back at the unexpected action, feeling his stomach roll as the hand groped around inside the being.  “Y-Y-You guys are your own personal storage unit?!”
             “You could say that.” Dan giggled, pulling out four black cubes.  “All of these are my research materials.”  He held them out for Arin to examine.
             “What are they?” Arin questioned once putting the two bowls in the microwave.  He prodded one in the palm of Dan’s hand, finding it had significantly greater weight than he originally was expecting.  “Hang on… Can I guess?”
              Dan rippled with blue-green light, remaining silent as Arin took a stab.
              “So…  Can you like… Shrink your stuff?  Or make it denser without damaging it?”
             “Correct, the weight of these cubes is equal to their expanded weight.”  And yet, Dan was holding them all with ease…  It was not likely these things were light.
             “Can I hold one?”
              The alien hesitated, “Uh…  You are, erhm…  You’re limited by your skeletal structure…  I am afraid you might fracture it or…”
             “Nah, man!  I’m strong!  I got this!” Arin puffed up his chest, and flexed his arm muscles.
               Dan laughed, his body wildly fluctuating with the strength of his laughter, and then he stopped, “Oh, you’re serious?”
               “Yeah!” Arin was grinning, looking at the black cubes.
               “I’ll give you the lightest one…”  Dan plucked one of the cubes between his fingers, “Hold out your hands.”
               Excited, Arin held his hands out, waiting for the cube to be placed in his hands, “Oh, fuck!” Arin stumbled forward, laboring to lift the tiny object to chest level.  “Geez!”  It wasn’t unbearable, it was maybe around fifty pounds, but was, nonetheless, unexpected. “See!  I got this!”
              His body rippling with many shades of amused green, Dan easily plucked the cube from Arin’s hand, returning it to the collection of objects.  He did it with such ease, too…  Just as before, Arin wondered why Dan seemed to think humans were more physically capable just because they were naturally denser…  Dan clearly had the ability to control his own density to a degree and could even make himself invisible!  Humans wouldn’t stand a chance against them.
             “Do you have a room for me to put my things in?”  Dan asked, jumping with surprise--his body accordingly flashing yellow and orange--as the microwave chimed.  Immediately, the alien deflated, his tendrils relaxing as he found it was just an alert on the machine.
             Arin chuckled and motioned for Dan to follow him.  On the trip to the spare room--which so far only had a mattress and a few boxes shoved into it--Arin’s cell phone buzzed.  Curious, Arin unlocked the screen and the message displayed suddenly reminded him that he had somewhere to be, “Oh, shit.”
             “Is something wrong?” Dan asked, entering the bedroom and palpating the black cubes in his hand.
             “Ah, crap.” Arin looked down to his shirt, still dirtied with cake and then up to Dan, “Nothing’s wrong, but I have to leave.  I promised some friends I’d meet them out.  It’s my birthday.” he explained quickly, leaving Dan standing in the room as he pulled his shirt off.
             “Your spawning day is special?” the alien pursued him after sitting the cubes down on the floor.  “It is a day you come together with friends and family to celebrate your existence, right?”
              “Yeah, actually.” Arin chuckled, “Do you guys do it?”  Once in his room, Arin rifled through his hamper of clean clothes, pulling on the first shirt he found.  Which happened to be a Sailor Moon shirt decked out in many bright colors.
              “We do!” Dan gleefully admitted, “There are rituals that come with our spawning day, I am curious what yours are!”  The aliens limbs and fingers and hair-like protrusions all squirmed with great excitement as his body also shimmered a vast variety of colors.  His glow became brighter on top of all of that and Arin needed to stand in stunned awe at the beauty.
              Wow…
             “Is something wrong?” Dan went on to question at Arin’s blank expression.
             “You’re really beautiful.” Arin dumbly muttered, witnessing not a second later that Dan’s whole body flushed a pretty shade of lavender.
             “No--I mean… I…  Uh…  Thank you… Uh…”  Dan turned his face away from Arin, his head tenta-things curling up close to his body and his arms scrunching inward to make himself look smaller.  “I find your species, eh…  Most fascinating and-and…”
            Arin laughed, apparently his new friend was shy…  Oh, he could do so much with that.  Experimenting, Arin reached out a hand touch Dan’s shoulder, “You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to.”
               “I don’t want to be rude.” Dan peered back over his shoulder to Arin, unaware that his body’s surface was rippling from where Arin was in contact with him.  Moreover, rippling soft, grassy hues.  “But I am not merely complimenting you back for the sake of not being rude!”  And he was all lavender again.
                Arin withdrew his hand with a chuckle, successfully gleaning that lavender denoted embarrassment.  Screw the fact that the alien didn’t have a face, the color and light show was a fine replacement.  He was personally fond of bright colors anyway.
             “Don’t worry about it, man, I gotta get going.”  Moving past the alien, Arin went to the kitchen, aware that Dan was following, albeit slowly.  “Are you going to be okay if I leave you here?  I won’t be out all night, probably.”  Once in the kitchen, he stuck what was to be his bowl of spaghetti in the fridge.
              “I will be spending time organizing my things…  I am also tired, I will be going into stasis not long after that.” Dan explained, sounding the slightest bit timid to Arin.  “Or… I…  Could…?”
              “Uh…  Are you asking to come?” Arin looked to Dan with a bit of concern.  He didn’t want to be rude and say no, but…  Wouldn’t that be really weird?  To go back to his apartment and come back with some guy that none of his other friends had met before?
             “I am here to observe humans, so, I wouldn’t try to interfere with anything!  And… Celebrations tell so much about your culture, and…”  Dan self-consciously curled himself inward again.
             “Yeah, I get that,” Arin nodded, holding out the bowl of spaghetti for Dan to take, “I’m just…  It would be weird for me to show up to a friend thing with someone that they’ve never met before.”
               “Oh, yes, I see your point.  I have found in the last two days your species aren’t overly welcoming to new face…”  Ouch…
              “Well…  It would just be weird this one time.  You’ll meet them all eventually, just…  Now’s not the time.”  Seeing that Dan was just holding the bowl and not eating with the fork he had provided, he instructed, “You can go ahead and eat.”
              “Okay.” Dan looked down to the bowl then, “Just the…  Not the metal thing or the vessel, right?”
              The fact that that was even a question told Arin a significant amount about the being’s digestive abilities.  Damn, that was terrifying…  “Yeah, you use the fork to eat.”  Arin stepped forward and twirled the noodles around the tines of the utensil and held it up, “And you…  Take the noodles off the end…”  But Dan had no mouth…  “Uh…  Where do you eat from?  Aah!”  Arin jumped back as Dan “stepped” forward and the forkful of food stuck into his chest.
              “Don’t worry, I am fine.” Dan daintily reached and pulled the fork from his chest, devoid of spaghetti.  “Such an interesting flavor!” he commented, scooping more spaghetti onto the fork and into his chest. “How do you get this flavor?”
              “I think that would take more time than I have to explain…”  Seeing Dan slump further down and continue eating, Arin sighed. He just looked so pathetic and sad!  Arin wasn’t completely heartless… “Uh, you can make yourself invisible, right?”
               Well, that perked Dan up in a hurry, he straightened up immediately, again showing off a variety of shining colors, “Yes!  I can!  If I stay invisible and silent, can I go with you!?”
              “Sure…” Arin cracked a smile, damn, he was a sucker for Dan’s bubbling enthusiasm.  “Just finish eating and follow me.”  The human couldn’t help but laugh as Dan forgot all about the fork and just threw the remainder of the bowl at himself, absorbing it and sitting the bowl on the counter.  “Ready?”
              “Yes! Yes!” the wiggling being eagerly chased after Arin as he collected his things.  He was so excited, that he had already completely masked himself by the time Arin turned around.
              “Uh… You still there?” Arin asked the air.
              “Yep! Lead the way!”  Dan was prepared for a wonderful night of observation and Arin was still in the threshold of being unsure how to feel about all this.  Nonetheless, he would try to make this fun, it was kind of like having a little, amusing secret.

 

 

Chapter Text

              The walk to the bar Arin’s friends had all agreed upon was nerve-wracking to say the least.  It felt like he was stopping every fifteen steps just to check if Dan was still behind him.  Of course, this wasn’t altogether a bright idea in the presence of many people on the street.  It was likely that more than a few of the people behind him either thought he was paranoid or just off his rocker.  All the more, it didn’t help at all that Arin couldn’t see Dan…
              “Arin, just keep going, I’m still here, seriously.” Even Dan was getting annoyed with this touch and go.
              “Dude, you’re a disembodied voice, I have no idea where you are and we have no way of communicating if you get lost.”  Arin hurriedly whispered back over his shoulder.
              “I’m going to suggest that you stop talking because you’re being stared at…  I can talk to you without anyone else aware of it, but you are unable to do the same.” Dan pointed out.
             “Did you just tell me to shut up?”
              “No…  But it was a suggestion.”
              “Haha, funny.” Arin pulled his coat around himself a little tighter as the night air was actually starting to become chilly.  He had no intentions of speaking to the alien again and just carrying on with his trip to the bar, but he was curious…  “You’re not cold are you?”
             “This is okay.  I’ve experienced worse on my home planet.”  Dan answered informationally, however he added afterwards “Any colder and I might need to find something to cover up with.”
             “Well, if you have to go somewhere to warm up, let me know first.”
              “I am an adult in my species and do not need--”
              “Geez, okay.  Blame a guy who’s from this planet for being concerned for a person who’s not.”  He huffed and walked faster.
              “I did not mean to offend…  I was just stating that you don’t have to look after me.  This is not the first planet I’ve been to that’s not my own.”  Dan attempted to apologize diplomatically, when Arin didn’t answer him, however, he felt it best to just drop the subject and remain likewise silent.
             While Dan had, so far, experienced that humans loved to group together in great herds, he wasn’t exactly ready for the circus that was the bar.  Bars were crowded in most cities, almost shoulder-to-shoulder, or at least standing-room only on busy nights, but this was LA…  LA meant you had to fight with elbows, chests and copious “excuse mes” in order to get anywhere near the bar.  At least, the zilbyrgh could say, it was warm inside the packed building.  Humans must’ve been far more social than he gave them credit for to withstand being constantly in contact with one another…
              Or maybe the contact doesn’t count if they don’t look at each other?  He observed, noting how the humans that Arin asked passage between never even shot him a glance.  They continued on with conversations with the other humans they were facing.  It took Dan only a short amount of time to realize that even in the dense, chaos of the room, there were almost circular pockets of socialization.  Sometimes those circles were pressed up, and spread-out against a wall, conversations shouted down the line and sometimes there were ruder circles that took up more space than necessary.  Dan also took note of Type-A and Type-B humans alike standing at the walls of the room, not socializing, but gazing out into the crowd with some emotion on their faces.  Dan was not amazing at reading human facial expressions yet, so he could not discern what this feeling exactly was.  Humans were a great deal less transparent than his own species in their emotions.
              When Arin--er, Subject-32-B--came into contact with humans he recognized, a group of them with three Type-Bs and one Type-A, he smiled grandly.  He hollered some kind of greeting--it must’ve been traditional in some way because as 32-B shouted “What’s up bitches?!” they all responded positively in spite of the rude language--and raised his arms up to give each of them what Dan noted to be a show of affection.  It involved embracing the other humans close to each other’s bodies and smiling.  Dan would have to try that with Arin when a time was more permitting.
              “What took you so long?” One of the Type-B humans asked, he had facial hair like 32-B, a very interesting vocal range, but was heavier set than 32-B.
             “Ah, I, uh… Ran into this guy and got distracted.”  32-B…  Oh, Dan would just translate all this later in his notes.  Arin answered, a quaver in his voice that Dan hadn’t heard him exhibit before.  Perhaps…  Anxiety?
             “That guy you talked about this morning?” Another human, this one thinner than Arin with an interesting accent in his voice, answered.  Dan paused, looking this human over, he was different from the rest of them in more than just his accented elocution.
              “Uh, yeah.” Arin answered with a chuckle, “Turns out I did know him.”
              “That’s surprising.” the same human answered, “Where from?”
              “Oh, uh, I went over to his house like…  A week ago, well…” Arin seemed to have to count for a minute, “I guess it was more like ten days ago.  Before New Years.”
             Dan noted to ask Arin what the significance of the passing of a year was to humans and continued listening intently as he also realized that Arin was talking about him.
              “Ah, if it was before New Years, no wonder you don’t remember.” the thinner human laughed.
             “Oh come on, Ross, like you didn’t get plastered too!” Arin continued, giving him a playful shove--exactly like the ones Arin had given him!  Oh, how fascinating!  Dan moved in closer to the group to better observe.
             “So,” Ross’ eyes flicked away from Arin’s face and for just a moment, Dan could swear the human was staring at him…  His eyes as cold and blue as the icecaps in the Cobalt Mountains back home.  Dan remained perfectly still, humans couldn’t see heat signatures, right?  Was his eyesight merely sharper than Arin’s?  Arin hadn’t been able to see him at all, no matter how much he moved!  “was he as freaky as you thought?” The human flicked his eyes back to Arin just as Arin looked over his shoulder.  Arin smiled and raised a hand to wave, Dan feeling the tension ease from him as he looked back to a human that was coming his way.  This human was Type-A and was warmly welcomed into the social circle.
               “Ah,” Arin gave the newcomer a hug as he returned his attention to Ross, “he’s different, really.  Uh, not in a bad way though, he’s nice and I’m not sure where all of his energy comes from?”
              “Energy?” The larger Type-B human asked, his face very expressive of his curiosity.  At the same time, the Type-A human came to put her arm under his and rest it there.  Dan inquisitively observed as she pressed her speaking and eating orifice to the man’s cheek.  By the way the expressive human grinned in response and repaid the gesture, Dan saw this as more affectionate interaction.  However, the gesture was not repeated to everyone else in the circle, just the one Type-B.
              “Yeah, like,” Arin started again, “he’s enthusiastic about everything.”
              “In that annoying Little Miss Sunshine kind of way?” Arin’s interlocutor continued, thoughtful.
              “Kind of,” Arin laughed, “except I wouldn’t call it annoying.”
              “Do you think he’s cute?” The first Type-A human questioned.  First as in the one that arrived first…  Okay, this was confusing, Dan either needed to give them subject numbers or just learn their names.  Carefully shifting closer, Dan gingerly tapped the side of Arin’s neck.
               “Eugh!” Arin jumped away from the contact, wildly looking to the side where there was no one.  Everyone else in the group stared at him and blinked.
               “Arin, is everything okay?” The Type-A stepped forward in concern.
               “Yeah, what was that?” the other four present asked in various vernacular iterations.
               “Uh, I just,” Arin raised his hand up to his neck where Dan had touched, “thought something was on my neck.”
               “It was probably your hair, happens to me all the time.” The Type-A said, tossing her long hair over one shoulder.
               “I didn’t mean to scare you, uh, dude…” Dan began, only Arin able to hear his voice, “I just wanted to ask who everyone was.”
              “Maybe, this is the longest my hair has been.” Arin replied to the Type-A, apparently ignoring Dan’s request.  Was he still angry after earlier?  “Jon, should I grow my hair out like Suzy’s?” Arin laughed, gathering the attention of the bearded Type-B from earlier.
              “I think you’d look fabulous.” Jon answered, a peculiar tone entering his voice that Dan couldn’t quite describe.
               “Oh my gosh!” Suzy responded, the light of inspiration in her bright eyes, “You should totally do a video with me where I do your makeup!”
              “Oh--shi--what?!”  Arin stepped back “Hey, now, uh, I said do my hair, not do my makeup!”
              “Come on, Arin, don’t be such a baby.  It’ll be fun!” Suzy prodded Arin’s side.
              “Yeah, I’d love to see what Eeerin looks like.” Ross stepped in, “You know, Arin, but with an E.” Everyone around the circle giggled.
              Arin rolled his eyes, “Haven’t we already made that joke?  I mean, Barry can just edit something into one of our--”
              “No, I’m not helping you here.” Barry stopped Arin before he had a chance to finish his thought, “I want to see Erin just as much as Ross.”
               “Awh, fuck you guys!” Arin stood in slumped defeat as Suzy reached out to play with his hair.  He made an exaggerated expression of what Dan could guess as grief by how uncomfortable the configuration looked. “Are you gonna put mud on my face Suzy?” Arin comedically whined.
              “It won’t be that bad, I do it every day!” She tried to console and Arin made more noises of his discomfort.
              “Maybe Nicole can help you guys.” Ross then said and there was a distinct, tense silence around the circle…
             It was strong enough that even Dan, the person not even from this planet with a physiology nothing like a human’s could even feel it.  He raised his hands up to his eyes and began to wring them and integrate his fingers together.  It seemed evident that there was a rude miscommunication at hand and no one was quite sure how to move past it.
              “So, ah, drinks!” Jon suddenly declared.  “I’ll go get some!  For the birthday boy of course!”  And off Jon went towards the packed bar, the Type-A, Nicole ostensibly, following after him.
              “Ross, next time, just shut up.” Barry suggested as Arin still seemed silent, stepping a bit closer to Suzy.
              “I thought you guys could just have an all-out war over Arin’s face.” Ross presented with a smug snigger.
               “Look, dude, I can handle the mud being put on my face, but I’ll still have a face after Suzy.” Arin spoke, leaning on his friend.
              “Just drop it, let’s talk about something else.” Suzy suggested.
              “Yeah!  S’right!  We’re here to party!” Arin proclaimed loudly, jumping enthusiastically into the air.  It almost looked intentional to Dan that Arin landed on Suzy as he came back down, a wide, encouraging grin pulling at his lips.  “C’mon Suzy!”  he took her hands and began…  Dan wasn’t sure what to call the awkward gyrations of his body.  He supposed that “dancing” might have been a proper word, but it was nothing that he would personally call dancing.
               It occurred to Dan, that as Suzy cracked a smile, Arin was attempting to lighten her mood.  These silly, ignominious displays at his own expense were meant to cheer her!  How fascinating humans were!  They had such capacity to be rude, inconsiderate and hostile, but at the same time cared deeply and empathized with others, to the point of total self-humiliation.  This particular dynamic would need more study, Dan resolved.
               As the night progressed, Dan had many chances to successfully observe these behaviors.  There were times of pleasant, uproarious interaction between the cluster of friends and times of more uncomfortable silence.  Each time awkwardness bloomed, it seemed to almost always fall on Arin to cheer the mood.  It not that either of the other humans were incapable of humor, more that Arin just seemed the most uncomfortable with it.
               Oh, and Dan witnessed “dancing.”  If it could be called that.  A few of the humans were capable of successful body-coordination, like Jon, but most of the others…  Well, uh, okay, Dan was not overall sure when to be worried for the wellbeing of the humans and when they were just having a good time.
               It is best determined by whether or not their facial muscles are stretched upwards…  Eh, smiling.  He decided, making another of his many mental notes to visit later.  This was in the third hour of his observation of a “Spawning Day Celebration” and he was growing weary.  The humans did not seem all that affected by the late time, but rather, by the liquids they had been imbibing. Dan had not a chance to examine one of these closely, but from the human’s observable reactions, it was something of an intoxicant.
               As Dan leaned in closer to Arin’s face, observing the flushed skin, the presence of sweat and his dopey expression, something unexpected happened.  A human, significantly larger than himself, crashed drunkenly through the crowd of people.  He slammed directly into Dan, sending him flying into Arin and Arin into Ross.
               With Arin landing straight on the floor, Dan on top of him and Ross groping to not fall over like his friend--though this failed as he had been drinking too--there was suddenly a great amount of commotion.  Dan, with his thoughts racing everywhere from what hit him, to Arin being on the ground to everyone in the club suddenly staring at them all, he panicked.  His whole body lit up for a half second in orange and yellow color explosions and then he was calm and invisible once again.
                “Whoa man…  I think I just saw stars…” Arin babbled from the floor, one side of his face still pressed up against Dan’s squishy cheek.  “What in…?”
                “Yeah, me too…” Ross muttered, sitting up and peering curiously over at Arin.  His friend’s shirt was rucked and his coat was splayed as if something was sitting on top of him.  “Do you need help getting up?”
                “Uh, yeah.” Arin mumbled, trying to very calmly deduce if Dan was on top of him or if he was just that drunk.
               “It’s not going to be me, I need help too.” Ross sighed, feeling Barry put his hands beneath his arms and haul him up to his feet.  From the new angle, Ross stared down at Arin, his eyes narrowing.
                Dan froze as Ross intently gazed at the two of them, Dan nervously trying to explain to Arin’s addled mind, “I’m sorry, I was pushed!  I didn’t mean to!”
              “It’s cool, man.” Arin coughed, his breath an acrid combination of alcohol and bar food.  “Can you help me up?”
              “They can’t see me, how would I--?”
               “Ahright, upseedaisy!” Jon cut Dan off as he reached down and grabbed Arin’s shoulders.  Dan easily slid off and hit the floor again as Arin stood solidly on his feet once more.  Jon dusted his friend off and clasped his shoulder in a strong grip, “Fuck that guy, right?”
               “Yeah…” Arin looked around suddenly as if very confused, “Where’d Dan go?”
              “Dan?” Ross questioned, stepping closer to Arin, he was drunk but not as drunk.
              “Yeah, you know, my new friend?” Arin slurred, the hit to the floor having shaken up his pickled brain more than once assumed.  “He’s like… So skinny he like…  Turns sideways and disappears.” Arin boisterously laughed as he fought to stand up straight.
               Dan, meanwhile, scrambled to make himself upright, imploring with his friend, “Arin, stop!  They don’t know who I am!”
               “I-ah, think he took that tumble a bit harder than we thought.” Jon interjected as everyone else tried to figure out just what the fuck Arin was talking about.  “Maybe we should try-ta wrap this up.” he went on to suggest.  “Everyone got rides home?”
               “Yeah, I’m good,” Suzy answered, “I’ll get get him home if you want to take Barry and Ross.” She offered, reaching out to take Arin.
              “You sure you got ‘im?” Jon raised a skeptical eyebrow, clasping hard onto Arin’s arm as he stumbled in place once more.
              Suzy hadn’t seemed particularly confrontational with anybody all night, nor did she seem the type for undue rudeness, so it surprised Dan when she answered, “I was taking care of him long before you ever came around.”  She pulled Arin’s sloppy form over to her as Jon’s eyebrows flew up his face.
               “Uh, okay, sorry, Suzy…” His voice was sheepish as he apologized.
              “You all have a good night.  Drive safely.” She bid them all, helping Arin towards the exit, but Arin was less than willing.
              “We can’t leave without Dan!” Arin told Suzy, still looking around in his drunken fugue.  “I don’t know if he knows how to--”
               Dan grasped Arin’s shoulder, “I’m right here, just stop talking.” He firmly ordered.
              “You can’ tell me what to do jelly man!” Arin answered, giggling loudly and Suzy looking on in befuddlement.
               “Arin, who is Dan?” she asked, Arin now pliant and able to be guided through the thinning crowd of people out to the sidewalk.
               “Ah!  He’s my new, fuckin’, you know, alien friend!”
              Confound these damn intoxicating drinks!  Didn’t Arin understand that he wasn’t supposed to say anything about him being an alien!?
              “Arin!  Dude!  Shut up!” Dan tried to persuade, only to get shouted back at with “Nnno!”  Well, humans became infinitely more frustrating and annoying after copious imbibement of certain fluids.  That much was for sure.
              “Arin, who are you yelling at?!” Suzy demanded, giving his shoulder a firm shake as they went down the street to the parking structure her car was in.
              “At Dan!” Arin gestured to the alien, or, just in the direction he thought Dan was in as he couldn’t see him.
              “There’s no one there.  Do I need to take you to the hospital?” She asked with concern, “Did you get hit on the head when you fell?” Raising herself up onto the tips of her toes, she tried to look at the back of Arin’s head.
              “No, no…  I’m good, I don’t need the hop-sital.”  Arin waved his hands as if to dispel the cloud of that idea.
               “Then, what are you talking about?”
               “I’m…”  Arin paused, looking around, his eyes stopping on Suzy and still aware of Dan’s hand on his shoulder.  “I’m really fuckin’ drunk.” He groaned, running his hand over his face and up into his hair.  “I need’ta go home.”
               “Good, that’s where we’re going.” She smiled, but there was still a wrinkle of worry between her eyebrows.  Dan was just happy that Arin had stopped talking about him, however, his mood quickly changed as they came to one of the many vehicles Dan had seen driving around in the city.  He was able to glean the basic idea of the transportation device, but he now had to get inside of it and witness how it worked.
              Suzy pressed a button in her hand and the vehicle unlocked before she pulled the door open for Arin to sit down in the passenger seat.  Now was Dan’s chance!  Hoping that Arin wouldn’t be upset with him, just as he collapsed down into the bucket seat, Dan clamored in after him.  More exactly, he was sitting in Arin’s lap…
              Arin had no objections to this set up, his arms readily wrapping around Dan’s form and his hot face leaning into Dan’s posterior side.  He took in a deep breath and sighed the soporific effects of alcohol finally taking its toll on him.  As Suzy closed the door and began to walk around to the other side of the car, Arin mumbled to Dan, “ ‘M sorry.  I’m really drunk, dude.”
             “Is this behavior standard while… ‘Drunk’?”
             “Yes.  Everyone’s different though.” Arin grunted, squeezing Dan in a tight hug, able to feel the way Dan’s “skin” vibrated under his touch.
             “You’re warm.  It’s actually cold outside.” Dan chuckled, turning his attention back to Suzy opening the driver’s side door.
             “What’s with how you’re sitting, man?” Suzy asked, examining the hunched position Arin was holding himself in.  “You’re not going to throw up, are you?”
             “Arin… What does… ‘Throw up’ mean in this case?” Dan asked nervously.
             “Vomit.” Arin reiterated for Dan.
             “If that’s a yes, do you want to wait?” Suzy asked, really not wanting to clean any of Arin’s stomach spew out of her car.
             “Arin, that word does not exist in my language and that frightens me.” Dan explained quickly, suddenly getting uncomfortable.
              “Not gonna throw up.” Arin finally answered Suzy, “ ‘M good.  Jus’ drive me home.  I’m tired.”
              “If you need me to pull over, just let me know…” Suzy warily told him, turning the key in the ignition and pulling her car out of the parking space.  The drive was…  Dan didn’t know what to expect.  With Arin’s arms around his midsection, it just gave him that much more a feeling of security.  All the same, his arms melted into single, long tentacles, wrapping tightly around Arin’s legs and one around the inside handle of the car.  In his terror, two significantly thinner arms poked from his back and latched around Arin’s head.  The human had already fallen asleep, so he didn’t notice this new restriction around his person.
              Dan peered over to Suzy as she drove, not the least bit perturbed by all the erratic drivers outside.  She made comments every now and again under her breath about rude idiots and what she’d like to do to them, but other than that, she was cool.  Dan admired her strength, honestly, his body’s equivalent of nerves were shot already and he wasn’t even the one piloting this vehicle!  She must’ve been some kind of transportation monarch!
               “Aaarin…”  Suzy giggled and prodded the sleepy human when they had arrived out front of his apartment building.  “Arrrin.”  She poked Arin’s cheek and as the groggy man woke up, it prompted Dan to release his face from his secondary arms’ hold.  Dan also had to release his grasp on the rest of Arin and the inside of the vehicle if he wished to exit.  “Come on, you’re home.  Let’s get you upstairs.”
             Arin sat up, mumbling “Wha?  Where… Suz?  Where are we?” The door opened just in time for Suzy to catch the end of that question and she answered “I just said you’re home.  Come on, now.”
              Dan lifted his weight as much off of Arin as he could by pressing his malleable body up onto the dashboard and against the glass of the windscreen.  Once Arin had been successfully extricated from the car, he exited as swiftly as he could before Suzy shoved the door closed with her hips.  Since the door came within an inch of closing the posterior side of Dan’s single foot in it, the alien shivered, he did not wish to have to deal with so much pain that early on in his visit.  There was going to be plenty of time for bumps and scrapes on later dates.

              Suzy was very good with helping Arin to his bed, she made sure he took his shoes off and drank a few glasses of water.  Dan made sure to ingrain this procedure in his memory as it was likely to come in handy other times.  He wasn’t sure of how common imbibing soporific fluids was, but by the sheer amount of people present at the bar, it didn’t seem to only be a Spawning Day Celebration thing.
              “Okay, into bed, you!” Suzy let Arin flop down on his face in the clothes of his bed, “You good?”
              Arin rolled over onto his back, making a gurgling noise in his throat, “Yeah, I think so… Thanks Suzy.”
              “Anytime.” She casually responded, “Need anything before I go?”
              “Nah, I’m good, thank you so much.”
              “Okay, happy birthday, love you.”  She wiggled her fingers with a pleasant smile and headed to leave.
              “Love you too, lady!” Arin called groggily after her, groaning and lifting a hand to his face.  “Fuck…  Dan?  Are you here?”
               “Yes, but… Should you not go into stasis?”  Dan dropped his disguise and slithered over to Arin’s bedside, glowing dimly with the green of contentment.
              “Oh, sure, yeah, nothing’s stopping that shit from happening.  I jus’ wanted to make sure you were here.”
              “Yes, I am safe.” Dan ascertained that that was likely what Arin was looking for.
              “Good.  Okay… I’m goin’ to sleep… Jus’...  Do whatever you want.  Uegh, I’m gonna be so hungover.”  Arin was out like a light, his breathing deep and even, the only sound from him being the woosh of air through his nostrils.
              Raising his hands up to his eye level, Dan wondered something…  Humans dreamt every night, didn’t they?  Arin had said he could do whatever he wanted…  Right?  Studying humans was what he did!  Arin had already been subject to his studies before and couldn’t possibly mind.
              On the other hand…  If humans dreamt every night, what was the rush?  Sure, it was new and interesting information to gather, but…  The day had been very long and very tiring.  Instead, Dan opted to return to the room Arin had provided him with for a much needed respite and informational stasis.

              The morning sun came around far earlier than Arin wanted.  The bright light seared his eyes and rolling over to face away from the window made his stomach protest.  To make matters worse, it was now Monday.  Or, to make things better for him it was Monday, because he didn’t work on Mondays.
              Arin made a valiant effort to return to sleep, but his stomach, bladder and the rest of him was just not having it.  He, therefore, dragged himself from bed and shuffled to his bathroom to at least piss and take a shower.  Meanwhile, as he scrubbed his body in the shower, he wondered if he should’ve woken up Dan for him to witness this morning ritual.
              Dude, he’s going to be here for a long time, there’s plenty of time.  Though, that realization gave Arin pause.  Dan was going to be living with him for a long time.  Arin was pretty sure that Dan specified a few years while they were on his ship.  The idea of that made him feel so tired already.  It wasn’t that he disliked Dan’s curiosity for humans, and this all was for a good cause, but he couldn’t secretly harbor an alien in his home for years.  Especially not when he had friends that came over to chill very often.  He had a life!  People that were important, holidays to celebrate, personal crises to go through and moving.  Oh god, he was probably going to have to move at the end of his lease this year.
              Why did a barrage of thoughts always assault him while he stood in the shower?  Eugh, also, he really needed some water and to eat something hella greasy.
              Towel around his waist--as was traditional for the bachelor living by himself--he left the bathroom and slowly made his way to the kitchen.  He passed the open door to Dan’s room and paused.  Dan had been up all night with him, he knew that much, so he had to be pretty tired.  What did a zilbyrgh sleeping look like though?
              Arin poked his pounding head into the room, but stepped into it after he couldn’t see the alien he was looking for.  His eyes caught sight of Dan’s belongings, fully expanded and pushed up against the walls of the room and the alien technology was cool and all, but where was Dan?  Was he not in the apartment?  The mattress--devoid of any dressings other than a single, grey sheet haphazardly cast over it--didn’t have Dan on it and Dan wasn’t anywhere else in the apartment…
              Maybe he went back to his ship to get something?  Arin let out a long-suffering breath of exhaustion flopping back onto the bare mattress.  Today was just not a day he wanted mov… Wait… What was that?
              “Aaah!”  Arin flung himself off the bed as the sheet beneath him started to violently thrash and squeak!  The towel was cast aside, leaving Arin’s dick flopping in the wind as he scrambled away.  With his legs curled up to his body and his back to one of Dan’s machines, he saw the very zilbyrgh he sought rise in silhouette from the sheet.  More accurately, the sheet was Dan and that became apparent at about the time Dan turned his body around to look at Arin with those giant orbits of his. “Oh--Dude!  I’m sorry! I didn’t see you!”
               The indignant alien pulled himself back together from the wide, flat expanse he had stretched himself into--or relaxed himself as was more likely--into his more familiar shape.  His body pulsed waves of white light, but he said nothing.  He just stared at Arin…  No motion other than the lights.  It was unnerving, Arin so exposed beneath an unerring gaze.
              “Uh… Um…”  Arin slowly rose from the floor, holding his hand over his junk.  He forgot his towel in his haste to leave, shuffling for the exit to the room, Dan’s eyes following him all the while, “I’ll just…  Leave now… Um…  Later!”  He rushed from the room, pulling the door to after him.  Great, it’s only his second day with you and you’ve already sat on him!  Arin lamented internally, rushing the rest of his way to his room to put on a pair of boxers.  Once his sweatpants followed the underwear, he walked to the kitchen and sloppily got out the things he needed for fried eggs.
              Half past the third cracked egg and fifth eggshell painstakingly removed from the edible slime, Dan stepped into the room.  He was dressed in the same clothes as yesterday, his hair already perfectly fluffy and stubble appearing handsomely trimmed on his strong, angular jaw.  He was… Okay, yes, Dan was extremely handsome and it was completely ridiculous that an extraterrestrial playing a human was more attractive than an actual one.  In theory, Dan didn’t even know what constituted an attractive human being, he just picked a dead one at random and replicated his appearance.
               “Uh,” Arin felt his cheeks pinken, “good morning.”
               “Good morning.” Dan answered, “What did you want this morning?”  With an observant eye, he stepped over to Arin’s actions over the counter.
               “I just wanted to see if you were still asleep…” Arin explained, going back to preparing breakfast under Dan’s scientific eye.  “Do you want some eggs?”
               “Eggs?”
               “Yeah, you fry them in butter.” Arin indicated the stick he had sitting out to soften. “Uh, it’s made out of compacted milk fat.”
               “Milk fat?” And thus Arin then spent the rest of his time cooking the six or seven eggs in the carton as he explained what milk was.  Dan’s mouth dropped open at the idea of lactation, completely baffled that humans and most other mammals produced their own food for their young!  “Wow!  And, you farm these ‘cows’ and ‘goats’ for meat and other products as well as milk?” Dan questioned, tapping all ten of his fabricated fingers over his cheekbones.
                “Yes, uh…  Cows and goats you can get leather from too and I’m pretty sure the waste from cows is used as fertilizer for plants that we eat.”
                “And humans are ‘mammals’ as well, because the Type-A--”
                “Females.” Arin quickly corrected just to ease the flow of Dan’s speech.
                “Females, sorry--females produce milk for human young?  And that’s why they have larger deposits of fat on their chests?”
                “Yes.” Arin nodded, sitting the fried eggs aside from the pan he had them in, “Mammals all have nips.” the mature man giggled to himself.
                “Nips?”  Dan blinked.
                “Nipples, man.  You’ve examined plenty of them.”  Arin, as he was already shirtless, pointed to one of his nipples.
                “You have…  Nipples?  Are…” Dan paused for a second to draw the new word Arin had explained, “Are males able to produce milk?”
                Arin stood stark straight at the question.  While he could tell Dan that yes it was possible, it would be easier for now to just say “No, we can’t.”
                “Then why do you have them?”
                “Hell if I know.  I don’t think anyone really knows or cares.” Arin shrugged, “Another of those things we accept.”
                “Is that a lot of what being a human is?  Just accepting things?” Dan had so many questions at once that his whole body was a question.  The way his hands moved over the handles of the drawers; the way his eyes stared with hungry intent at the eggs; the way his tongue moved over his lips and his feet tapped the tile of the floor.  Nothing was granted for him.
               “Well…  For things that… Dreaming happens for us from the moment we’re born, we have nipples, girls…  Girls bleed for like… Days once a month.”  Arin shrugs, “Just things that are a part of being human.”
              “They do what?!”  Dan’s attention was yanked away from the eggs and his surroundings all for this simple part of human life. “Why?!  Isn’t bleeding dangerous?!  What reason do--”
             “Calm down!  It’s normal, it doesn’t hurt them.” Arin chuckled, while he might have found it gross, come on, his best friend was female.  He had done the usual making emergency runs for her and being there to hear her groan about how much it hurt.  Well… He should probably elaborate at some point that the process hurt, but it wasn’t harmful in most cases.  “It’s part of how we, uh, humans, reproduce.”
              “Why?!  How does that--”
               “We can talk about it some other time.”  Arin waved his hands in the air, he didn’t want to explain the whole process of menstruation over breakfast.  “Eating is now.”
               “But it’s so fascinating!  Why not?!”  Dan pleaded as Arin divied up the eggs.
              “Because talking about…  Reproduction is not a good breakfast topic.” Arin bullshitted.  More it wasn’t a topic for new friends to discuss.  Which, he had to explain, he guessed, “When people are, uh, just getting to know each other, it can be seen as rude to talk about things like that while eating.”
              “Oh… Am I being offensive?” Dan’s hair dropped as his big eyes got very sad.
              “No… I…  I don’t find it offensive.  I’m really loud and stuff about it, but…” Arin sighed, “Look, reproduction is just very involved and I have a bad hangover and I just want to eat my eggs.  Okay?"
              “Okay.” Dan nodded, his hair still flatter than normal.  “Can I ask what a hangover is?”
              “Yeah, alcohol, the stuff that was in what I was drinking last night, is technically a poison.”  As Arin took out the forks necessary for eating the eggs, he saw Dan about to panic and quickly elaborated, “It’s mild enough though that, if drank, it has certain pleasant effects on your mind.  Too much can kill you, so you do need to be careful.”  He handed one of the plates and a fork to Dan, motioning for him to come sit down at the small, round table in the kitchen.  “Once your body has filtered all of it out you’re left feeling pretty bad.  Not everyone gets hangovers, but I do.  I’m nauseous, tired, I have a headache and everything is a lot more annoying than it would be.”
              “I would ask why you do it…  But we have similar food and drinks on my planet.” Dan nodded, watching Arin take the first few bites of the eggs.  With an expression of concentration, he imitated the motions of cutting the food with the side of his fork and putting it in his mouth. He watched Arin chew and did the same though it wasn’t necessary for how his body digested things.  “What exactly is nausea?”
              “I’d rather not think about it right now, I’m trying to eat.” Arin grumbled, forking more of the greasy eggs into his greedy mouth.
              “Is it related to eating?”
              Arin growled under his breath, swallowing his bite, “It’s the reverse of eating.” he simply explained, eating more eggs directly after.
              “What?”  Dan blinked, consuming more of the eggs and finding the taste just as pleasant as he had with the spaghetti yesterday.
              “Okay, man,” Arin, aggravated by now, put his fork down and glared across the table at him, “nausea is when your stomach feels really bad and it’s like you’re going to throw up.  Don’t know what vomiting or throwing up is?  Cool, it’s when the food I just swallowed comes up my throat and out of my mouth with the acid in my stomach with it.  Okay?  That’s what throwing up is.  It’s a very unpleasant experience that I’m fighting to not have happen this morning and I really don’t want to talk about it while eating.” With that said, he picked his fork up and started cramming his face once more.
               “Oh.” Dan kept eating, quiet this time.  Which was for the best as he was sure Arin was about to start yelling.  He hated it when Arin yelled.
              “Do you want anything to drink?” Arin grumbled, standing up once he had finished his eggs.  “Milk?  Juice?  Water?”
             “Water would be good…” Dan answered, still slowly going through the motions of human eating.  Cut, mouth, chew, swallow; cut, mouth, chew, swallow.
            “Here.”  Arin fetched down a glass and filled it with tap water, setting it down on the table for him.  Meanwhile, he got himself a glass of orange juice, but halfway through drinking it, realized it was a mistake.  “Fuuuuck.”  He ran to the sink, pouring the rest of the juice into it and beginning to dry heave.
             Dan, meanwhile, put his glass down and observed Arin’s pain.  He assumed this was part of the throwing up thing…  Damn, it was grotesque.  No wonder humans tried to avoid this.  Remembering that Arin said the whole thing was an unpleasant experience, Dan stood and shuffled over to him.  Humans found comfort in personal touching, right?  Maybe in a physically stressful moment, a kind touch would help ease the discomfort.  Raising one of his large hands, Dan rested it between Arin’s shoulders, starting to rub the freshly-showered skin slowly.
              “Almost done.” Arin choked as another wave of heaving it him.  Thankfully, nothing was coming up, but he couldn’t stop himself all the same.  “Fuck.” he sighed, exhausted from his body’s useless exertions.  This was such an awful experience, he just wanted to go back to bed and say “fuck it” to the rest of the day.
             “I am sorry if I somehow cause--Aaaah!”  Dan jumped away from a strange, unexpected sensation around his ankles, “What’s that?!” The tall, skinny, now bow-legged man pointed down to the floor around Arin’s legs.
              Being that it was the first time that Arin had heard Dan scream and it was high-pitched and almost musical, Arin had to laugh.  He laughed even harder when he saw what had terrified Dan so much.  It was a fluffy, stout and fat, black and white cat.  The cat mewed up at Arin with big eyes, in the circus of yesterday, Arin had forgotten to feed him!  How dare he!
              “Calm down dude, it’s just Mochi.” Arin chuckled, leaning down to pet the fluffball.  “I’m sorry Moch, yesterday was crazy with Stretch over there.” Arin indicated Dan with his thumb, the cat none the wiser to his meaning.  The only thing Mochi wanted was food and water.  His human was failing at the only job he had given him!  Could he not even perform something that simple?!
              “What is a…  Mochi?”  Dan warily questioned, staring down at the little, living being.  It was covered in hair, was quadrupedal, had two short protrusions on the top of its head and a tall, long one on its backside.  It didn’t appear all that intelligent by its small cranium, but Dan was, nonetheless, able to tap into what little of a language center it had.  It was so sophisticated that the only things Dan understood from it were “food” and “affection.”  “Why is it in your apartment?”
              “Mochi is a cat.” Arin giggled, stepping over to a bowl by the steel box the human kept food in.  The bowl was on the floor, obviously meant for this furry thing.  Arin filled the bowl with a series of brown, dry pellets and the thing ate voraciously.  “He’s my pet.  Do you guys have those?”
             “Mmn…  Yes…  Mostly they are what you would call flora.”
             “Do they move around and cause trouble by themselves?” Arin asked, “Because housepets are a lot different than houseplants.”
             “They are independently mobile, yes.”  Dan assured, watching Mochi eat.  “They live off the radiation from our planet’s primary star most of the time.  Your version of them appears to eat solid food like you do.”
              “Yeah.”  Arin scratched at his beard.  “Most pets are, uh, mammals.  Dogs and cats are the most common.  Many people like birds and reptiles though.”
             “I don’t know what any of those things are.” Dan reminded him, crouching down onto his hands and knees to crawl across the floor towards Mochi.  He got his nose eye-level with the cat, a curious light--not literally--emanating from his face.  “Are all pets unintelligent?”
             Arin grinned, leaning back on his counter.  This was far better than being bent over the sink trying not to vomit.  With a chuckle at Dan’s cute behavior, he answered, “I don’t think they’re unintelligent, they know things, but they do depend on us and can’t talk.  We love them anyway.”
             “They seem affectionate in return.” Dan observed, “This one has much affection for you.”
             Arin laughed, “I wouldn’t know by how he acts sometimes.”  Then the implications of what Dan said hit him, “Wait, you can understand my cat?”
             “Oh, Mochi’s brain is nothing compared to yours, but Mochi does have rudimentary understanding of the world and you as a concept.”  Dan leaned in closer over the bowl, “What is this noise he is making?”
             “Uh, I’d back off if I were you.”  Arin leaned down as if to guide Dan away by his shoulders.
              “What, why?  Are cats--Ow!”  Dan jolted back from the cat, holding his poor, bitten nose.  He landed with a thump on his fabricated backside, his gangly legs spread out as he silently held his nose with a big frown.  Looking up to Arin, he was the saddest thing the human had ever seen.  Betrayal and pain was painted all over his human face and Arin felt his heart flutter protectively for the sad being.  “Why did it do that?” He pitifully questioned.
              Arin squatted down to sit beside Dan for a minute, “Most animals don’t like being interacted with while they’re eating.” the human explained, batting Dan’s hands away to get a better look at the bite.  “I don’t think he broke your skin, but I don’t know how your skin works.” Arin admitted, realizing anything that he could offer would be completely useless on an alien.  “Are you guys susceptible to germs?”
              “Yes, do you have any decontaminator?”  Dan asked, still rubbing his nose.
              “Soap, yeah, there’s some in the bathroom, clean it really well, cats are known for having really dirty mouths.”  Arin had to say no more as Dan lept to his feet and darted for the bathroom.  However, Dan wasn’t likely to know how soap was stored, he thought, and so he followed him to the bathroom.  As expected, Dan was rifling through the closet of things in the bathroom.  “Soap is the stuff by the sink.” Arin pointed out, suppressing a smile.
             “Oh…”  Dan turned from the closet and picked up the bottle of liquid hand soap, “Do I apply all of it?”
             “No,” Arin laughed, taking the bottle from Dan, “hold out your hands together.”
             “Okay.” Dan did as asked, the wide, warm flats of his palms face up as Arin depressed the pump on the bottle, dispensing some of the fluid.  “Now what?”
             “Get it wet and rub it over where he bit you.”  Arin watched Dan do as directed, this part wasn’t exactly going to be difficult to figure out.  Seeing that Dan had the basic idea down of rubbing the stuff in and flushing it out with water from the sink, he left the bathroom.  It wasn’t quite like babysitting…  But enough like it that Arin was more exhausted than he already was by just waking up today.  Maybe things would improve over the passing week as Dan had more of the blanks filled in for him, but that presented new issues.  Like, for example, as he had thought in the shower, he couldn’t keep Dan living with him and a secret forever.

 

Chapter Text

             The following three days progressed slowly.  Arin was still getting used to having his new alien roommate and the roommate was still getting used to everything.  By the time Thursday had come, Arin had explained everything in his household down to the tiniest detail.  Everything from his video game consoles to the purpose of liquid toilet cleaner.  All mornings had shared something in common so far, and that was that each time Arin woke up, a new scene greeted him.  While that first morning with Dan had yielded an unwelcome awakening from Arin, Dan provided the following day’s unwelcome wake-up call.  After hearing a particularly distressed yowl from his cat, Arin found Dan--complete with face mask--holding Mochi down, inspecting his stomach.  Apparently, Dan was searching to see if male cats had nipples.  The morning after that, Arin caught Dan tasting literally everything in the fridge, even the baking soda and dried sludge at the bottom of the vegetable drawer.  This morning, Dan was standing in the shower, clothed, soap foam flowing from his mouth as he drank the spray.
              “You still not getting sleep?” Ross asked at work in between recordings.
              “No, I’ve been sleeping, just…”  Arin groaned, leaning back into the couch and sighing. “My days just feel longer, I guess.”
              “Anymore out of that weird guy?”
              “Yeah,” Arin paused, wondering what he should say…  “we’ve talked some more.”
              “What’s his name?” Ross settled back, a bag of chips in hand, but still unopened.
              “Dan, he’s not from here.” Arin laughed, “So he’s still getting used to how this place works.”
              “Is that why he’s weird?” Ross questioned, “I must be supernaturally weird.” he chuckled to himself, opening the bag of chips to slowly nibble on one.
              Arin waved the comment off, “He’s like, New Jersey weird.  You’re just you weird.”
              “I get my own classification?!” Ross grinned gleefully.
              “Sure, what else would you expect?”
              “I dunno, that I was just average weird?” The thinner man shrugged, moving on to his next chip.
              “No, this guy’s far weirder than you.” Arin sighed.
              “We ever gonna meet him?  You were babbling about him on your birthday.  You know, when you were really drunk?”
              “I don’t know.” Arin raised his hands to his face, massaging the tired, frowning muscles.  “Let’s move on to the next game.  Where’s Jon at?”
              Ross stood, seemingly happy to drop the issue, “I’ll go get him.” So continued just another day at work.

              On the morning after, Arin, his mouth stuffed with cereal and milk, was on the receiving end of a very sudden request, “Arin, can I go to work with you today?”
              Out spewed half-chewn cereal and milk back into the bowl, “What?”
              “I’m here to study human culture…  I can’t do that from just staying in your home all day.  I have no access to readings from your human ‘Internet’ or informational entertainments with my lack of proficiency in your languages.” Dan pointed out, “I can’t just waste time by rearranging my room anymore and everything in your apartment has been thoroughly inspected and explained.  I’ve watched your television a lot in your absence and have seen so many wonderful things, but I cannot perform studies on, or understand these images of your planet given to me!” He quickly added, “I’ve taken water samples of your ocean and samples of your soil and the plantlife of the area, but…” Dan, with his infinite amount of observation the past few days on earth, had since picked up on the idea of the human shrug and did so before he presented his next point, “I’m not a xenobiologist.  I’m not here to study your planet, I wouldn’t require the help of a human to do that, I’m here to study your culture and how you interact with one another.  That requires me to be in the presence of humans.”
              “Well…” Arin self-consciously began, Dan’s extensive monolog on the subject was obviously from copious thought, and he couldn’t deny that Dan had a point.  He could suggest that Dan go out and people watch, but without a lens--a human--through which to process what he saw, it wouldn’t benefit him in any way.  “I don’t exactly have a normal job.” Arin explained without anything else to really say.
              “You’ve told me what it is you do, I understand that, but going with you is more beneficial than me remaining here and waiting for you to come back.” Dan continued to push, “If it’s a worry that they will not accept my presence--I’m not very good at being human yet anyway--then I can remain invisible all day.”
              “Are you sure that won’t bore you?  I…”  Arin scratched the back of his neck, “I won’t be able to talk to you, dude.  You would still be waiting for me to get off work to explain anything.”
              “I would have a full memory of new experiences to enquire about, however.  Just watching and not interacting is just as important to my research as integrating myself into your people is.”  Again, a very good point…  However, what could Arin expect?  This man was a certified researcher on his home planet, obviously a very bright mind.
              “Okay…”  Arin ran his fingers through his hair, twirling a lock around his finger before he decided, “Just make sure you eat and drink plenty before we go.”
              “No problem!” Dan put his bowl of cereal to his mouth and stretched the entirety of his fake orifice around the rim of it…  When his mouth pulled back to more human proportions, the bowl was entirely empty and squeaky clean inside.  He grinned excitedly at Arin before standing, running to the bathroom.
              Arin really needed to get around to impressing upon Dan that normal humans didn’t get all their water from the shower head…  But as Dan had explained that his whole body was an interchangeable permeable and semipermeable membrane, he supposed that standing beneath the shower was the fastest way for him to absorb water quickly.  Arin stared at the bowl in Dan’s absence, listening to the water run, he couldn’t help but fantasize about the day he’d be able to tell his friends about Dan.  Just so they could also be equally traumatized as him when Dan pulled freaky shit like that.
             “Okay, I’m ready to go, dude!” Dan reappeared, in his human form.  Well, he was also naked as he had correctly taken off his clothes before getting into the shower.
              “Dude…”  Arin stared between Dan’s legs, “We talked about you needing clothes if you’re going to walk around like that.”
              “Is this better?” Dan simply morphed away his external representation of male anatomy…
              Arin’s eyes about bulged from his head, “No!” he balked in terror, feeling his own genitalia cringe even though that was not something he was capable of.  “Put it back!”
              “Uh, okay.”  So returned Dan’s dick and balls, he blinked, very confused, “Why was that disturbing if you don’t like having to look at other’s genitals?”
              “I dunno, man, it’s just freaky for us.  It’s like…  You’re not finished.” Arin laughed, “At least if you had like, a vagina or something you’d look fine, but not having anything is freaky.”
              Dan hummed, still having not left to put clothes on, “It disturbs the human mind to look at humans that seem…  Incomplete?”
              “I guess we equate the look with pain.” Arin was really getting tired of this, he looked away from Dan, ignoring the presence of the rather sizeable penis in the room. “Either make yourself invisible or put some clothes on.”
              “Okay!” And so Dan was invisible.  In which form though?
              “Uh… Do you still have a dick right now?”
              “Does that matter?” Dan curiously enquired.
              “I guess not, but…”
              “Yes, I do, my body is in the same shape I have just changed how light passes through my cells.”
              Oh god, ask him to rub his dick all over everyone during recording today.  You know it would be fucking funny.  Arin screamed internally at himself.  It was complete genius!  But what would Dan say about it…?
              “Hey dude…”  Arin grinned.
              “What?”  The disembodied voice answered.
              “You should… Like…  Wave your dick around at the people I work with today.”
              “Uh…?  Wave it around?”  Dan made himself visible again, a confused expression on his face, “Like this?”  The lower protrusion on Dan’s body erected itself and waved at Arin.
              “Please don’t do that… Like… Ever again.” Arin was beyond freaked out once more.
              “Well, I don’t know what you mean, then.” Dan continued to stare quizzically at Arin, “Maybe you can show me the proper movement I need to replicate?”
              Dan seriously just asked Arin to show him his dick…  Well…  It wasn’t like Dan hadn’t already seen it though.  Trying to tell himself that this wasn’t weird, Arin got down off the stool he had been eating his cereal on and dropped his pants, “Okay…” Having his dick out before Dan felt sort of…  This was not something Arin was used to, when he had done this in his late teens with his friends, in “The D Club” it had been totally non-sexual.  Just a bunch of dudes swinging their chubs around and laughing about it, so why was this different?  Dan’s people didn’t even have genitalia it had so far seemed.  Unlike the times of past, Arin felt his face start to heat up.
              “Is something wrong?” Dan asked, stepping closer to Arin, “Your face is turning pink.”
              “Uh…” Arin backed away as Dan’s mouth got way too close to his own.  “It’s uh…  There’s… Lots of blood pooling under my skin.  It’s called blushing… It happens with humans a lot when we’re… Um…  Embarrassed.”
              “It does?”  Dan stepped forwards again, putting a hand on Arin’s shoulder to keep him from moving back again, “I would like to examine this response in more depth some other time.”
              Oh god, why did that make his dick twitch?!  What was happening here?!  Why was Arin even pantsless in the first place with this alien?!
              “Wait, why are you embarrassed?”  Dan stepped back, realizing that he was perhaps the cause of this discomfort.
              “Uh, it’s not normally…  I ask you to put clothes on because most of us don’t like being naked around other people.  Unless we’re like, really, really good friends…”  Or unless we’re going to bone…  Obviously, Arin didn’t say that last part.
              “Oh, so, this isn’t normal behavior?”
              “No, not really.”
              “Okay…  So… What was your reason for…?”
             “It was supposed to be funny…” Arin muttered, “Because…  I don’t know, I guess it’s a human thing.”
             Dan’s face perked up at the mention of comedy, “No, I want to know what humans find funny!” he grinned, “There’s some humor surrounding genitals?”
             Arin was dumbfounded that Dan so easily seemed to grasp the concept…  Maybe his people made jokes about their reproductive cycles too?  Arin didn’t want to lose this chance for the both of them to learn something, “Yeah, there are a lot of jokes about the act of sex in general.”
             “Ooo-hu-hu, I see.” Dan chuckled with a bit of a darker kind of excitement, oh boy.  “Please, teach me.”
             For the next fifteen minutes, Arin taught Dan the proper method of helicoptering a dick.  As well as a series of very rude hand gestures that indicate dicks.  Many slang terms were also thrown at Dan and the zilbyrgh had to observe “As long as it’s referencing something that’s long and tubular… It can be taken as a penis?”
             “Basically, yeah.” Arin laughed, this whole experience was so bizarre, but…  Not unpleasant.  It was so not unpleasant, that his dick was interested in the proceedings.
              “Also, I forgot to ask, if you have no muscles in this body part, how is it doing that?” Dan pointed down between Arin’s thighs.
              Truthfully, Arin had been doing his best to ignore the fact he had half a boner going on down there.  Too bad Dan didn’t understand that you weren’t supposed to point that out, “Uh… It’s an erection… Partially…”
              “I get that, you explained erections, but how do they work?”
              “Uh… They… Happen when, uh…”  Shit.  “When you are, uhm… Sexually aroused--But!--they also happen during periods of nervous tension and they also sometimes happen for absolutely no reason at all.” Arin quickly defended himself.
              Dan was silent for a few moments, processing this new information.  Wisely, he stepped over the question of asking why Arin had this issue and just went to “How does it stay erect?”
              “It’s like blushing… But down below.”
              “Cool.  Blood pools inside of it?”
              “Yeah, inside erectile tissue.” At least Dan was making this questioning as painless as possible.  “Not to cut this educational moment short or nothing, but I have to get going to work.”  Arin stepped back into his pants, cramming his poor chub into his boxers and zipping up his fly.
              “Right, I’m sorry for the detour.” Dan accordingly apologized, making himself invisible once more.  “Ready whenever you are.”

              Once at the studio, Arin realized it was going to be hard to not talk to Dan.  During their walk to the building, they had played a game of “how many people can we freak the fuck out of”.  This game consisted of making it obvious that Arin was talking to someone who everyone else apparently couldn’t see.  Once gathering enough attention from people who stuck around to watch the insanity, Arin dropped something and kindly asked the person who shouldn’t have been next to him hold his coffee.  The reactions from people as Dan held his coffee aloft were priceless.
             Dan too realized it was going to be difficult remaining silent.  He wanted to try out such jokes with these new humans around, but alas, he could not.  The first thing that struck him as he walked into the room was the friendly atmosphere, everyone was in fine spirits this morning.  Ross, whom Arin assured he worked with and would see today, wasn’t present, however.  The female Suzy gave Arin a very warm morning welcome with an embrace and a lip-touch--Dan still needed to ask what that was called--to his cheek, but everyone else seemed more reserved with their greetings.  He wondered if there was something special about Suzy and Arin, though, he recognized there was a chance that she had merely known him longest.  That made perfect sense why Nicole had done the same to Jon that night!  It must be a sign of who has known them the longest!
              It saddened Dan that in this group of humans that he wouldn’t be able to do that to Arin.  Arin just had to go out and make new friends so Dan had the chance to greet him in this way while in a group.  He wondered if Suzy--or any of the other humans that knew him--would be annoyed if he greeted Arin like that; was it a sign of possession?  Of dominance?  This ritual would have to be examined in more depth at a later date.
              As Dan loomed over Arin and everyone else who was in the process of greeting him that morning, Ross entered the hallway from the recording room.  Dan peered over in the direction of the newcomer and froze as he was dead sure he was being stared at.  He curled his arms into himself and stepped away from Arin, checking to see if the human’s piercing eyes tracked his movement.
              “Arin, did you get my text this morning?” Ross asked, quickly crossing the room to his his friend’s side.
              “Uh, no, I was… Distracted, I guess.” Arin pulled his phone out of his pocket and read the text.  He clicked his tongue and smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand, “Damn, I’m sorry about that.  I thought I restocked the Tylenol last week.  Do you want me to go out and get some now?”
             Ross grunted, squeezing his eyes shut, “No, it’s fine, I’ll deal with it.”
             “What is Tylenol?” Dan asked Arin, wondering if it was something that could be easily illustrated.
             “What’s up with these headaches of yours? You must go through bottles of the stuff recently.” Arin asked Ross, hoping that maybe it would clear up for Dan at least what it did.
             “Nothing I’m not already used to. I need to go to the doctor.” Ross muttered, “Get some of the good stuff.”
             Jon eventually grew tired of the chitchat and ushered everyone to get started this morning.  Dan followed Arin and Jon into the recording room while Ross sat in the booth and Barry went to go do something with a computer.  Suzy and another female who arrived late went into another room across the hall.
             Dan perched himself on the back of the relatively small couch, crouched over Arin.  Of course, as he was working harder to maintain his human form for long periods of time recently, this… Unfortunately, meant that the back of Arin’s head was right in Dan’s groin.  Dan’s very naked groin.
              “Alright, let’s get started.” Jon commented once having thoroughly checked the equipment around the screen the two men were focused on.  There was something that Dan remembered Arin describing as a microphone held between the two of them on a boom stand and Arin held the console controller.  Dan had played a few games with Arin and as he couldn’t read, he required more explanation than most would.  What he had experienced had been quite fun, actually.
              “Arin,” Ross called from in the booth, “could you lean back here for just a second?”
             Arin blinked and looked over his shoulder, unaware that his nose was a mere inch from Dan’s fabricated penis, “What?”
             Ross mumbled something that Arin couldn’t quite hear, which prompted Arin to lean forward more, thus smashing his face right into his alien friend’s fake junk.  Also, it threw Dan so off balance that he fell backwards with a yelp.  To make matters worse, his contact with the ground was anything other than quiet.
             “What the hell was that?!” Jon jumped up from the couch and looked around, “Did either of you hear that?”
             Arin stood stock still, silent, trying to figure out the best way to handle this situation, “Uh, no, I didn’t, uh--”
              “I heard it too, Jon.” Ross answered from the booth.  “The microphone actually picked it up, cool.”
             Meanwhile, Dan laid on the ground as silent as possible, not even letting his cells respire.  He couldn’t believe that he made that noise!  He was normally so good with… Okay, no he wasn’t but, damn it anyway.  He knew better than to do that!
             “What are you talking about?” Arin tried to divert them, “You guys think there’s a ghost in the room?” He raised a critical eyebrow, looking between them.
              “Neither of us said that.” Jon pointed out, “We just heard something.  Here, let me get a light.”  Jon walked around the couch, heading for the door the lightswitch was next to, but didn’t get all that far before tripping over something on the floor.  “Shit!” he yelled as he went down and face planted into the carpet of the floor.  He quickly fixed himself as Arin came to help him up, scooting away from where he had tripped on his butt, “There’s something there!” Jon stabbed a finger in the general direction of Dan.
             By now, Ross had left the booth and flipped the light on in the recording room, “You alright?” he asked Jon, walking the rest of the way into the room.
              “You just tripped over your own feet.” Arin attempted to persuade Jon, “There’s nothing there.” He motioned to the empty space, though, Arin couldn’t deny that he thought he heard Dan squeak when Jon tripped over him.  He was just getting all kinds of beat up today.  It was only his first day here!
              “Tripped over my own feet nothing!  I felt something there!”  Jon pointed again, Ross stepping to about the place Jon was when he fell.  “You feel anything?”
              With a hum, Ross tapped the carpeted floor with his feet, finding nothing, “Maybe the floor’s uneven here?  This building is kind of old.”
             Arin, meanwhile was panicking in his head as Ross palpated the floor, he really wished Dan would tell him where he was, or if Ross was standing on him.  Clearing his throat, he asked, “I think everyone’s okay here though, right?”
             “I’m okay.” Arin heard Dan and boy what a relief that was, “Ross is trying to kill me though.”  And Arin had to resist the urge to snigger at that.
             “I’m fine, but…  Yeez, what the hell was that earlier?” Jon stood up and brushed himself off as Arin followed up after him.  “You still looking at the floor for answers?” He asked Ross as said man kicked the back of the couch.
              “I just want to know what that noise was…  The microphone picked it up.”  Ross explained, “C’mon, I’ll prove it.”
             Arin swallowed, nervously going along with Jon and Ross into the booth.  He remembered Dan distinctly saying that he couldn’t end up in any recordings.  Not only was there video evidence of him, but his voice had been caught as well now.  This whole study unnoticed thing really wasn’t working out for him so far.
              “Yeah, it’s right about here.” Ross reviewed the sound file--the microphone still recording in the other room as all this progressed--”Right after I mutter about the background noise…”
               Arin felt himself sweat as Dan’s melodic yelp, clear as day, spilled forth from the recording.  Right after that followed Jon’s question and the scuffle of him falling down.  This didn’t bode well for Dan and Arin couldn’t deny that he had heard something when it was even loud enough to be heard by their microphone.
              “That’s some freaky stuff.” Jon answered.
              “Could that just be the groaning of the wood in the couch?  I was leaning over the back of it when that noise happened.” Arin tried to reason.
               “The couch doesn’t sound like someone squished a mouse.” Jon logically rebutted.
              “Well, what do you think it was then?” Arin huffed, “Really?  You didn’t see anything there, what could it have been?”
              “You’re getting very upset about this…” Ross pointed out, flicking a crossfader on the board as they continued their conversation.
              “Because we have to put up new material today and record for the next week and we’re wasting time right now!” Damn, Arin was never this uptight and he knew it.  He just didn’t know what else to say.
              “Since when are you this pushy?” Jon pointed out, Ross choosing to remain silent and look between the two.  “You’re only shrugging this off because whatever it was didn’t trip you.”
              “Jon, I don’t want any of your shit right now, can we just please do the episode?”
              “Any of my shit?  I’ve been putting up with your shit for the past two damn weeks, what is your deal lately?!”
              Oh no.  Not now.  Not here.  This was not where this was supposed to be happening.  This fight wasn’t supposed to be happening!  They were supposed to talk about all of this in a friendly, calm manner, not screaming in each other’s faces about it!  Too bad that Arin, once set off, was unable to stop himself.
              “My fucking deal?!  What’s been my fucking deal?  How dare you fucking ask me that!  We all know there’s been something you want to say, so why don’t you stop being such a fucking wuss and just say it?!  Huh?!  If you have a fucking problem with the way I want things done, how about you tell me!”
              “Fine!”  Jon yelled back, “I want to fucking do my own thing!  I don’t want to do this show anymore!”
              It was out…  And all was silent…  There was no more yelling, now that that was out in the open, the whole fight seemed pointless.  Arin was still tense and huffing from his earlier yelling, but that was the only noise in the room.  That was…  Until Ross spoke.
              “You guys,” he whispered, “check out the mic.”  He pointed to the levels of the mic on the screen.  As none of them were speaking, it couldn’t possibly have been picking them up, but it was obviously getting something…  Something that wasn’t mere background noise.  They all recognized the sound of something sliding against the couch and equipment being touched.  A cord was being moved, the screen in front of the microphone had something dragged against it...
              “Whoa, man…” Jon breathed, all of them looking up into the supposedly soundproofed recording room.
              “But, something tells me that we have bigger things to be talking about.” Ross tapped the recording button to turn the mic off, it had undoubtedly caught not only the phantom noises, but that argument as well.  “Only the three of us heard that…” Ross nodded to the closed booth door, “Do we want to tell everyone else yet?”
              Arin and Jon looked at each other, Arin pursing his lips.  Jon was the first to answer instead, “I think…  I think that it’s better if we do it now…”
              “Yeah.  So we have time to find a new person before you leave.” Arin agreed, “And so it’s not a surprise to anyone.”
              “I was going to say something soon…  I didn’t want it to come out like this.”
              “I know buddy.”  Arin carded his fingers through his hair and sighed towards the ceiling.  Of course Dan had to be here the day this happened.  Maybe this argument wouldn’t have even happened if Dan hadn’t been present though…  Whatever, he wasn’t going to blame the alien for setting off something that was likely to already happen by itself anyway.  “Um…  When do you want your thing to get started?”
              “I dunno, sometime this summer?”  Jon shrugged.
              “Well, it’s still the dead of winter.” Arin mentioned, “We got time.  Not saying I’m putting it off, but, we got time.”
              “Yeah…”  Jon forced a smile.  “Want to tell everyone now?”
               “I think it would be best.”

              Dan settled on the couch in the recording room.  After hearing all that yelling, he preferred to stay out of all that…  Though he realized that conflict and fighting was a part of being human, it still terrified him to have to witness it.  Arin was scary when he was mad…  He never wanted Arin to yell at him like that.  While Arin had yelled at him in the past, it had never been like that.
              Unaware of how long all of them were going to be absent to have their meeting out in the main room, Dan dragged his fingers over all the equipment before him.  He wanted to know what all of these things did, he had been so looking forward to watching the humans do their thing!  Then he ruined it because he sat on the back of the couch.  Though…  He now remembered that Ross had said he had a recording of him in the booth…
              Dan sat up and looked over the back of the couch to the open window of the booth.  All he had to do was crawl through the window and…  And then what?  Arin had to read everything for him!  He had no idea how any of that worked!
              But what if cutting off power to the machinery will cause the data to be lost?  He wondered.  They used to have old machines in his society that lost data so easily.  It was worth a shot.
              Crossing the room, Dan pulled himself up into the window of the booth.  Arin, Jon and Ross had left the door to the hallway closed and he couldn’t afford to draw any more attention by actually using the doors.  With a small bit of difficulty, Dan pulled himself through the relatively small window into the dimly-lit booth.  There were consoles and a monitor similar to the computer Arin had at home.  There were also headphones--really large ones--that Dan had no trouble discerning the use of considering where human listening organs were located.
              He picked up the headphones and sat them on his head, wiggling his fingers afterwards as he looked at the screen and the console before him.  This shouldn’t be too difficult…  Looking down at the console he saw many sliders, knobs--mostly knobs--of all different colors and a few keys in one corner.  He couldn’t read what any of the channels were named, so he just went off which sliders and knobs had the most oil stains on them.  What he came down to were a couple buttons on the bottom right of the board.  One had a circular symbol on it and had the most wear, another that had a lot of wear was the button with a sideways triangle a slash and two parallel, vertical bars, the last heavily used one was a square…
              Are these letters?  He puzzled, not remembering either of them when Arin spoke of the human “English” alphabet.  He supposed the circle could be an “O” and the triangle could be an “A” turned on its side, but that didn’t seem likely.
              Going out on a limb, Dan pressed the circle button and listened…  Very dull fuzz met his ears after this was done and so he decided that that was not what he wanted to do.  He clicked the circle button again and it stopped.  Maybe the triangle?  He took a risk once more and pressed the button.
              More static fuzz…  Dan shook his head, tapping his fingers quietly on the board and accidentally hitting the “back” arrow button.  This, played a significantly louder sound that was definitely not in his headphones.
              “Dude, quit taking up so much space on the couch!”  Dan immediately panicked, afraid of the noise leaking out to the common room and hallway.  He pressed the play button again, this successfully pausing the recording.  With only having heard the first few seconds of it, Dan already knew this was the preliminary recording while testing the mic earlier.  Jon and Arin were fighting over space on the rather intimate couch.
              Not wanting to screw up again though and be heard by other people in the building, Dan groped for the cord dangling out of the headphones.  Seeing that the jack was tubular in shape, he began to look for a circular hole.  Thankfully, humans liked to use pictures to indicate things, because next to one hole was a rudimentary drawing of a pair of headphones.  He plugged the jack in and pressed the play button again.  Now, if only he could figure out how to delete the file…
              Raising a hand up to tap on his cheek, Dan continued to hunt and peck over the board.  He found that some things distorted the sounds through the headphones, others merely made certain aspects quieter or louder.  It was just as frustrating as it was interesting to work with such unsophisticated technology.  When humans moved past this phase in sound engineering they would look back at this crap like “what in the world were we doing?!” Dan just knew it.  Little did Dan know that a lot of contemporary sound engineering was still “What in the world are we doing?!” and was rather difficult even when one knew how to work instruments.
              Dan became all too aware that he had wasted far too much time futzing around when he heard the telltale click of the door latch behind him.  Cringing at the noise, he tore the headphones off and sat them down as silently as he could before backing away from the console.  In his haste, however, he didn’t have the time to turn off the recording playing.  If he was lucky, this intruder was going to be Arin, but luck was not in his cards tonight as Ross stepped into the recording booth.  The tall, lanky human paced over to the board, the sound playing clearly through the headphones and tapped the “play/pause” button.
              Dan remained as still as his anatomy allowed him, resisting his body’s natural urge to curl inward and make himself smaller.  There was something off about this human, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.  It set his molecules on edge and made all of his bodily tendrils curl in anxiety.  Not allowing himself to breathe, Dan watched as Ross typed something on the computer.  He grabbed the mouse and clicked a few things.  Once he had done so, he took out an odd, grey stick and inserted it into a port on the side of the computer.
              What is he doing? Dan thought, watching the human perform another couple of tasks with his mouse.  When he was done, Ross removed the stick and pocketed it, ending the processes of whatever program the sound system used.  Dan almost moved to leave as Ross had left the door open, but he found himself caught once more in that stabbing, blue stare.  Ross was looking right at him.  Dan knew he was.  How did he know?  Ross smirked at him, turned and left the room, leaving the door completely open.
              “Ross, what’s taking so long?” Arin called from the next room over, “We can’t get back to this meeting until you get your ass in here!”
              “Sorry!  Blame a guy for not wanting to leave our stuff on the whole time.  We’re obviously not going to use it today.”
              As Dan left the booth to join the rest of the beings in the common room around the table, Ross didn’t look at him.  That didn’t matter though, Dan had all the proof he needed that Ross could see him.  Now he was just pointedly not looking at him.  The alien came to stand behind Arin, nonetheless, peering across the table to Ross, what made this human so special?  Did he have better eyes?  Did he have worse eyes?  Dan couldn’t say and he couldn’t say why not knowing made him feel so vulnerable and uncomfortable.
              Dan placed his fingers on Arin’s neck and face, trying to relax, “Your friend scares me.” he told Arin.
              Arin reached his hand up as he continued to talk to his friends, feigning rubbing at his own neck, but secretly rubbing over Dan’s hand.
              “I think he can see me.”
              Arin’s hand froze.

Chapter Text

              Lyrdaanaavydaa, or Dan for short, or Danny for longer (but for some reason this name was regarded as “cuter” according to the zilbyrgh’s newest human friend Arin), missed their home planet.  Dan missed the greeny skies of Vysvaa and the bright, white star not wholly unlike Earth’s sun.  Earth’s sun was smaller, but did the trick just as well, it didn’t destroy the life on the planet and made things warm enough for life to thrive.
              Earth seemed so much…  Deader…  Than Dan’s own planet by comparison, however.  While the oceans were teeming with life on both planets, Earth’s were dark, cold, scary abysses.  Dan did not look forward to having to return to their starship, hidden in the ocean’s briny depths.  The oceans of Vysvaa were warm (the whole planet was warm, really, humidity hanging in the flora and mist populating the streets of cities), the surface of the oceans shimmering with bioluminescent microbes making the cresting waves shine in the daytime light and glow green in the night.  The bulk of their people, zilbyrghr, conducted most of their lives underneath the surf.  In multi-colored, glowing masses, they went about their lives, the ocean floor an ever-shifting lightshow.  For an originally deep-sea species, the glow of their bodies was necessary for communication, verbal language--as far as Dan had been taught--didn’t really develop in the species until trips to land were possible.  Many of Dan’s kind did populate the land in ways similar to to Earth’s humans, but with electricity as a less prominent method of energy-transfer, it wasn’t a necessity.  There were cities in the sides of undersea mountains and in the pockets of submerged caves, free-standing buildings that didn’t fight the underwater currents but swayed with them…  Dan missed the harmony they felt with their home planet.  It was something they always missed whenever they left Vysvaa.
              They missed the feeling of the warm water in summertime flowing over their face; the woosh of it through their host of cranial palpators, each one telling Dan exactly where the current was heading.  Dan missed surfacing, the oftentimes long trek up to the bright, microbe-rich exterior of the ocean.
              They remembered their first time seeing the vast expanse of the sky green-blue above them, the dense clouds racing by in the planet’s winds.  Dan’s eldest parent--designated Dan’s zizyr, or Zy before Dan or their younger sibling developed the vocal skills for the whole word--had taken them when Dan was scarcely two Earth years old.  Oh, the stars at night…  They were all so bright and called to them, Dan always knew they would go up into space, it was their dream to see new, exciting cultures and people.  Needless to say though, when Dan and their zizyr returned back to the life-illuminated depths of their city, Dan’s other two parents had things to say about the visit.  Dan remembered how their youngest parent--their myrnrin--cradled them close, wrapping both sets of arms around their body protectively.  Meanwhile, the middle-aged parent of the three, Dan’s ustyrn laid into their zizyr over how dangerous the trip was for one so young.  Being a very young child by human standards, Dan, of course, didn’t understand the problem their two younger parents had.  It hadn’t been dangerous!  It had been fun!  As a young child though, this naturally lead to Dan being shushed, still tightly swaddled in the many arms of their myrnrin.
              Dan’s evidently adventurous and unorthodox spirit only grew from those days on.  Oftentimes, they found theirself in trouble for it.  Going up to the waves to look up at the stars with other adolescents without adult supervision was a big no-no.  It was too bad that Dan’s birth home was far away from any land masses, or they would’ve trekked there as well.  However, when Dan finally admitted to their set of parents that they wanted to be a cultural xenologist, there was no dissention like they had anticipated.  All three of them had glowed brightly with excited pride, they had always known Dan wouldn’t be content with just the one planet.
              In a few short years, oh the places Dan had gone...
              Torbidim was Vysvaa’s closest, inhabitable intergalactic neighbor, but was nothing like Vysvaa.  It was cold with scant populations of dense, carbon-based beings living in pockets under the ice.  Their assignment to that planet was a long and miserable one, Dan had felt their whole body begin to freeze solid after a mere few hours outside of a heated structure.  Moreover, they found the native language cumbersome and difficult to master as the Torbian language relied heavily on deep, rumbling noises that Dan’s thin, insubstantial body was incapable of making.  Thankfully, the assignment to Torbidim was not of the same nature as the assignment to Earth.  It was merely to check up on scientists working there and gather all of their materials for export back to Vysvaa.  After that single visit, Dan never returned, but they did occasionally find theirself thinking back to the pink skies of morning on the surface.
              Irapraxiis was warm like Dan’s planet, but so warm that it was mostly a dangerous, scorching desert.  Most would call that “hot”.  With it’s orange sky, binary primary stars, and iron-rich, red soil, it was a far cry from the green, blue and shining planet Dan loved.  It was no place for a squishy, water-dependant being like theirself to be.  That assignment had been gloriously short and Dan had only needed to be on the surface of the planet a mere six Earth hours each day.  Dan’s starship hadn’t even needed to land for an assignment so short.  It would’ve been bad for the ship to land anyway in such an arid climate.  All the same, Dan had felt sorry for the lack of respite on that trip, Irapraxiis was in the same galaxy as Earth, a very far jaunt from what the humans called the Andromeda galaxy.
              Klesum in recent decades--again, by human measure--had become something of a hub planet.  Its native peoples were pleasant--not saying that the torbs of Torbidim or the kriranrk of Irapraxiis were unpleasant--and the climate was stable and mild enough that most any species could traverse the planet.  Humans might require facemasks as the air was less oxygen-saturated than they would’ve liked, but even humans wouldn’t be too inconvenienced on Klesum.  Dan had enjoyed their assignment there.  So many people to meet and make friends with and on their off time, Dan had indulged in a little musical performance.  The Zilbyrgh people were very well-known for their unique singing voices, and Dan had always walked the careful line between music and comedy in their performances.  Klesum was a packed planet in every sense of the word with so much constant coming and going, Dan sometimes felt theirself getting lost in the hustle and bustle of it all.  Earth reminded them of Klesum sometimes.
              Most of their nights spent on Earth, Dan wished they could just lean out a window and see the stars above.  Not that their planet’s star was visible from Earth, unfortunately, but it was a small comfort to be able to look up and know that home was out there somewhere.  Or Torbidim, or Klesum, or Irapraxiis--which, if Dan wanted to, they could hop to in just a few Earth days.  None of those experiences were imaginings that Dan had made up.  They existed out there…  The main problem Dan was getting at in this case was that there was so much light-pollution from the city that Dan couldn’t see any stars at all.  Cities on Klesum were like that, but Klesum felt far more like home than this alien planet.  Earth felt cold and dangerous, not in the same ways that Torbidim was cold and dangerous, but Dan still felt like one misstep was going to get them killed.  It was likely, that if that happened, it would be Dan’s fault, not the fault of the humans, but Dan knew Vysvaa might not see it that way.  The last thing Dan wanted to cause was a feud between this adolescent planet and home and the humans never having known why.
              Vysvians--the Zilbyrgh in this case--were not bellicose in nature.  With soft bodies and personality trends towards the eccentric and excitable, fighting was something they rarely thought about anymore.  They had had their fair share of wars, just as any species did, but they all found it terribly useless and a waste of life.  Yet, zilbyrghr did not take kindly to their people being uselessly killed.  The Zilbyrgh peaceful and caring lifestyle was backed with a very capable armada after having wars for so long.  Vysvaa had been attacked by would-be enslavers and uspers enough times to teach them that self-defense was very important.  That being said, their much larger, co-dominant species the Ydyrn were…  Perhaps less interested in Zilbyrgh peace efforts, yet grudgingly accepted that more peaceful lives were better to lead.
              Dan had only ever made one Ydyrn friend named Bryrrna.  What had started out as a mere tentative tolerance of one another grew quickly into a friendship of convenience and then into something of far deeper meaning than either could explain.  They were travel partners, one could say.  Bryrrna close to never spoke with Dan anymore, however, not since leaving Vysvaa.  Dan understood Bryrrna’s reasons though, the broodmother of Bryrrna’s pod was dying, it was a time of mourning, and just as with the Zilbyrgh, mourning meant silence.  Bryrrna’s singing was so beautiful, Dan missed it terribly; their duets together were regarded as some of the best--and funniest--in the whole city in which they lived.
              How was Bryrrna doing without Dan there to sing at night?  It must be terribly lonely.  Dan almost considered enquiring after the health of Bryrrna’s broodmother in their next report…  That wasn’t professional, however.  Bryrrna might not take kindly to it either.  Speaking of reports though…

              Dan closed the window of Arin’s apartment, giving up looking up at the pinkish-orange clouds created by the city’s bright lights.  Arin wasn’t present, still out with his friends.  They hadn’t even had time to sit down and talk about Dan’s suspicions surrounding Ross.  Arin didn’t seem wholly disbelieving earlier, but Dan was doubtless that Arin was going to debate it.  After all, what made Ross different from the rest of them?  Jon had come into full-body contact with Dan and never suspected a real, living being was there.  Dan had sat in Arin’s lap in Suzy’s car and Suzy had no idea, not to mention that Dan had chosen to inspect Barry very closely today during their meeting and there was no response.
              What makes Ross different? Dan could hypothesize about this all night long and would come no closer to figuring this puzzle out.  Instead, a report needed to be submitted, elsewise, Dan’s superiors on Vysvaa were going to begin to worry.
               “This is Lyrdaanaavydaa, reporting back to Vysvaa.” Dan began, clearly enunciating in their mother tongue into a machine that very much acted like a computer, except for the simple fact that it had living parts.  “I am calling to submit report number…”  Dan had to think, “Uh…  Report sixty-nine, I believe.  Forgive that these reports are coming somewhat more sporadically as of late.  I have had much new information to take in and succinctly arrange since taking up residence upon the planet’s surface.”  Dan rolled through a few of their files and attached writings as well as pictures and charts of data to the message.  “My host, noted as Subject Thirty-Two B, occasionally referred to as ‘Arin’ as that is the human’s correct designation of address, has proven to be very hospitable.  Thirty-Two B has been kindly providing me with housing and nourishment, as well as clarification on human behaviors.  Thirty-Two B is even going through lengths to teach me how to prepare Earth meals.
              “Earth food is most…  Peculiar and very appetizing, there is an extra file outside of the rest of my writings for the past few days detailing how humans prepare food. I am beginning to notice a trend as well that humans come together for times of food ingestion.  It’s something of a social event and often these times for eating are split up into three different classifications of ‘breakfast,’ ‘lunch,’ and ‘dinner.’  During breakfast it is difficult to get humans to speak, it is traditional to keep conversation to a low grumbling unless this dark, bitter liquid brewed from the bean of a plant called ‘coffee’ has been ingested.  I believe it’s a stimulant.  Lunch is far more entertaining and is often partaken in the presence of others during the workday.  My results on the proper etiquette for dinner are still pending.”  Dan flipped through a few more notes they had made, “Oh, studies today on human humor have begun.  I promise not to dwell on this subject too long for the purposes of research brevity, but they’re looking promising.  Humans bond well over subjects they find to be entertaining or funny, at the same time…  They also bond well over subjects that they likewise hate conversing about…  Odd, aren’t they?  They even seem to have a saying about it going something like ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ how queer.
              “I think as far as verbal follow-up to my works, that about covers everything.  The research is going very well, I am happy to say.  I look forward to sending more reports on a more frequent basis, but with the sheer volume of new material to articulate and arrange, I hope the pod understands that that might be difficult to accomplish.”  Dan ended the recording and sent the transmission, humming until an indicating “ding” resounded, signaling that it had been sent.  It would take a few days for the transmission to reach Vysvaa, and in that time, Dan needed to make up at least three more to assure them that the time delay was not causing any unnecessary goofing off…  Okay, yes, it sort of did, but humans were fascinating, how could they not enjoy their time with humans?
              As Dan powered down the equipment, the clatter of the front door being unlocked caught their attention.  Shaping their form to the human one, Dan stepped out of their bedroom to greet Arin, but paused and hid back behind the doorframe when Suzy’s voice was present.  Nervously, Dan shrunk in upon theirself and became invisible as Arin stumbled inside, obviously drunk again.
              There was nothing out of the ordinary, Dan supposed, except Suzy was saying, “Everything’s going to be all right, Arin.  We’ll find someone.  He’s not doing this because he hates you.”  She was embracing Arin tightly, the bigger human--Arin--bent over her.  His body was shaking in a way Dan hadn’t seen before and he was making a new kind of noise…  It was higher than Arin’s usual vocalizations.  It came in short bursts like laughter, but…  Call Dan crazy, but they could tell there was no merriment in these sounds.
              Curiosity getting the better of the zilbyrgh, Dan approached the pair.  Arin’s face was red and wet…  Wait…  Hadn’t Arin explained an expression of sadness to them before?  Called, uh…  Crying?  Yeah…  Crying…  Arin was crying.
              “Oh, you’re really drunk.” Suzy huffed with a bit of frustration, trying to drag Arin towards his bedroom.  “Arin, Arin,” She raised her hands up to Arin’s face after gracefully stepping out of his embrace, “stop crying.  Everything’s going to be fine.” she sternly impressed.
              “But, what… But Jon is--”
              “Stop it.” She cut her friend off. “It’s going to be bad for a little while, but you’ll think of something.  You always do.  Weren’t you just saying the other day that you had a good idea for a show starring Ross?” Suzy pointed out, tugging Arin again towards his bedroom.
              “Yeah, but--”
              “Then focus on that for awhile.  You’re not friendless, Arin.  You’ll find someone to fill Jon’s spot.” Suzy continued on, trying to calm her distressed friend.  At the same time, they entered Arin’s bedroom, Dan following after them.  Human consolation in the face of sadness was something Dan had witnessed yet.  While Dan did understand that this was likely a private conversation, their curiosity and growing affection for Arin drove them to follow.
              Suzy spent a few painstaking minutes getting Arin out of his shoes and socks before letting him drop down to the bed in the same way he had after his birthday celebration.  Unlike before, she didn’t immediately turn to leave, she was waiting for something.
              “Suz,” Arin mumbled, “can you stay?  Just until I fall asleep?”
              “Sure.” She smiled and toed her shoes off climbing into the bed and resting her front against Arin’s back.  “Just until you fall asleep though.” Raising up an arm, she draped it over Arin’s shoulder, the palm of her hand resting on Arin’s chest.
              “I love you, Suz.” Arin mumbled, “I don’t know what I’d do without you.” There was the slightest hint of a sniffle as the alcohol-driven crying fit had now left his nose stuffy.
              “I love you too, Arin, get some sleep.”
              Dan watched the whole exchange, carefully noting the soft touches the two shared and how Arin’s distress calmed quickly.  Dan also turned that word “love” over in their head.  The Zilbyrgh had a word similar, obviously, similar to devotion and similar to adoring, similar to the words they had for partner and friend.  Dan suspected the word had far more nuances to it, however, than the inadequate translations their language center were capable of.  This word would need to be better explained later, but…  Watching the two on the bed, Dan supposed they somewhat understood already.  It wasn’t something Dan could explain, it was something that was felt.
               Once Arin had successfully nodded off, Suzy disentangled herself from him, giving his shoulder a light kiss before standing from the bed.  She pulled her shoes on and headed to leave, casting Arin a backward glance to make sure he was still asleep before she slipped unnoticed out of the apartment.
               Dan turned their attention back to Arin.  Though Suzy hadn’t woken him, Arin shifted on the bed as if looking for someone.  Dan was not sure if this would be well-received, but…  The zilbyrgh didn’t want Arin waking up again and beginning to cry without another human around.  Dan could try to help, but without the longstanding friendship he and Suzy shared, Dan feared they would be inadequate.  So, Dan solidified into their human form, sliding across the bed to nudge gently against Arin’s clothed back.
              Dan stroked a few fingers down Arin’s back as the human relaxed once more, personally enjoying the warm feeling of bodily contact.  Dan had come to realize that zilbyrghr and humans were not all that different with displays of closeness and trust.  Their species frequently went into stasis while in a big cuddle-pile, Dan had fond memories of being at the center of these family piles in their youth.  When their younger sibling came about and was also in the center with them, it wasn’t so amazing anymore, but it was still amazing.
              At a loss for what else to do, Dan pressed their lips against the back of Arin’s neck.  It seemed like an okay thing to do.  Suzy wasn’t present to assert her dominance, Dan figured, and it was not like Dan meant to offend by it.  It was a show of affection that did not require Arin to be awake to return, like it was required with hugs.  Arin shifted a little at the stimulus, leaning back more onto Dan, which, from the pressure, prompted Dan to extricate an arm and put it around Arin’s shoulders like Suzy had.  This was…  Actually very comfortable.
              With a human body, it felt like the two were meant to fit together like this as Dan nuzzled their face into the crook of Arin’s neck.  Two humans were supposed to lay like this, though, why wouldn’t Dan fit perfectly? Two humans were meant to sleep like this and dream together.  Dream…  Dan lapped their tongue out over their lips and caught it thoughtfully between their teeth, was Arin dreaming yet?  Did dreaming happen spontaneously once sleep was achieved, or was it a slow process towards dreaming?  It was so fascinating, Dan wanted to know…
              Dan raised a hand and touched it to Arin’s temple, searching for anything Arin was feeling or experiencing…  All Dan felt were the peaceful beginnings of sleeping brainwaves.  Nothing Dan hadn’t experienced while Arin slept those nights on their ship for examination.  It was different seeing Arin sleep now than when he was on their exam table.  It had been sterile and objective then, investigating every nook and cranny of his body, taking blood, saliva and stool samples.  Dan knew far better than to tell Arin about those things…  After this much experience with humans, they knew doing so was an outrageous breach of personal boundaries.  Dan didn’t want Arin to hate them…
              Pulling theirself as closely to Arin as they could, they relaxed against him; Arin was warm, in more ways than one, patient and friendly. Dan hadn’t been on Earth that long, but they already knew the experience they were getting just by being with Arin as opposed to anyone else was unique.  Dan could’ve gotten someone far less cheerful or good-humored, Dan could’ve stayed with someone deceitful…  But instead, they got lucky.  Arin was understanding and wonderful.  It made Dan’s whole body fill with a warm pulse, were they not trying to maintain human coloration, they would be rippling with green.  Nestled behind Arin was the most at home Dan had felt in awhile...  As Dan felt their own period of stasis begin to overtake them, they wished they could dream like humans could.  Did humans discuss their dreams upon waking up with someone?  If that was something they did, Dan was sad it was not something they could personally participate in.  At least sleeping together was something they could.

Chapter Text

              Arin sleepily nestled his face deeper into his pillow, fighting the first inconvenient breaths of wakefulness.  He was aware that there was another person in his bed, pressed up to his back, but he thought nothing of it as he remembered asking Suzy to stay with him until he fell asleep.  She must’ve been so tired she fell asleep too, that was okay, their sleeping in the same bed wasn’t an uncommon occurrence.  If they both got up now, they might have enough time to get breakfast together before work…  More greasy eggs and cheese sounded great on a hungover stomach.  With bacon and sausage.  Hell.  Fucking. Yes.
              Though, it stood to mention, Arin wasn’t all that hungover like he had been the morning after his birthday bar hop.  Not to say he wasn’t hungover, but there were some key differences between last night and what happened on his birthday.  On his birthday, he had hardly eaten anything at all other than junk food and had been drinking all day.  Last night…  Last night had been dinner with everyone to figure out what was going to happen to the show.  They discussed just when Jon thought he was leaving and everything they both wanted to do and finish up before that time came.  After Jon, Ross and Barry had left though…  Dinner turned into drinks and Suzy constantly reminding Arin to keep drinking water.  Arin was pretty sure she also bought him like five tacos over the course of his inebriation gestation.  He wished he remembered how good the carnitas tasted, that place they went to was fucking amazing.
              Get up and make breakfast you waste of space.  She did you a big favor last night.  He told himself inside, trying to inch away from her on the bed.  Arin didn’t want to wake her up any earlier than she had to be up, and if Arin’s alarm clock was correct, neither of them had to be up for another hour.  That was the perfect amount of time for him to make breakfast and set the table and apologize for going all beer tears--or tequila tears, apparently--on her last night and...  Oh… Dan was here too.  Uh…  Shit…  Nevermind!  He needed to get Suzy out of the house ASAP.
              Arin’s slight movements turned into more frantic, but controlled inches towards the edge of the bed.  Slowly, he sat up and looked over his shoulder, expecting to see Suzy, but seeing something he hadn’t even considered needing to be afraid to wake up to…
              “Aaah!” Arin yelped with surprise, the naked, human-shaped alien shooting up in response, clearly just ripped from something very important in his stasis.
              “Aaaah?!” Dan yelled back, terror and confusion on his face.
              “Dan!” Arin shouted.
              “Arin?!” Dan shouted in return.
              “The fuck!?”
              “What?!”
              “Why are you in my bed?!”
              “Am I not supposed to be?!”
              At that point, Arin heard his apartment door open, “Arin?” Came Suzy’s voice, “I heard yelling, what’s going on?  Are you okay?!”
              “No!” Arin shouted back at full volume, but quickly amended--as if suddenly whispering would solve anything--“Shit!” under his breath, “You fucking be quiet, okay?!” he bolted up from the bed, leaving Dan still nonplussed and dick-in-the-wind on top of his comforter.  Once out in the main room, he closed the door behind himself, “Suzy!  Good morning!” Oh, fuck it hurt his face to grin that widely while hungover, mild or not.
              “You’re not okay?” Suzy asked, raising a perfectly manicured eyebrow at her friend’s odd behavior.
              “Nope!  I mean, I’m good!”
              “I heard yelling.”
              “Everything’s fine!”
              “But, I thought I heard another voice?”
              “Nope!  Just me!”
              “Really?”
              “Everything’s just great!”  Along with his grin, Arin held up both of his thumbs.
              Taking it as sarcasm, Suzy laughed, also, Arin’s face was just funny in general, “Okay, you have a lot of energy this morning for someone who was so wasted last night.”
              “Uh, yeah, just… Got a good night’s sleep, you know?” Arin was still putting on his best “hunky-dory-peachy-keen” facade and meanwhile he wondered just how Dan was going to get out of his room and to his own without Suzy noticing him opening the door…  Speaking of which, Dan’s door was open!  All of his alien tech was in there!
              “You?  A good night’s sleep after being drunk?” Suzy watched Arin skitter over to the storage room door and close it with a suspicious gaze.
              “Well, you know, it was just more, uh, being dead asleep!”
              “Okay, what’s going on?  You’re obviously hiding something from me.  Don’t think I can’t call you out on your shit, Arin.” She smirked over at him, heading for his bedroom now that he had stepped away.
              “Wait!  Suzy!” Arin reached as if he was anywhere near her to stop her from turning the doorknob and walking into his room.
              “So…  What was the yelling about?” She asked, peeking her head out of the bedroom.
              “Well, it’s just, that…”  Arin shuffled in with her, feeling like a total idiot.  Dan could make himself fucking invisible.  “My room’s a mess…”
              “You’re kidding me, right?” Suzy continued to interrogate, looking around the room.  There were some clothes strewn here, some art supplies located there, Arin’s desk, as normal, was total chaos, but it looked no different than an other day.  “This is clean for you, dude…”  She fixed him with a momentary gaze of doubt, “I don’t know why you’re hiding stuff from me, Arin.  It’s kind of insulting, really.” She huffed, stepping around to the side of the bed she had been laying on last night and getting down onto her knees.
              “Uh, what are you doing?” Arin tentatively asked, following after her.
              “My wallet fell out of my pocket last night.” She held up the thin, offending object for Arin to see.  “I thought it might’ve been here because I knew I had it when we left the restaurant last night.”
              “Ah… Good…”  Arin tried to calm himself down, Dan wasn’t an idiot.  He had to keep reminding himself of that, this wasn’t Dan’s first rodeo.  There was a high chance of both of them getting out of this without Suzy knowing if Arin just played his cards right.
               “So…”  Suzy waved her hand in front of Arin’s face to catch his attention, “You still haven’t answered my question…  What were you yelling about?  And don’t tell me you were just so happy to be awake.” She giggled at the utter absurdity of that idea.
              “I fell out of bed, actually, and hit my head.” Arin reached up to rub the back of his head.  “I uh…  Was just too embarrassed to say.” He grinned for good measure.
             Suzy sighed, shaking her head and pocketing her wallet, “Okay, I don’t know what it is, but you must have a pretty good reason for not saying anything if you won’t even tell me.”  Leaning up onto her tiptoes, she whispered, “You didn’t kill anyone this morning did you?”
              “What?” Arin rolled his eyes with a smirk, “Pfft, me?  Kill someone?  I-I w-wouldn’t ever even dream of it.”  He gestured to the air and stared up at the ceiling as if a halo was levitating above his head.
              “Be careful Arin, you’re acting very suspicious.” It took all it had in her to not giggle.
              “Where would I hide the body anyway?  In the storage room?”  Well… In retrospect, maybe Arin shouldn’t have said that.
              “There’s only one way to find out!”  Suzy took off, darting around Arin and out the bedroom.
              Oh fuck!  Arin screamed internally jolting in his steps and running after Suzy.  Arin hoped beyond hope that Dan was invisible, but there was no hiding his alien equipment if he didn’t stop her.  Even with the short distance between the two locations, it was really too late by the time he got to her.
              “Oh my gosh!” Suzy gasped, “I’m so sorry!”  She backed away from the storage room door fast enough to crash right into Arin.  There was a bit of shakiness, but neither of them fell to the hard floor.
             “It’s… Okay…”  Dan answered, a nervous smile on his face as he had successfully caught the opening door with his shoulder…  His pants open in the front.  Of all of the things for Suzy to find, Arin supposed this was equally the best and simultaneously the worst situation to walk into.  “I was just, uh… Getting dressed.”  Thankfully, Dan zipped up the fly of his pants around his bony hips.  “I’ll be out in the minute…”  Dan closed the door, leaving Arin with Suzy.
              “Oh my god…”  Suzy turned around, looking up at Arin before she carefully pushed him backwards and around into the kitchen.  “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
              “Sorry, man…” Arin heard Dan, though it was slightly muffled, probably because there was a door between them.  “I had to use the vent to get over here just in case.  She can’t see my equipment, you know.”  Why hadn’t Arin thought of that?  Dan was essentially a living bag of goo, why wouldn’t he be able to squeeze himself through tiny crevices or even fairly wide ducts?
              “Arin,” Suzy was getting impatient, waving her hand in front of Arin’s face again, “why didn’t you tell me?”
              “Tell you what?” Arin tried to passively play off, all the while, knowing exactly what Suzy was getting at.
              “Don’t give me that crap.  Why were you trying to hide him?  Do you really…  Really think that I care?”  While Suzy’s tone was interrogative at first, it slowly tapered to hurt and betrayed.  Even if her voice didn’t give it away, it was written all over her face and it felt like a stab in the heart to Arin.
              “I wasn’t trying to hide him…”  He continued to just make things worse.
              “Stop with the lying, Arin!” In an attempt to not hit him she gestured roughly at the floor of the kitchen, “Were you two fucking?” When gentle questions don’t work, blunt is usually best.
              “No!” Arin felt his face heat up, “You know I don’t do guys.”  Though, once again, that annoying voice in the back of Arin’s head was mumbling but Dan’s not really a guy… “And even if it was like that, you would be the first one to know.” Arin reached out to take Suzy’s hand. “There’s nothing I don’t trust you with, Suz.”
              Suzy sighed, “Why was he naked?  Why were you so frantic, then?  Don’t try to say you weren’t.” She allowed the hand-holding as she had hopes that Arin was going to start telling her the truth.
             “Because…”  Arin had to think for a second, weigh his options…  He couldn’t tell Suzy Dan was an alien, it wasn’t his secret to tell after all. “Because I guess I was afraid you’d think this.” He chuckled, “And it’s totally not like that.  He’s uh…  That guy I’ve been talking about, Dan.”
              “Dan?” Suzy then looked confused, “Did you call him over last night after I left or this morning… Or?”
              “Uh…  He kind of…”  Arin felt his voice trailing off, “Lives…  Here…”
              “What?!” Suzy’s eyes were large, her mouth hanging open in disbelief, “Since when?  Does your landlord know?  I thought you said he just moved to town or something or you met him at his house?”
              “Well…” Arin sheepishly began, letting go of Suzy’s hand and stepping back to twiddle his fingers together, “That might have been a lie.”
              Clicking her tongue, Suzy rolled her eyes, “Okay, keep going.”
              “I mean… I had met him before, a few times…”  Arin was going to keep to himself that he wasn’t conscious most all of those times...  “But he didn’t have anywhere to stay and he’s a really nice guy.” he tried his hardest to impress that he wasn’t just a crazy person taking random homeless people into his own apartment.  “He’s a little weird, but he’s great!”
               “Hey guys!” Right on cue, Dan entered into the kitchen, a huge grin plastered on his face…  Oh god, this was not going to work.  “How’s it going?”
              Arin felt like he was on some kind of shitty sitcom and there was a laugh-track running at his expense.
              “Uh, it’s going… Uh… Dan, this is Suzy, Suzy, this is Dan…”  Arin motioned between the two, hoping Dan had learned something about social cues after all of that following him around and asking insane amounts of questions.
             “Hey, Dan.  It’s nice to meet you.” Suzy began to hold her hand out.
             “Suzy!  Awesome!  I’ve heard so much about you!”  Where Suzy had just fully extended her hand for a modest shake, Dan bent low to be on her level and gave her what could best be described as a bearhug.
             Arin’s hands flew up into his hair, “Dan, be careful!”
             Meanwhile, in spite of Arin’s fretting, Suzy laughed as Dan picked her up off the ground.  She squealed a little at the surprise and wrapped her legs reflexively around Dan’s hips, but otherwise she didn’t seem angry about it, “It’s very nice to meet you.” She laughed, returning the hug.  “Can you put me down please?”
             “Certainly!” Dan carefully let her back down onto her two feet, still grinning cordially.  He was like a puppy, practically vibrating in place at the presence of a new friend.
             As distressing as this situation was for Arin, he couldn’t help but find Dan…  The least bit… Or a lot a bit adorable.  Arin about drew the line, however, when Dan stepped around Suzy and tried to rather discretely hold his hand.  Seriously?  What the fuck was he doing?!  Arin really hoped there was some reason other than him being really fucking weird for doing this.
             “So… Uh…” Suzy stepped away, looking at them both next to each other.  She didn’t miss the hand-holding, but didn’t question it as maybe one of them wanted things to be “like that” and Arin just didn’t want to mention it.  “Arin says you’re from New Jersey?”  Now Arin was panicking again.
              “Yeah!” Dan answered without skipping a beat, “A suburb of Philly, actually.”
              Arin’s expression dropped to dumbfounded.  They hadn’t talked any about the geography of America, where was he pulling this out of?!  Zilbyrghr didn’t even appear to have an ass from which to grab stuff…
               “Oh, that’s cool, so why’d you move out this way?” Suzy continued to enquire, honestly interested in this new person her friend had take up residence with.  He must’ve been pretty cool if Arin had made such a spur of the moment decision that he had chosen to not tell anyone about this…  Which, of course, she would have to grill him over later.  This whole thing wasn’t quite right, but she would roll with it for now.
             “Work,” he chuckled in response, “figured that my musical endeavors would work better out this way.”
             Either Dan was really good at improvisation or something was going on here…  Nonetheless, Arin said nothing, making sure he thoroughly remembered all of this information for later.
             “A musician, oooh.”  Suzy nodded her head, “That’s cool, what do you play?”
             Dan paused for a second, making a thoughtful expression, “Well, I actually can’t really play anything that well.” he chuckled, looking away in feigned bashfulness, “I mostly just sing.  My, uh, musical partner does literally everything else.” Raising a hand up to one of his cheeks, he tapped on it, “I try though, I guess it’s because I’ve just always been a good singer.”  Arin could swear that Dan was starting to sound very exhausted. “I just get frustrated when I see how good my bandmate is and so just stop trying altogether.”
              Suzy, meanwhile, giggled at Dan’s admission, “I’m like that with some stuff too, right, Arin?” She gave him a resigned look.
              “Oh, you mean like playing fighting games with me?!”  Arin jerked his hand away from Dan to make a somewhat rude gesture to Suzy. “Tart and tangy defeat is all you get!”
              “You’re so full of yourself.” She rolled her eyes, noticing Dan putting both his hands into his pockets.  He seemed tense all the sudden, time for a subject change, she spun on her heel as if heading for the front door. “Sooo…”
             “How did you do that?” Arin meanwhile whispered as quietly as he could so Suzy couldn’t hear.
             “I’ll explain later.” Dan answered clearly, yet his lips were stationary.  It was only just occurring to Arin that Dan only moved his lips when he spoke for aesthetic reasons…
             “Anybody want breakfast?” Suzy had meanwhile finished her question.
             “Uh, I could eat.” Arin shrugged, looking to Dan and seeing his suddenly defensive stance, “You hungry?”
              “Yeah, we staying here or going somewhere?” Dan asked the two humans, unsure of how to proceed now.  He needed to be extra careful not to be weird now, Arin wouldn’t be able to save him every time.  Too bad he was still overall unsure of what constituted as “weird.”
             “Well, actually--”
             “What’s taking so long up here!?” Ross cut Suzy off, barging in through the unlocked door with a big smile.  His eyes caught Dan, however and he paused, “Hello?  Who’s this?”
             “Dan.” Dan raised his hand and waved with a light smile, clearly wanting nothing to do with hugging him.  “Nice to meet you.”  Too bad he had missed out on an opportunity to learn other forms of acceptable greetings by skipping that handshake with Suzy.
            “Actually, I was going to say I had Ross waiting in the car.” Suzy finished her earlier comment.
            “Ross, yeah, nice to meet you too.” Ross crossed the main room of the apartment, but, as Arin and Suzy noticed, he didn’t offer his hand to shake.  There was something the enigmatic man wanted to ask, but he was abstaining.  Two uncharacteristic things within two seconds of each other, needless to say, this put Suzy and Arin a little on edge.
             “So, eh, breakfast…” Arin cut in, trying to break the awkwardness, “We got time before work still?”
             “It’s only,” Suzy checked her cellphone, “7:30, normally you’re not up until eight.” she commented, “We’ve got plenty of time.”  Smiling, she looked over to Dan, “You coming with us?”
             “Uh…”  Dan looked between everyone, especially Ross, “I, I think I’m good here.” he self-consciously answered, shuffling over to the fridge.
             “Come on, Dan.  You said you wanted to hang out with my friends.” Arin urged him cordially.  However, he did realize that Dan seemed all for the idea until Ross came in.  Ross really scared him…  Or at least made him uncomfortable for some reason.  Oh, shit, yeah, yesterday!  They still hadn’t had the time to talk about what Dan had experienced.
              “Ah…” Dan began, apparently unsure of what he wanted to say, “I dunno, I’m just--”
             “Excuse us for a second.” Arin dragged the suddenly plaintive extraterrestrial out of the kitchen and into his bedroom.  Ross and Suzy looked on in confusion.
             “Okay dude…” Arin started once they were in the bedroom, door closed “I know we don’t have a lot of time right now, but what is your deal with Ross?”
             “He makes me nervous.  I don’t know how to describe it.” Dan explained quickly, “Humans only have a certain range of visible light, he should not have been able to see me.”
            “How do you know he saw you?  Did he try to talk to you?”
            “No… But…  On your Spawning--erhm--birthday, on your birthday, he looked at me, I thought…  I guess it’s possible he was just greeting Nicole, but he did it again when I was in your office yesterday.  And he must’ve seen me sitting on the back of the couch, so made you push me, or--”
             “Whoa, whoa…  Okay…  Dan…  Look…  Do you have any actual proof that he saw you?”  Arin perked his eyebrows at him, tucking a lock of hair behind his ear.
             “The recording of my voice on your sound thing--he came into the booth and did something, I’m not sure what the uh…  The grey stick he put in the side of the computer did, but--”
             “Grey stick?  It was probably a flashdrive.  It holds information transferred from computers on it.”
             “Okay, well, knowing that, I’m certain he saved the file that had my voice on it, because when he finished, he smiled at me.  Or…  I don’t know if you would call it a smile, it looked more…  Sinister than that?”  Dan tried to describe.
             “Was he smirking perhaps?” Arin suggested, knowing the exact face Dan was trying to describe.
             “Smirking, yes.  Yes, I would describe it like that.  He looked at me and smirked.”
             “And how do you know he was looking at you?” Arin posed.
             Dan let out a noise similar to a huff, as he didn’t breathe the same way that humans did though, it was more of a spiritual relative to a huff “Because do humans make a habit of smirking at blank walls?”
            “Okay, you have me there.  So…  If Ross can see you, what would that mean?”
             “Well, I suppose that--”
             “Hey, lovebirds!  We’re hungry!” Ross reminded from the other side of the door, “We don’t want to have to rush here!”
             “Okay, okay, we’re coming…”  Arin reached up to rub his temples, “We’ll talk about this later.  You’re coming to breakfast.”  He turned to leave, then stopped, “We also have to talk about why you were in my bed this morning.”  Then, he opened the door, not giving Dan a chance to answer, “You guys are gonna have to wait, I’m not dressed yet, I’m still in the same crap from yesterday.”
             “Why didn’t you change just now?” Ross asked, seeming very put out, someone was hangry.
             Arin rolled his eyes and shrugged, looking to Dan, “Yo man, I love ya, but you gotta go.” Arin called over to Dan, making a comical, sweeping gesture towards the door.  “We’re hungry and you’re blocking clothing awesomeness right now.”
             Oh!  Arin said that word!  Dan had to respond correctly, right?  There was only one response he knew of and that was, “Love you too.” as he grinned.  There was about a half-second of silence before Arin gave him a shove.
             “Don’t try to butter me up, you can’t watch me change.” Arin laughed, trying to play this off as normal.
             “Sorry…”  Dan didn’t shuffle, didn’t walk, Dan pranced out of the room.  Arin couldn’t help a chuckle, Suzy a giggle, and even Ross had a bemused half-smile.  Secretly, to himself, Dan had the unmistakable expression of “nailed it”.

             Ordering breakfast was a nerve-wracking affair for Dan.  Standing before the menu in a popular fast-food chain, he felt hyper-respiration set in in his cells, making him jittery.  He looked left, he looked right, he didn’t know what to do, he was only aware that someone was asking him a question in English and he had not tapped into their language center yet.  Not wanting to have a full-on panic-attack that would just have giant flashing signs that said “ALIEN” pointing right at him, he pleaded with Arin, “Arin, please, I need you hand!”
              Arin was rather uncomfortable already with Dan’s seeming lack of personal boundaries today, and so, he didn’t acquiesce.  He scrolled through his phone, pretending that he didn’t hear.  Even if he knew exactly how Dan was communicating with him and so it was actually kind of impossible for him to have not heard him.
             “Arin, please!” Dan felt the panic getting worse.  Arin knew Dan couldn’t read!  He had no idea what he was even supposed to say and--oh shit, oh shit no, the lady behind the counter was staring at him.  She was impatient with him, he was sticking out too much.  “Arin, I just fucking need your hand for five fucking seconds!”
             Whoa… Uh…  Arin looked up from his phone and stepped up to stand next to Dan, touching their hands together casually, “Decided yet?”  His pinky finger reached out and curled around Dan’s, the other being relaxing almost immediately.
             “Uh, I think I just did.  Thank you.” Dan slumped a little bit, “Can I please have an egg and sausage biscuit with a coffee?” He told the service-worker, Arin chiming in afterwards with, “He’s on my ticket, I’ll have the same thing, but make the coffee a large for me.”
             Arin uncurled his pinky from Dan when he stepped forward to pay, but he didn’t miss the almost lost expression on Dan’s face.  Was he just not having a good day so far?  Was it because Ross was still with them, or was it something else about being where they were?  On another note…  Dan ordered coffee…  How was a zilbyrgh going to react to caffeine?  Did they even metabolize food the same way humans did?  Dan had alluded to their digestive systems being very different, but Arin still really wanted to see the alien jacked-up on a serious caffeine-rush.
             “So, Dan, where you from?” Ross asked, having already ordered and witnessed Dan’s peculiar five-second anxiety-attack.
              Unlike with his prior enthusiasm with Suzy, Dan responded rather calmly, “Philadelphia, the New Jersey side.  What about yourself?”
              “Ross here is actually very international.” Suzy prefaced for the man, waiting for Ross’ own explanation to begin.
              “I’m from Perth, in Australia.” Ross explained, “But, my parents are from Ireland.”
              Dan had to work his very hardest not to look completely out of his element.  Thankfully, Arin was still standing next to him with an open hand, looking down at his phone.  Feeling himself growing very weary already from this, he curled his fingers around Arin’s hand.  Arin blinked at his phone a few times, meanwhile and slowly looked up from the screen.  If Dan was going to hold his hand every time someone spoke to him, they were going to have some problems.
              “Oh, wow,” Dan responded after a few moments, “you really are ‘international’.” he chuckled, “Which place is your accent from?”  Oh, wait, was that rude?
              “Neither place, really.” Ross explained, “It’s an international accent.  Everyone always talked one way in public, my parents talked another, then I moved here and everyone sounds completely different than either of those influences.  I’ve got a bit of everything.”
              “He’s still a British twat though.” Arin added with a snigger, tugging his hand from Dan’s grip to scratch at the underside of his beard.
              Dan, figuring the inaccuracy to be an attempt at humor, chuckled, happy to see that Suzy giggled along with him.  Ross, as per usual, stood with a smirk on his face, but the way he was eyeing Dan made the zilbyrgh particularly uncomfortable.  Dan had to look away, clearing his voice as he heard the number his and Arin’s order had been assigned along with Ross’ order and Suzy’s.  Thank the stars above that they could now just focus on eating.

              The hardest thing for Dan to grasp, as far as Arin could tell, was to balance the proper amount of time spent talking and time spent eating.  Eat too fast and everyone would talk about it, eat too slowly and everyone would give you shit.  Arin had no idea what to say when Dan drank all of his boiling-hot coffee in one gulp and his sausage biscuit in two bites.
             Ross looked down at his coffee, giving it a sip and wincing at the heat.  Suzy did something similar, Dan just grinned as if it was nothing.  Did the zilbyrgh not have any sensory nerves for temperature?!  Well, Arin already knew that was false because Dan had complained of being cold a few times, but, seriously damn.  Dan was not doing breakfast right and Arin needed to inform him of that before the next time they did this.
             “Why’d you move out here?” Ross asked, by asking questions that were identical to Suzy’s, Dan was pretty certain these constituted preliminary questions for making new friends.  It was always important to ask where a person was from and why they lived where they did.  Personally, Dan thought that those details didn’t matter, but if humans thought they did, okay!
             “I’m a singer in a band.” Dan answered, “I thought we’d do better out here.”
             “Oh?  Cool.  Anyone I’ve heard of?”
             “I don’t think so.”
             “Try me.”
             “No, really, we’re really unknown back home.  You couldn’t possibly have heard of us.”
             “Well, what’s your name?”
             “Ninja Sex Party.” Arin cut in…  Hoping he was adequately giving Dan an out.  The name was totally ridiculous, but it was the first thing he thought of.  Only after he said the words did he realize that it was unlikely that Dan even knew what those first two words meant.  Well, he’d understand “sex” probably because his kind seemed to have sexual reproduction of some sort if parents were involved, but the ninja thing was definitely a human concept only.
             “Ninja Sex Party?” Ross questioned, “What kind of music do you play?”
             “Uh, mostly comedy…  It’s not meant to be serious or anything…  Just myself and my music partner…”
             “Oh?  And, ah, where are they?” Ross continued to interrogate, taking another bite of his own breakfast.
              “Where is who?”
              “The rest of your band.”
              “In the ocean…”
              “Excuse me?”
              “On a ship.  I mean…  A boat...”
              “Hey, uh, Ross,” Suzy cut in, “so, Arin was thinking about starting a show starring you?”
              “I was in the middle of talking to Dan.” Ross pointed out, “I want to get to know this new friend.”
             “Well, I don’t think he wants to talk about what you’re talking about.” Suzy continued to divert.
             “If he’s uncomfortable, he can just say something.  You don’t want to talk about your band?” Ross questioned Dan directly.
             “We’re sort of on hiatus right now, so… No…” Dan answered, pulling some zilbyrgh shenanigans underneath the table.  Out of view of everyone else, he extended his wrist over to Arin’s unoccupied hand under the table, wrapping around it and squeezing.
             “I thought you moved out here for--”
             “Ahh!”  Arin jumped, feeling the jelly appendage wrap around him, but, Arin had had enough of this, even he was starting to get nervous with all of Ross’ questions, so he added “Ross, drop it!”   It was like he just loved to see Dan squirm or something.  Which, to be honest, was Ross every hour of every day of every week of every year with everyone.  Arin also shook his wrist vigorously beneath the table, hoping no one else noticed his attempts to dislodge Dan’s tentacle thing.
              “Okay, so where you staying at?” Ross continued grilling him, just
              “With Arin…”  Dan pointed his thumb across the table to his friend.
              “Really?  Since when?” Ross raised an eyebrow at Arin, seeing the man was starting to sweat.
             “Can we all just eat our breakfasts, please?!” Arin interrupted all of this to point at his biscuit and only half-drank coffee.  “There’s some serious face-stuffing that is not happening because everyone is just--” Arin paused to make a frustrated groaning noise.  “Can we just eat breakfast?” He smiled, “That’s all I want.”
              “Okay…” Ross picked up his food and began to nibble at it again, everyone else sitting in silence.  It would be a fucking New Year’s miracle or some shit if Arin got through this day without a heart-attack.

              After some grave contemplation, Arin decided that he was on the verge of a heart-attack.  Following breakfast, there had been a back and forth between Ross and Dan, yet again, Arin unable to make heads or tails of the whole thing.
             “Are you coming with us to work?” Ross had asked.
             “If you’re offering.” Danny logically answered.
             “You looked like you were just going to follow us.”
             “Not like I knew you guys were going straight to work.”
             “Where would you think we were going then?”
             “I dunno?  To play video games somewhere?”
             “How’d you know we played video games every day?”
             “I never said that! But, wait--Arin told me what he does for a living!”
             “Coming to get your ass up beat by us?”
             “What?”  Dan stared at him, Ross appearing none the wiser to his transposition of words “What?  I never said I wanted to be physically assaulted by anyone!”
             “Ross!  Stop it!” Frustrated father Arin intervened.  “Dan, he wants to know in his very douchey way if you want to come and play videogames with us today as a guest.”  He shot his friend a look then, “Right, Ross?”
              “What?  Why didn’t he just say that?” The quizzical look on Danny’s face was to die for.
              “Because he’s really bad at making friends.” Arin followed up.
              “Nah, just tells me who I’m going to be friends with and who I’m not going to be.” Ross then chipped in his two cents as Suzy stood by holding her face in her hands, trying her damnedest not to laugh.
              “So, you think you’re being funny, then?” Dan asked very seriously, stepping forward to be chest-to-chest with Ross.  At first, Arin was afraid of this coming to some kind of physical altercation, even if the very idea was preposterous as Dan hated fighting.
              “I’m fuckin’ hilarious.” Ross answered in kind, smirking up at the taller man.
             “Oh, you are?” Dan squinted down at him, lowering his voice to a whisper--which… Arin needed to ask at some point exactly how Dan did that--“What if I said you weren’t funny at all, loser?”
             “I’d just say your sense of humor is shitty.” Ross answered without skipping a beat, still smirking.
             “And if I contested that?” Dan tweaked an eyebrow.
             “Are you looking for some kind of competition here?”
             “It wouldn’t be a competition.”  Okay, why was Danny still whispering?
             “You’re really saying that?”
             “Yep.”
             “You’re that confident?”
             “I am Danny Sexbang!  I exude confidence!” Dan shouted, striking a heroic pose and successfully making everyone bust out laughing.  Arin especially, where in the sweet name of fuck did he get that name from?!  “See?”
             “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.” Ross cryptically replied.  Oh boy, now Dan was going to be in for it the rest of the day…  Rubberninja versus Danny Sexbang…  Arin sniggered to himself into Suzy’s shoulder.

             Introducing Dan to everyone else at the studio went well.  Now that Danny and Ross seemed to have an impromptu competition for the group’s greatest jokester, Dan’s nervousness had faded more or less.  However, as work had to begin soon, the two needed to cool down the dialog a bit.  Arin couldn’t tell if the two were being intentionally inflammatory towards one another for purposes of making the other angry, or if they were honestly just joking around.  As Arin saw Dan’s handsome face pulled back in grin after grin as he competed to be the most clever, Arin could guess genuine enjoyment was coming from this interaction.
             Ross, needless to say, would’ve been tickled pink either way, whether or not Dan was having fun.  Though, it needed to be noted, that Ross did seem to be having a more marked amount of fun with this competition with Danny as a willing and hilarious participant.  Barry and Jon just sat back and watched the chaos.  Occasionally, Barry chipped-in on Ross’ behalf, but Danny was quickly building to be an office favorite after scarcely an hour of everyone knowing him.  Well, in funny situations…  Arin sensed that maybe that novelty was going to wear off and then it would come down to how well Dan was able to perform human tasks.
             Oh, and one other thing, the hand-holding had to stop.  While it was funny to hear Ross and Danny go it like an old, married couple, why did Dan always have to be holding his hand?  Earlier that morning, Arin had compared Dan to a puppy, but the last he wanted was for the over six-feet-tall puppy to be following him everywhere!
             As Arin went to read the games he had laid out for Jon and himself to play that day, Danny came up behind him--during his and Ross’ momentary ceasefire--and took his hand in his.  This was the final straw.
             “Why are you just all up on me today?!” Arin jerked his hand out of Dan’s grasp, garnering a sad look from him instantly.  “I know I’m like, your only friend here, but stop with the trying to hold my hand!  You’re still on thin-ice after this morning anyway.”
              Dan was silent for a few moments.  The last thing that he had been expecting, obviously, was for Arin to suddenly yell at him, “Uh…  Okay… Um… I’m sorry I didn’t say anything before, but… It felt more cumbersome to explain rather than to just do it.” The zilbyrgh was pointedly not looking at his new friend, self-consciously taking his hands back.
              “Fine, I’ll bite, what are you talking about?” Arin folded his arms over his chest.
              Dan spied over his shoulder first, striding quickly over to the studio door to close it.  While he was over there, he checked that the booth was empty before returning to stand before Arin, who stared up at him patiently.
              “Okay, so, you know how I talk to you?”
              “Uh, yeah, I think.  Something about brain language centers or something.” Arin waved his hand in a gesture of understanding.  “Mind powers, basically.”
             “So, there’s only so much I’m capable of remotely.” Dan continued, “I can find your more direct translations of words in your language center and idioms, but, word associations, as you’ve already seen are hard for me to grasp.  So...”  Dan then raised his hands to exhibit his fingers, “There are more… Direct methods that I can take to get the information that I need.  If I touch your skin...” He smiled sheepishly.
             “Are you telling me that this whole time, you’ve been rooting through my memories and shit?”
             “Not your personal memories!  Those are your business, not mine!” Dan quickly drew back his hands defensively, “Just…  Your memories of places.  Like… I don’t know where New Jersey is, I don’t know what cities you have there… But you know.” He could see that he still was not easily winning his friend over with this idea, “I didn’t know the word for human reproduction was ‘sex’ either, or that it seems a lot more complicated a concept than mere pleasurable reproductive processes, really, I’d like t--”
             “Danny, cut to a point here.” Arin interrupted.
             “What I’m saying is while it’s better for me to learn things as I go, I was grossly unequipped to handle other humans today.  These…  Methods of using your word associations and understanding of complex ideas and concepts are the only things saving me today from having a complete breakdown.”  Dan puffed a little bit, his hair deflating around his shoulders. “Like…  When I hold your hand…” He reached out again as if to take it, but Arin backed away.  “When I hold your hand it’s instant access to your understanding of a concept.  Even if you’re not actively thinking about it.”  The way Dan was talking it was almost like someone talking about crack.
             “Well, okay, that’s cool, but you should know then that holding my hand has a very…  Specific connotation to it.” Arin muttered to him.  “The same as you waking up naked in my bed with me.”
             “Oh…”  Dan shrunk back from Arin even further, “I’m sorry.  Are those… Bad things?”
             Arin raised a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose, “No, not bad things, just…” Arin sighed, so tired, the morning had been the most eventful rollercoaster.  “Just forget about it.  We’ll talk about it at home, okay?”
             “Are you sure?”  Dan tipped his head to the side, confused about Arin’s sudden melancholy.  “I don’t want to do something wrong.”
             “It’s not that what you’re doing is wrong.” Arin clarified, “It’s that this is a very complicated subject and we don’t have the time for me to explain it.  Jon or Ross or Barry or somebody else could walk in at any second.”
             “Okay…” Dan looked away again, reaching up to rub the back of his neck in a very human gesture, “So… Can I still hold your hand, or…?  Because, I can’t read your language if I don’t.”
              Oh…  Arin looked over at the rack of games, in the hustle of the morning, Arin had completely forgotten that Dan couldn’t read.  Come on, it’s not so bad.  It’s not like his hand is slimy or anything…  After a second’s deliberation, Arin smiled, looking down at the floor and offering his hand, “Yeah, you can hold my hand, bro.”
              “Really?” Dan grinned, ah…  Arin was finding out very quickly that he was a sucker for that grin.
             “Yeah, don’t think anything of it.” Arin reached out the rest of the way and clasped their hands together gently.  Afterwards, the two spent some time reading game titles, a lot of it being Arin explaining to Dan what types of video games they were and filling in plotlines for the games he had played.  They were so into the conversation that they didn’t notice the studio door cracking open, and a very curious, skinny Australian watching.

Chapter Text

            “What do you want for dinner?” Arin asked, dropping his keys into the punchbowl by his door.  He waited for Dan to shuffle in behind him before he closed the entryway and Dan dropped his human facade with a heavy groan.  “You okay?”
             “I’m fine.” The zilbyrgh’s body slumped as if melting, “I’ve expressed that the gravity of your world is tiresome, and imitating skeletal and nervous systems is tiresome, but it’s also it’s not exactly simple to access your brain’s innerworkings.” Dan groaned, sliding past Arin to head for the couch, “Your brain’s structure is different.” he naturally explained, motioning with his three-fingered hand before collapsing and melting over the couch until he was sheet-thin.  He made a bubbling noise that wasn’t accompanied by words and Arin stepped over to him with a smile.
             “Yeah, I feel like that too.” Arin giggled, leaning down to pat an expanse of Dan’s body and watching the rippling effect his hand had on him.  Green lights placidly followed each ripple, making Arin’s smile wider, “You must make a great blanket.”
             “I would offer,” Dan raised the form of his head up out of the puddle that he was “but you were aggravated this morning.”
              Oh, yeah…  Arin still had to explain what that was about….  It can wait. He decided, “Are you hungry?”
              “I could eat.” Dan answered, melting again.
              “Okay, what would you like?”
             “Uh…”  Dan was a nondescript puddle on the floor for a bit, “What do you have?”
             “Ramen, mostly, I think we should go to the grocery store.”  Arin thanked the stars that since his show and other business ventures were really taking off it was actually possible to support this other being in his home.  It didn’t change the fact that perhaps Dan should do something for personal revenue, but…  He wasn’t even from Earth, he couldn’t apply for jobs.  He didn’t even have a driver’s license or social security number.
             “Ramen?” The jelly on the floor bubbled.
             “It’s like noodles, but…  You know, it’s better to show you.”  Arin strode into his kitchen and picked down two plastic-wrapped ramen squares, returning to show the sentient blob.  “They’re like, compacted together.” Arin pulled one open and showed it to him, not sure if Dan was even looking at him or not.  His eyes just kind of melted with the rest of him.  “You add hot water and a flavor packet.  It’s really cheap, but it’s good if you don’t have to eat it every day.”
             “Why would you eat it every day?”  Dan raised one of his limbs out of his body to take the square from Arin’s hand and examine it.  “Is it condensed nutrition?”
             “More like condensed carbs and salt…”
             “If it is empty calories…  Why buy and eat so much?”
             “Because food and everything else costs money.  Ramen is inexpensive and filling, so if you live off it, not only will you end up very unhealthy, but you’ll have more money for other stuff.  Like being able to keep your apartment.”
             “Are humans often forced to choose between adequate nourishment and housing?”
             “More often than you’d think.” Arin took the food back from the alien to head for the kitchen, “My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up.  I actually dropped out of high school to get a job so I could help support us.”
              Dan formed his head and shoulders out of his pool, “You had to pick between education and housing?”
              “Again, not as uncommon a concept as you’d think.” Arin reminded him, putting a pot of water on the stove.  “I always figured that the stuff I was good at was stuff you couldn’t teach a kid in school anyway.  Plus, I hated everyone I went to school with.  Not much motivation to go and more motivation to make money drives many people out of school.” Arin shrugged, unaware that Dan was slithering in behind him.  “But I do alright, not everyone’s life should have the same story.”
            “But…  I sense that this comes with…  A modicum of shame in your society?”
            “Usually, but hey, I and Suzy and Barry, Ross, all of us are making money enough to support ourselves off of doing stuff we love.” Arin pointed out, “It’s not something that bothers me.  It just makes me all the more grateful for what I have.”  He smiled, “I remember when Suzy and I were living together and we bought a pizza and it was, like…  The biggest deal ever that we actually had the money.  It was like fifteen dollars and we were so excited about that pizza.” he chuckled.
             “Uh…  One question…  What’s a pizza?” Dan asked, Arin responding by throwing the ramen down on the counter and spinning around.  As Dan was a lot closer than he had originally thought, he jumped, but continued on with his original train of thought, “Fuck the ramen, we’re having pizza!”
              Arin scooted around Dan, going for his laptop in his room to pull up an ordering site, Dan followed with great curiosity, sitting on his bed next to him.  Seeing that Arin was looking at a screen full of text, Dan didn’t think twice about raising his hand and laying it on Arin’s arm to begin reading with him.  The response he got was not what he had been expecting after earlier.
              “You gonna kiss me now too?” Arin joked, looking up from his screen and realizing that he had never gone through the trouble of describing what a kiss was.  However, with Dan’s hand readily in contact with his skin, he saw a light of recognition in his eyes.
             “If you feel that…  We’re on that level?” Dan questioned, now fully understanding the repercussions of kissing and hand-holding in a partnering sense.  Though…  Dan was not going to deny that being in physical contact with Arin was pleasant, but he didn’t dare overstep his boundaries again and check to see if Arin felt the same way about the issue.
             “On what level?”
             “Please, do not feign ignorance.  I can tell now you’ve gone through some lengths to not explain certain human concepts to me.”  Dan tapped Arin’s arm to give his words emphasis.
              Arin tipped his head all the way back and sighed.  He supposed that ordering the pizza was going to have to wait, because the elephant in the room was back and you couldn’t eat pizza with a giant animal sitting in your lap.  “Okay, I don’t know how zilbyrghs--”
              “Zilbyrghr.” Danny corrected.
             “Fine, I don’t know know how zilbyrghr express romantic affection,” Arin turned his head and looked to him, “but hand-holding is a big one with us.  And kissing, and…  Cuddling in bed...”
             “I can see that now.”  Dan answered, giving Arin’s arm a squeeze “Can it not simply be a…  Platonic gesture of affection?”
             “No, sorry, for most of our cultures,” Arin shrugged, “hand-holding is something you do with someone you love.”
             Love…  Danny thought even with Arin’s experience with the emotion, it felt so complicated.  Danny conjured images of hearts and romantic scenes from Arin’s past--nondescript as they were more about the feeling than the action--as well as a very concrete image of human copulation--er, sex.  All the same, he found himself no closer to understanding this broad concept in spite of everything his information centers took in.  Again, as he had seen with Arin and Suzy spooning, it was something felt and something not properly meant to be explained.
             “But I love you.” Dan easily pointed out, “And you’ve said you love Suzy before, but I don’t see you...”
             “Yes, I get that, I’m flattered…  I love you too, Dan, but, when I say love in this context I mean like…  Okay, you guys…  Do you pick, uh, mates, or whatever, based on emotional factors?”
             “Yes, of course.  Matching personalities are very important for a stable relationship as well as healthy child-rearing.” Dan very studiously rattled off, reminding Arin once more that Dan was actually something like an anthropologist back home.  Or a… Xenologist since he focused more on alien cultures than his own, but, moving along.
             “Okay, so, you get that…  There are just some people you connect more with, right?”
             “Yes.  One cannot make everyone happy all the time.  Or even most of the time.”
             “Cool, so, we’re on the same page.  Love is, like…”  Arin pursed his lips, sitting his laptop aside.  “Ah, fuck, man, I…  I’m so bad with describing these things.  It’s really not my strong point.  I could say cheesy things like ‘love is the best feeling,’ or ‘it’s the worst feeling,’ or--”
             “How is it those things at the same time?  Isn’t that very…  Oxymoronic?”
             “Yeah, but it’s true.  Love makes people just as happy as it makes them miserable.  Haven’t you noticed that with your parents?”
             “Yes…  But they’re happy, so, I don--”
             “You never questioned why your parents were together?” Arin raised an eyebrow.
             “No…  Should I have?”
             “Not saying that,” he chuckled, “I’m just saying, your parents--from a human standpoint--love each other, you’ve said that they fight, but they still like each other after it.  They still both--euhm, all three--bothered to raise you and your sibling and they all three remained as a unit through it all.  Are they still together to this day?”
             “Of course, the bonds they have are--”
             “That’s what love is like for us.” Arin explained, “I’m surprised you don’t have a better translation if I had to describe it…  It seems like you do feel love the same way we do.”
              “We have separate words to describe the emotional bonding of partners as opposed to friends and family members.  You have a single, all-encompassing word that needs qualifiers to be more specific.” Dan reasoned, “It’s not wholly unpleasant though…  I feel like…  Like without the qualifiers always being necessary, like…  You don’t always have to say ‘Suzy I love you as a friend’ for her to know what you mean when you say ‘I love you’.”  Dan nodded, “It’s liberating to be on such a level with a person that they know what you mean without it needing to explicitly be said.”
             “Suzy and I have been friends since…  She was around thirteen.  So, we’ve known each other for almost half of our lives, the kind of understanding Suzy and I have goes past what most people have, so there isn’t any confusion.” Arin introduced his next point, “Sometimes though…  Feelings are hard to sift through and people don’t always know what you mean.  Love is complicated…  Not everyone always feels the same.”
             “Oh, yes, I understand that.” Dan chuckled, “That happens with us too, but… Less confusion because of words that are used.”
             “You guys are very meticulous, aren’t you?”
             “You could say that,” Dan’s whole body was a pleasant shade of pastel green, small sparkles flitting by inside his interstitial fluids.  “I appreciate the flexibility of your language.  I would like to try to learn it…  I will need your help for such an endeavor.”
            “You heard that I dropped out of high school, right?” Arin laughed in spite of himself.
            “So?  You’ve already taught me much, Arin.” Dan gave him a meaningful squeeze, “You’re very intelligent, but above all that, you’re a very compelling person.”
              “Uh…” Arin felt himself blushing, “Thanks, man…  You’re…  Pretty awesome too.”
             “Am I embarrassing you?” There was an almost…  Smug note to his voice.
             “I’m in the presence of Danny Sexbang, I’m just swept completely off my feet.” Arin inserted for a bit of humor to break the seriousness of the moment.
             “I’m happy that I seem to have…  Hit the nail on the head?--with that joke.” Dan’s body waved with amusement, “Sex humor seems to likewise be a staple of your friend Ross’ humor…”
             “Well, that and being a sadist.” Happy that they had moved on from the uncomfortable topic of their feelings, Arin went back to ordering the pizza.  “Any luck today with figuring out what’s up with Ross?”
             “Mn…  No.” Dan answered, leaning more heavily on Arin as he read the screen before him. “He does seem out of place, but, he’s not from this continent.”  Dan paused for a few minutes, just watching Arin as he tried to formulate what he wanted to say  “I was thinking it’s possible that he’s… Uh…”
             “There, done.” Arin declared as he was given a timeline of when the pizza would be delivered, “What were you thinking?”
             “It’s not important.” Dan waved him off and stood up from the bed, towering over Arin, he had to be at least eight feet tall in his true form.  Arin might have called his arms thin or his fingers spidery, but these were all descriptors relative to Dan’s body proportions.  The alien was tall and appeared skinny, but Arin had already experienced that he easily had the ability to hoist him from the ground and hold him up with little effort.
                Dan really was beautiful, his body, though alien, was graceful and had that otherworldly shimmer to it.  He was a tiny, moving galaxy of lights and colors in an otherwise dull and flat world.  Arin decided that if there was a movie out that had something like Dan in it, it would be a benevolent water spirit or some cool shit like that.  He would be accompanied with sparkles and superimposed over a full moon!  Or…  Maybe Arin just really wanted to watch Sailor Moon…  That was likely, yeah.
            “Hey, man.” Arin stood, “Want to do pizza and one of my favorite television shows ever?”
            “Hm?” Dan glanced over his shoulder from Arin’s desk, he was rather interested in some storyboards Arin had sitting out.  “I’m up for anything.”  He looked back down to the papers, curving his body to be more on the level with them and successfully forming the shape of a shimmering, blue crescent-moon.  If that moon also had a swishy anemone-like fro and arms...  “Are these me?”
            “Uh…”  Arin felt his cheeks flush, “Maybe?”  He stood and shuffled over to stand next to Dan, looking at the beginnings of his animations.  It was a very cutesy “chibi” version of his friend, but going for a more simplistic art style was easier for drawings that could be accomplished quickly.
            “Is my head really that big in comparison to the rest of me?” Dan asked, tipping his head to the side, intensely examining the many doodles of himself in various positions.
            “Aheh, no, it’s uh…  A certain kind of art style.  The convention is when you’re drawing something that’s supposed to be cute, you make the head and eyes larger in proportion to the body.”  Arin shrugged, “It’s hard to explain if you don’t know the style that well.  But, the show I wanted to show you is drawn in this style!  Sometimes you’ll even see characters that look like this!”  He pointed out, taking his friend’s arm carefully to tug him along.
             “Do you think I’m cute?” Dan asked.
             Arin replied without thinking, “You’re adorable, man.” and continued to try to tug him along.
             “I find your shape and personality pleasing as well.” Dan replied in kind, his body “flushing” lavender.
             “Uh…”  Arin paused at the admission, looking up at him.  There wasn’t the green of amusement or contentment to be found, just the embarrassed hue of pastel purple.  “What’s with the, uh,” He chuckled, not wanting to make this any more uncomfortable than it was, but…  “Why so formal with that?”
             “You would not be offended if I said you were cute?” Dan questioned, “I know I was…  Less than articulate with your last compliment.”
             Arin was then reminded that there had been one time in the past week that he had called Dan “beautiful”; while he had not been embarrassed at the time, as the memory came back to him, it made the heat in his face all the worse.  Arin cleared his voice and tried to tug him along again, only focusing on the endgame of getting Dan to the couch.
            “Arin?”
            “No… I wouldn’t be…  Offended.” He finally answered.
            “Is uncomfortable a better word to use?  I understand that I’m not of your species, so…”  Dan looked down to Arin’s hand on his arm, the surface of his body practically vibrating with the pleasant contact.
            “No, I don’t think so.”  Arin stopped trying to tug him along, it seemed they were going to talk about this for a few minutes.  What was with all the touchy-feely stuff tonight?  He just wanted to sit on the couch and watch some damn cartoons with his friend!  Your friend is also an alien that doesn’t understand shit about this world still.
            “I don’t want to invade the privacy of your feelings, I would rather you tell me…  So…  How does that make you feel, then?  You seem very conflicted.”
           “Would you ‘invade my privacy’ if I told you I didn’t want to talk about it?”
           “No, of course not.”
           Arin was silent for a few seconds, then quietly muttered, “It makes me feel good to hear you say that.”
            “I know we had a rough start with my abducting you and all, but don’t think that I ever would make you do something you don’t wa--”
            “No, not that part.” Arin squeezed his arm, “You saying that I’m cute…  I mean…”  Oh god, these were feelings.  Feelings needed to stop.  Really, no, not now, he was a may-n dammit!  A man that was about to watch Sailor Moon and his favorite color was pink and thought everything that was within the “acceptable” range of colors for his clothing was drab and boring.  As if he didn’t already live with the daily cavalcade of “fag” jokes...
              “Oh.” Dan’s lavender body pulsed green and shined just a bit brighter, “It makes me happy too.”
             “Okay, cool, can we just go watch some cartoons now?” Arin, a full grown man, got back to trying to drag Dan out of the room.  He felt the way Dan’s body waved beneath his touch, aware of the lightshow the mere contact with his body was causing, but all the same trying to ignore it.
             “Okay, Arin.” There was a smile in Dan’s voice as he followed his smaller friend out into the livingroom.
            “Cool!”  Arin turned on the television and went to his shelf, picking down the box set of Sailor Moon that Suzy had bought him many years ago. “I think you’ll really love this.  It’s colorful and about space and--well, okay, it’s grossly inaccurate to you, probably, but it’s so amazing!” Arin was genuinely excited to share this piece of his personal history with Dan, he hoped he liked it.
             “Sometimes gross inaccuracies are good, more of a ‘what if things worked this way’ than anything else.” Dan supplemented Arin’s ideas, making the human smile wider.  Dan supposed what Arin had been looking for was reassurance that he wasn’t going to find the cartoon silly or irrelevant.  Humans certainly were cute.  Or maybe it was just Arin that was cute here.

             Twenty minutes into Sailor Moon and chill, the pizza arrived.  At which point, Arin got to witness the pure, flashing and trippy light-show joy that Dan found in this gem of a human food.  Arin regretted in fairly short order not buying two pizzas as Dan quickly aborbed half the pie by himself in just a few “bites.”  Arin was pretty damn sure that if he had epilepsy, Dan would’ve successfully made him seize by the rapidly ociliating array of colors and shifting brightness his esctatic body produced.  It truly was a sight that was almost more entertaining than his favorite anime.
             “If I hadn’t gained so much important knowledge from being at this planet for months already, I would say this is the most important discovery.” Dan warbled, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible as he reached for another slice of pizza…
            “Hey!” Arin slapped his hand away and wagged a finger at him, “You’ve had your half!”
            “But Ariiiiin!” Dan responded, clearly having witnessed Ross or Barry do the same thing to him at work earlier when he didn’t let them do what they wanted.
             “Don’t you ‘but’ me!” Arin laughed in response, leaning away from Dan with the slice of pizza in question in hand.
              “Would you like me to dick you instead?” Dan answered easily as if he knew what that meant!
              “Dick me with your alien schlong all you want, it’s my pizza!”
              “You could just consider the pizza as payment!” Dan stretched out his body over top of Arin, reaching a secondary tentacle out from his back as his primary limbs kept Arin’s body down and other hand still.  Arin, never having seen Dan’s second set of limbs before gasped in surprise and nearly dropped his pizza.
              “You have tentacles?!”
              Dan paused as there was a note of something in Arin’s voice he couldn’t quite recognize.  It was a quaver, but it didn’t sound like fear…  He wasn’t sure what it was, but something told him it denoted an intense feeling, and it was making Arin uncomfortable.  Pulling back from on top of his friend and releasing him from the restraints, he held up his two primary limbs and wiggled the three that sprouted from his back, “I have six naturally occuring limbs, actually.”  A third “primary” arm slid from Dan’s chest between his other two, “My third in my primary set is inconveniently placed unless I am swimming and the other three on my posterior side are much the same.”
              Arin kept staring, like so many other things about Dan, he was surprised that he never questioned if Dan had more than two limbs.  If he grew up underwater and was so intelligent, Arin could’ve very easily have made the jump that Dan was like a squid, octopus, or seaslug.  Then again, that was applying Earth logic to a different planet that wasn’t even anywhere near his own.
              “However, depending upon how I move my body and control my density, I can have as many as I need.”  The six visible limbs were joined by six more for a grand total of twelve waving at Arin.  With the addition of the other six, however, Dan appeared shorter and thinner, about his human height, actually.  “Does…. This…  Disturb you?” The zilbyrgh eventually asked after Arin remained silent, the limbs all receding back into his form aside from his usual two.
              “Uh, no…”  Arin swallowed, his mind should not have been going where it was.  That was just…  Oh, Dan would hate him if he knew.  He hated himself for thinking it for fuck’s sake!  “They were surprising.  I just…  Didn’t know they were there.”  Arin figured it wasn’t entirely a lie, he didn’t know they were there and they were also surprising, but he didn’t have to divulge the last part of his feelings on them.  It was just gross, after all.  He told himself that anyway.
              “So, you’re… Okay with them?” Dan carefully peeked out the three on his back again, one turning invisible and discretely groping towards that piece of pizza again.
              “Yeah, they’re okay.” Arin chuckled, reaching out to poke one of them softly.  He watched as Dan slowly twirled the finer limb around his hand, giving a light squeez.
              “I assure you, they’re not breakable.” Dan chuckled at Arin’s gentleness, “They’re just as sturdy and strong as the rest of my limbs.”  Speaking of which…  The tentacle had successfully wrapped around Arin’s wrist as Dan’s two primary limbs encircled Arin’s midsection, holding him still and pressed against the couch.  “Got you!” Dan declared, at the last moment, his invisible limb snatching that slice of pizza and absorbing it.
              “Hey!”  Arin futilely struggled against the arms as his food was ripped from his grasp.  He whined forlornly when the pizza, just like that, became one with Dan’s body, “Dude!  That’s so not fair!”
              “I still got what I wanted.” Dan pointed out, still restraining Arin as the human tried to wriggle out of his grasp.  Obviously, Arin was not having much success in that area.
              “Come on, man!” Arin gave up, slumping in Dan’s arms--there were other things that would happen if he kept fighting against the alien’s grip…  Things he really didn’t want to have to explain--hoping he would lose interest and free him.  “I’m still hungry.”
              There was a sly note in Dan’s voice as he answered, “Do you want it back?”
              “What?” Arin raised an eyebrow as one of Dan’s arms nudged against his face to get his attention, as Arin turned to face the arm, a warm, clear, viscous, and slick substance sprayed onto his face.  Disgust rocketed throughout his frame and he screeched, “Did you just fucking spit on me?!”  He was back to fighting against Dan’s arms, but this time trying to shove him off.  As he lunged a hand at his friend, it was caught likewise in one of Dan’s arms, however, this time with merely an intent to stop the would-be attack rather than really restrain him.
              “Uh, no…”  Dan answered, a slight tremble in his voice, “It’s not like saliva, it’s just…  Water with some proteins and amino acids in it…  And carbohydrates.  I didn’t mean to offend you!  It’s just…”  Dan stopped trying to explain really, “It’s an ‘us’ thing, I guess.”
             Arin felt the stuff stick in his beard and run down his face, it felt so fucking gross, “Let me go, man!” He huffed, no-longer interested in playing.
              “I’m sorry.” Dan released him, curling in on himself at the other end of the couch away from Arin.  By the way he was balled-up and turning a sickly shade of purple, it was almost like he was expecting Arin to hit him.  It was so sad that Arin felt most of his ire drain at once.  It didn’t stop him from still being cross, however.
              “Goddammit, this stuff feels nasty.” Arin stood, running his hand through the slick substance.  It felt a little bit like water-based lube, honestly, but he wasn’t going to think about that, considering the context.  He went to the kitchen and called back to Dan as he started hot water in the sink, “What is this stuff even for?!”
              “It’s…  It’s more or less what our food gets reduced to.” Dan gloomily answered, his body not in the least bit having lost its downshifted purple coloration.  “It’s…  It used to be used as a defense mechanism.  Like…  When confronted with a predator, it’s sprayed and makes a pseudomorph in the water.  They get distracted by that and you have time to swim away.” Dan murmured, “It’s perfectly harmless to you, I promise!”
              So basically what I’m covered in is cuttlefish snot.  Great.  Arin continued to grumble his displeasure as the stuff easily washed off, “It’s okay, man.”  He had to give him a break, Dan was only playing around.  It must’ve been a relatively accepted thing on his planet if he hadn’t thought too hard about how it would be received before doing it.  “I just wasn’t expecting it.”
             “I’m sorry.”  Dan pitifully apologized again, peeking his head timidly around the doorframe into the kitchen.
              “I’ve already said it’s okay.  Drop it and move on, okay?” Arin suggested, patting his facial hair dry.  “Just don’t eat anymore of my pizza, okay?” He tried to chuckle to move the conversation along, “The rest of that pie is mine.”
              “Understood.” Dan agreed, the color of his body lightening, but the grey-violet--Arin supposed Suzy would use a fancy word like “byzantium” to describe it--color still prevailed.  Arin almost felt bad for upsetting him this badly, but Dan should’ve asked before spraying his alien snot all over his face.  “Is there something I can do to make up for it?”
              Arin sighed, rolling his eyes up to the ceiling, “Dude, you don’t have to do anything.  You squirted me with mucus, not acid.”  And while that was very, very low on the short list of things that were acceptable to be on his face, it was better than something that was not acceptable to be on his face and harmful.  “You said you were sorry and I forgive you.  You were just playing around, you didn’t know.”
              “Oh.” Dan looked away, slinking sluggishly away from the kitchen and to the couch again.  “So… Are we going to continue this show?” he asked, motioning to the television, “I can’t watch it and understand it without you.”
             Arin smiled, trying to lighten the mood, “You like it?”  He padded from the kitchen back into the living room right as Dan settled back on the couch.
             “Yes, it’s entertaining.  The clothing the female humans wear is very interesting, I’ve not seen anyone dressed in such a way since my arrival.”
             Oh, well, there’s a reason for that…  Arin kept himself from saying as he sat down.  He felt Dan tentatively reach over his hand as if he was sure Arin would smack it away as he had over the pizza slice.  The zilbyrgh visibly relaxed, however, when Arin closed the rest of the distance between them and took his hand, “There are a lot of interesting things about this anime that aren’t quite as they are in reality.  That’s why it’s an epic cartoon though, to help you escape from stressful reality for awhile.  Everything would be so drab and boring if it was serious all the time.”  Arin gave Dan a tug, leading his new friend to settle comfortably against him as he pressed “play” on the DVD again.
              Sailor Moon turned out to be a rest of the night thing for the two of them, Arin all the while unable to stifle his smiling down at Dan.  It was intriguing to see Dan’s big, dark eyes focused so completely on the television, but simultaneously silent.  All of his emotions, rather than conveyed through facial expressions or words, played out over the expanse of his skin.  Moments of surprised were marked by quakes of yellow and orange, humor expressed in the vibration of Dan’s skin and calm--or sometimes rapid--pulses of green, suspicion and curiosity by darker, ranging to light shades of blue.  Fuck, Dan’s body was the epitome of Arin’s ultimate artistic aspirations.  He had told Dan before that he was beautiful and he meant it.
              Eventually, the oppressive weight of sleepiness settled over Arin, he tried to move, but when he found it difficult because of Dan’s position on top of him, he mumbled, “Get up man.”  He turned off the television and the lamp by the couch, Dan’s body the only cool light in the room.
             “But I’m tiiired.” Dan complained, not making things any better.  Considering he already had to work very hard to utilize Arin’s brain to understand what was being said on the television, Arin believed that he was tired.  Also, Dan had since basically melted into a living blanket again.  Arin was right that he made the best heating blanket ever.
             “Well I’m jus’ gonna fall asleep here then.”
             “If you dream, can I watch?” Dan questioned, his whole body a soft shade of blue.
             “Can you watch my dream?” Arin groggily questioned, barely awake enough to comprehend what the zilbyrgh meant by that.
              “Yes, like…  Come inside your head…  And experience it with you.” Dan explained better, “We don’t dream.  We consolidate memory.  We relive every factual detail of our day…”
             “That sounds like it sucks man.  Like being in school in your sleep.”  However, that probably meant that the Zilbyrgh had amazing capacity for memory.
             “It’s all I’ve ever known.  We just accept that it’s a thing.” Dan was green for a moment, almost parroting Arin from days earlier.
             “Will you be resting while watching me dream?” Arin wondered, his fingers fidgeting with an edge of Dan’s mostly flat body.
             “No, I must be completely awake to fully observe.”
              “Then don’t do it tonight.” Arin ground out sleepily, “You need more rest than I do.”
             “But…  It would be perfect tonight.” Dan tried to prod.
             “No, I think you need to sleep.  You can try it tomorrow night, okay?”  Arin was still gently caressing the tiny piece of Dan he had between his fingertips.  He was so soft and squishy and smooth.
              “Fine.” Dan “grumbled,” but he made no move to leave his spot atop Arin.  Dan missed his sleeping piles with his friends and family.  “Do you mind me staying here?”
              “Not really, you’re not heavy or anything with you so spread out.” Arin’s eyes had drifted closed.
              “This is how we sleep with our friends and family.  On top of one another.  The eldest of us on the outside, the youngest of us towards the middle.” Dan lazily informed, likewise feeling himself begin to doze off.
              “Oh?” Arin only half heard the fact about the alien, he couldn’t care less about Dan’s reasoning, all he cared about in the moment was that this was nice.
              “Yeah. I appreciate your being understanding.  Do you work tomorrow?”
              “No. Taking the day off.  Stop talking.”
              “Good night, Arin…  Sweet dreams.”  The two dozed off together on the couch, one on top of the other.

              The next morning, Arin cracked his eyes open at the normal time even with his alarm turned off.  By this point, waking up at this time had become so ingrained he couldn’t get past it.  He could, however, once waking up, make himself go back to sleep once the “threat” of work had been dismissed.  On this morning, waking up, he was with Dan again.  Albeit, waking up with Dan this time, he knew Dan was going to be there.
              Dan while unconscious didn’t look his usual shifting mass of stars self.  His body more closely resembled wet sand on a beach.  He wasn’t shimmery or even glowing, he was just…  A matte, grey-brown color.  How boring.
             They must look like the sea floor when they’re asleep.  Arin logically concluded and it seemed like a great way to hide from predators when they were asleep.  Not that Arin thought Dan’s kind still had to deal with predators--they were capable of long-distance star travel, that was definitely not an issue--but it was certainly an idea about where the adaptation came from.  They flattened out and looked like the bottom of the ocean, that seemed like something a sea creature would do.
               However, now was not the time for intelligent thought.  It was the asscrack of dawn--not even dawn as the sun arose later in winter--and Arin was not all for being awake.  Lifting his arms out from under Dan to rest on top of him, he fell back asleep.

              The next time Arin woke up, Dan was no-longer on top of him.  He blinked groggily, peering about the room from the couch, but there was still no sign of him.
              “Dan?  You here?”  Arin sat up on the couch, “Dude?”  Still nothing…  Where was he?  Suddenly concerned, Arin stood and padded over to the alien’s room.  As feared, he wasn’t present, but all of his things were, at least.  Stop freaking out.  Maybe he went back to his ship for something.
               Shuffling back into the living room, Arin looked up to the wall-mounted television and took stock of the fact that the television was actually on.  Dan must’ve woken up sometime before him and played with the controls until it got to something he found amusing.  Arin wondered if Dan could still utilize his brain to read stuff even while he was asleep…  If he could, that would’ve been pretty fuckin rad.
               Anyway, on the news was just something that had been looping since about eight that morning.  Something about a great white shark being bit in half…  Or, at least, the second half of a great white had been found washed up on the beach with what looked like--scientists were saying--clear lines in the flesh from where serrated teeth cut into it.  Something big enough to bite a full-grown great white in half was swimming around the area?!  The people who had been screaming “sea monster” when Dan landed his ship were obviously back full force now.  The beaches around the area were also closed-off for the day, bummer.
              Deciding to bite, Arin picked up his phone, momentarily ignoring the texts he saw he had from friends to look up further reports that had developed.  There weren’t many as the story was only hours old, but, there were enough to give Arin some kind of general idea.  Many were stunned at the results of examining the tail-end of the giant, dangerous fish.  It was plain that the scientists weren’t making things up when they mentioned the cleavage lines left by teeth in the flesh.  The only problem was…  The only creatures that could’ve possibly been the perpetrators couldn’t have been at all!  Whales that fit the bill in size didn’t really have proper teeth to do the job and predators that had teeth similar to what could’ve done it were nowhere near the proper size.
              Does Dan’s ship have propellers?  Arin considered, reading through the story.  Of course, there were the predictable pictures in articles of a dark, very large shape beneath the waves that many were claiming to be a sea monster.  Arin rolled his eyes, but he he realized that he was only rolling his eyes because he knew the dark shape was a submerged alien vessel.  He also knew, that if he ever dared to correct someone with that fact, he would be tossed immediately into the loony bin.  Thinking about the situation seriously, it was a lot more likely for a giant aquatic creature to be in the area than for an alien, so they were technically less crazy than he was.
              As if on cue, right as Arin stood up from the couch to get about his day, Dan entered the apartment, dropping Arin’s keys off in the punchbowl.  While his hair was perfectly puffy and his skin was dry, his jeans and t-shirt were sopping wet…  The fucker really needed to get some more clothes soon.
              “And just where have you been?” Arin asked, jokingly wagging a chastising finger at Dan.  “Whoa!  Keep your clothes on!” His hands suddenly flew up as Dan took his shirt off and went for his pants.
              “Seriously?” Dan gestured to Arin as if to say “what the fuck,” before melting his human shape into his alien one, just casting the clothes aside.  “Wet clothes against your rough skin is very annoying.”
              “I can bet…”  Arin sighed, picking up the wet clothes from the floor and taking them to his laundry closet.  He took the belt out of Dan’s jeans and threw the pants into the washer with the shirt to do in the next load. “What happened with you this morning?”
              “My, uh… Ship was…  Wandering a little.”
              “Can’t you just put the thing in park and leave it?”
               “It doesn’t quite work like that, I’m afraid.” Dan huffed, “Bryrrna was wandering, had a run in with some large sea predators…”  The alien shivered all over as if the very idea disturbed him.
              “Is Brian the name of your ship?” Arin enquired, choosing to take this moment to throw some of his stuff in with Dan’s wet clothes for washing.
              “No, Bryrrna is…  However, that isn’t a bad human approximation, so, if that suits you better, you can say my ship’s name is Brian.”
              “So did you get everything sorted out with your ship?  Is it parked again?”
              “More or less…”  Dan deflated a bit, “Your oceans are freezing and so dark and…” The zilbyrgh’s body rattled again just as it had earlier, “They’re so lifeless and eerie.”
              “Many would disagree with you.” The human reminded, starting the water and returning his full attention to his friend, “Was finding your ship hard?”
              “Yes, it was quite a task.  It required a lot of swimming around and trying to signal it.” Dan slithered back to the couch, slumping over it.  “Can we watch more Sailor Moon?”
              Arin grinned, he couldn’t think of a better way to spend his day, really.  He patted his friend on the back, “Sure, I’ll make us popcorn.”
              “Thank you.  I’m glad you have today off, because after that ordeal I would not have gone with you to work.  I would’ve been bored here all day.”  Well, that wasn’t entirely true.  Dan might have just spent more time with Brian.  “I have some things to drop off in my room first, if you don’t mind.”
              “Not at all, I need to get the popcorn started anyway.” Arin waved him off, heading to the kitchen while Danny went to his room.
              With the sounds of popping coming from the kitchen, Dan unloaded a few more highly-condensed objects from his body, running his fingers over them to end their state of compression.  If he was going to be living here for a long time, he needed his creature comforts of home, not just his work equipment.  Today’s visit to the ocean hadn’t been all frustration at least.  Brian was talking to him again…  Albeit, it was only in short statements, but it was improvement over the months and months that had been spent in silence.  So, now Dan was going to have two friends on this planet!  Well…  Mostly…  Brian was going to be difficult to pry words out of with the state of mourning, but Dan was sure it would pass.
              Out in the living room, Arin plopped down into the couch, bowl of popcorn in hand, “Yo!  Get out here, man!  We got some ‘toons to catch!”  He laughed at himself, he needed to go grocery shopping today, but it could wait, it was barely past noon and he had all day to do that!  Dan would likely stay home for that though, giving the alien a chance to rebuild his energy spent swimming around the vast ocean looking for his ship.  Which was named Brian…  Well, according to Arin it was named Brian.
              Dan eventually slid his way back over to the couch, “Did I miss anything?” he asked, even though it was clear that the DVD was still on the start menu.
              “Nah, I’m not gonna start without you.” Arin assured him, offering the popcorn.  “This is even better than the stuff that I grew up with too because these are the uncut episodes.”  Dan took a few kernels, testing their flavor before deciding that they met his approval.  They weren’t as amazing as pizza, but they were good.  Meanwhile, Arin started the episode they had left off from last night.
             “What do you mean by that?” Dan questioned, sliding over the back of the couch and relaxing on top of Arin, his body molding and forming to all the curves of the human’s body beneath him.
             “Well, when I was a kid, back when, uh…  There were some themes and concepts in the show that were deemed appropriate for the children of Japan, but not for the children of America.”  Arin begin carefully, “Like, um…  The main character of the series is bisexual, but it was edited out.  The two main villains at the beginning are actually both men and are lovers, obviously, but when it was translated into English for American kids, one of them was given a woman voice-actor because portraying homosexuality of any kind on television was, especially for kids, was considered a bad thing.”  The social implications of those things weren’t necessarily things that Arin cared about.  Though, he did think the censorship itself was very, very stupid.  “There are also two sailor scouts later on in the series that the American editors tried to convince us were just really close cousins.”  Arin rolled his eyes, “It was a pitiful attempt, everyone knew they were lesbians.”
              “Question…” Dan interceded, “Uh…  There are quite a few words there I don’t have translations for, so…?  What… Do they mean?”
              “Oh, like… Uh… Which ones?”
              “Bisexual…  Homosexuality…  Lesbians…?” Dan restated each of the words that caused roadblocks in his speech.
              Zilbyrghr only have one sex, dummy!  Arin thought, raising his hand to knock on his forehead as he sighed, “Okay, so….  For a long time on Earth, not just in America, it was considered bad if men liked men or if women liked women in sexual or romantic ways.” He stated, sitting the popcorn bowl aside on the coffee table, “You’re touching me, so why not just take a look at that?  It’ll be a lot easier that way.”
            “I’ve already been through a lot today.” The alien whined, clearly trying to get on Arin’s sympathetic side.  He was lucky he was so gosh darn cute!
             “But I’m getting tired of flapping my mouth so much!” Arin paused the DVD, sighing, “Okay,” he huffed, “homosexual means you only like people who are the same sex as you.  Like, if I only wanted to bone guys, I’d be gay.  If I looked at ladies too and wanted to have sex with them as well, I’d be bisexual because I would like more than just one sex.  If I just looked at guys and was like ‘nah, not my thing, but chicks, oh yeah,’ I’d be heterosexual.”  Then he had to get into the difficulties of transgendered people, but once again, it wasn’t a social issue he really cared about.
             “And, what do you like to do?” Dan then asked, “I suppose I’m homosexual just because my species only has one designation.”
             “I don’t know if…”  Arin sighed, staring up at the ceiling, “I don’t know if that really even counts for you guys since you’re all the same.  Because…  It’s a human thing, I guess, you’re not a man or a woman…  You’re neither.  Or I guess both… I don’t know.  I really don’t think you fit into any classification we have here on Earth.”
             “And?”
              “And what?”
              “My other question.”
              “Uh, what other question?”
              “Arin…”
              “Oh… That question…  I’ve always been heterosexual.” he explained.
              “Is there anything else you want to add to that?”
              “No, why?”
              “You just seem conflicted.” Dan explained, “I’m a researcher, Arin, it’s my job to notice subtle differences in mannerisms.” For the millionth time, Arin kicked himself for not remembering that Dan was very knowledgeable in this subject and had been very studious since his first encounters with humans in learning the differences of voice inflection and facial expressions.
              “I’m…  Confused about some things now.” Arin admitted, “I’m not sure if…” he couldn’t bear to look at Dan as he spoke.
              “We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to…”
              “But if I say I don’t want to talk about it… Won’t it be just as telling if I do?”
              Dan was silent at first, “Yes, to a certain degree.”
              “So, is there any real reason to talk about it…?”
              “No, I suppose not.” Dan reached over Arin and clicked the button on the remote that made the DVD play.  “It’s okay, Arin.  I’m finding myself increasingly confused as well.”

Chapter Text

             Decidedly, that day, five days ago by present times, made things around the apartment…  Awkward.  The awkwardness, Arin decided as he sat alone on his couch, a lawn gnome lying shattered on the floor in Dan’s room, was more preferable to what he was now going through.  The awkwardness though…  None of it was intentional on the parts of the two beings inhabiting the small space, but it happened nonetheless.  The rest of that particular Sunday had been spent playing the dance of eyes.  That was, Arin would look at Dan then look away, Dan would look at Arin then look away, then Arin and Dan would look at each other at the same time and then blush--one turning pink, the other turning pastel purple--whereafter they would not look at each other again for around fifteen minutes.  It was something so kitschy and--overall--atypical of Arin’s personality, that he personally felt quite disgusted with his own behavior.  That had lead to him leaving to grocery shop without him even asking what Dan would like--his repertoire of Earth foods had become wide enough over the past eight or so days to have opinions after all--and left him standing at the store without a clue.  Arin, in the end, bought the usual stuff as well as some more “out there” fare, but Arin didn’t delight all that much in ruminating over Dan.  While the alien had known Arin for over two weeks now, Arin only had the past week’s interaction to go off of.
              Maybe it’s just a crush, it’ll go away.  He decided, it had to be mere curiosity on his part.  There was no way he could be sexually-attracted to something that didn’t even fit human standards of beauty.  What’s not beautiful about him, though?  Arin played devil’s advocate with himself.  Dan’s body was different, not grotesque, not repulsive; even his human shape wasn’t unattractive.  His tall body--which he had seen naked just as many times as he had seen himself naked at this point--angular features, prominent nose, and laugh-lines weren’t what Arin would classify as unattractive…  He had been asking himself forever that while he was straight, was it possible that he could find an exception to that?
              Is Dan even really an ‘exception’? Arin’s mind naturally floated to as it had so many times since meeting the alien.  In many ways he was, but in many ways he also wasn’t.  Dan wasn’t a man, but he also wasn’t a woman.  Dan was technically a they to humans, someone who fit into that magical grey area on the identity spectrum.  Dan merely tolerated the classification as male even though he didn’t completely fit the description.  While Dan wasn’t alone in that classification on Earth--which Arin had to assume here was agender--his mind still came to the roadblock that Dan’s genitalia couldn’t possibly be anything that he knew what to do with…  Dude, don’t pretend you’ve never watched hentai and found that shit hot.  Don’t even.  Though, Dan’s genitalia wasn’t likely to be his tentacles, they were far more useful than that.
              As far as grocery-shopping trips went, it was a very introspective time.  So much so, that Arin forgot he was out of bread.  The consequences of which didn’t hit him until that Tuesday, but he could always go back to get more later.
              The Monday that had followed that delicately momentous Sunday had also been awkward.  They couldn’t possibly have stayed inside all day, they both would’ve been bored out of their minds and Dan would’ve gotten no research done.  Instead, that day was filled by a walk through the nearby park, a long-winded explanation about the USA’s political system and video games.
              The park was super awkward as Dan had a desire to read every posted sign and flyer his eyes caught sight of.  The excessive hand-holding, therefore, lead to a bit of staring.  While this was California and queer folks weren’t exactly out of the ordinary, they still garnered some looks.  Most of which went to the tune of “how adorable” rather than “how disgusting.”  It didn’t matter how they were looking at them, Arin just wanted them all to stop.  Dan didn’t seem to notice, but Arin banked that it was a facade, he noticed the most minute of muscle twitches in a person’s face, there was no way he was unaware of when he was being stared at.
              The video gaming time was even more awkward, all things considered.  In order for most of them to be played, Dan had to be able to read.  This meant the two were either nestled close so Dan was pressed up against Arin’s skin, or Arin had a thin, secondary tentacle sitting on his thigh…  It was odd to see one of the tentacles peeking from under Dan’s shirt in his human form--which Dan had opted to stay in to better exercise control of it, as well as to hold the game controller.  Hard as Arin tried to push the thought out of his mind of the tentacle snaking up into his shorts and molesting him, it didn’t work.
              Fuck, what if Dan can see your dirty mind? Arin terrorized himself which made his face red and his fingers clumsy.  “Fuck.” He grunted as he missed his mark in their game.
              “It’s okay, Arin.” Dan tried to console, chuckling and reaching over to pat his back.
              “This is fucking impossible!” Arin went on, still missing his mark and about to throw the controller down.  His stupid, jittery fingers had him trying at this same task for around ten minutes and he lost all semblance of patience at around minute five.  He was about to lose his goddamn mind.
              Dan, meanwhile, was chuckling, watching his friend turn red with aggravation, “Do you want me to try for you?”
              “No!  I just need to fucking--Fuck!”  Arin sat aside the controller before he threw it at the screen.  He reached up into his hair and made a loud noise of frustration, pulling at his roots.
              “Aw, it’s okay.” Dan laughed, slinging an arm around Arin and pulling him into a hug.  The hug was comfortable for about half a second before Arin, once again, thought about Dan’s rainbow tentacle sitting on his leg.  He felt his dick grow all the more uncomfortable with the proximity and…  Was Dan wearing cologne?  Or did he just always smell like that?  It was nice, whatever it was.
              “I can just come back to it later.” Arin grumbled, trying to disentangle himself from Dan’s hold.  Dan wasn’t even the one fucking up here, he was, he was the one making shit awkward.  Dan was just trying to learn how to act human.  Oh, speaking of which, “We need to get you some more clothes, dude…  If you’re coming to work with me tomorrow, you can’t be wearing the same duds.”

              As the sudden trip to the mall had been poorly-planned on Arin’s part, the two only had a few hours rather than a whole day to scrabble together a wardrobe for Dan.  Which was terrible, because Dan was wholly unsure of just what he was supposed to be wearing.  He liked tight jeans, but he was open to the idea of loose-fitting ones, he liked short sleeves and long sleeves and, overall, it was fair to say he was willing to try wearing anything once and so when he walked up to Arin carrying a dress, Arin balked, “Dude, no, you have to go put that back.”
              “Why?  Is it not age-appropriate?”  Arin had already explained that idea and, of course, it made perfect sense to Dan.  It especially made sense after Arin and Dan had a somewhat long-winded conversation while in search of underwear of how old Dan was in comparison.  Surprisingly, Dan was older than Arin, though it shouldn’t have been all that surprising considering he had a successful career, which was considered largely an “adult” thing in Earth cultures.  He was approximately thirty-two years old next to Arin’s modest--and very new--twenty-six.  Though, if the calendars of his home planet and Earth were more or less matched up, his Spawning Day was coming up sometime in March.  Which, Arin took note of as it was likely that Dan was still going to be with him…  Anyway, the dress...
              Looking at the blue, form-fitting dress, Arin chastised himself again that Dan wasn’t really a guy--or human--and so had no concept of these things.  Clothes were clothes to him, “Well…  It’s just…  Uh…  Men wear certain things and women wear other things…”
               “I don’t understand…”
               “Uh, well, men usually wear pants…  Women wear skirts, dresses, yeah…”
              “I’m still confused, um…  If women wear these,” Dan tipped his head to the side, “I thought that females were the ones that have predominantly internal genitalia, so don’t pants work better on them?” He questioned, Arin quickly picking up on his train of thought.
              “Oh!  Well…  Okay, uh…  In some cultures, like, uh, Scotland, they wear things like skirts, called kilts…  To give their, uh…  Junk room to move, but…”  Arin actually hadn’t thought about it all that hard, it had never been something of concern to him.  “Uh…  Do you really like the dress, man?”
             Dan nodded, “I am very fond of this color and I know there’s this concept of…  Showing skin in human culture?”
              Yeah, mostly with women.  Arin wanted to correct him, “You’ll be stared at if you go out wearing that.  Your legs might be too long for it…”  He tried to discretely excuse.
              “I will?  I do?” Dan questioned, looking at the dress with a bit of doubt.  “I see…”
             “But, if you want it, go ahead!” Arin couldn’t stand to see him look so downtrodden, “Just know that we have gender-segregated clothing on Earth.”
              “Why?”
             “Hell if I know, it’s just always been like that.” Arin shrugged, a non-plussed expression on his face.  Oh, Arin knew the reason all right…  He was just too ashamed to tell Dan why.  What would the alien think of humans if he knew about some of their past before the current century?  Arin knew he shouldn’t hide it, hell, he wasn’t alive during those times to perpetuate prejudices, but…  In many ways he felt like he still benefitted from some of the draconian ways of thinking that hadn’t been completely dispelled yet.  It wasn’t very often that he contemplated this, and so it came with extreme discomfort.
              “Is it really so important to be able to tell people apart that way?” Dan questioned, looking like he wanted to put the dress back, but also looking like he still wanted it.
              “To some people it is…  Like, uh…  There’s…  In our society a bit of offense that comes with being mistaken for another gender…” Arin came out with it, “Most girls get very mad when mistaken for boys and vise-versa.  I mean, some people are cool with it, they know they’re androgynous and own it, but mostly it’s seen as offensive to call someone by a gender they aren’t.” He shrugged before grudgingly forcing out of his mouth, “Some people also aren’t born the gender they identify with, so wearing these segregated clothes helps them feel more like the gender they are, not the one they often look like.”
              Now Dan looked completely confused.  His mouth tipped open like he was about to ask a million questions at once, but in the end he settled with, “This is probably a very complicated topic and we can discuss it later.”
              “Yeah, that would be best.”  Arin also was in no position to really talk about it…  That wasn’t something he personally went through.  He would have to give Dan some reading on it instead or something because he had a feeling that he would totally fuck it up if he actually had to talk about it.
              “So…  Should I get the dress?” Dan self-consciously asked, staring down at the garment like it was the most intriguing mystery.
              “Yeah, you should get the dress.” Arin smiled.

             “Fine day, Tuesday.” Arin had grumbled that morning, looking to his right and screeching before falling out of bed, “Dan!”  He sat up in nothing but his boxers, “What are you doing?”
              Finally having discovered the joy of underpants, Dan was laying in bed next to Arin, his fuzzy, lanky body all sexy, muscular angles as he sat up on his side with a strange device in hand.  He smiled at him, waving the dish-like aperture, “I was recording your breathing patterns.  I needed to know if you were talking or just making more sleep noises.”
              “You could’ve just asked me if I talked in my sleep.”  When did he even get in bed with him?  “Which, the answer to that is ‘yes’.”
              “Also, I was wondering if you could explain that?”  Dan pointed between Arin’s thighs and the human didn’t even have to look to know what he was talking about.  “Does your penis also have difficulty telling dreams apart from reality?”
              Arin squeezed his eyes together and sighed, “Yes.  It has more difficulty than the rest of me.  We call it ‘morning wood’ every guy with a penis gets it.”
              “Fascinating, does it have it’s own brain inside of it somewhere?”
              “Yes.”
              “It does?!  I would love to examine it further!” Dan nearly squealed with excitement, climbing out of the bed to stand over Arin, his eyes hungrily fixed down on Arin’s morning erection.  Wow, Arin had never felt more like a bug under a microscope than beneath Dan’s science-lusting eyes.
              …  It was kind of hot.
              “Uh, dude, no.”
              “Just a peek?”  Dan squatted down between Arin’s spread legs.  His imitations of human anatomy were impeccable.  Every pull of skin and flex of muscle was present, it distracted Arin long enough for Dan to continue his questionnaire “I’ve already seen it many times, but I’ve never found any neural tissue you in it besides the usual innervations.  Perhaps it’s located in the head?  I did notice on preliminary scans of your body that there was a particularly tightly packed section of nerves at the head, maybe the brain is--”
              “Dan…”  Arin interrupted, looking up at him from the floor.  The two stared at each other for a few moments, the human turning red and Dan’s body…  Dan’s body tinted slightly purple.  Arin was going to have to tell him to keep a better handle on that, but…
              “I’m sorry…”  Dan stood up as Arin put his hand over his junk to hide his erection.  The alien’s “scientific examination” had done nothing to staunch the boner and this interaction had done zero for that awkward attraction it was implied they both felt for each other.  “Uh…  I’m going to go get dressed…  So, you can go to work.”
              “Yeah…  I have to take care of this.”  Arin stood, keeping his eyes averted from Dan.
              “Take care of…?”  Dan tipped his head to the side, eyes flicking down to Arin’s boner again.  “What do you mean by--”
              As Arin really didn’t want to talk about it, he just grabbed Dan’s hand and thought really hard about masturbating.  It didn’t take Dan long to look like a very skinny, very masculine version of Ursula from The Little Mermaid, his whole body beneath his hair having turned light purple.
              “That’s very…  Fascinating…  We can’t do that.” Dan murmured, “Our pleasure-feedback-response is…  Different.”
              “Sorry man…”  Arin let go of his hand and went to take a shower, Dan slinking away to change his skin a more normal human shade and to get dressed.

              Work had been less awkward that day.  Everyone, even Ross, warmly greeted Dan and Dan was finally, properly, introduced to Holly.  It was all going perfectly with Dan hanging back observing the video game nerds in their natural habitat until Dan asked, “If you have time, would you mind if I played with you?”
              Jon was all for it from the get-go, so was Ross, Arin was…  Less sure.  Not for reasons of not wanting to play with Dan, but he and Dan would have to find ways to touch skin so Dan could read.  That had also proven to be less of a problem than previously thought as the couch was rather cramped and with Jon, Arin and Dan all on the couch together, it was a very intimate, arm-touching affair.  The three even managed to get the game going without Dan needing to grip onto Arin!
              “What is happening?” Dan asked Arin, isolating his friend’s mind from Jon on his other side, and Ross watching--and laughing--sadistically in the corner.  The premise of this game was odd, there was a blue, spiky being running around in bright red shoes collecting rings.  It was very visually-stimulating, but as Arin had helped Dan numerous times with terms like “hedgehog” and “fox” the zilbyrgh failed to see how these things related to the real animals.
              “Just roll with it.” Arin mumbled.
              “You say something?” Jon asked, his eyes still fixed on the screen.
              “Nope, I do have something to say to this game though--fuck you!”
              “Yeez,” Jon agreed, “these controls are a nightmare.”
              “I think it’s just Sonic wants to be a little bitch.” Dan murmured, having a little less trouble than Arin and Jon with getting the wonky design to work.  “You gotta sweet-talk him.” He continued, “That’s a good hedgehog, good--fuck.  Nevermind.”  Dan tossed aside the controller into Arin’s lap, the other three men in the room chuckling.
              “Maybe you should try dirty talking him next time.” Arin suggested.  “Gonna put my D in your A, ah, yeah so--fuck!” Arin whined in frustration.
              “D in your A?” Dan once more asked Arin alone, Arin’s mind conjuring up some rather graphic images of man-on-man action, Dan’s eyes went wide.  The rush of information of human sexuality again almost overwhelmed him.  Where weren’t humans willing to stick bodyparts?  However, Dan recognized, there must’ve been a superb reason for places dicks or otherwise were willingly stuck.
              Arin sniggered, not missing Dan’s expression, however, it kind of backfired when Arin’s mind drifted to tentacles.
              “Do you want Ts in your A?” Dan then asked, being the one to snigger then as Arin just focused back on Sonic.  “I’m impressed though, you’re able to actively suggest I see something.  You’re getting better.” Dan didn’t want to leave things on too awkward a note…  He had to admit that Arin had some…  Interesting ideas nonetheless.
              “What’s going on over there?” Jon then asked, noticing that he was basically the only one left playing now.
              “Nothing!” Arin and Dan answered in tandem.

              That night, after dinner, Arin left Dan to his report-writing devices, he nearly asked about how he was sending the reports, but he figured he wouldn’t understand anyway.  As it was, Arin had things of his own to sort through.  He was not normally one for writing out intense budgets, but as he had a background of never having enough money for anything, he liked to believe his management skills were pretty solid.  It was time for him to be practical about keeping Dan in his home and what he would have to do or cut-back on in order to make it work.  Thankfully, he could write off Dan’s major shopping spree that day before as a one-time expense.  Further shopping would only need to be done for special occasions.
             Arin got to line thirteen on the expenses list when his phone rang.  He expected Suzy, but it turned out to be Ross instead.
               “Talk.” He mumbled into the receiver, propping the phone between his cheek and shoulder.
              “Are you alone right now?” Ross asked quietly.  “Like, is Dan in the room with you?”
              The mere mention of Dan and Ross apparently needing him to be out of the room made Arin’s skin prickle.  He sat up straight from his work, catching the phone with his hand instead.  This was not likely a conversation he could work through, “He’s home, but, not in my room…  Why?”
               “I found something weird while trimming the audio files for Barry.” He prefaced, Arin hearing him clicking about in the editing room.  Why was he even still there?  Barry was their video editor.
              “Something you don’t want Dan to hear about?” Arin puzzled.
              “It’s weird, the microphone didn’t pick up anything he was saying.  And it was like two feet in front of him.”
              Shit…  “Maybe it was malfunctioning?”  Arin suggested, diverting to damage-control.  “Why was it even on?  You said it was off…  We weren’t even recording.”
              “Accidents happen.  Anyway, the only thing of him the microphone picked up was when he laughed, you and Jon were sitting further away and came in loud and clear.” Ross continued, “Is the dude, like, a ghost or something?”
              “Is this the only reason you called me?” Arin drawled, his aggravation apparent.  “Because Dan’s pretty alive.  You can touch him and everything.  I touch him frequently.”
              “I’ll bet you do.” Ross responded, “Doesn’t that seem weird to you?  That he just…  Doesn’t exist when he talks?”
              “I think that technology fucks up more than either of us would like.” Arin rolled his eyes, “I was in the middle of something and if this was all you wanted to say, I think it’s been safely resolved.”
              “Arin, you’re not an idiot, why doesn’t this concern you at--”
              “It concerns me insofar as that we need to buy another microphone.  I think we’ve been building towards better equipment for a while though.  Just make an investment and order us a new one.  I’ll pay you back.”
              “Do you like Dan?” Ross asked out of the blue.
              “Oh yeah, you know I’m just crazy for the D.” Arin laughed, reaching up to stroke his fingers through his facial hair. "I just love having it all up in my mouth and just, oh, it tastes so good!"
              “No, I’m being serious.  Do you?”
              “Uh…  Dude, where’s this coming from?”
              “I just need to know.”
              “What?  You and Holly got your eye on me?  Into some freaky threesome shit?”
              “Arin, it’s a simple question and I want to know the answer.  Suzy has said some things and I just…  Wanted to be sure.”
              “What’s Suzy been saying?!” Arin stood up, he had half a mind to call her up right now and do a group conversation.  His raising his voice, however, caught the attention of the concerned alien in the next room.  Dan poked his head in to observe Arin’s stress.
              “Nothing definitive.  She just says that…  Arin, can you be honest?”
              “It’s complicated…” Arin huffed, “There, I said it.  Is that good enough?”
               “Do you trust him?”
               “I let him live with me, what do you think?”
              “Point realized…” Ross sighed, “Sorry to interrupt your evening.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”  The other man ended the call without waiting for Arin to respond.  This left Arin in the room with Dan, a distinct feeling that they seriously had some things to talk about.
               “Ross is asking questions, Dan.” Arin wasn’t interested in talking about the other things though.  Not on a Tuesday.
              “He has evidence of me.  We need to do something about it.” The alien slunk into the room to stand behind his friend, “Will you help me?”
               “Why would I say no?” Arin smiled to him, gingerly taking Dan’s hand. “You shouldn’t have to deal with all this suspicion just because I fucked up.”
              “It wasn’t your fault.” Dan’s spindly fingers curled around Arin’s palm.  “I’m glad I’m being hosted by someone who genuinely cares so much.” His body brightened and glowed a whirl of greens.  To Arin, Dan might as well have been the only light in the whole apartment, because he was certainly the only one that mattered.

              The next day had been tense.  Dan attended work once more, but with decidedly more intentions.  On the walk to work that morning, as they both sipped their coffee, Dan told him, “I have to try to find that flashdrive today.  I have to destroy it.”
              “Whoa now,” Arin burned his tongue on the hot beverage, “you don’t have to destroy anything.  You just need to give it to me and I can erase whatever’s on it.  Knowing Ross he probably named the file something like ‘dick wank,’ or something.”
              “I still need to get it.” Dan impressed, having learned to drink and eat food considerably slower.  It was the human thing to do to savor food.  “How ever we do it, it needs to be done.”
              “Okay man…”  Arin was glad that Dan seemed to forget about the grainy video footage of himself that came out his first day on the planet.  Maybe he had deemed it a lost cause as he understood how large of a network the internet was, it was good of him to not give up on damage-control altogether.  “You already know I’ll help you.”
              A fair portion of the morning had been spent trying to locate just exactly where Ross’ flashdrive was.  The easy answer to that was that it was kept on the end of a lanyard that also held his keys to his home, the studio as well as the janitor’s closet and booth.  It would be hard to get him to part from the lanyard, but Arin remembered that whenever Ross went into the editing room, he preferred to keep his keys out of his pocket on the desk.  He just needed to wait for Ross to get comfortable at the computer and call him out for something long enough for Dan to snag the flashdrive.  Piece of cake.  In theory.
             Dan was the first to notice when Ross left the room from observing, “Hey, I gotta take a leak.” He muttered to Jon and Arin.  Arin understood the signal well enough, but it was still very tentative exactly how this was going to go down.
              Dan stood and left the room, peering about the hallway before exiting all the way out of sight and making himself invisible.  As he was still wearing clothes, however, he absorbed the inconvenient garments into his body, being careful to not accidentally digest them as they floated about in his fluids.  He quietly snuck down the hallway, passing Suzy and Holly’s room to peek into the editing office.  Ross had a pair of headphones on and was intently fixated on the computer screen.  The door was cracked, however, which was more than enough for Dan to fit through if he morphed his shape a bit.  Wriggling his body as if to get limber, Dan flattened himself, working his hardest to remain thin enough to not disturb the door, but stable enough so that he didn’t just flop all over the place and fall over.  Balance was a really hard thing to accomplish when your purchase on the ground was only about the width of a fingernail.
              After that obstacle was overcome, Dan silently snuck around the carpeted room, Ross still working on whatever it was.  Though Barry was the one that edited videos, Ross generally liked to help him out by cutting out places where the audio and video recordings were of interim time.  He didn’t want to leave him endlessly sifting through conversations about dicks and sportsball, he was a nice guy.
             Just as Arin had said, however, Ross’ lanyard, complete with keys and flashdrive, was sitting on the desk by the keyboard.  As he and Arin hadn’t properly discussed any kind of signal though…  Dan realized he was going to be stuck waiting where he was until it became convenient for Arin to call Ross somewhere.
              This was going to take a while…
              From Dan’s initial installment behind Ross to when Arin’s voice finally called him, Dan had been standing in the editing room for a half an hour.  Not that Dan could read human clocks yet, but it certainly hadn’t been anything around instantaneous.  With Arin’s call, Ross looked up from the computer and took his headphones off…  Had he even been listening to anything?
             “What’s up?!”
              “Jon and I need your help in here for a second!” Arin followed-up.  Dan also realized that his absence might have not exactly gone unnoticed by everyone else in the Grump room.  Jon and Barry had also been present and they were surely interested in where he had gone…
              “Alright.”  Ross stood and stretched with a yawn.  “Don’t go anywhere.” Ross waved a finger in Dan’s direction, making Dan freeze.  He felt quite stupid, given that he was nearly one-hundred-percent sure that Ross could see him anyway.  The being addressed should’ve have surprised him as much as it did, but it came as a particular blow to his ego to know that he hadn’t been stealthy at all and that Ross had merely been ignoring him.
              All the same, Dan wasn’t going to jeopardize this plan.  So far, Ross didn’t seem all that aware of just why Dan was in the room if he had told him not to leave…  There wasn’t even an inkling in Ross’ mind of his plan it appeared also because Ross just stood up and left to attend Arin and Jon without even a backwards glance at his lanyard.  That was just fine, as long as Ross didn’t have proof of Dan’s existence.
              Once Ross left, the door wide open behind him, Dan set to work, he picked up the lanyard, but found it was excessively loud with all the paraphernalia hanging off it.  Immediately noticing his mistake, Dan ceased raising the key-laden object further and just bent down to its level.  The flashdrive itself was attached to a metal piece which was around a keyring.  Dan stared at the object quizzically, it not taking him any longer than a minute to figure out that the ring was a spiral shape that could be flexed in order to add or remove objects from the ring.  His first instinct was to use his simulated fingernails to pry the ring up and slowly begin to wiggle the piece of technology off.
              After a lot of wriggling around, Dan finally had his prize in hand, however, that was also just as he heard Ross coming back down the hall.  Going stark straight, it now mattered that Ross could see him as he was in the middle of stealing something.  That was obviously going to be frowned upon, panicking, Dan looked left, he looked right, he dropped the keys then looked down at the chassis of the desktop computer…  This was going to be a tight squeeze.
              Literally throwing his body at the ventilation duct of the computer, he squished his malleable body inside.  He came to a roadblock, however, when he remembered he still had his human clothes stored inside of him and he was also still holding the flashdrive…  He had a few choices in that split second and he chose the significantly less discreet of the two.  Not wanting to digest either the clothes or the flashdrive as Arin had bought the clothes and Arin also had impressed upon Dan that they didn’t want to destroy Ross’ personal property, Dan ejected both from his body in a pile underneath the desk.
              Tight space be damned, the bigger issue with being inside a computer was that it was boiling hot!  Dan felt pieces of his inner anatomy dry out quickly as he was instantly in the process of regretting his decision.
              “Where’d you go?” Ross asked the thin air apparently.  Dan was only vaguely aware of Ross entering further into the room and closing the door behind himself.  “What’s this?”  Ross asked, Dan guessing he was poking the pile of clothes he left behind with his foot.  “Now, Dan, are you wandering around naked?” He asked, forever casting aside the pretense that he was ignorant.
              Dan uncomfortably shifted inside the computer, he was sure if any decision he had ever made was going to kill him, it was this one.  Probably, if he didn’t expel himself soon, he really could be killed by this hot, cramped space.  The temperature inside was skyrocketing as Dan’s squishy, dense body was blocking off all means of the computer’s cooling systems.  Meanwhile, he heard Ross’ hands dig into the pile of clothes, finding what he was looking for, apparently.
              “I know you’re still in here…  What did you want with my flashdrive, exactly?”  Dan, of course, remained silent, he had no desire to converse with…  Whomever Ross apparently was…  “Seriously, Dan, are you just walking around naked and without the thing you came in here to get?  Where are you?”
              Well…  The jig was up anyway…  Dan fled the hellish confines of the inside of the computer, extruding out of the ventilation slots like long, black strips of lasagna.  When all of his pieces were successfully out of the computer, he corrected his shape and color, appearing in his human form, very naked, on the floor in front of Ross.  Of course, Dan didn’t have a human sense of modesty, so Ross looked away as he responded to the show with “Well…”
              “So…”  Dan stared up at him, legs splayed out on the floor.  He had to be careful here, but damn, he right now just really wanted to focus on airing himself out and cooling his core temperature.
              “Your clothes.  Back on, please.” Ross motioned vaguely at the pile underneath the table.
              “Oh,”  Dan stood, “too awesome for you?” he wagged his eyebrows at Ross, leaning down slowly to pick up his underwear.
              “Hardly.” Ross scoffed, not casting Dan so much as a glance, “I’m a taken man.  Besides, what’s being well-endowed anyway if you can just change your size whenever you want?”
              “Ah, yeah, Holly.  Arin told me.” Dan pulled on his underwear and sat on Ross’ desk, not moving to further clothe himself.  Ross knew he was an alien, why should he try?
              “Arin tells you a lot, doesn’t he?”  Ross asked, turning his head to see the cocky man’s smile as he sat on the edge of the desk, “You have pretending to be human down so far, Arin’s dense at times though, I’m not surprised you fooled him.”
              “Wait… Fooled him?” Dan tipped his head to the side, allowing his momentary pretense of overconfidence to fade.  “I never said I--”
              “Dan, I want to know what you want with Arin.  I don’t know why you’re stalking him or--”
              “No!”  Dan held his hands up urgently, “I’m not stalking him!  He knows everything…” he explained.  “I have no intentions for Arin besides friendship…  And study, of course.”
              Ross seemed skeptical, “Are you in the system?”
              “System?” Dan blinked a few times, “What system?”
              “Okay…  So…  Let me get this straight…” Ross narrowed his eyes up at him like he was trying to solve a very hard puzzle, “You’re on an alien planet…  And you didn’t bother to check to see if we have regulations about off-worlders?”  He smiled as if that was the stupidest thing he had ever heard. “Wow, that sounds a lot like an invasion you’re planning.”
              “We don’t invade!” Dan quickly answered, “I’m here to study humans as possible political allies!  Honest…”  He twiddled his fingers nervously, “My people are…  Unaware that Earth has intergalactic allies already or chooses to remain neutral, or--”
              “All right, shut up.” Ross raised a hand, Dan falling silent instantly, “You seem…  Sincere…  And if Arin does know the truth and is still this--” the skinny man waved his hand about for something he couldn’t describe, “gaga, I guess--over you, then I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re harmless…  You’re just stupid.”
              Dan bristled, his puff of hair standing up straighter on his head, “Excuse me?  This is what my people call an underdeveloped planet.” he spat, “It has a facade of being completely separate from all the other goings on within its own galaxy.  Its people are intelligent and, from what I’ve seen, capable of great compassion and understanding, yet it’s separate and hasn’t even properly mastered space-travel yet.” He threw his hands into the air, exasperated, “How is it stupid of me to--”
              “I’m going to stop you there--”
              “No, you will not.  I have a voice here!  I am not here to interrupt anyone’s life, I am not here to interfere with any kind of…  Anything, I am here to observe!”  Dan held the upper hand here, he realized.  His voice would not be heard by the others in the building as he was non-verbal, Ross, on the other hand, could only talk so loud before gathering attention.  He had decent reason to guess that no one else in the building--aside from Arin--knew of the existence of extraterrestrials, Ross, undoubtedly, wanted to keep his knowledge a secret.
              “Okay.” Ross paused as if waiting for Dan to say more.  When he didn’t, he finally answered, “You’re not stupid because you’re interested in humans.  You’re stupid because you assumed that you’re the first in this galaxy to see humans and wonder about alliances.  We’re far out in the middle of nowhere, but we’re not exactly a quiet planet…  We have…  Regulations…  About aliens on our surface.  And…  You’re not in the system…  If you’re found, Dan, there could be some serious repercussions not just for you, but for the other extraterrestrials already living here.”
              “Already…  Already l-living here?  But…” Dan’s hair drooped, “There’s no information on Earth in the galactic database…  I mean, your coordinates are there, the fact you’re alive here and sentient is there, but…”  Dan stood up from the desk, gesturing to Ross, “Why isn’t Earth part of anything?  There’s nothing that even declares a neutral status.”
              Ross bit his tongue, it sticking out from between his lips as he thought, “That’s a difficult topic that I’m not allowed to discuss.  The only people you should be discussing this with are qualified government officials.  I can give you a number to call if--”
              “I don’t want a government official.  Why do you think I’m staying with Arin?” Dan offered, “I can’t risk someone who’s aware skewing my results.”
              Then Ross seemed aggravated, “You’re staying with Arin because you think he’s stupid and ignorant?”
              “No!” Dan carded his fingers up through his hair, “I’m staying with Arin because he’s just…  A person.  He seems to be a somewhat popular person,” Dan gestured to the generalness of the building, “but still just a normal person.  Since your government seems to know about those of us that aren’t on your planet…  But Arin was scared and disbelieving at first that I was one…”  Dan’s eyes went wide, “Does your government not allow the public to know?”
              Ross closed his eyes and pursed his lips, “That’s…  Not for me to discuss.” His voice was tense, his teeth clenched, “What did you want with my flashdrive?”
              “You can’t just gloss over that, you know it’s--”
              “It’s none of your business off-worlder.” Ross cut him off, “What did you want with this?” He jerked his hand at Dan, the flashdrive in his palm.
              “You’re not going to report me are you…?”  Dan’s body paled, trending towards going transparent at the edges.
              “I’m considering it and your lack of cooperation isn’t working in your favor.”
              “You have a recording of my voice on it.  I need the file deleted.” Dan honestly informed, figuring--much as Arin had while on his ship--that he was not in a position to be making any kind of demands.
              “That’s all?”
              “That’s all…  Why?  What else is on there?”
              “None of your business.” And Ross…  Stuck his tongue out?  “Why do you need it deleted?”
              “My people do not delight in the idea that we could be making someone angry by doing this,” Dan waved a noodly arm about himself, “research without the express permission of a people.  In the event that you’re not a possible political ally, we didn’t want to leave any traces of us on the surface of the planet.  We’d just leave you in peace as if we had never been here.  It is not our intention to change anyone’s way of life, merely make friends.”
              Ross sighed, still sitting in his chair, not the least bit threatened by Dan’s presence, “Okay, Dan.  I like you.” He smiled.
              “You like me?” Dan raised an eyebrow, not believing that crock of crap for a second. “Forgive me if I’m not convinced.”
               “No, I really do.” Ross giggled, “Please get dressed though, you told Arin and Jon you went to the bathroom and you’re still not back.  They were considering looking for you.  Or Jon and Barry are anyway, Arin, I assume, knows you’re in here.”
                “Oh…” Dan grabbed his pants and shirt, pulling them on over his lanky frame, “So…  I-Is…  Is that a good thing?”
                “Barry and Jon looking for you?”
                “Pfft, yes, Ross, that’s exactly what I, in this tense moment, am thinking.”
                “Sure it’s not Arin’s dick?”
              “Ross,” Dan was still off kilter from the sudden turn the conversation had taken. “please…  I want an answer…”
              “I’ll erase the file for you.” The man finally broke the tense atmosphere.  “Arin likes you, Barry, Suzy, Jon--I like you.”  He plugged the drive into the side of his computer, “And the original audio file has already been trimmed, so, it doesn’t exist anywhere.”
              “And you’re…  Not going to report me…?”
              “I’m still not sure.” Ross mumbled, “It’s complicated.” He flicked his eyes to Dan, “You should leave now.  You tell anyone about me, I’ll have to report you.”
               “And I suppose that leaves me in the dangerous grey-area of you being able to gab my existence to--”
             “No…  I have my own secrets.  The only people I’d tell about you would be a government official to confront you about your wrongful living on the surface…  Again though, I like you, and so far I’m not convinced that’s the best course of action.”
             “Who exactly are you…?  If the general public isn’t allowed to know?”
             “I’m just a guy that knows about a lot of stuff.  Now shoo.”  He waved his hand and Dan stepped out of the office and down the hall.
             “That was a long leak, dude.” Barry called to him as he walked back into the Grump room, Jon and Arin still in the middle of a recording.
              “I stopped to talk with Ross.” Dan shrugged, zeroing in on Arin, “Ross knows…  But don’t let him know that I told you.  We can’t talk about this later.”
              “Shit.” Arin muttered under his breath in response.
              “What was that?” Jon asked.
               “Nothing.”  Arin already knew that night was going to be tense and silent.  It didn’t make experiencing it any better.  It especially put him on edge, because he remembered Dan mentioning that silence often denoted sorrow.  What had Ross done to put that much fear in him?  It nearly spurred him to give Ross a shakedown, but as Dan had already warned him not to let Ross know, he resisted.  Dan didn’t even request to sleep with him that night…  Bummer.

              Following that Wednesday had been a Thursday--unless there had been a petition in the past forty-eight hours to change it to FreeTacosday as Arin had been waiting for all his life--a typical work day.  While Arin had planned to bring Dan along, Dan turned out to have different plans.
             “I have a report to finish and send.” Dan shrugged, “I also need to return to my ship today to perform some routine maintenance.”
             “Okay…  Is this because of Ross?” Arin raised his eyebrow, throwing his satchel over his shoulder.
              “No, I just received a signal from Brian this morning.”  Dan then paused, “That name, ‘Brian,’ what’s the gender-connotation of it?”
              “It’s a guy’s name.” Arin pursed his lips thoughtfully, “Why?”
              “Because I need to know how to refer to him in your language.”
              “Well, Brian’s the name of your ship, isn’t it?” Arin prefaced, “Ships are inanimate objects and so are usually just referred to as ‘it’.”
              “Brian’s not an inanimate object though.” Dan pointed out, standing up and heading for the door, “Do you have a spare key I can use for your apartment?”
              Arin almost asked about the “not an inanimate object” thing, but the more pressing matter of Dan needing a key diverted his attentions to locating the spare.  Suzy had a copy of the keys, but Arin had the original set.  After handing the one to Dan, he bid him a good day and left, mulling over the morning’s peculiar back and forth about his ship.  Perhaps the Zilbyrgh regarded their large machines as if they had a life of their own…

              In a rippling motion with his six tentacles and the undulating motion of the cup that formed his foot on land, Dan swam through the cold water.  He shivered in the chilly brine, brightly flashing his body’s surface in search of his ship.  His cranial tendrils spread outward around his head, feeling for currents, but most all of them bid him to return behind him to the desolate, grey beach.  Dan wanted to obey them, land was so much safer on this planet.  He felt so vulnerable out here by himself…  So much open, dark, lifeless water masking a plethora of danger.
              Coming to a stop floating in the water, he deflated.  He needed something normal, something that was like home, Brian was as home as things were going to get.  Finding him when he likely didn’t want to be located, however, was a true challenge.  Dan wasn’t even sure he would notice his lights in the vast expanse of this terrifying zone.  Strangely, however, Dan saw no sign of the sparse life of the ocean.  No fish, large or small, no echolocating, friendly mammals, or echolocating less friendly mammals.
              Dan sometimes wondered what having echolocation would’ve been like.  The Ydyrn communicated predominantly through such means.  Though, like the Zilbyrgh, they had telepathic capabilities, but it focused significantly less on concrete words and more on images and feelings.  The Ydyrn were far more vocal than the Zilbyrgh, so why would it have been necessary to develop more sophisticated telepathy?  Dan, if he did say so himself, was excellent at understanding Ydyrn speech, this did not mean, however, that he could speak it back…  He had no resonance chamber with which to make most of the sounds necessary.
              As Dan remained floating, still flashing the signal of his body, his deep introspection distracted him from the seawater around him. Dan’s body was picking up attention, how many bright, flashing things were there beneath the surface of the water after all?  Squishy, vulnerable things really shouldn’t draw too much attention to themselves.  As Dan wasn’t focused particularly on the dangers in the water as much as finding his ship, he didn’t notice in the slightest when a large, black shape loomed behind him.  The black shape regarded the flashing, signaling waves on Dan’s--comparatively tiny--rippling body, then opened its toothy maw, sucking water, and clueless Dan inside.

              So, after the events of the past few days, that Friday made Arin wish for the awkwardness back.  The awkwardness was better than the oppressive worry inside him.  Arin called Suzy, called Barry, called Ross and Holly, Jon and Nicole and none of them had seen or heard anything from him!  Which, Arin shouldn’t have been overly surprised about, he was Dan’s only contact on the planet’s surface, so that only made his terror all the more pronounced.  Dan had gone into the ocean yesterday and just never came back!  What if he had been eaten by sharks?!  Or worse, caught by a fishing boat!  This was so nerve-wracking, he didn’t know how to handle this.  It couldn’t possibly have been planned because Dan left all of his alien stuff in the spare bedroom!
              If he is okay, you are getting that idiot a cell phone.  This is ridiculous, you should’ve done that from day one!  Arin couldn’t stand not knowing.  He couldn’t stand the “if” in there, moreover, he had no one he could express his fears to in their entirety.  This. Was. Insane.
              Arin took a momentary break from chewing his nails and pacing about the grump room when Ross walked in, “What do you want?” He asked rather confrontationally even though none of this was his fault.
              “Uh… Just checking to see if you’re okay.  Does the guy have a cell phone?”
              “No, of fucking course not.” Arin grunted, resisting the urge to rip his fingers off his hands with his teeth, “I knew I should’ve gotten him one or some shit.”
               “Why is that your responsibility?”  Ross logically asked, “He sounds like a mooch if you’re just buying tons of stuff for him and letting him live with you for free.”  he remained silent for another few seconds before adding “Or he sounds like a freeloading boyfri--”
               “Dude, I don’t need this right now!  He could be dead or something.”  Arin had a good mind to punch the shit out of him.  Ross knew Dan wasn’t from Earth!  He fucking knew!  He was fucking playing with him right now, goddamn sadist.
               “Whoa.” Ross held up his hands, “Calm down, I’m sure he just… Didn’t he say he had a music partner in town?  Maybe he’s with them?”
                Arin realized that, yes, it was completely possible that Dan had just fallen asleep on his ship yesterday while performing maintenance, but dammit worst case scenario just needed to be considered here!  And only that!  His brain screamed that at him anyway in spite of the fact that there was a logical, perfectly likely other option that didn’t include Dan being dead.
               “He’s not a mooch.” Arin sighed, raising his hands up to massage his frowning face.
              “But he is your boyfriend?”
              “No!” Arin, answered, beyond exasperated, “He’s just…  New, from suburbs--”
              “From Jersey…” Ross sure was good at playing ignorant.
              “He doesn’t know anything about the city!”  The nearly hysterical man kept on going, “He could’ve been stabbed or--”
              “Arin, why is he your responsibility?  If you’re not getting dick from him the--”
              “It’s not about whether or not he’s my responsibility, Ross!  I’m worried that my fucking friend is dead!”
             “Okay, fair enough.” Ross crossed his arms, biting his tongue, “Do you want to put out a missing persons?”
              Could Arin do that?  What if the police found him and tried to deport him somewhere?  He had no identification anywhere, what could they do?
              “Uh, Arin?  Hello?”  Ross waved a hand in front of his face.
              “I can’t do that.” Arin decided, his body slumping in total hopelessness.
               Ross gave him a queer look before asking with a tone of suspicion, “Arin, is there something about Dan that you’re not telling me?”  Oh, ha-ha, as if Arin would willingly divulge any information about Dan.
              “No, it’s not that, it’s just…. Fuck.”  Arin’s gaze wandered around the room, not focusing on anything really, just it was sort of impossible to turn his eyes off and all.  “I’m sorry man, I can’t be here today.  I gotta go get this mess sorted out.”
              “Make sure you tell Jon that.” Ross called after Arin as he fled the room to collect his things.

              The trek home had been a flurry of text messages from everybody.  Barry had enough material from the past few days to make the posting flow on their page remain steady, but he had already left the house by the time he received Arin’s text.  Suzy was just constantly texting him all kinds of questions, just as concerned for Arin as she was for Dan’s absence.  Arin found Ross’ blase reaction to the whole ordeal quite suspicious, but what didn’t seem overtly suspicious about Ross these days?
              Slogging up the stairs to his apartment, Arin unlocked the door and stepped inside, however, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed movement.  He looked up from his phone and jumped with surprise as someone was standing in the middle of his living room.
              “Hey!” He shouted, “Just who the fuck are you?” Arin didn’t have time for niceties when all of his nerves were fraying.  He also, didn’t recognize the man in his home; the intruder had grey hair, blue eyes and a displeased scowl that looked so deeply etched into his face it would’ve been surprising if the man had ever smiled before in his life.  Oddly enough, Mochi came trotting over to Arin at the door as if the cat didn’t give two fucks about the intruding man.  Had he been here for awhile?  “Fess up, buddy before I call the cops!”  He slammed his apartment door behind him to keep the noise out of the hall.
              The man didn’t answer, he turned from Arin as if he was of no consequence and strolled towards the door to Dan’s room.
              Feeling all of his nerves buzz, Arin dashed across the apartment, preparing to floor the man with all of his weight.  Instead, just before he was sure he was going to contact the man, he felt a distinct pain in his shin, sending him to the floor instead.  He yelped as he hit the hard floor, looking up to the man who had easily side-stepped Arin and must’ve been what tripped him.  His facial expression didn’t change in the slightest as he stepped over Arin and for Dan’s room again.
              “Stop!”  Arin got to his feet, going to make a grab for the guy again, but he easily side-stepped Arin’s attempts once more.  At least it was a step away from Dan’s room, Arin couldn’t afford someone seeing his new friend’s things, “The fuck--are you some kind of ninja or something?!”  With himself successfully imposed between the man and Dan’s room, Arin got himself into a stance that signaled he was ready to punch the fuck outta this man.  He played fighting games all the time!  That counted as fighting experience, right?
              Still silent, the man stared at him, never-changing facial expression somehow conveying that he was deeply offended by Arin’s efforts.  Offended, not scared or even discouraged.
              “Who the fuck are you!?”  Arin interrogated once more, unnerved by the man’s unerring stillness.  “Talk, you stupid fuck!”
             The man lifted an arm, pointing behind Arin to Dan’s room.
             “No, you can’t go in there.” Arin impressed angrily, shaking his head, this was fucking ridiculous, “I’ll only ask one more time who the fu--”  Arin didn’t have a chance to ask more as it suddenly felt like his stomach was being ripped out.  His body buckled and he fell to his knees, suppressing the urge to scream out his agony.  Meanwhile, the silent man stepped around him into Dan’s room.
              Tears pooled in Arin’s eyes as he watched the man phase through Dan’s door.  The fuck was happening?!  With a guttural noise, Arin forced himself up through the pain in his abdomen, shouldering the door open to find the man again.  Tears were streaming from his eyes, sweat beading and starting to fall from his forehead.  He felt cold and his body began to shake--the man was staring at him as he stood before one of Dan’s consoles.
              “You….  Shouldn’t… Be here!” Arin roared at him, reaching his hand out for the nearest heavy object he could find.  As this was his storage room and held an eclectic host of items from Arin’s past living spaces, this turned out to be a lawn gnome, “Leave, now!” He forced out, chucking the gnome at the guy.  Much to both Arin’s confusion and relief, the man disappeared right as the gnome would’ve hit him.  Instead, it crashed into the wall and shattered into a hundred-plus pieces once severely denting the wall.  There went the deposit.  Moreover though, following the disappearance of the man, the pain in Arin’s stomach evaporated.
              With a heavy sigh, Arin leaned against the frame of the door, sliding down to his butt.  He panted, his hands still over his stomach which betrayed none of its earlier agony in the slightest, it just simply was never there.  Gritting his teeth though, he thought That fuck wasn’t even human.  What did he want?  Maybe the arrival of the mysterious man was a sign Dan was alive, or perhaps he wasn’t.  Arin could at least bank that if that person was a zilbyrgh, they would’ve at least spoken to him.
             At the proper time that he needed it most, it seemed, Mochi reappeared from his hiding place, evidently disturbed by Arin’s yelling and throwing objects.  He rubbed his face all over Arin’s arm and mewled for attention.  Arin wasn’t about to snub the innocent creature just because he was worried over his friend, so he pulled the short, fluffy creature into his lap, slowly petting him.  This whole situation was a right mess.

Chapter Text

             Arin had been feeling weird the past two weeks.  Or three weeks, in fact, the weirdness was straight up going on four now.  Not weird in the sick way, not weird in the world seeming to align around him to make everything go wrong way, and he didn’t even have to worry about his friends throwing him a surprise party because his birthday was awhile ago.  Things had just been weird.  In the way that the weird was like…  It was more in the his newest best friend he was waxing some pretty romantic feelings for wasn’t from Earth...  Oh, and he was pretty sure that one of his best friends was also a government agent.  That kind of everyday weird happening.
             Arin cracked his eyes open, he felt sick, like, throwing up sick.  He tried to roll to one side, but found himself securely strapped to a metal table.  It probably should’ve said something about his state of mind that the first thing he thought was “not again,” but the gravity of the moment caught up to him as he saw Suzy in a similar position.  She was strapped down on, what appeared to be, an exam table by shiny, metal bands, her head fixed to one side, the side facing Arin, actually.  Arin’s body tensed and he shoved aside his mounting nausea, “Suzy!  Suzy wake up!”  He struggled against the bonds on the table and squinted past the bright lights on his face…  He was…  Somewhere familiar, but--okay, seriously who the hell was just walking around?
             “Hello?!” Arin called, seeing a dark shape moving around near Suzy.  He took a swift breath as the grey-haired man from his apartment stood up straight “You!?  You get the fuck away from her!” Arin roared, as if he could do anything more than just yell as his friend laid unconscious.  The perpetually-frowning being, stepped out of the light above Suzy, towards Arin, “Who the fuck are you?!” the human on the table struggled against his bonds, the ominous, tall man stepping closer to his bedside.  “Talk, dammit!”
             Despite Arin’s shouting, the mysterious man was silent, looming ever closer until he stood directly over him.  He eclipsed the light above Arin’s head and reminded Arin very much of a surgeon about to operate…  Shit.  The way he was raising his hands towards his body did not bode well.
             “Get away from me!” Arin jerked against the metal table, feeling his nausea increase as he did so.  He felt dizzy and compressed, he needed to throw up, his dinner was going somewhere but not where it was supposed to be.  “Oh god,” his head pounded, “ugh… Get away… From…  Fuck.” Out came his dinner over the side of the table and passing straight through the strange adversary.  It went through him as if he wasn’t even there...
             Eyes wide, the pillar of intimidation stepped back as Arin’s vomit spilled onto the floor.  It was as if it was being sucked away from him, was this room on a steep incline?  Arin’s “company” looked quite disgusted by this and stepped even further back as Arin tried to empty his stomach again, but nothing came out but bile.
             At the same time, past the ring in his ears, Arin heard a metallic scraping noise.  Oh, great, more trouble.  He tried to lift his head to look, but found it harder than expected, his body felt compressed, his head made of solid lead.  His stomach wanted to empty itself again, but there was just nothing left.  At least Suzy didn’t appear to be awake to witness this.  She probably would be throwing up too if she was.
              How did Arin end up in this particular situation this time?  Some backtracking really would be helpful for a bit of clarity and it started approximately eight hours ago, at Arin’s apartment.

              After the earlier home invasion, Arin didn’t dare leave his apartment again.  Not with the threat of someone who could just appear and disappear at random in his own home.  The intruder had had an interest in Dan’s things as well that was cause for even greater concern.  All the same, Arin felt so useless at home, he should’ve been out searching for Dan--even going so far as to rent out a wetsuit and swimming about in the freezing-cold ocean for him--but instead he was too afraid to leave.  If that man came back with the capacity to take Dan’s things…  Arin didn’t want to think of what kind of trouble he was going to be in if, say, the American government found out.  He was an idiot, if anyone was going to hurt him over this, it was going to be some kind of government official.
             At about three o’clock that afternoon, Suzy came in, “Okay, so, what?”
              “There was a guy in my apartment earlier.” Arin explained, “It was so…  Weird, he didn’t talk or anything and just disappeared into thin air when I threw the gnome at him.”  When he said “the gnome” he motioned down to the shattered ceramic he had in a bag.  He closed Dan’s door behind himself and headed for the kitchen to throw it out.
              “Did he steal anything?” Suzy asked with concern.
              “Not that I can tell, Dan’s stuff’s all there, mine’s all here…  It was so…  Suz, when I say he disappeared, I mean he just,” Arin threw the shattered remains of the gnome away and threw his hands up, “poof!  Was there one minute, wasn’t there the next!”  Arin knew it wasn’t all that smart to tell Suzy about that particular detail, given the likelihood that the person had been an alien, but Dan wasn’t here and he needed someone to vent to.
              “Are you sure about that?  People don’t just disappear.” Suzy logically concluded, “Unless he was a ninja.”
              Arin laughed dryly, “Yeah, a forty-year-old, white guy ninja.”  Arin shook his head, “Dan’s still not showed up either, I’ve got too much to worry about now.”
              Suzy’s perfect eyebrows pulled down in sympathy, “I’m sorry, I really want to help you find him…  And sort through this…”  She looked around, the apartment didn’t look the least bit disturbed.  Or, more accurately, it didn’t look any more disturbed than was normal for two men to be living in it, “Did you consider filing a missing persons at the police station?”
              “I can’t…” Arin muttered, realizing he was going to bend the truth here for a second with Suzy.
              “What?” Suzy didn’t sound as confused as much as she sounded irritated by that answer.  “If you tell me you’ve been harboring a criminal in your own home so help me--”
               “No!”  Arin held his hands up to stop the terrifying, oncoming slaughterfest of Suzy’s anger, “No, he’s not a fugitive or anything!  He’s just…  Not from around here…?”
              “How much not from around here?”
             “A lot not from around here…” Arin sheepishly explained.  It was just easier to say that when Suzy was mad, Arin immediately grew five layers of wool and might as well have been bleating.  He was sure if he at least could do the forlorn sheepy-eyes thing she would’ve possibly given him a “cuteness factor” pass for some of the stupid shit he did.
              “Arin…  Where is Dan from?”
              “Jersey…  As in…  The island…”  Arin gave a tentative smile.  “You know…  Between France and England?”
              “Okay, so you have an illegal alien in your house.” Suzy ran her fingers through her hair, careful to not touch her face and inadvertently smudge her makeup.
              Arin released a small giggle with the word “alien”.
              “And he’s missing…  And you can’t put out a missing persons on him?”
              “No…” Arin slumped even further.
              “Arin…  How did you even meet this guy?  I want honest answers here.”
              “It’s very complicated and it’s not my secret to tell.  I promised him not to tell anyone how we met.”  That wasn’t true, but Arin was pretty sure secrecy went hand-in-hand with Dan’s safety while on Earth.  “I want to tell you Suzy, really, but it’s better if he does.  I don’t want to betray his trust, he’s really…  He’s an awesome guy.”
              “Arin,” Saying Suzy sighed didn’t give the defeated noise she made enough credit. “what are we going to do?”
              “I don’t know…”  On cue, Arin’s phone rang.  He nearly didn’t answer it, but it was Ross calling, so he put him on speakerphone, “What?”
              “Hey man, any luck?”
              “No, I have Suzy over here, we were going to look, but we have no idea where to start.”
              “Mn, sorry to hear that.  Where was he last?”
              “He told me he was going to the beach.” Arin shrugged.
              Suzy made a face at that explanation, Ross actually made the noise to describe it, “Euh?  It was like…  Fifty-seven out yesterday.  Why would he go there?”
              “The dude’s weird, Ross, he’s got a life beyond me.  It’s none of my business.”  Arin ran his hands up through his hair, making his already sheeny locks even greasier.  He needed a shower, but he didn’t have time for that shit. “Are you calling me again just to tell me Dan’s suspicious or something?  Because I’m really getting tired of that shit, man.”
              “No, I was just honestly interested in whether or not you found him.  Or if he had turned up.  You’re very…  You’re very emotional about this guy, so I thought I’d check up.”
              The hell he was emotional about him!  Arin made a gruff noise in the back of his throat, “Why is it so weird that I give a shit about whether or not he’s dead?!”  Suzy, at this point, reached up to stroke Arin’s shoulders.  His face was red and his teeth were gritted, his shoulders square as if he was about to punch someone.
              “I never said that it was weird, Arin.  I’ll see what I can do about finding him from where I am.  It’s not like you see guys like him every day as it is.”  Ross knew about Dan…  Did he know about other aliens or something?  Was Ross part of the government?!  Considering his frequent objecting to UFOs being real or sea-monsters or any other crackpot cryptid theories, it was beginning to seem more likely.  Wait…  Did that mean that the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot were possibly real too?!  Oh the possibilities…  And, getting side-tracked again, back on topic.
              “Thanks, man.” Arin was grudging, but he appreciated Ross’ efforts.  If he really was involved with any kind of government alien cover-up, he was the one to go to.  However…  At the same time…  How was he completely sure Ross wasn’t the one responsible for this?  He had been very cool about the disappearance information earlier.  “Ross…”
               “What?”
              Arin instantly re-thought his approach.  It wasn’t wise to antagonize someone who could possibly have as much power as Ross did, “Nevermind.  I’m just…  You know me.  All over the place.”
             “Yep, that’s just how you go.  I’ll check back later.” Ross cut the line and Arin pocketed his phone.
             “Where do we start?” Suzy left Arin’s side to look out the window as if the answer lay in the panes of glass.
              “I guess…  The beach?”
             “Which one?” Suzy posed, “It’s not like there’s only one.”
             “He didn’t say, but…  I think I know how to find out.”  Arin smiled.

             The video-footage of Dan turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  Not that Arin was really going to tell Suzy just why a video he saw earlier in the month was going to be helpful, but he didn’t have to be specific.  Anyway, while the concerning video had gone viral, there had also been a surprising amount of debate upon which exact beach it had taken place on in the area.  After much dialog over the past weeks, the original owner of the video had come forward and divulged the exact location.  It was a private beach, however, belonging to his friend who hadn’t been in the video.  Because of this, Arin and Suzy needed to wait until night fell to pay it a visit.
             “What are we even looking for?” Suzy whispered, her flashlight pointed out to the menacing, black, churning ocean.  “It’s been almost two days, would there still be any footprints left?”  She suppressed a surprised yelp as she stepped into an unexpected pool of water.  The tide was coming in.
             Being real, Arin didn’t expect footprints. Dan was an alien that really didn’t have feet and if he was going for a swim in the ocean, what did he need his legs for?  His tentacles were likely to be more useful than arms and legs.  If there was any sign of human Dan he was looking for, it would be his discarded clothes or something.
              “Anything at this point Suz.  Signs of a struggle? I just…  Feel like we’ll find something here.”  Arin did feel pretty hopeless though.
             “It’s creepy out here.”  Suzy muttered, eyes combing the beach.  Other than a small collection of creeping crabs and a lot of sand, she was finding fuck all.  That disconcerting churning noise that was only barely disguised by the rush and ebb of waves was also setting her on edge.  Didn’t Arin hear that?
             “Scared of the dark, Suz?” Arin antagonized.  “Scared of the sea monster?”
             “Sea monster?” She lifted the flashlight from the ground to Arin’s face.
              “Ah,” Arin waved his hand at the bright light in his eyes, “stop that.”  Once Suzy dropped the light to his chest, he explained, “You didn’t hear about the sea monster that moved in?  Right after all the UFO sightings?” Of course, Arin couldn’t resist rolling his eyes again.
             “Come on, Arin.” Suzy scoffed, “I’m just saying it’s creepy, I mean, look,” She shined her flashlight over the surface of the dark waters, “How’s that not--Oh my god!”  She jumped back, jostling the flashlight and nearly dropping it, “Arin!  Arin!  There’s something in the water!”
             “What?” His eyes still having not adjusted after the bright light, he squinted out at the dark water, “What did you see?  Put your light back on it!”
             Suzy, her arm jittery, lifted the light back up to where it had been previously, “It’s gone…”
             “What did it look like?  How far out did it look?”
             “I don’t like this, Arin…”  Suzy stepped away from the oncoming waves, “We should go.”
             “What did you see?”
             “I saw a black shape, okay?!  It was like… Wet or something!  But it’s in the ocean so isn’t that just ‘no shit’?!”  Hesitantly, she flashed her light back over the water, “But it’s gone now, we should be going too.  You don’t know what we’re here looking for, this is private property, Arin, would could get arrested for this…”
             All were fantastic points, Arin had to admit that Suzy was more practical than he was in almost every way.  They had just gotten here though!  What was the point in coming out here if they were just going to leave a few minutes into searching?  He sighed, running his fingers through his unshowered hair, “Okay, fine, yeah.  We can go, but let’s just stay for another--”
             “No, Arin.  I’m going.” She was adamant, turning on her heel to walk in the opposite direction.
              “Uh, Suzy…  Suzy…”
              “No, Arin, I’m going.”
              “Suzy!  Wait!”
              “We’ll find Dan another way!”  She heard that ominous churning sound behind her again…  From the water…  And no response from Arin.  “Arin…?”  She turned around to peer back at the inky blackness of the beach, her friend nowhere in sight.  “Arin!?”  With a start, she ran back in the direction of her friend.  The waves were already washing away the last of his footprints, however.  The water was getting deeper around her ankles and would soon completely cover the last traces of Arin…  “Arin!  If you’re just trying to scare me, fuck you!” A sudden bright light in her face made her jump, “Arin?  Are you in the water?”  She raised her hand to shield her eyes from the brightness, but she soon found herself oddly compelled to go towards the water.  Or wait, compelled wasn’t the word pulled was.  With a shriek her body jerked towards the water and then there was nothing.
             
              Arin, in his current predicament, groaned, his ears popping.  Nausea rolled over him again and again, the only thing keeping the throwing up from happening once more being his determined glare at the suspicious being across the room.  Well, that, and the fact that his stomach was still very empty.  There just wasn’t anything left.
              Amid this state, a clear, musical warbling met Arin’s ears.  He tried to look around, but the force being exerted upon him kept him firmly pinned where he was.  He panted, desperate for some kind of relief from these sensations, beginning to sweat and his eyes tearing with the force of his body’s convulsions.  As he lay in complete misery, unable to stop any of this, he felt something soft wipe over his mouth, cleaning the acrid fluid from his beard.  The touch was light and calculated, the arm holding the towel passing in front of Arin’s blurry vision as it reached to next clean the yellow vomit from the metal of the table.
             “Dan?” Arin coughed, “Dan, is that you?!”
              “Arin,” the musical warbling answered, it almost sounded more like singing and definitely had a more directional quality than when Arin normally heard his friend speak.  “I’m sorry.”  The same, singing voice continued.
              “Where am I?”  Arin didn’t even have the presence of mind to be relieved.  He didn’t have the presence of mind for much, actually.  With all of the forces being enacted upon him, “disoriented” didn’t even begin to cover it.
             “Brian.” Dan sung, giving Arin all the information he needed, he was feeling sick…  Because he was leaving the Earth.  Arin always hated roller coasters, why would riding a ship into orbit be any better? “I’m sorry.  Sleep.”  Dan comfortingly crooned, and Arin was out again.

             When Arin woke again, it was a different story from earlier.  The nausea was gone, his body didn’t hurt, his vomit had been successfully cleaned from his face and his hair too.  His caretaker had been graciously thorough, but he was still strapped to the table.  He was on Dan’s ship and, ostensibly, in space again.  He blinked a few times up at the bright light, but squinted his eyes and looked away, “Dan!?”
             “Coming.” Arin heard in his head instead of in the melodious crooning of earlier.  “How are you feeling?” Dan questioned as he slithered over to Arin’s bedside, or tableside as it were.  He lifted one of his waifish limbs, turning the light away from his face to let him adjust to the darker atmosphere.
             “You are going to let me up right fucking now!” Arin shouted, fighting against the bonds around him.  This was a bit like their first meeting all over again.
              Dan’s body became less luminescent, turning dark purple, “I’m unsure if--”
             “I’m not going to hit you, just--Ugh!  I thought you were kidnapped!  Or hurt!  Or--fucking--dead!” Arin screeched, fighting the metal straps around his arms.
              “Oh…”  Dan reached beneath the table with a tentacle, unlocking the scraping mechanism to release Arin, “I didn’t mean to worry you so much.”
              Arin was chomping at the bit waiting for the binds to fall away.  The moment he was free, he sat up and slung his arms around the zilbyrgh’s insubstantial shoulders.  He squeezed tightly, his hands and arms forming impressions on Dan’s soft skin.  While slightly confused by the intensity at first, Dan returned the embrace, all six of his tentacles wrapping around Arin’s back.
            “I’m sorry…  I…  I didn’t think that--”
             “Shut up!” Arin grumbled against Dan’s chest, his hug growing stronger, “Just…  I don’t know I thought…”  He was starting to become slightly self-conscious about the duration of this hug, but he reminded himself there really was no one else here to judge him.  If Dan was okay with the contact, that was all that mattered.  Something in the pit of his stomach told him that Dan didn’t mind at all.  “I thought that Ross might have…”
             Dan stiffened, “You didn’t say anything to Ross did you, Arin?”  Dan pushed him away only far enough so he could see Arin’s face.  Four of his affectionate tentacles remained loosely wrapped around Arin’s body, extending outward to hold Arin still.
             “No…  I got worried that you were missing…  So, I told him you were gone, but I didn’t say that I knew he knew you were…  Yeah, you know what I’m trying to say.” Arin admitted, “I thought it wasn’t worth the risk…  Since you seemed almost scared of him.” he continued, his voice slowly dropping to a mumble.  “Have you just been on your ship?”  His face began to turn red, he had been so worried and there had never been anything to be worried about.
            “Yes.” Dan assured him, “Brian needed a tune-up.  Since I’m the only one taking care of his interior, it takes awhile for me to accomplish it.  He’s a starship capable of transporting nearly 100 crewmen at a time…  It’s a lot of work.”  He pulled Arin back to him, leaning his weight onto his friend, “I would’ve left you something…  But I didn’t know I was going to be so long and I have no way of remotely contacting you and my computer is on the fritz, so I also had to finish writing my report and sending it on Brian’s systems…”  Dan was almost whining as he expounded all his excuses, “I’m sorry.”
             “It’s okay, I was just…  Scared…”
             “I know…  I’ve never been good at giving notice, really…  All three of my parents commonly punished me as a child because I would just go somewhere without saying anything.” Dan giggled bashfully, “So…  You’re not the first I’ve worried like this.”
             Arin chuckled, squeezing Dan one more time in his arms, “Okay, man.  I don’t want you to think that I’m, like, trying to police you or anything…” He was so pleasantly warm in this chill atmosphere, “Earth is just big and unpredictable…  I got scared…  Maybe that was a little ridiculous.”
              One of Dan’s fine tentacles stroked through Arin’s hair, “I think now would be a good time for me to learn your language…  So, that remote communication can be more possible.” Dan’s body vibrated, “I’ve picked up some simple things, but it’s not enough.”
             “Were you actually talking earlier?” Arin questioned, still loathing the idea of letting Dan go.  He was like a giant, living, warm water bed!
             “Yes!  I’m proud of myself.” Dan declared, releasing Arin and spinning off over the metallic floor, his single foot and tentacles twirling around him like some kind of hoop-skirted dress.  “I was understandable?”
             “Yes… It was great.” Arin smiled after Dan, mesmerized by his swirling motions and body of color.  However, as Dan was no-longer obscuring his view, Arin remembered what else was on board the ship…  “Suzy…”  Arin strode quickly over to Suzy’s bedside, “Is she okay?”
              “Oh, of course.” Dan put an end to his odd dance and slid over to stand by Arin, “She’s just in stasis.  Like I keep all my subjects during examination.”
             Arin felt his stomach jump with vague disgust at the idea that Suzy was just a subject for examination, “You haven’t…  You didn’t do to her like you did to me…  Did you?”
             Dan’s body rippled, a pulse of sickly purple following, “No.  Of course not.  My understanding of human modesty has forbade me from doing such in-depth observation.” he weakly reassured, “She is my friend and I do not want to betray that trust.”  Dan smiled--turned green, rather-- “I did, however, superficially examine her.  Weight, height, description of her face and body shape.”  Dan turned his face to Arin, “It makes me sound very creepy, I realize.”
              Arin chuckled, “Yeah, it’s creepy.  I think you’re really grasping this ‘being human’ thing.” He tipped his head back to look up at Dan, the relief at his safety palpable within him…  “Dan,”
             “Yes, Arin?” Dan turned the light away from Suzy’s face, tapping a couple of buttons beneath the bed.
             “I think we have to tal--” Arin stopped himself as he saw movement off in the corners of the room, “Dan, are we three the only ones on the ship…?”
             “Yes.”  Dan diverted his attentions from the stasis table Suzy was safely affixed to.  “Is something wrong?”
             “There was another man on board before you came in earlier.” Arin informed him, suddenly the softer emotions of this moment giving way to the earlier panic, “There’s someone else on this ship!”
             Dan tipped his head to the side, his head tentacles bouncing as the blue of curiosity overtook Dan’s body, “I can, with complete certainty, say that’s not true.”
              “Dan, I’m not joking, there was someone else.  He-He…  He was standing over my bed, he had grey hair, blue eyes, he was frowning!  He reached out to touch me!  Then I threw up on him…”  Arin frantically tried to make his point made before Dan completely dismissed him.
              At that point, Dan’s blue exterior shifted a little closer to pink, “Arin, are you still partially asleep?”
             “No!  He was right there.” Arin pointed back by his exam table-bed.  “And he was in my apartment…  Trying to get in your room!”
              Swiftly the pink deepened to red, “Are you sure?  In your apartment?”  Dan shook his head as if something didn’t add up, “I still don’t know what you’re talking about…  But if it will make things better, I’ll go take a look on the computers.” Turning his back to Arin, Dan started off for his set of consoles pushed against the wide window that had a fantastic view of Earth.  The human would’ve stopped to gape at its beauty again as he had weeks ago, but instead, he found himself inexplicably punching his face.
              “Agh!” Arin stumbled to the side, looking at his own hand in horror, “Dan!”  The fist came up again, Arin having the hardest time dodging it as it seemed like the rest of his body was just so eager for his face to meet his fist.  Meanwhile, from the corner of his eye, Arin spied the silent, grey-haired man.
             “Yes, Arin?  Is everything all right?” Dan looked over his shoulder just as the mysterious force let go of Arin’s arm and body.  “Are you okay?”
             “He’s back!  He’s standing right there!” Arin shrieked, waving his accusing finger in the general direction of where the man stood.  “Don’t you see him!?”  Even with Dan looking this time, Arin’s fist flew up and connected strongly with his jaw, causing him to fall to the floor.
               “Arin!”  Dan rushed over to his friend, propping him up on the floor, “Why did you do that?”
               “Oh, sure!  Yeah!  I wanted to give myself a good right hook!” Arin spit, trying to make himself stand up, “I so just love hurting myself and--gah!”  Arin found himself unable to talk, or breathe…  That second one was probably more important here.  He thrashed in Dan’s arms and raised a finger to stab it at the same man standing over the pair.
               Dan’s eyes following Arin’s finger, he finally seemed to put two and two together, “Bryrrna!” Dan screeched, his body pulsing bright, white light, but that was all Arin understood from there.  Dan was going off on him!  It stood to say that the two knew each other, but as Arin took down a full lung of air, he couldn’t imagine why Dan never said he was on the ship with them.
               Arin saw the offending man’s shoulders slump as if someone had just had his fun ruined!  The fucking bastard!  How was he supposed to lay idly by while this man had clearly been getting his kicks from hurting him!  Arin shoved himself up as Dan was still going at him in his indecipherable, alien warbling.  In the end, the man just folded his arms and looked away from Dan.
              “Arin…” Dan finally re-included the human in whatever it was that was going on.  “You can see him…?”  The alien’s body had since settled to a dark blue, shifting more into the purple range, he was pointing at the certainly present man who was in the middle of pointedly ignoring them.  “Right there, you see that man?”
              “Yes!  That’s what I’ve been trying to fucking say!” Arin yelled, gesturing violently with his hands in this “Bryrrna’s” direction.  “He was in my apartment!  He tripped me!  I threw a fucking lawn gnome at him!”
              “My question of what a ‘lawn gnome’ is aside, you can really see him?”
              “Yes!  Yes, Dan, I see him.  He’s standing right there.  Grey hair, blue eyes, looks like he could benefit from hitting the goddamn treadmill.”
              “Again, stop with the words I don’t have time to ask about, this ‘treading mill’ is something else I will have to look for later.  The point is, you can see him, can you hear him?”
              “He hasn’t tried to talk…” Arin supplied, but, his frustration resurged, “Who even is he?!”
             “I thought I made that obvious, he’s Brian.” Dan stated as if he had gone over it a million times before rather than it merely being the first time he had said it.
             “No, Brian is your ship.  You know, the thing we’re standing in.” Arin pounded his heel into the tile for emphasis.
             “Yes, Brian is my ship, but he’s also my traveling companion.” Dan explained.
             “Is he some kind of fuckin--like--artificial intelligence?” Arin tried his hardest to reconcile any of this information and it just wasn’t working, “How was he in my apartment?!  How was he--I’m assuming it was him--choking me?!”  Or controlling his body earlier for that matter...
              “Okay…”  Dan sighed, reaching up to tap on his “cheek” with his fingers, “Let’s start from the beginning.”  He cast Suzy, still asleep, a glance, “I need to send Suzy and you back to Earth at some point.” he noted before ushering Arin over to the consoles and screens.  Brian, meanwhile, stood by and watched Arin follow Dan, his expression unchanging.
              Needless to say, Arin was on edge in the presence of something he couldn’t understand.  Especially when it was a something that had clearly shown capabilities of hurting him.  Arin was willing to bank that Brian had caused the debilitating pain in his stomach back in his home.  Wanting to stick closer to Dan in the presence of such a terrifying force, Arin trotted to keep up with his friend.
             “All right…  This is all going to be some pretty foreign information, so, just wait until I’m finished to ask questions, okay?” Dan prefaced, waiting for Arin to nod in affirmation before beginning, “This, is Brian.” Dan pulled up a three-dimensional image above one of his consoles and spun it around.  To Arin, the image wasn’t entirely alien, he could see the creature very closely resembled the silhouette of an Earth whale.  There were some key differences there, and one of them was the being had three pairs of wings that looked very similar in structure to dragonfly wings, and rather than two flippers, the being had upwards of ten!
              “Brian is Ydyrn, my species co-dominator on our homeworld.  We, the Zilbyrgh, once were symbionts with the Ydyrn during our earliest days of development.  Entire communities inhabited the insides of the Ydyrn, gathering shelter and nourishment from them as we also kept their insides healthy and clean.”  Dan paused as he saw Arin’s face twist up in a mixture of disgust and then confusion.  “Humble, beginnings…”  Dan supplemented, “The Ydyrn are sentient, obviously,” He cast Brian a look, “but are…  A little more…  As a human, you would understand the philosophies of the Ydyrn better than you’d understand ours.  You’re quite alike in temperament,” He cast Brian another look, a hint of smugness in his voice, “Just that the Ydyrn are somewhat more like…  ‘Attack first, ask questions later’ and I think Brian made that evident to you.”  Dan made a noise similar to a sigh and said something in his singing language to Brian before returning to Arin, “Brian is an aeronautics and theoretical physics genius and is--”
             “Did you just say that a giant space whale is--”
             “Arin, please, questions afterwards.” Dan cut him off wearily, “There are certain…  Jobs that such genius members of Brian’s race can take.  One of them is just what Brian has done.” Dan motioned to the generalness of his ship…  Arin’s face paled, “They can agree to have their anatomy integrated with technology and become a high class starship.”
              “You’re…  You’re saying…  We’re inside…  Him.” Arin pointed to the human representation of Brian in the room.  “But, but--”
              “I’m almost done, Arin, I promise I’ll answer whatever I can.”  Dan reached out to squeeze Arin’s arm, “Our technology on Vysvaa relies rather heavily on piezo-kinetic energy.  That is…  The derivation of power through stress being exerted upon something.  Biotechnology in a literal sense.  Much of our technology has living parts in it and can be considered self-powering through stress that the life within it puts out.  Most of the time, this is created by bacteria or other such microbes inside of a contained, pressured, area within the machine it’s powering.”  Arin had good reason to believe that PETA would not be okay with the entire planet of Vysvaa. “Brian has this technology integrated perfectly into his existing systems.  The mechanical additions to his body enables him to harvest this stress energy…  Such as…  The more stress exerted upon him as he leaves or enters a planet, the more power he has to expend.  However, with these pieces of technology actively displacing Brian’s insides to exist, there’s a certain amount of energy generated just by his existing.  That’s not even mentioning the natural energy that his body produces in the same way that your body makes it, or mine does.”
             Arin, through all this, was still caught on one thing, “We’re inside a giant space whale.”
             Dan was silent for a second, staring at him, “Yes...  We’re in a giant space whale, Arin.”
             “Okay, now that I have that.  If he’s…”  Arin flailed his arms all around the room, “Everything!  Then…  Why is he there?” He tried to point to Brian, but he must’ve gone elsewhere because he was nowhere in sight.
              “Ah, certainly…  The Zilbyrgh,” Dan tapped his own chest, “are more…  Our communication is here,” He indicated his skin, making his body flash many bright colors and patterns, “and up here.” He tapped his head and then tapped Arin’s.  “The Ydyrn are more vocal.”  Dan tapped on the holographic representation of Brian’s body--about where a human would expect a whale’s blowhole to be--the image zooming in and showing a largely square chamber with three dots inside of it.  “This is Brian’s resonance chamber.” Dan scrolled to a more oblong chamber behind the cube.  “Right now, it’s filled with water, Brian’s in mourning.  So he hasn’t been speaking, unless I’m searching for him underwater.  Anyway, I understand their language, but I’m unable to reproduce most of the sounds needed to speak it.  They, however, as our species evolved together, developed telepathic capabilities similar to ours.  They aren’t as sophisticated as ours, but it’s not necessary for it to be.  Their telepathy is idea and image-based.  Rudimentary…”  Dan paused as if waiting for something…  When nothing did, he continued, “Many zilbyrghr have issues communicating efficiently with a nonverbal Ydyrn--I, however am something of an expert at it.” He very proudly asserted, his shoulders slumping a bit a something Arin could only assume Brian said.  “What you’re seeing is a mental projection of himself.  Just as with me when I speak, if I don’t want someone to hear me, I won’t tap into their language center.  If Brian doesn’t want to be seen, then he won’t be.  However, you will only see him if he’s in contact with your mind.  If you don’t see him, he’s not around.”
              “Okay…”  Arin looked around for somewhere to sit to process this new information.  Unfortunately, the only thing he had available was the glassy, wrap-around console to lean against.  Heaven forbid if his butt pressed some button or tweaked some integral knob.  It was intimidating enough that he was out in space where there was no air or otherwise, but these controls also affected a living person…  A person that looked like a giant space whale…  “That explains…  Why I see him, but…  Uh…  Was he…  Making me punch myself?”  Arin wasn’t sure how to describe the searing agony he had felt back his apartment, or the pain in his shin that made him trip.
                “Your impulse-conduction method must be similar enough to Brian’s that he’s able to sync with your body.” Dan shrugged it off, “It likely means you’re similar to the Torbian people, Brian is able to do that with them as well.”
             “He can just control people?!  That’s just a thing he does?!”
             “Yes, I mean, he can’t do it with my people.” Dan passed the issue off casually, as if it the idea was of no consequence.  “I had assumed he couldn’t do it with humans either because he tried it on Ross.”  Dan’s body went lavender once he realized what he said, “Oh, by the way…”
             “By the way what?” Arin gritted his teeth, staring up at his friend.
             “Do you want to talk about this once I get back?” Dan’s whole body was flushing pastel purple as he spoke, “I can put you and Suzy back on the planet to start your morning and see you in a couple days!”
            “Couple days?  What?” Arin gestured cluelessly, not sure which train of thought to follow.
             “Well, the whole reason I have Brian up here is so he can get some exercise.  He needs to flex his interstellar travel muscles.” Is if there were actually muscles for that…  “We’re hopping a few star systems over and we’ll be back in a few days.”
             Okay…  Arin took in a deep breath, “Dan…  First you don’t tell me you’re going to be gone for two days--I flipped my shit, and I’m sorry--but are you saying you were going to be gone for…  Almost a week… And you weren’t going to tell me?”
             Dan’s whole body deflated, his coloration downshifting to muddy purple, “I didn’t realize how deeply you cared, Arin.  It was my last intention to worry you.”  He looked away, trying to think of some way to fix this situation.  “Hey, uh…  Would you…  Like to see some of the planets in your galaxy?”
             “What?” Arin blinked, looking out the window to Earth then back to Dan.  “Are you…  Are you serious?  Like…  It won’t…” He felt his heart speed up and his mind race with the possibilities of it all!  He, Arin Hanson, a very popular nobody, could see an alien planet first hand!  As no other human had!  Well, as far as he knew.  “I won’t like…  Die from travel or anything?  And it won’t take years?”
             “No, it’ll be a few days by your measure.” Dan assured him, his vibrating body turning bright green, “I cannot permit you on the surface of any planets, just for your own safety.  I don’t know how many diseases you would be susceptible to and I don’t want you dying.  I can land, however and you can look out the window.  Or we can stay in orbit around a few planets.” He explained, his excitement clearly mounting by the intensity of his body’s light.
             “Fuck man…  Who would say no?!” Arin grinned, barely containing his urge to jump and run around giddily.  His thoughts went back to Suzy though, “Suzy and I will be missing for awhile…  I don’t want anyone freaking out…”
             “Hm…  Send her back with a note.  Let her know to tell the others you’ll be back?”
             “And just expect them to not try to talk to me?  Or find out more?  You saw how badly I reacted to how vague you were.” the human reminded.
             “Just let them know you’ll be back and you’re safe.”
             “You’re big on that being vague thing.” Arin commented, looking to Suzy on the stasis table.  “Do you have something I can write with?  So she can have a note?  Wait… Will she remember…   The beach thing?  Or?”
             “I can erase a few hours of her memory if that’s convenient for you.” Dan offered, “If you want to suggest any memories, feel free to do so.”
             “You…  You can do that?” Arin stared at him, his mouth hanging open.
             “I’d prefer to not do that.” Dan added, “However, if you feel that it’s the best choice available.  I can.  It seems to go along with that whole violating autonomy thing.”
             “Yeah…  I guess…  Just put her in my bed with my note, or something.”  he felt in his pants, he had no paper or pen and he knew Suzy didn’t have one either, “Do you have anything for me to leave her a message on?”
             “Hold on.” Dan shuffled across the grand room and out a door at the far end.  For the moment, Arin was alone on an alien ship…  Standing at the glowing console.  Before he did something stupid, however, he did remind himself that he wasn’t completely alone…  Brian had full consciousness of everything that was going on inside of him.  Wow, that thought still creeped Arin out beyond all belief.
             Speaking of which, as Arin turned to look back at the expanse of the window, he was nose-to-nose with Brian, “Yeeagh!” Arin stumbled backwards from the perpetual frown, “Yo, man, what’s your deal with me?”
             Brian was silent.
             “I’m still not giving up about you being in my apartment earlier.  That was some rude shit, man.”  From Brian’s lack of a reaction to his words, Arin was beginning to wonder if Brian even understood him…  “Forget it.” Arin shouldered past the non-corporeal representation of the starship’s consciousness.  Really, he could’ve just walked through the image, but he somehow felt that would have been rude.  Arin pressed himself up against the transparent glass, trying to take in the whole scene.  Sunrise was coming around on the side of the planet they were on…  Seeing the sun just past the blue planet was breath-taking.  “Wow…” He breathed.
             “If you leave a boner-print on my window, you’re cleaning it off.” Dan interrupted Arin’s moment of oneness with the universe.
             “How?  With my tongue?” Arin joked, looking over his shoulder to his favorite alien.
             “Whatever gets your rocks off.” Dan trilled, holding out two objects to Arin.  One looked much like paper, but had a stiffer constitution, the other clearly had a brush on one end.  The end of the brush glowed an eerie green.
              Not thinking too hard about it, Arin accepted the objects and put the “paper” against the glass, putting the “pen-brush” to it.  As he began to write, he felt Dan’s big hand press to the back of his neck.  He knew the alien was intimately observing every last stroke of the--more or less--cooperative brush.

             “Sorry Suzy, I had to leave town for a bit.  I’m with Dan, he’s alive and well!  The two of us just have some stuff we need to talk about and I thought I’d show him around California while we’re at it.  Let everyone know everything’s cool and I’m sorry about the sudden absence and I’m sorry in advance for my phone being off the whole time.  I really want to focus on this time with Dan…  I hope you understand.

Tart and Tangy as ever,
~Arin”

             “Is that how one traditionally ends a letter?” Dan studiously enquired.
             “Yes.  Exactly.”
             “You’re an asshole”
             “Takes one to know one.” Arin laughed.  “Say, why’s this stuff all glowy, is it like a kind of gel?  Like ink?” Arin stepped away from Dan blowing on the letter before carefully folding it up and putting it inside Suzy’s hoodie.

            “It’s very similar to yogurt, actually!”
             “Yogurt…?”
              “It’s an active bacteria, hence it glows.”
             “You know what, I don’t want to know.”
             “Suit yourself.” Dan giggled and moved from Arin over to his console, sliding his fingers around until the big button appeared like before.  “Is that everything want to send back with her?”
              “Yep, I think so.”  Arin stood by Dan, putting his hands into his pockets.  Acting cool in this moment was the hardest thing he had ever had to do.  This was gonna be some, like, Star Trek kinda shit!  All “beam me up Scotty” and stuff!
             With a press of a button, Dan’s technology didn’t disappoint.  There was a brief hum in the air, Suzy’s whole body glowed and then she was gone.  Arin couldn’t help but be concerned for her, but as he had to come to terms with the fact that he had been transported like that many times, he realized the worry was unnecessary.  With the business out of the way though…
              Dan pulsed bright green, Arin imagining his human form with the biggest grin, “I think that Taeotquin would be a wonderful first stop for you in your galaxy.”  Dan rushed over to another workspace and began sliding his fingers all about.  The floor shifted and the black, glowing surface of the console wrapped around Dan’s “waist.”  As Arin watched the whole room morph, he nearly lost his footing, but found himself caught by something growing out of the floor.  He almost screeched in terror, but he realized that it was only a chair, molding to his exact shape for maximum comfort.
              “Briiiaaaan!” Dan chirruped, “Please, if you would be so kind, make your way from Earth’s orbit.  Be careful of all those pesky satellites!”  Arin’s face hurt from smiling so wide; Dan’s exuberant enthusiasm was infectious.  Once Brian turned his gigantic head away from Earth, only then did it really occur to Arin that he was leaving Earth…  And he was inside a giant, living starship…  The flexible metals within Brian’s cranium groaned with the force of Brian’s motions in the vacuum of space.  Arin had totally forgot to even ask how Brian propelled himself through the nothingness that was space.  Knowing or not, he was about to experience it.
              “Ah, just a few more degrees to your right.” Dan told his giant ship friend, “Perfect!  Charge your drive please!”  Arin heard a loud whirring echoing from somewhere deep inside the halls of the starshipwhale.
              “So, if it’s only taking us a few days to go between here and there…  We’re going at light speed, right?” Arin assumed, considering that humans had long been under the idea that going lightspeed was impossible.
              “Ah, Arin, it’s taking us a few days to go between here, there, there, there, and another there before back to here.”
              The very idea of that made Arin choke, “So, faster than lightspeed?!”
              “I believe the way you would say it would be ‘the speed of light’s for pussies.” He chuckled, raising a hand over what Arin thought to be a lever lifting out of his circular work console.  “We’re going at the speed of Brian.”  Danny threw the lever.

Chapter Text

             Once the initial feel of all of his being being stretched so thin and long that he could’ve been the width of a piece of hair wore off, Arin was pretty much digging this spaceship thing.  After the first jump to “Speed of Brian,” however fast that was, Dan allowed Arin to move freely about the ship inside his space-whale friend.
              “So, what’s this thing do?” Arin inspected a button upon the wall with a curious eye.
              “Opens the trash chute.” Dan explained, dipping under the cradle of his console to join Arin across the room, “We, unfortunately, cannot afford to hang on to every piece of garbage we end up with on our travels.  You put garbage in the chute and evacuate it from Brian.”
              As Arin watched Dan cross to him, his nebulous shape rippling with each movement he thought, Evacuate me because I’m already space trash.  Geez, when did he start finding things that vaguely resembled sea-creatures hot?  He needed to see a therapist for this, who knows, maybe he’d next be fucking inflatable dolphins!  First comes aliens, then came balloons, aliens were a gateway to kinky shit.  No, no, I’m pretty sure that’s the hentai talking.
             “What’s on your mind?” Dan must’ve seen the expression on Arin’s face.
              “Nothing, say, dude, like, do you got anything to eat here?”  Of course…  Arin realized that Dan was not likely to have anything he could eat, considering the parameters for things Dan could eat was “anything.”
             “Sure, yes, this way.” Dan scooted off towards the big door that left the cockpit.  Haha, cockpit.
             The hallway felt different from the sterile chill of the previous room.  The hallway seemed of softer constitution and was warm…  And pulsating…  At least it wasn’t wet, but it was humid, “Are we walking in Brian’s throat?” Arin uneasily asked.
              “No, Brian’s alimentary tract is three decks below us.” Dan pointed upwards with a finger, “His resonance chamber is right above us.  When he sings, this whole structure vibrates.”  Dan lowered a finger, turning a shade of pink trending towards grey, “It’s been a long time since he’s done that.”  The two continued down the hallway, Arin looking about at the warm, fleshy walls.
              “So is this part of his, uh…  If the way he talks is above us, is this the tube that goes to it?”
              “No, this hallway is just a hallway that stretches from Brian’s head all the way to his tail.”
             Arin peered past Dan, after a certain point, the vague light of the hallway faded to blackness.  That…  Was not comforting in the least.  Arin realized that these creatures, the Zilbyrgh, created their own light sources, so, naturally, string lighting wasn’t needed, but it still made Arin nervous.
             “How does that work without hurting him?  Or is that even a concern?” Arin looked back over his shoulder, they had been walking for some time and the door to the cockpit was way back there now.  Just where were they going?
            “Brian tells me that it was…  An immensely painful experience.” Dan touched one of the walls as they walked, a scraping sound meeting Arin’s ears.  The sound was like wet rubber dragged over a smooth surface.  Arin realized the walls themselves were something similar to fiberglass.  The pulsing was going on against the relatively thin, transparent walls.  Ribs of groaning metal connected sections of the glass to one another as they forced Brian’s insides to part into corridors and rooms…  Arin shivered, he couldn’t even imagine.
             “Why would…  I’m sorry, I just don’t understand…  Did he elect to have this done?”
            “Of course.  No one can make such a decision for another.” Dan expounded, further elaborating as the two came to a tube that shot straight down into the darkness of Brian’s lower decks. “Brain trained for decades to become a starship.  It was always what he had an interest in.  Aeronautics and theoretical physics,” Dan chuckled, “we met while I was studying for my career.”  Dan curved his glowing body down into the chute, illuminating it as he grasped a rung and began to lower himself down.
            Arin waited for Dan to descend a bit before going down the tube the normal, human way.  Meanwhile, he asked “You guys go to college?”
             “Certainly.” Dan affirmed, “Education is compulsory on Vysvaa, only the first five years, however.  Traditionally, there is an allotted six years between the end of your primary schooling and the point where you would enter your secondary school.  The six years are given at the end of one’s adolescence through very early adulthood.  Not all careers require secondary schooling, many just require becoming an apprentice to another that already performs a certain career.” Dan let out a noise like a sigh, “Mine required three years of secondary schooling for certification.  However, that’s merely because I had to learn proper ways of notating finds and performing research, as well as improving my skills at diplomacy.”
             “That’s amazing…” Arin muttered, seeing Dan stopping off in a hallway and climbing off after him.  “Schooling for us is…  Well…  The first twelve years are compulsory.  Then after that, you’d go on to college if you have enough money or if you want to.”  Seeing the alien turn his powder blue of inquisitiveness, he continued, “College starts as soon as you graduate high school, normally, so when you’re about eighteen.”
             “Are…  Are careers chosen for humans during the twelve years of schooling?” Dan’s head tentacles curled with each other and twined like he was trying to solve a very difficult problem in his head.
             “Well…  You’re supposed to go through school with the idea in mind of what you want to do when you’re done.  We pick our own but--”
             “But when do you truly have the time to consider that?” Dan spoke aloud the same feeling than any human student between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one had felt at one time or another. “If…  If a human spends twelve years in compulsory school and is eighteen by the end of it…”  The alien puzzled, having to stop in his tracks to fully understand this, “And at eighteen secondary, non-compulsory schooling starts…  If your compulsory schooling is anything like ours, you spend time learning so many subjects that pertain to your life and your world, that hardly leaves any time at all to consider what would make you happy…”
             Arin sighed, “I never went to college, but…  From what I’ve heard…  Everyone thinks that same thing.  You suddenly go from being a kid that has to ask to use the bathroom to someone that has to know what they want to do with their life.” He shrugged, “Everyone knows it’s pretty shitty, but you can’t change the way things work overnight.”  It wasn’t Arin’s monkey and it wasn’t his circus, it wasn’t something that really concerned him.
             “Fascinating…” Dan resumed their trek towards what Arin was hoping to be a kitchen or something.  “Did you know there is a species of flower-like beings on a planet in my galaxy?”
             “Uh, no…  But that’s cool?” Arin was unsure about this sudden topic change.
             “They ‘speak’ through spores carried on the wind.  Passing their memories from individual to individual.  I just think of how simple things could be if we had that capacity.  The Zilbyrgh have it to a certain degree, but nothing so absolute as that.” Dan rippled, “I realize, however, that for those flowers, entire communities are all the same person.  They all have the same experiences, they all have the same thing to say.  Until one gets a spore from a neighboring community…  Then after that, though, once that one sends out its updated spores, they’ll all be the same again.” Dan shrugged, “The way your schooling is set up does sound shitty, but you could also be all the same.  I think I prefer your method.”
             Arin chuckled, delighted by Dan’s roundabout logic.  Perhaps, for a zilbyrgh, it wasn’t roundabout, there was potential for it to be entirely normal, but Arin liked to believe it was something special about Dan, “Was Brian a ship already when you met him?”
             “Oh, right, back on topic, eh…”  Dan finally stopped off at a room, pushing on the entryway for the metal doors to slide open.  Inside was an immaculate white room, or Arin assumed it was white, anyway, because everything in the room was the same color as the soft, blue-green light Dan was emitting.  It seemed similar in construction to the cockpit a few decks above, solid tiles all slotted together, but this room was very warm.  In one wall, was a circular fixture that appeared to have an iris-like metal covering, but it was the only remarkable demarcation in the room.  “Brian was one of my professors, xenologists need to take classes concerning different starships, given the nature of our work.  Since there’s a possibility of us getting assigned numerous ones, it’s necessary for us to understand the basic workings of the major models.”  Dan shuffled over to one of the walls and pressed on it with his hand.  A piece of the wall projected outward, a cold breeze meeting Arin’s skin as he peered down into it.
             “Whoa…”  Arin was awed at the impressive array of colors and shapes inside the freezer.  “What is all this?”
             “Food, take some, I’ll let you know if you can process it or not.  Auh…  Fuck, yeah, okay, so, Brian was my professor and we couldn’t stand each other.  I had him as a professor in some capacity for all the three years I schooled--Arin, that fruit has high levels of cyanide, pick something else.”
             Arin dropped the wrapped, frozen object that was of a deep purple, almost black coloration.  It almost resembled a banana that had a spherical bulge at one end.  Actually, no, it looked like a dick.  It really did.  A huge, black dick.  Moving along.
             “So, by graduation time, Brian and I hadn’t really, uh… Become close, exactly, but, you know, we respected each other’s expertise.  I had been on my first job, for…  By your measure a few months when he approached me.”  Dan watched carefully as Arin continued to root through the foods.  He found a lumpy, green kind of slime and struggled to remember exactly what was in it.  He knew it was mashed plant matter and took it from Arin’s hands to look it over, “Ah, you can eat this.”
            “What is it?”
            “Similar to your ‘seaweed’.” He assured him, “It’s meant to be eaten cold, but I can heat it, if you would like.”
            “Ah…  No, man, uh, I’d rather eat it the way it’s supposed to be.” Arin didn’t dislike seaweed, but he had only ever had it when it was wrapped around sushi, or dried into thin, delicious sheets.  This was going to be…  Interesting.
            Dan took the pack and pushed the drawer back into the wall, pressing on another panel.  When the panel didn’t slide out instantly, Dan huffed, his whole body rippling with irritation.  He slapped the section of the wall, his desired object sliding out easily after that.  Arin hid his smile.
            “But Brian,” Dan continued as he ran the frozen package over what looked to be a blade.  He discarded the clear covering, which Arin was going to assume was similar to plastic, and stuck the frozen glob into a recess on the inside section of the panel.  “Brian didn’t want to convert until he found someone he wanted to live with.” Dan shrugged, “That turned out to be me.  So, we went through a lot of…  Uh…  Um…”  He was really searching for a word here…
             Arin waited patiently, reaching out to touch Dan’s arm in case the extra contact would help him.  Dan’s head tentacles twisted themselves up over each other.  He leaned across the gap between them a bit as if it would help anything at all.  Not that Arin minded, he felt less creepy for leaning in and getting a magnified view of the surface of Dan’s body.
             “Legal work…”  Dan eventually decided on, his tentacles letting go of one another to continue their usual activity of bouncing around and placidly wiggling on his head, “and he underwent his conversion surgeries and augmentations after that.  As he’s my official living space, I was addressed frequently about what needed to be done, but--”
             “Wait, wait, do you own Brian?” Arin waved a hand at him, all of this was flying just a bit too far over his head.
             “No.  We’re in a legal partnership, though.”  A beat passed between them, Dan quickly picking up on Arin’s personal connotations of “Legal Partnership,” his whole body flushed bright purple, “Not in a romantic sense!  Partnerships between starships and their captains are held at about the same standard, however…  Normally there’s…  A long period of…  Of… Uh… Courtship where, uh…  Okay, I’m going to shut up now, because anything I say is just going to make it sound like Brian and I have been boning.”
            Arin laughed loudly, letting go of Dan and holding his stomach, “How is giant whale dick, eh?  It’s got to be bigger than you!”
            “Oh it’s amazing.” Dan’s body rippled with flashes of darker purple, but ribbed with green…  “I am going to point out that Brian’s species doesn’t have genitalia like you, they have one configuration like us and it is--”
             “Come on man!  Roll with the joke!” Arin reached out to playfully grab Dan’s shoulder and shake him.
             “Brian and I are often the butt of such jokes.” The zilbyrgh’s body rippled again with pulses of green.  “I’m his captain and no one else.”
             “You the only man Brian lets pull his rod?” Arin sniggered, propping his face against his hand.
             “Oh, yes, only I can touch all his buttons.  He begs me to regularly.” Dan jumped, however as he picked up the scent of something burning, “No!”  He fumbled with the contents of the panel, dropping a hot container of boiling, green slime on top of it.  “I’m sorry…”
             “Nah, it’s cool, I distracted you with dicks.”  Arin kept smirking as Dan went to a drawer and poked around.  “What are you looking for?”
             “Uh…  We don’t have utensils, so…”  Dan pulled out a metal spade from a drawer, it looked closer to a paint-scrape than anything Arin would eat with.  “Uh…  You’re going to have to use this.”
             “What…  What is it?”
             “Well, it’s actually used for prying up panels and tiles that are stuck…”  Given Dan’s earlier difficulty with the food-cooker-thing, it seemed a rather integral tool.  “It’s clean, and the only thing I have for you to eat with…”
             Arin accepted the utensil, examining its end for any dirt, but found nothing.  Warily, he peered down into the container the green-turning-brown stuff sat in.  He reached in with the utensil and poked it, jumping back as a puff of steam escaped from the hole the pry-spade made in its surface.  Flicking his eyes to Dan, he swallowed “Dude, um, I think I’m gonna wait.”
             “A wise choice.” Dan giggled, “Just bring it with you, there is much more I have to show you.”

             From what Dan had told Arin, Brian was going fast enough to cover hundreds of lightyears in about a day.  “Impressive, but more of Brian taking a jog, a speed he doesn’t have to try too hard to sustain” was all Danny had to say on the matter.  Arin boggled over the information, it made everything he had ever heard about lightspeed-travel sound ridiculous!  Taeotquin was the closest world, on the edge of what Dan called an “Industrial Cluster,” meaning that the distance between Earth and Taeotquin was the longest part of the journey.  Members of this Cluster had been in contact with each other for millennia, “The longest-standing union in the Milky Way,” Dan supplemented.
            Even if the journey from Earth to Taeotquin was only a day and the journey between planets in the cluster was cut down a few hours, that still left Arin with a problem.
            “Dude, I gotta pee.”
             “What?”
            “Don’t you ‘what’ me, you know I piss like, five times daily.  Not to mention I gotta take my at least once-daily shit.”
             “Uh…”
            “Dan, this is seriously an issue, I have to piss!”
             “Uh…  Uh….!?”  Dan drummed on his cheek, “I have a bucket?”
            “Okay, I can deal with that…  What about when I’m done?”
            “Trash chute?”
            “Do you mean…  That my shit and piss will be floating in space for all eternity?”
             “If you want to think of it that way, yes…?”
            “Dude, where’s the bucket?”

             The relieving problem--swiftly resolved though it was--aside, the trip through space was largely uneventful.  Uneventful, that was, until it was time for Arin to sleep.  Dan had offered to cleanse Arin’s clothes in the decontamination chamber, they were crusty with both Arin’s sweat and the dried brine of seawater.  This left Arin nude--as he tried to not be shy about it in the presence of Dan, just because he had a boner for the jellyfish didn’t mean he couldn’t handle this!--and shivering in the chill of the cockpit.  He supposed he could’ve asked to sleep in the kitchen, but so far, the only place he had found suitable for sleep were the exam tables.
             With his balls slowly trying to make their escape up into his lower cavity, Arin shuffled over to Dan at his console.  Or he shuffled to the base of it anyway as the console was held approximately five feet above the floor.  Dan had been up longer than he had, surely he needed sleep too…
             “Hey, uh… Danny?”
              “Yes, Arin?” Dan didn’t look down at him, absorbed in what he was doing at his control panel.
             “It’s uh…  Pretty cold in here…”  He felt like such a fucking tool.  Having used that line many times on dates--and most of the time getting slapped afterwards--he knew acutely how obnoxious the implications of that statement were.
              “I am sorry.” Dan simply stated, “It’s difficult to control the temperature of this room because of all the glass.  Brian’s internal temperature doesn’t always offset it perfectly.”
             “And… Um…  I was thinking, you need to sleep too…  Right?”
             Dan paused, looking down at him from his console at last, “Soon…  Do you…  You can’t sleep in my holding tank, you will drown, but…  W-Would you like me to sleep?  I-I mean, around you?”
              “I, uh…” Arin shivered, the atmosphere of the room reminding him that it would be very unpleasant if he chickened out now.  “I’d like that, man…”
              “Go lay down.” Dan’s body whirled a bright, hunter green.  At least the “smile” told Arin that Dan wasn’t annoyed by the request.
             Why would he be?  Doesn’t he want in your pants too?  Arin mulled over as he returned to his “bed.”  It was difficult to get comfortable on the surface, usually he had to be strapped into a very specific position and thinking about that right now…  Oh, god, not now! His dick perked up a bit; since when had he been so interested in being tied up and examined?  Or…  He guessed that was no different from being tied up and his junk being played with--that was something he liked--but Dan didn’t need to know that.  He wasn’t even at the point where he was beyond a shadow of a doubt sure that Dan had more than a passing interest in him.  He was just the only human he had a close relationship with right now.  That was bound to happen.  The Zilbyrgh didn’t seem all that different from--”Aah!”  Arin jumped at the sudden touch to his back, sending him forward to bang his knee on the metal object in front of him.  “Son of a--Fuck!”
            “I’m sorry!” Dan blubbered for a second, pulling Arin away from the surface to wrap his many arms around him, “I didn’t mean for that to happen…”
            Held firmly in the comforting embrace of his friend, Arin hissed at the pulse of pain still going through his knee, tiny tears pricked his eyes as he felt a bruise start to form.  He didn’t fight Dan, but he did flail his free arm all about as he made another aggravated noise.
            “Are you okay?”
            “I’m fine!  Totally fine!” Arin growled, eventually slumping in Dan’s arms, “You just…  Surprised me.  Yeah.”
            “I thought talking would’ve also scared you.” Dan admitted, a hopeless tone to his voice, “It’s like I was going to fail either way.” he laughed, Arin joining in with a very light chuckle at his own expense.  “I wanted to ask what was wrong…  You’ve been doing that a lot today.”
            “Doing what?” Oh, so his pining and internal turmoil had been noticeable…
            “Arin.”
            “No!  Doing what?!”
            “You do this a lot.”
            “Do what?” Arin bit his tongue between his teeth in a smile.
            “Dammit.” Dan rippled with several shades of green, hugging his equally naked friend closer.  “Is this warm enough?”
            Feeling Dan’s whole body mold against his--in the curves of his junk and all--Arin said with certainty, “Yes.  So much better.”  He just needed to be careful not to move his hips too much…  Dan wasn’t being too allowing in the personal space area of his dick and friction was friction…  And your hot friend is also your hot friend.
            “You’re making that face again and…  And, dude, I don’t want to pry, but…”
            “I think we have some stuff to, like…  I don’t know, it’s stupid.  Styupid.” Arin chuckled, still trying to dispel the sudden tension.  It didn’t help that he felt not only his face flush, but his neck and shoulders.  He could’ve been pulling a Dan and turning all one color in embarrassment.
            “I don’t think it is.  If you’re upset by it.”
             “Dude,” Arin whined a little, “you’re, just…  You’re touching me right now!  Can’t you just… Like…  Do I have to say it?”
            “No.” The big blanket of Dan turned a fluffy purple.  Arin looked away from him and settled back on the hard surface of the table.  Dan graciously slung his body underneath Arin’s back and head, forming a pretty sweet, living version of a water bed.  “I feel like handling this…  Handling this the way that my people do will be insufficient.” Dan rippled as if clearing his voice, Earth was really rubbing off on him. “Speaking holds so much more meaning in your society.  When you’re ready to talk about it, I want to…  Okay?”
            “Want to talk about it, or want to…  Too?”
            “Me too.” Dan answered, squeezing Arin’s body and flattening himself out like a sheet.
            “Oh.  Cool.”
            “Not now.”
             Thank fuck.  Arin relaxed in the warm embrace of his alien comforter, “Thank you.”
            “No problem.” Dan flicked a little tentacle up and brushed a tiny piece of hair from the space between Arin’s eyes.  “Are you warm enough?”
            “Yeah.” Arin shifted, Dan was better than any electric blanket and there was an added benefit of the blanket perfectly cushioning his back and joints.  He blinked a few times as sleep came to him, Dan lowering his glow to a dull, barely there, green shimmer.  Arin finally dozed off staring at the black, starless landscape of Brain whizzing past everything in the galaxy.

             The morning that Arin awoke and saw the pink surface of a new planet beneath him was a sight he knew would forever be burned into his memory.  He scrambled, naked and devoid of Dan, over to the broad expanse of the window.  His mouth dipped open and he pressed himself against the cold glass, the planet looked like it was some, like, huge fucking gumball!  With, fuckin, like, just, whipped cream drifting by on winds and shit!  He had to know if it was a trick of the light or if the entire landscape was that pink color!  This planet was A-Plus already and he had no idea what even lived on it!  As Arin oogled at the planet below, Dan’s voice broke his reveries “Welcome to Taeotquin, Arin.”
            Arin jumped and he looked up to Dan sitting in the raised cradle of his controls.  Before he had time to blither about his nakedness, a communication line opened between Dan and the surface.  A language Arin couldn’t even begin to decipher poured forth and he went back to staring down at the pink planet, swirling with white, fluffy clouds.
            Though Arin shouldn’t have been half as surprised--or surprised at all--Dan quickly responded to the language in what Arin assumed to be the same language.  When a reply was sent back to him, one that obviously understood what Dan had said, he smiled.  He cast his friend a look of wonderment, but quickly drew his eyebrows together at the dark shade of purple Dan’s body was turning.  Clearing his morning-bogged voice, he asked, “What’s wrong?”
            Dan’s response was faster, the language sounding more like a strategically-arranged set of shotgun blasts.  Arin blinked as Dan ignored his question, but it became all the more pointed that something was wrong when the purple of Dan’s body turned white, beginning to flash.  The usual starry pattern over Dan’s body became a mix of several patterns, disruptive and busy.  Arin swallowed when Dan cut the communication abruptly and sang something to Brian, waiting for the lever from before to extend from his panel.
            “What’s happening?!” Arin pleaded, stepping over to the hard coldness of Dan’s pedestal.
            “There’s an interplanetary dispute taking place at the moment and we want to get the fuck out of here.” Dan spared a second to answer, Arin listening to the building buzz of Brian’s drive.  “It presents no danger to us, but I do not want to get caught in legal proceedings.”
            Arin blinked, completely clueless to the meaning of that other than the whole “interplanetary dispute” thing.  That sounded twelve different kinds of bad.  He couldn’t allow himself to panic as he didn’t fully understand the situation, but Dan’s urgency gave him a decent heads up that this was serious.  He opened his mouth to ask a question, but as he did, Arin looked out the window, his question dying as a new curiosity overtook him.  A fleet of six ships were frantically leaving the surface of the gumball planet.  Dan clicked something out of his body as Arin squinted at a symbol etched on each of the six ships.  He hummed to himself and felt Dan’s tentacles wrap around his body.  Arin opened his mouth again, but the jostling, sickening feeling of Dan throwing the drive lever distracted him from that.
              If Arin hadn’t just woken up, therefore leaving his stomach empty, he probably would’ve thrown up again.  This whole interstellar travel thing just was hard on the human stomach!  Anyway, Dan’s grip on him was tight enough to cut off the circulation to his legs, but he guess he preferred that to being slammed against the far wall at a speed greater than the speed of light.  When Dan did release him, he fell over, skidding a few feet on his knees, his ass up in the air.
            “What the fuck, man?!” Arin screeched, turning himself over to sit on his butt and face Dan.
            “I’m always apologizing!” Dan flailed his gelatinous body, “I’m sorry!  Again!  Just…  I can’t afford to get caught up in some fucking…” Apparently in this state of duress, Dan’s body still violently flashing the bright, white light of anger, he was unable to properly connect with Arin’s language centers.  He was huffing and wiggling and singing in shrill tones before the white light faded away into blackness and Dan fell silent.
            Arin swallowed, taking a step back and passing right through the image of Brian.  It should’ve said something about this whole trip that Arin wasn’t the least bit surprised by it anymore.  He kept his mouth shut and watched Brian’s shape step up to Dan’s black form.  He stared directly at him, just standing and staring, Dan, eventually, turned his head to look at him.
            “Thanks, man…” Dan said.
            Brian kept staring, stern as ever.
           “I don’t think we saw enough…”
          Still staring.
             “We can’t…  We…  Brian, we have jobs to do.  On Earth!  Do you…  I…”  Dan began running his arms over themselves, pulling at the thin surface of his body.  As if suddenly reminded of something, Dan flashed orange and yellow, turning to Arin.
            “Hey… Yeah… I’m uh, still here…”  Arin coughed into his hands, more bruises already starting to form from that fall.  The hit to his knee yesterday had already turned a nasty black and purple.  “What, uh…  What was that?” He folded his arms over his chest.
           Dan’s whole body deflated and he plopped down into a chair as soon as it grew out of the floor, “For…  Unions like this Industrial Cluster, they share a single, uhm…”  Dan reached out a tentacle, wiggling it for Arin to take.
          Stepping forward a few paces, Arin reached out a hand, but still kept his arms over his chest.  In the chaotic moment, he felt very vulnerable and exposed without his clothes.
           “They have a single…  Single…  Judicial system?  Judicial system.” Dan settled upon, “And, because these are…  Disputes between planets, and in this case, it seems between Clusters, legal proceedings take a long time.  By your count, they take anywhere from between…  Six months to…  To three years.”
            Arin balked, nearly jerking his hand away, “And, that means…?”
            “It means that if it was thought that I know anything about…  About what we just witnessed, there…  That I--Brian and I--would be required to remain in the Cluster for as long as the legal proceedings go for…  And…  Obviously, you know that I can’t afford that.”  Dan let go of Arin’s hand, making a whistling noise as he curled up in a ball in the chair.
           Arin stepped forward, putting his hands on the trembling ball of his friends, “Where are we going, then?”
            “The other side of the Cluster.  We’re just going to say we didn’t see anything…  Because… Well… I know I didn’t.”
            Arin kept his mouth shut.  How much could they possibly have known by just seeing the ships fly by?  How would he even possibly know anything about this, himself?  He was from Earth, the people that didn’t do anything out here…  Everything would be fine.  He felt it in his bones.  Though, he recognized, going off of hunches wasn’t always a positive thing to do…
           “I’m sure we’re fine.” Arin soothed, stroking over the surface of Dan’s black body.  Brian came to stand behind the chair Dan was in, staring down at him, stoic.
           “Thanks guys…” Dan responded,  “Did you see anything, Brian?”
          “Good, me neither.” Dan melted into the chair, his body pouring out the sides of it.  Arin smiled, but he knew this wasn’t meant to be a cute gesture.  He stepped back from the growing, black pool of Dan, and squatted down to sit before him.
          New topic, new topic…  Anything but this…  Or that…  Now’s just a seriously bad time for that.  Arin cleared his voice and experimentally prodded the Dan Puddle.  He saw little green lights ripple on Dan’s inky frame when he touched him and Arin took that as a comforting sign.  He rested his whole hand on the puddle, observing as a green light glowed forth upon Dan, “What’s the next planet on our vacation together?” Arin sniggered.
             Dan half raised his face out of his body, looking to Brian, he returned his gaze back to Arin after a second, “Cazty.  It’s not as pretty or interesting Taeotquin, but it’s far away and it’s a planet Brian and I don’t need to gather clearance to land upon.  It’s a hub world.” Dan made himself “stand up” from his puddle, “You can see the surface through Brian’s window.” he motioned to said window.  “I can show you scans of Taeotquin at least.” His voice was heavy and apologetic, clearly he had been excited to show Arin their first destination.
           “I’m cool with that, man.  Don’t even worry about it.”  Steeling himself, Arin stepped forward, putting his arms around Dan’s body and pulling him close, “I’m out in space, farther than any human has been, and to make it even better, I’m out here with you.” He smiled up at his friend, all of his affection plain as day on his face.
            “I’m the worst tour-guide in existence, I know.” Dan tried for humor, but his heart--er…  Soul?--his soul wasn’t in it.  His body was as black and brown as cuttlefish ink, zilbyrghr were worse liars than most humans.
            “That’s funny because there’s no tour-guide I’d rather have.”  Arin lifted himself up onto the tips of his toes as far as he could and pressed his lips to the underside of Dan’s head.  He felt the entirety of Dan’s body vibrate and his tentacles rise to return the embrace.  Or, it was more like he felt Dan’s arms around him, suddenly the malleable, ever-changing body hardened and took a more definite shape that was closer to Arin’s height.  That shape was no less adored than the previous one, but Arin just had never really thought of himself kissing a man with a beard someday.  Even if the beard was technically synthetic.
             The lines around Dan’s eyes crinkled with the intensity of his grin, one of his big hands running through Arin’s hair.  Arin felt his chest tighten and the overwhelming urge to end this moment mounted.  He should push Dan away or say something stupid, but he was just caught in the human-shaped alien’s face.  He swallowed, remembered to breathe, remembered his legs were supposed to be doing the standing-up thing, all very important functions.
            “If you’re okay with this, I think it’s just bangin’.”  Dan’s grin somehow widened at Arin’s laughter.  It made him want to…  He leaned in, very carefully capturing Arin’s lips with his.  Fuck it that he had no idea what he was doing, but this…  This contact, he understood why humans did it.  It was small, intimate, not a grand gesture or a mating serenade that could be heard through the whole city…
            Arin let out a breath, clinging tighter onto Dan, chasing his mouth as he tried to break the kiss, ensnaring his partner’s again easily.  Dan tasted good in a way Arin couldn’t describe.  It was so different from anything else he had experienced and it needed to keep going.  The constant vibration of Dan’s body wasn’t helping the fact that they were pressed flush to one another and Arin’s dick was more than responsive.  He let out a tiny moan, flitting his tongue out over Dan’s lips, hoping that the skin-to-skin contact told Dan what he was supposed to do with this.
             Going with the flow, silence in times like these being heavily frowned-up in Dan’s people, the alien let out a high, musical noise.  He lapped at Arin’s proffered tongue and pressed their faces closer together, letting his eyes flutter closed.  His arms tightened around Arin, shifting to lift the shorter man up off the ground and against him, their mouths on the level at last.
            “Dan,” Arin gasped, his dick becoming all the perkier with the show of strength.  Why was this so hot?  Had he really always wanted something like this?  He moaned, breaking their kiss to lick down Dan’s neck, but his eyes opened and…  “What the fuck, man?!”
            Dan was thrown off momentarily by the shout, was this traditional?  The yelling of confused obscenities?  Dan blinked and turned his head in the direction Arin was facing, ah…
            “Hey, Brian.” Dan greeted, having completely forgotten that his friend was even manifested in the room.
           Arin might as well have been called “Angrin” because this shit was unbelieveable, he was just fucking standing there, staring!  As he was still being held up by Dan’s hands on his bare ass, Arin didn’t flail all that much, but his boner was dead now.  “I forgot this was a party of three.”
           “Yeah…” Dan apparently felt the same thing, “Dude, can you, like…  We’re in the middle of something here.”
            Brian kept staring.
             “Or that’s cool, okay.” Dan groused, moving to set Arin down.  He shook his head and fluffed his hair, staring at Arin who had begun to sweat from the contact.  “I think… We… Should... Uh…”
            “I need to get dressed.” Arin grumbled.
            “Yeah, I-I’ll go get your, uh, your clothes.” Dan rushed off, not bothering to correct his shape from his impression of a naked human to his normal one.  Meanwhile, Arin turned his sour gaze to Brian.
            “Fuck you, man.”

Chapter Text

            For the duration of the trip to Cazty, all three of the people aboard remained silent.  One of them this wasn’t unusual, but for the other two it was.  Thankfully the trip was only around two hours and it could easily be filled with the now irritating process of Arin needing to relieve himself and the mystifying process of him getting food.  To avoid speaking more than absolutely necessary after that…  Incident…  In the cockpit…  Arin and Dan dined together, Dan being able to pluck anything out of the freezer and consume it, but Arin had to hold up the packages for Dan to give him the yea or nay.
            Arin had settled upon the fibrous, slimy mash of Vysvian seaweed again, it didn’t taste all that bad.  It was very similar to unsalted lentils and had the consistency of Jell-O that had too much water in it.  The texture was the decidedly more disgusting part of eating it, but if Arin ate it slow, the snot-like feeling didn’t bother him.  As he ate, he watched Dan hold whatever it was he was ingesting between two of his tentacles, the food slowly becoming one with him.  In another tentacle, he examined his cool, hand-held hologram thingy.  He must’ve been reading something, because Arin was sure he had seen those exact runes all over Dan’s console.  Arin wondered if the language was phonetic or ideographic, or if it worked in a way that no human language did.  As he was still feeling awkward from earlier, Arin asked no questions and tried to focus on his food.
            Eventually, Brian appeared, peering curiously at both of them.  Arin pointedly turned away from him, obviously this long, awkward silence was all his fault.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dan nod and walk over to a panel of the wall he had not accessed before.  After a well-placed punch to it, a larger version of the freezer drawer popped open.  Dan reached into it and pulled out something far more familiar to Arin’s eyes.  A giant salmon!  Completely whole!  Brian had been swimming up and down the coast of California, hadn’t he?  It made sense he would’ve run into king salmon at some point.
              Pulling his eyebrows together, Arin watched Dan lug the frozen thing over to the wall iris on the opposite side of the room.  With one of his auxiliary tentacles, he whapped on the iris and it rotated open.  As soon as it opened, a burning, wet, heat blew in.  It smelled to Arin exactly like vomit and it took all he had in him to not do just that.  He raised his sleeve up over his nose, wincing back as Dan stuffed the giant fish into the hole.  Brain, all the while, was standing by watching.  What in god’s name was on the other side of that hole?!
            After Dan successfully disposed of the fish into the burning depths, Arin thought he was going to close it.  Instead, he went back to the freezer and plucked out three more whole fish then went to the other freezer and pulled out two of the black, banana-like fruits.  All of the objects got tossed into the hole without so much as being unwrapped and there was a distinct gurgling noise.
           Oh…  Dan had said that Brian had an alimentary tract, unlike a zilbyrgh.  As it didn’t make sense to throw perfectly good food into a furnace, the porthole lead to what Brian had for a stomach…  Arin shivered, still holding his nose as he waited for Dan to tap the ring of the stomach-iris and the metal to snap shut.  Dan pulsed green at Brian and Brian’s image evaporated, but Arin knew he wasn’t really gone…  That was still a concept that took some getting used to.
          “Brian says we’ve reached Cazty.” Dan announced, turning off the interesting piece of tech he had been reading from.  We’re descending into the atmosphere, if you want to watch.”

          Up at the big window, Arin gaped as the friction fire outside died away.  He always had a million questions.  Questions like if Brian had ever been seriously injured by entry into an atmosphere, but, he was a ship, he was willing to bet he had reinforced skin or something.  Back on topic, the sky here was a yellow-green, the landscape primarily shades of greys, blacks and browns.  As they drew closer to the surface of the planet, Arin became aware of a sudden jolting feeling, it came and went in between smooth motion.  He tried to ignore it, but the rocking motions were beginning to upset his stomach.  The fact that the color of the ocean was an almost piss-yellow, the sights weren’t helping his stomach.
          “Dan, what is that?” Arin was beginning to feel a little woozy.
          “What’s what?” Dan asked from his control panel, tweaking some knob or the other.
          “That… Eugh…  Rocking feeling?”  Arin grabbed onto the pedestal, turning a bit green around the gills.
           “Brian’s wings, are you getting motion sick?” Dan sympathetically enquired, sliding his fingers over his console.  Thereafter, the motion stabilized, there was still a faint lunging sensation every so often, but it was much less pronounced, “A large amount of Brian’s ability to fly relies upon sacs throughout his body.” Dan explained, “His absorption of food creates hydrogen as a byproduct and normally fills these sacs.  During spaceflight, it’s best to keep them evacuated.  Just takes a flip of a switch to allow them to fill again.”
          Arin breathed a sigh of relief as his stomach settled down, however, as their silence had been broken, he had a question to ask, “Do you have control over all of his bodily functions…?”
          “No, of course not.  Much of what I have control over is just what’s necessary to make spaceflight safer and more comfortable for the both of us.  Brian’s jaws must be sealed shut during flight to prevent decompression, I control the locking mechanism for them, but if I leave them unlocked he can do what he likes.  To that same notion, Brian obviously cannot ingest through his mouth during spaceflight, but nonetheless he needs to eat.  Hence the portal to his stomach is located in the kitchen.”
          “Does he… Uh…  Excrete?”
          “No, his body’s chemical synthesis works just the same as mine, just in a more roundabout manner.  Because of his body’s augmentations as well, the excess radiation he puts off gets absorbed again quickly.”  Arin would never get over just how a matter-of-fact Dan was about these phenomenal workings.  Arin also had to come to terms with the fact that these things were a part of everyday life for his people.  They were only extraordinary to him.  “We’re approaching a city, have a look.”
          Arin was distracted from his next question by the announcement, he turned from Dan back to the window, seeing the flurry of activity in the distance.  The city rose up from the landscape like a human city did, but rather than all the traffic residing on the ground between buildings, the air was filled with species of all varieties flitting from place to place.  Some of the fliers were small ships, others were creatures with wings.  Arin stood in awe of the sheer diversity of his home galaxy.
          Up in the sky, there were many other ships hovering above the city.  Large ones, ones that were bigger than Brian!  One was so large that Arin almost mistook it for a cloud by the way it blocked out Cazty’s twin suns.  He gaped at the sight, but suddenly, he felt his stomach fly up into his mouth and the bright yellow ocean fill half the window’s vision.  Wincing back from the sloshing water, Arin heard Dan’s fingers slide around on his console, a clang resounded from within Brian somewhere and Arin heard the distinct sound of inhalation.  Still, off in the distance--but not a very far distance--Arin spied the city, but, much closer, he saw the black sands of the nearby beach.  He wondered what the dark grains felt like against his skin.  It was probably warmer than Earth sand.
             “While Brian takes a long drink, I’m going to go procure a few things, anything you’d like?” Dan asked, dropping down from his console to stand beside Arin.  “There’s food you can eat on this planet, or I could bring you something back from the surface!” Dan grinned, “Don’t worry, I’ll sterilize whatever it is.  I don’t want you getting sick.”  One of the tall alien’s tentacles reached out and wrapped around Arin’s shoulders, pulling him close.
             Arin leaned into the contact without fuss, resting his cheek against Dan’s squishy body, “Well…  What’s Cazty known for?”
             “Uh…  Organized crime.” Dan hesitantly responded.
             “Ah, so it’s like LA.  Other than that, anything else?”
             “Mmn,” Dan thought, “ah…  This planet, ehm…  I-It has only one unique export…  However, once it has been exported, it then becomes an illicit substance.”
             That sounded familiar, “What is it?” Arin enquired nonetheless.
             “It’s made from the…” Dan squeezed Arin tighter, “It’s like…  Uh…  It’s a viscous liquid that’s harvested from flora that’s native to the planet.”
              “So, it’s like tree sap?”
              “Oh!  Yes!  That’s a perfect comparison!” Dan’s body gleefully rippled, “Not complete as… If I understand correctly from you, tree sap is primarily water?”
              “Uh, I think so, yeah.”
              “This stuff is thick and lipidous, very oily.  It’s created by reducing the water content of the original product and concentrating the oils.”
              “More like maple syrup, then.” Arin supposed, “What does it do?”
             “I suspect that for humans it would make you hallucinate.  It’s supposed to feel good too…  But I’ve… Not… Personally done it…  A friend of mine has, though.”
              Arin smirked, nudging his friend’s side, “Dude, I don’t care.  I’ve done my fair share of shit in the past.”  By their skin-to-skin contact, Dan became well-aware of just what “shit” in this case meant.  He relived a series of memories involving weed and a few other substances, and that was all Dan needed to know.
              “Oh…  Well…  Okay, then.  It’s amazing.” Dan laughed, “However, I will not be seeking out any of that.  I value my life too much.”  It was apparent what the exact reason was on this planet for its high crime rate…
             “You know me by now.” Arin patted Dan’s squishy, comfortable body.
             “Pink things?  Sparkling things?  Colorful things?  Art stuff!  Do you like art stuff?!”
             Arin giggled at Dan’s rampant enthusiasm for being able to list off things he knew Arin liked.  He was sickeningly adorable and Arin was sickeningly smitten with this huge, glowing and wiggling dork.  Nodding, Arin replied, “Yeah, I knew you knew me.”
             “I’ll try not to disappoint!”  Dan declared, releasing Arin from his hold to turn and head for the exit apparently.
             “Don’t worry about it too much, man…” Arin supplemented as Dan’s warmth left him.  He wanted to go with him…  Nonetheless, Arin did recognize that there was a very real possibility of him dying just by coming into contact with the surface.  Even if he didn’t personally get sick from whatever was out there, there was no guaranteeing that the rest of Earth wouldn’t.  He had to wonder how the rest of the civilized universe handled interplanetary diseases.  It seemed like such a broad topic to prepare for, it wasn’t like getting a round of vaccinations for going to Africa or parts of Asia, there was a whole gamut of planets to go through.
             “If you need food or drink, just let Brian know and he’ll help you.” Dan was tapping out some things on one of Brian’s panels on the far wall.  The panels eventually parted and Dan’s blue dress was on display…  It made a whole lot more sense to Arin for Dan, in his current form, to wear the dress as he did not have defined legs.  He hadn’t even thought of that before.  The human garment looked slightly awkward on the alien frame, but Dan easily filled it out in the shoulder area before he turned to look at Arin, “How do I look?”
             Arin was just about to point out that he was sure Brian didn’t understand him anyway, but the question about the dress distracted him.  Being honest, Arin would’ve preferred to see Dan in his human form wearing it, it was meant to fit a person.  However, Dan’s amorphous form in the dress didn’t look all that bad.
             “It looks cute, man.”
             “Cute?” Dan blushed, his head wigglers, twining together, “Th-Thank you.”
             “Any time.” Arin smirked, “Want to show off your Earth duds?”
             “There won’t be anything like it.” Dan asserted with a modicum of pride.  “Also, the surface here is a little chilly this time of year.  An extra layer is needed.”  The still blushing star-being smoothed down the folds of the dress, going so far as to fuss with the hem.  The only real criticism Arin had for the dress was that it was meant to fit a tall woman, and the definition of “tall” here was six feet tall at the greatest.  Dan was around eight feet tall as he was, so the dress looked a lot more like a very long shirt on him.
              “Is it winter for them?” Arin wondered, noticing again that the planet was part of a binary system.
             “Around autumn, actually, it’s only starting to become cold.”  From the same panel Dan retrieved his dress from, he took a black parcel and slung it over his shoulder.  It looked very much like a purse, but, as Dan was going out onto the surface he did need supplies that couldn’t be stored in pockets and he evidently didn’t want to store inside his body.  “I’ll be back as soon as possible, if you need anything, let me know.” Dan pent and slapped a tile on the floor.  Arin about answered him, but the floor opened up and swallowed Dan before he could.
             Blinking, Arin stepped over to the tile in the floor as it slid shut and he shook his head.  He would never understand the mechanics of Brian’s “augmented” anatomy.  Turning back towards the window, Arin watched Dan surface outside, his body rippling with the yellowish waves.  He watched him reach the black sands of the beach and greet a group of red, spider-like aliens relaxing with bottles filled with something.  Arin was starry-eyed to see Dan actually interacting with different aliens!  Ones that weren’t like either of them!  His mouth dropped open and he pressed himself to the glass and…  And Brian turned away from the shore…
              “Hey!”  Arin went from excited nerd to panicking nerd in a fraction of a second, “Where are you going?!  What about Dan?!”  He fumbled, still convinced, nonetheless, that Brian didn’t understand what he was saying and, if that were the case, all the screaming and arm-waving he was doing was a completely foolish endeavor.  “Brian, seriously!”  Then…  Arin’s franticity died…  A feeling bloomed in his chest of…  “Hey, we can come get Dan later” along with “there’s nothing to worry about.”  Arin cleared his throat and just stared out the window, the water lapping against the glass as Brian picked up speed on the surface.  He saw small flying creatures in the air, whatever covered their bodies was black, absorbing all the warm light from both stars in the sky.  They flapped their wings like birds did and crowded around Brian’s body in a loose cloud.  Arin’s stomach jerking, however, Brian dove beneath the waves into the murky depths below.
             “Not so different from Earth, is it?”  Arin panicked again, shoving himself away from the window.  His hands went up to his mouth, holding it shut as he fell back onto the tiled floor.  His whole body felt cold and his heart thrummed.  Those words had come from his mouth, but it wasn’t him that said them!  The feeling from earlier overtook him again, “everything is fine” and his hands thrust themselves away from his lips, unbidden by Arin, “This is the only way I’ve figured out to speak to you.  Stop it.”
              Arin shrieked as soon as his mouth was done forming the words, “What the fuck?!”  A few seconds of blubbering followed as Arin frantically looked around the cockpit for anything unfamiliar.  Of course, he found Brian standing above him, staring down at him with his unique scowl.  “Is…  Are you doing… This?”  Arin swallowed.
             “Precisely.” Arin’s mouth answered.
             “Dude!  That’s not cool!  Stop it!”  At least Arin had some idea that Brian intimately understood everything he said…  He felt disgusting…  He felt…  Invaded.  “You know, humans have this idea of a thing called consent!”  Were all extraterrestrials terrible at this?!  Dan abducted him and performed experiments on him, and Brian was making him say and do things he didn’t want to!  Why in the sweet name of fuck had Dan thought it wise to leave Arin alone with Brian?!
             “I am aware.” Brian said through Arin.  “You’re not the only species that has it.”
             “Then stop doing it!”
             “You want to spend the next however long without someone to talk to?” Brian smugly posed with Arin’s voice.
             “If you’re this much of an asshole, yes!”
             Brian said nothing.
             Arin cleared his throat again, rubbing his voice box with his hand.  It was the weirdest feeling ever to just…  Arin supposed he couldn’t quite describe how much he hated not having control over his own body.  Anyone would be intimidated by how utterly absolute that lack of control was…  He shivered and stood up from the floor, looking at the silent projection of Brian’s consciousness.  Arin glared daggers at him and Brian’s image just shrugged.
             “Dan said you guys don’t do words anyway…”
             Brian shrugged again.
             Arin shook off his body again, turning away from Brian and swinging his arms too and fro as if he had to get the blood flow back to them after that horrible experience.  As Arin headed back for the window, ignoring the space whale’s human image, he felt guilty.  At the same time, he knew it wasn’t his own feeling…  He didn’t know how he knew, but he knew.
             “Don’t bother apologizing.” Arin grumped, “Let’s just make this as painless as possible.” He huffed and gazed out the window at the water.  There was nothing really to see, however.  The water was full of particulate and murk, anything that could be seen swimming through the stuff was just a shadow and those were rare.  Arin wanted to ask questions…  But in order to get an answer, he would have to let Brian talk through him.  He fidgeted and paced, casting his eyes all around the room at the glowing panels.  Dan had just left him here inside of a giant, living space ship…
             Arin scarcely lasted a half hour before he spoke, “Does Dan know you can talk to me like that?”  He jumped as Brian appeared in front of him.  Though Arin knew he didn’t really exist and was just an image in his mind, he couldn’t suppress the thought that he was like a ninja.
             Brian shook his head.
             “You haven’t told him?” Arin raised an eyebrow.  He watched for a few moments as Brian’s form struggled to quite articulate his response wordlessly.  Inside, Arin just felt…  Amused?  The kind of amusement derived from getting a friend to believe something that’s completely untrue.  Arin knew this feeling well.  “So…  You’ve just been telling him that you can’t talk to me?”
             Brian nodded.
             “But you can control my body…  And…  Make me say things?  You’d think he’d make the connection.”
             Brian smiled, Arin feeling an intense pulse of adoration in his chest.  It wasn’t pointed at any one thing about Dan, however, just that this adoring feeling was for Dan.  Arin also knew this feeling very well.
             “Is he just fun to mess with?” Arin smiled to Brian, the smile widening when Brian nodded.  With the intensity of the feeling inside of him, Arin was reminded of the kind of relationship that Dan and Brian supposedly shared.  A friendship so dedicated that the two were legally bound together…  Humans only had a concept of marriage, but Dan and Brian weren’t like that--so Dan had said.  It was a foreign idea to Arin.  He could compare it to a marriage of convenience, but he understood that that didn’t describe the feeling either.  “You really love the guy, eh?” Arin mumbled.
             Brian’s face was puzzled.  He then looked apologetic.
             “Not in a human sense.”
             Arin tensed, but tried to let the feeling go.  Brian was just talking, not making him do anything else, “He’s…  Tried to explain relationships to me before.  I kind of get them…  But his and yours is very…”
              “Alien.” Brian supplied.
             “Yeah…”  Arin shuffled to sit on the exam table that served as his bed, gazing out at the dark expanse of the yellow-brown ocean.  “How are you making me…  I thought…  Dan said you guys, are, um…?”
              “Our mental expressions are based upon feeling, concepts, images, humans are very susceptible to these.  The Zilbyrgh aren’t as.  A zilbyrgh’s nervous system is also entirely different from a ydyrn’s.  Yours is similar, I have an easy time syncing with yours.”  Brian cleared Arin’s throat for him.
            Arin nodded along, “If they aren’t…  Is Dan just very good at decoding or?”
            “For all of the Zilbyrgh prejudices on our home planet, we Ydyrn have strong emotions.  We don’t express them to just anyone.  For a Zilbyrgh to Bond with us, it is to agree to share in our emotions.  Good or bad.  Dan and I don’t have any kind of constant link to our feelings, but you would describe it as we ‘get’ each other.” Brian paused to clear Arin’s throat again, “I’ve met no other zilbyrgh like him.”
             Suddenly feeling exhausted from the fairly short monolog, Arin slumped over on the exam bed.  Arin, held his head between his hands and mumbled, “That shit’s deep.  I think I need a break.”
              Brian nodded, disappearing.
             Arin laid back on the hard, sterile surface, rolling his head to one side in thought.  Dan only got impressions of Brian’s words, yet understood him so fully.  Sounded like best friends if he had ever heard of them.  He also dwelled on Brian’s ability to control his body without contest.  That made Arin shiver again, but, as Brian was Danny’s friend, it was impossible for him to be a shitty dude…  Especially considering that Danny and Brian had opted to live together for--conceivably--the rest of their lives.  He hoped that logic was sound, anyway.
             “Brian…  Danny mentioned that you can’t control Ross…”
             Silence.
             “Yo!  Brian!  Don’t pretend you can’t hear me, man!”
             The image that had only just dissipated reappeared before Arin, his shoulders held up as if to say “what?”
             “Dan said you couldn’t control Ross…  What does that mean?”
             “What do you think it means?” Brian asked, the exhaustion waving over Arin anew.
             “I don’t want to think about it…”
             “Ross is…  Something I’ve never mentally connected with before…”  The exhaustion in Arin’s body was reaching critical levels, he felt like he was about to pass out.  “There aren’t many aliens that are peaceful that I have not…  Dan and I have narrowed it down to only one possible option and I would rather he tell you about them.”
             “Ross is an alien?!” Arin tried to sit up, but doing so made him woozy.  “Whoa,” he flopped back.
             “My presence is taxing on you.  You need some more stasis time.  I’ll leave you be.”
             Well, Brian certainly was correct about that because Arin was out again in under five minutes.

             “Arin…  Aaaaariiiin…?”
             “Mmng,” Arin tried to turn away from what was jostling his arm. “Five more minutes.”
             “I’ll join you, then.”
             “Mmng?  What?” Arin cracked his eyes open just in time to feel the warm, soft, squishy body of Dan wrap around his chilly body.  “Oh, hi, Dan.”  He nuzzled his face into the cushion of Dan and closed his eyes again.  “How was the surface?”
             “I picked up some food, and got you a souvenir.” Dan informed him, snuggling with Arin and sharing the warmth, “The surface was cold and you’re warm.”
             Arin smiled, curling up more in Dan’s embrace, “It’s just always cold in here.”
             “Did you not get enough sleep earlier?”
              Arin almost described the conversation he had with Brian earlier, but, it probably wasn’t all that bad to keep it secret from Dan for a bit longer, “I just felt tired.  I got bored.” he yawned.
             “Do you want to get up and see what I got you?”
             “But you just got here.” Arin complained, gripping Dan’s flattened body.
             “Five more minutes?”
             “Five more minutes.”
             They waited five more minutes together, both in the nebulous state between wakefulness and unconsciousness.  Dan continuously pulsed green throughout the duration of their cuddle puddle, Arin happily burying his face into the spring green of his body.  He could really get used to this.
             “Are you hungry?” Dan asked at the end of their five minutes, stroking Arin’s face carefully with a couple fingers.
             “Sleepy.” Arin groggily muttered, curling up tighter.
             The brightness of Dan’s green glow increased, continuing to stroke Arin’s cheek and expanding to his hair, “You’re like Mochi.”
             “Mm?”
             “A big cat.” he giggled, petting the man’s long hair.
             “You stop that right meow.” Arin tried to suppress a smile, pursing his lips.
             “Am I ruffling your fur too much?”  Dan teased, still twining his fingers into the sheeny locks.
             “Nah, it’s purrfect.” Arin then sniggered, Dan joining in to laugh with him.
             “Come on, Big Cat, I want to show you what I found.”  Dan patted Arin’s head and uncurled from around his body, sliding off the platform to the floor.
             Arin groaned and sat up, swinging his legs off the table.  Rubbing his eyes, he yawned and watched Dan reach into the black bag he had dropped to the floor.  He removed another black bag that had been drawn closed with what looked to be woven grasses.
             “It’s a common item, but, I figure, since it’s not from Earth, it’s just as good.”  Dan tossed the bag to Arin, the man catching it and drawing it open.  “You might have these on Earth, actually…  But… I guess that’s safer, right?”
            Curious, Arin delved his fingers into the bag, hearing the clink of several stones inside.  He pulled out a handful, each stone was around the size of his thumbnail, was obviously uncut, but had been cleaned.  The natural edges of the stones caught the light in his hand, but he was unable to ascertain what kind of stone it was.  Either way, it was pretty.
             “What are they called?” he asked, holding one up to the light above his bed, seeing that no light passed through it.
             “On Cazty?” Dan’s head wigglers twined for a moment in thought, “Rikteb,” he muttered, “A Rikki is a kind of black, flying creature that lives over the ocean, it never lands once it takes flight for the first time.” Dan went on to elaborate.  “The latter half of it kind of means, like…  Jar or for you, probably more like ‘egg.’ Rikki drop their eggs near collections of these stones so predators have a harder time finding them.  The only difference between the two are that actual Rikki eggs are round and dull black.”  Dan had a glow of very satisfied accomplishment.  “I’ve not been to Cazty in a long time, I’m surprised I remember that.” He laughed.
             “What, uh…  What are they actually?”  Arin turned the stones over in his hand one more time before dropping them back into the bag with the rest of the collection.
             “Ah, well…  They’re made out of heavily-condensed carbon…”  More head-tentacle twining as Dan thought.  He stepped over to Arin and put an arm around him.  “Oh!  You would call them diamonds!”
             “What?” Arin’s eyes became huge, “Are you shitting me?”
             “Uh…  N-No?  Why?  Is that something illegal on--” Dan paused as his living encyclopedia filled in the blanks for him, “Oh, diamonds are rare on Earth, gotcha.”  He thought for a few more seconds, “You’re not going to try to-to sell all of them, right?” The alien prodded with a chuckle.
             “Dude, I’m not a heartless asshole.” Arin responded, really enjoying Dan’s tight grip around his shoulders.  “And, uh, you know, as they say ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend,’ I’m certainly not complaining.”  The man looked back down to the black, woven bag.  It looked like something you picked up from a hokey tourist-trap on Earth…  Diamonds, regardless of color, were regarded as something flippant!  Something just to be sold by the bagful to people visiting the planet!  As a human, it was difficult to grasp that…  He set the bag aside, smiling at it.
              Dan, meanwhile laughed at the peculiar Earth saying.  He curled his other tentacles around Arin, lifting Arin up from the table to his level, “So are you my girl, then?” He asked in a low voice, his tone caught somewhere between serious and hilariously cheesy.
             Arin, however, faced with the question found himself blushing.  It was a stupid question and was phrased in a stupid way, but…  With Dan holding him up off the ground his many arms, pressed against his body, he felt like an honest answer was necessary, “I…  I would prefer to be your man, not…  Not really your girl.” He self-consciously chuckled.  “I mean… I thought I was…  Obvious after earlier…”  And their cuddling...
              “I…  I…”  Dan went silent, his body a muddle of different colors…  Arin took this as the alien not knowing how to feel, he couldn’t really detect an overall dominant color, this was obviously what indecision looked like.  The human’s face fell from hopeful to just embarrassed as he flushed red.  Dan, noticing the change, hopped to his defense, “It’s not you, Arin…  I-I-I…  I…  It’s… I…” Dan made a low noise of frustration as his body turned yellow and then purple, “I don’t know…  How long I’ll be on your planet… I don’t want to build up some kind of h-hope and then…?”
             Arin nodded, understanding, however…  “Then…  We could just stay hopeful.  Just not expect anything.”  That was usually the best way to handle such situations.  “You’re at least going to be here a few years.  Right?”
             “At the most.” Dan explained, “For beginning studies…  If we judge you to be worthy allies, I could return with the welcome fleet and be there for much longer.”  The mottled purple of Dan’s body bloomed slightly green.
             “That’s jumping a bit too far ahead.” Arin reminded him, “Let’s worry about now and go from there.”
             “Must be a human thing.” Dan giggled, tightly hugging Arin, “But I like it.”
             “You don’t have someone back on your planet do you?”  Arin self-consciously questioned, not once having ever considered that Dan possibly had a family…  However, by now, he would’ve expected Dan to have said something, considering he had mentioned how relationships work and he had mentioned his parents.  “Or two someones…?”
              “No…”  Dan shrugged, “Even if I did, I could never ask them to be apart from me for so long.  And I could never ask them to come with me and abandon their own careers.  I basically live on every planet other than my home.  Brian is my home.”  Dan motioned to the ship.  “He’s the closest I have…”
             “Does this violate any kind of…  Laws your people have?”
             “I don’t think so…” Dan turned powder blue, “They’ve never had problems with me entering sexual entanglements before with other species.”
             Arin almost felt insulted…  However, he realized that was ridiculous, so he played it off with a joke, “You a xenophile?”  He smirked, leaning their foreheads together, attempting to be sexy. “Like to find yourself some hot, alien sluts?”  To punctuate this question as humorous, he thrust his hips against his friend.
              Dan’s whole body went from blue to lavender in the blink of an eye, “It’s not like that!  I’m just…  Never around my own people anymore…  When I am, it’s for very short periods of time…”
             “Chill, man, I know.” Arin kissed the space just beneath Dan’s eyes, around where a human nose would be.  “I guess I should take your easy acceptance of it as you don’t see me as a test subject or something.”
             “Never, Arin.”  Dan morphed beneath the human again, his body condensing and becoming shorter into his human form.  With the dress still on his body, it fit the human form a lot better than his original one, but Arin couldn’t fully respect that with his legs wrapped around Dan’s midsection.  “You’re my special man.” Dan grinned, returning the affectionate gesture of a kiss to Arin’s nose.
             “And you’re my…”  Arin had to think…  He didn’t want to call Dan a man, exactly, because he wasn’t one…  “My special love muffin.” he decided.
             Dan laughed, nuzzling their faces together, kissing Arin again, but on his lips as he had tried earlier, “Love muffin?  Okay, Big Cat.”
              They shared a kiss again, Arin pressing himself into it as deeply as he could.  Dan chuckled and squeezed Arin in his arms, peppering him with more kisses.  He swayed them both back and forth, resting their foreheads together in contentment.  Thankfully, their moment of togetherness was not spoiled by Brian, though, he did look on with some kind of wonderment from his vast consciousness of the inner workings of his entire body.
             “Whereto next?” Arin questioned, pressing one more kiss to Dan’s cheek.
             “Irapraxis.” Dan muttered with a good deal of apprehension.  “We have some things we need to talk about.” he carried Arin over to the window, stroking his butt along the way.
             “Oh no, are you breaking up with me already?!” Arin laughed, his arms draped over Dan’s broad, warm shoulders.
             Dan laughed at first, but slowly trailed off, clarifying, “We need to talk about Ross.”

Chapter Text

             “All right, can you just…  Let me take a minute to process this?” Arin pleaded with Dan as he sat down on a chair that arose from the floor.  “Okay…  Ross is… What?”
             “I don’t know for sure, I haven’t been, uh…  O-Okay, so…  Ross isn’t human, you got that much, right?” Dan carefully tiptoed his way through this explanation.  He could imagine why Arin might be angry about this admission, he had known him for a long time, after all.
             “Yeah, fuck, I got that part, but… How do you know?  Holly doesn’t seem to suspect anything and she’s been with the guy for years.”  Of course, as Arin was now in a similar situation with Dan, he couldn’t see Holly ever divulging such information even if she did know.
             “I had Brian look into Ross.  The trouble was, however, Brian cannot connect with Ross and he said the landscape of Ross’ consciousness isn’t one he’s ever had contact with before anyway.”  Dan paused, waiting to see if Arin had any questions.  When none came, he continued, “And, as you experienced earlier, Brian is able to connect with humans on such an intimate level, that he can control your nervous system.  From this, we can say that Ross isn’t human and isn’t even remotely close to it.”
             “But, if Ross is like, some government agent, man in black, thing, why is it unrealistic to say that maybe, he’s, like… Just up on how to protect his brain from aliens?”  Arin groped for anything he had left to defend Ross’ humanity.  Though…  If he wasn’t…  Arin supposed there would be a few things about him that made more sense.
             “I considered that an option, but I connected with him as simply and easily as I do with humans.  I connect with him without second thought, Brian cannot connect with him and has never even felt a consciousness like his before.” Dan restated his earlier point to loop the two ends together, “Which means, that Ross is of a species I am familiar enough with that my connecting to his language center happens almost reflexively.  It also makes sense that the only species he could possibly be is the only known shape-shifting species that’s native to your galaxy.”
             Arin sat in silence for a few minutes, leaning on his knees.  He had been friends with an alien for years?  Dan wasn’t his first?  Moreover…  Where was Ross from then?  Why was he on Earth?  Had he crashed a long time ago with his family?  Or was his family really even his family?  He felt like he didn’t even know the man anymore.
             With a resigned shrug, Arin asked, “What is he then?”
             “He’s from Irapraxiis.  A planet in this Cluster.” Dan announced, “I was stationed there for a study for a short period of time and had a lot of interaction with the native race, obviously.”  Seeing the clear trouble on Arin’s face, Dan stepped over to him, putting a hand on his shoulder, “Arin, you should know by now, that this information doesn’t change your friendship with him…  It merely explains why he knows as much as he does.”  He knelt down to be more on his level, leaning against the arm of the chair Arin was settled in.  “Irapraxians don’t put faith in individuals outside of their grove easily.  With how open and social Ross is with you and the rest of your friends, he’s very well-adjusted and likes you.”
            “Grove?” Arin questioned, still trying to process all of this and basically failing.  He could focus on Irapraxians as a race, but seeing Ross as one would take some time.
            “Irapraxians…  While they look similar to Earth centipedes normally--”
            “What?!  Ross is a space centipede?!”  Just one more weird thing to add to his list.  Dan was a space anemone, Brian a space whale, Ross a space centipede…  Why was this shit so damn weird?!
            “Kind of?  I can show you pictures.  Anyway, they actually would be described as closer to plant life by Earth standards.  They are grown from fruit on a stalk.”
            Arin was silent for a few seconds, staring at Dan open-mouthed, “You’re shitting me.”
            Dan blinked a couple times, “No.  They really do.”  Still seeing the nonplussed expression on Arin’s face, Dan sighed.  “Okay, time for another lesson, I guess.”  He was doing this a lot, he realized, but, Arin was teaching him a lot as well.  It was only fair that he take the time to help Arin with this disturbing new revelation.  “So…”  Dan pulled out his handy holograph thing from his body, switching it on.  Once drawing up a picture of, indeed, something similar to a centipede--just it had around ten separate eyes and each leg looked a lot more like a series of barbed scythes--Dan began his explanation, “Irapraxians, the Kriranrk, have family groups called groves.  This makes sense, because their family line is perpetuated through nutrient absorption into their family’s procreative grove.”  Dan waved his finger over the picture, it turning into a hologram of something that looked vaguely like a cross between a pea plant and a sunflower.  He waved his finger again and it became an image of a vibrant, red flower.  Another swipe and it was an oblong fruit of the same bright red.  “When a member of their grove dies, they are buried in the root complex of these stalks.  The stalk absorbs the individual as they decompose and from that, they are reborn.  It is the duty of a Kriranrk to gather as much nutrients as possible in its lifetime, so that when it is reabsorbed into their procreative stalks, it has the possibility of producing more than one flower.”  Dan swiped again to a pair of fruits hanging off the same branch, “In this way, an individual can add to their population through their own death.”
             Arins mouth was hanging open in something akin to horror.  Dan wrapped a second tentacle around him, figuring he needed some kind of comfort.  The dominant race of Irapraxiis was somewhat…  Different from humans, that much was for sure, they were, likewise, very different from the Zilbyrgh as well.
             “When an individual is ready to be born, the fruit will fall from the stalk.  Members of the grove will then carry the fruit until the individual inside eats their way out.  Normally, the one who is holding the fruit when the newborn emerges will be their primary caregiver, as the babies imprint with the first moving thing they see, but there are exceptions.”  Dan swiped one more time, the image was of three Kriranrk gathered around something that looked like a starry-eyed, fat rollypolly.  The one holding said fat rollypolly had its head bent low over the infant as it reached with what Arin assumed to be antennae up towards the antennae of the adult.  It was hard to see the image as cute, but as Dan seemed to smiling with heart-warming affection, he assumed that this was seen as “adorable” in the culture.
             Arin looked away from the image, feeling a little sick, “Okay…  So…  Ross is one of these things…”
             Dan frowned, “Yes, he’s a kriranrk.  Clearly one that’s very well-adjusted to human life.  Though, I am curious if he has a clipping from his family stalk somewhere on Earth…  You said he’s from Australia and the way you seem to associate Australia as being red and hot, it’s a lot like Irapraxiis.  Iron-rich soil, very hot, little water.”  Dan looked disgusted for a second, “No place for me to be.”  He then shrugged, “Even if he does, I doubt he’ll ever tell anyone, they’re very secretive about that.”
             Arin stared off into space, literally into space.  Space was right there beyond the yellow curve of Cazty.  At some point during his nap, Brian must’ve left the surface.  He didn’t know why this bothered him so much…  Ross’ secretiveness about the subject made sense, but it still felt weird.  Everything that he had experienced with Ross was suddenly different.
             “Why is Ross on Earth?”
             “I don’t know.” Dan shrugged, “His race is relatively peaceful, but interpersonal debacles can get…  Bloody.  You don’t have to worry about him having any less than savory intentions, I think.  Ross mentioned heavily that he’s registered, or something like that with your country’s government.  They know he’s there and he suggested that I do the same…”
             Arin’s eyes went wide, “Are you…  Do you think there’s, like…  A lot of aliens living on Earth?”
             “Ross implied as much…  He said that my presence can get a lot of people in trouble.” Dan’s tongue poked out of his lips as he sucked on it.  Retracting his tongue, however, he stood up straight, absorbing the tentacles back into his human-shaped body.  “Apparently the general public isn’t allowed to know that though…  I can assume I’m breaking many rules by telling you all of this.”  He began to rub his right arm up and down with his left, his puff of hair deflated almost flat to his shoulders.  “I just…  Want to be honest with you…  I’m not used to having to withhold vital information…  My people believe that it’s wrong.  The situation you have on Earth is something my planet would look upon with extreme disdain…  If I report this, my people would want to interfere and help the situation…  I understand that it’s not our business, however.”
             Arin propped his face between his hands, this was too much…  “Dan…  Can I go home?”
             “Certainly.” Unsure at first, Dan reached out to run his fingers through Arin’s hair.  When Arin didn’t try to lean away, he bent low and kissed the crown of his head before stepping off and calling to Brian, “We have a sudden need to return to Earth!” He announced, climbing up to his control console.  He cast a glance back at his downtrodden friend and frowned even deeper, he wanted to comfort him, “We’re not going to Irapraxiis.  I don’t think it’s necessary.”
             Brian appeared in the room, his eyebrows drawn together in curiosity.  Respectfully, he hadn’t been listening in on the conversation too much.  He cast a glance back to Arin.
             “Convince him to go to Irapraxiis.” Brian whispered very quietly through Arin’s lips.
             “I don’t want to.” Arin answered, sitting up straight.
             “Did you say something, Arin?” Dan turned back to look at him, his eyebrows raised.
             “No, I’m fine.” Arin answered as he watched Brian’s form appear on top of Dan’s console.
             Dan looked up to Brian, having a short back and forth with him in his native language.  Arin wondered just why Brian wanted to go to the planet so badly.  He also wondered, as Brian had complete control over his own body, why he asked Dan about it at all.  If he really wanted to, he could go wherever he wanted and just take the other two along for the ride.  He watched the two converse, although, the only one actually speaking was Dan.  As he watched, he eventually saw Dan’s shoulders slump.
             “What’s wrong?” Arin enquired, he wanted to go home now and process all of this in a more familiar setting.  This had all been cool, but all this new information about Ross and his own deceptive government had shaken him.
             “Brian wants to go to Irapraxiis.” Dan dimly responded.
             “Yeah, I know that, I’d like to go home.”
             “I know!” Dan gestured to him, “But…”
             “If he wants to go so bad, you can drop me off back at Earth and then come back, right?” Arin reasoned, grumbling to himself.
             “We can’t do that, there’s a very small window of opportunity here.” Dan explained with a deep, troubled frown, “It will only add a few more hours to our trip to go…  And when we’re done we’ll skip right back to Earth. Okay?”
             Brian looked to Arin, “Please…”
             “Please…?” Dan tipped his head to the side, his hair bouncing.
             Arin sighed, slumping even further down into his chair, “Why is it so important?”
             “Personal matter for Brian…  He’s secretive, forgive me, I cannot tell you why.”
             “Please, Arin…” Brian pleaded again.
             “Why are you talking to yourself?” Dan sure was cute when he was confused.
             Arin didn’t answer.  He was in the midst of being emotionally assaulted with waves of loss and worry.  This was emotional manipulation, goddammit!  Arin gritted his teeth, tiny tears rising to them, “Fine!” He growled.
             Dan reeled back as if he had been punched by the answer, “Are you okay?”
             “I’m fine!  Just--fucking stop!”
             “Arin, I’m not do--”
             “Not you!  Brian!” Arin sobbed, catching his face in his hands again.
             Dan’s hair stood straight up, “Brian!  Are you hurting him?!” he whipped around until his eyes found Brian’s projection again.  He rushed down from his console over to Arin, wrapping his arms around him and…  “Oh my f…”  Dan’s mouth dropped open.  “Brian, that’s not fair.”  The man curled protectively around his friend, kissing his cheek.
             “He’s not hurting me, he…” Arin hiccuped.  “What happened to…?”
             “I’m sorry he’s like this.” Dan soothed, stroking his face, “I didn’t know he had access to other parts of you.”
             Arin sniffled, “No, it’s…  It’s fine, but…  Are you really all he has?”  He felt like such a fucking sap asking that, but fuck, Brian really knew how to bring on the emotional pain.  His game was just too strong.
             Dan took awhile to respond, “He has one other…  There’s an acquaintance of his in orbit around Irapraxiis right now.  He wishes to speak with them about the status of that one other person.”  Dan sighed, stroking Arin’s hair, “It comes as no surprise to me that Brian picked now to go on this jaunt.”
             “He’s a fucking jerk.” Arin sniffled again, shamelessly cuddling closer to Dan.
             “Yes, he is.” Dan shot Brian a look, but the projection did not respond.  “He also has some explaining to do, but it can wait.”  Returning his attentions to Arin, he gave him a light kiss, “Are you okay with going to Irapraxiis?  We won’t stay long.”
             “Yes,” Arin acquiesced against Dan’s shoulder. “just hurry up.”
             Dan released Arin after one more kiss and a tight squeeze.  He glared at Brian one last time, but climbed up to his console.  Going with procedure, he ordered Brian out of orbit as he had from Earth and directed him with exact coordinates for where to point.  Once Brian’s orientation had been corrected, the standard request for Brian’s drive to be charged was given and the gigantic surge forward smacked into the two passengers.
             Post settlement, Dan climbed from his pedestal, joining Arin who was rattling around his bag of cleaned, rough diamonds.  Dan said nothing to break their momentary silence, but Arin held up a diamond to his eye and asked casually, “I wonder how much smaller it would make this stone if I cut it.”
              “Hm?” Dan sat down on the floor between Arin’s knees, settling his dress over his legs as much as he could.
              “On Earth, we cut and polish gemstones.  A lot of people wear them as jewelry or have them set in rings.”
              “Oh, that’s cool.” Though, Dan didn’t personally understand it, it was worth remembering.  He had already seen many examples of this very practice, “Is that a sign of status?”
             “I haven’t really thought about it, but I guess that’s true.  You only can show off what you have the money for and such.”
              “And diamonds are very valuable on Earth?”
             “Yeah.  I don’t know if black ones are as high-priced or in demand though.” Arin shrugged, “It doesn’t really matter, I’m not into that kind of thing.”
             “Do you…  Not like them?”
             “No, man!  I love them!” Arin broke out of his pensive mood to grip Dan’s shoulder and give him an affirmative shake.  He smiled before continuing, “I’m just saying their sentimental value means more to me than their monetary.”
             Dan smiled back at him, staring at how close Arin’s lips were to his.  He licked his lips and flicked his eyes to Arin’s, hoping he understood his unspoken request.  As this was completely new territory to him, he wasn’t sure just how much kissing was acceptable or if it was considered odd past a point.  This was a very new relationship--barely an hour old--and screwing things up this early did not bode well for a happy relationship.
             Arin leaned in the rest of the way to give Dan his desired kiss, when he leaned back out, however, Dan followed him.  Their lips were together again in seconds and Dan’s bony knees--or imitation bony…--flanked either of his thighs.  With Dan on top of his lap, Arin’s hands took to his hips like second nature, the fondled the soft fabric of his dress and carefully probed down to his butt.  Arin almost forgot that Dan wasn’t human and almost forgot that this probably didn’t feel the same to him like it did to others.
              With Dan bent over his mouth, Arin moaned, his eyes shutting and his hands getting more forceful.  He felt his dick perk up in his pants, but was all too aware that nothing was prodding against him on Dan’s end.  Arin had never been interested in cock, but the fact that he couldn’t even tell if Dan was aroused or not threw him off.
             “Dan,” he moaned, breaking off from his mouth, “does this feel good?” he nibbled down his jaw and neck.
             “Hang on.”  Dan responded, it was disconcerting to Arin that Dan didn’t sound distracted or out of breath.  However, why would he?  All of his words were in Arin’s mind.  As Arin contemplated his own reaction to what was happening, Dan pressed a tentacle to his head, tearing him out of his thoughts.  Dan shivered and sang, “Yes.”
             “Did you have to check?” Arin questioned, running his hands up and down Dan’s back.
             “I needed to feel your feedback responses.”
             Arin didn’t exactly have a lot of blood flowing up to his brain at the moment, there was a serious logical traffic jam going on therefore.  After a second he just mutter “Huhwha?”
              “I’ll explain later, just keep doing what you’re doing.”  Dan reached out another tentacle from his back, finding the skin of one of Arin’s legs and wrapping around it.  From there, he began to imitate Arin’s earlier motions, kissing him places that weren’t his mouth.  He kissed his cheeks, down his face, to his neck…  Very carefully, he parted his lips and nipped the underside of Arin’s neck.
             “Aah!” Arin loudly moaned, fisting Dan’s dress in his hands as he hiked it all the way up the man’s back.  Likewise, Dan’s whole body shivered again, a musical noise breaking from his vibrating body.  He bit Arin again, harder, getting an even louder noise, the man beneath him heaving in pleasure so strong that it made Dan’s whole body quiver.
             “Damn,” Dan cursed, finally understanding what the big deal was with humans and sexual jokes.  No wonder they loved this shit so much, he was pretty sure they hadn’t even gotten to the main event yet and this was awesome! “Arin,” he moaned, copying his partner’s frustrated pelvic movements.  Their groins--though Dan’s was naked where Arin’s was still clothed--rutted against one another, Dan recognizing that own penis, typically, should’ve been hard by this point.  Largely for visual purposes, he corrected this issue as he reached for the fly of Arin’s pants.
             “Dan,” Arin gasped, grabbing his arm to stop him, “you don’t…  You don’t have to if you don’t want to…”
             “But I do.” Dan easily responded, “This feels so good, you think I want to stop now?”
             “I don’t…  How does this make you, uh…?”
             “It feels good, Arin.  Stop worrying about it.” Dan grinned and kissed him again, gently pushing his hand inside Arin’s fly and underwear to pull out his penis.  Merely touching Arin’s penis made Dan let out an uncontrollable, melodious moan, “Your pleasure responses are so…”  Dan shuddered violently as he stroked up Arin’s cock for the first time “strong--wow!”
              As Arin’s voice hitched, he informed Dan “You’re n-not even at the best part yet.”
             Indeed, as Dan found out fifteen minutes later, that had not been the best part.  Human moaning and zilbyrgh singing filled the halls of Brian’s machine parts.  Arin sweated and writhed beneath Dan as he jerked him off and Dan struggled to keep a handle on his human form as Arin raised a hand to wrap around his dick.  At the end of their coupling, Dan’s whole form went nebulous for a second, he was fully unaware that he was dragging Arin’s consciousness with him into the bubble of extreme pleasure and it had to have lasted for around a minute solid.
             When both men were back in their right minds, Arin’s intense heaving was the only sound between them.  His semen painted both Dan’s dress and his shirt and his dick was still twitching in spite of having nothing left to ejaculate.  Another aftershock of orgasm rolled over him and he gasped, arching his body.  He cracked his eyes open to look at Dan, his face blank like he’d just experienced the greatest thing in life.
             “What the fuck was that?” Arin asked, his voice barely audible past all his panting.
             “I…  That’s what…” Dan slapped his own chest as indication.  “It’s similar to…  Us.” he explained, “It’s…  Fulfillment.”  He settled down against Arin afterwards, like he didn’t have the strength to remain upright anymore, “But it felt…  Better…”  Dan hadn’t ever imagined that he’d ever say that.  There was nothing better than fulfillment…  But…  Fulfillment plus this feeling…?  Dan would never say that he had an addictive personality, but he wanted to do it again, right now!
             Arin chuckled, tightening his hold around Dan as the calm, cuddly afterglow settled over him.  He felt Dan shiver.
             “And this!” Dan exclaimed at the feeling that drove him to cling to Arin, to press his body into every intimate nook and cranny of him, to just…  Never let go…  “How do you humans deal with this?!”  It was so fucking awesome!  This shit was the best!
             Arin laughed again, “Virgin.” his eyes were starting to become heavy.
            “Virgin?!  I’ve had--basically--sex with over thirty different kinds of lifeforms!  Don’t even get me started about my years back on Vysvaa!  I’ve never…!”
             “Whoa, man, chill out.” Arin hugged him tighter.  It was odd to hear the admission about Dan’s sexual history, however…  He couldn’t imagine what he must’ve experienced!  Also…  “Are you saying I’m the best lay in the galaxy?” he chuckled with a bit of smugness.
             “Best in four galaxies…” Dan corrected, snuggling him, pressing his face into the crook of Arin’s neck and shoulder.  “And…  If I’m correct, that was only a handjob!  There’s so much more to do still!”
              “I’ve blown your goddamn mind, huh?” Wow, he was really feeling this sleep thing coming on.
             “Essentially, yes.” Dan giggled, kissing his fuzzy cheek.  He curled his whole body up in Arin’s lap, he felt like they nested together so perfectly in this form.  “And we’re still clothed.  If I understand correctly, that’s not typical human practice.” More giggles.
             Arin chuckled sleepily, “No, it’s not.  It’s also not human practice to have sex while inside another friend’s body…”  Yeah, about that…  “Brian’s hurting…  You don’t think he’s angry about this do you?”
             Dan’s happy smile melted away and Arin felt bad for jerking him back to reality like that.  After such a wonderful time and seeing how bright he was…  It seemed criminal to do such a thing.  Oftentimes though, having sex while another friend was suffering was totally seen as a dick move.  Even if that friend happened to be your mode of transport.
             “Brian is used to this, but…”  Dan dragged himself out of Arin’s arms, “You’re right.  I should go be with him.”
             No!  Stop him! Arin screamed internally.  He wanted to cuddle!  He wanted to sleep with him!  “Okay.”  Arin’s mouth said instead.  He couldn’t afford to be selfish right now.  Brian needed him more than he did right now and that was really saying something.
             “I had fun,” Dan squeezed Arin’s hand, giving it a kiss, “I would love to do it again sometime.” he grinned, not wanting to end this time with any kind of a sour note, “And stay with you afterwards…  Does that sound good?”
             Even though he was disappointed, Arin smiled back, looking at their clasped hands with great fondness as his heart thudded in his chest, “I would really like that.” He answered, meeting Dan’s eyes.  They kissed one last time and Dan released his hand, leaving the cockpit and heading far back and down into the network of tubes and hallways that made up a lot of Brian’s insides.

             In Dan’s personal chamber, there was a vat of water from Vysvaa, a small hole at the top for him to squeeze himself through into the comforting heat of the gently salinated liquid.  Also in the room were chairs connected to the floor, several tablets with volumes of information contained within--most of them fiction--light fixtures and other knick knacks from his travels.  Humans would describe him as a packrat for his large collection of objects, but as they were carefully filed with meticulous care into various parts of the room, none of those humans would mind.
             From just beyond the clear walls of his bedroom, Dan heard a combination of pulses, mechanical drones, and hums.  This room was near the seat of Brian’s circulatory system, very close to other vital parts as well.  It came with a considerable amount of comfort to be so deeply inside his friend, protected by his augmented bodily support network.  Shuffling silently over to one side of the room, he pressed his hand against a dark blue, pulsing patch of exposed tissue.
             Hey buddy…  How are you holding up?  Dan essentially asked, letting his mind radiate the concern he felt.
             You and Arin were having a good time, it seemed…  Brian answered with the slightest bit of contempt.
             You’re not jealous are you?  Dan enquired with true discomfort.  It just happened, I wasn’t thinking about anything other than comforting Arin…  Well, that didn’t help things any now did it?
             I’m not jealous.  Don’t be absurd.  You’ve had flings with everything you’ve met that’s capable of consent. Brian pointed out with a bit of smugness, or Dan assumed it to be smugness.  Everything he got from Brian currently was an educated interpretation of intentions and images at best.  He knew the reason for his verbal silence--they were in space after all--but he still longed for the preciseness of true language.  All the same, Dan knew Brian wasn’t trying to insult him or hurt his feelings.  I’m surprised you now don’t have aspirations to couple with every human you meet.  Your memories are very vivid…  I wouldn’t blame you.
         Then you should know that I don’t think Arin is a fling…  Humans practice monogamy, I think, when they experience extreme emotions of affection for one another.  At his explanation, Dan felt Brian wave with humor.
            You?  Monogamous?  Wasn’t it you that suggested that we move study from one side of Miriodius to another just so you could get away from that one native you were waxing romantic over?
             Bryrrna, I don’t think you get it…  When do I ever talk about this?  Dan pointed out, pressing with more force on the hot, dark patch of his best friend.
             Are you sure you’re not just thinking with your pleasure complex?
             I felt this before Arin and I fulfilled one another.
             How do you know Arin feels the same?  You don’t know how human mating rituals go.  You’ve observed too little to be making this decision now.  If we were back on Vysvaa and Arin was one of your own, you know I would completely support this…  On a strange planet, I don’t want you to risk it. Brian carefully tried to spell out his emotions on the subject.
             I understand…  Dan acquiesced, Would you change your mind if I did more in-depth study?
             I might, but it still leaves me uncertain.  If Arin were to break a bond between you two over something…  I would be powerless to help you.  Brian took a moment to let that sink in, Dan leaning more into the only point of physical contact they could have while in transit.  We’re going to be on Earth for a long time.  Where is the rush, Lyrdya?
             Stop with that.
             Lyrdya.  Brian continued to prod with great, affectionate amusement.  If Dan had to suffer through the image of himself as a gangly tech student his first day of class one more time there were going to be some issues.
             You frustrate me in spite of my deep emotions for you.  Because it was really hard to lie while directly connected.  Dan couldn’t just say “I hate you.”
             Answering your earlier question, I am fine.  For now.  I am…  Scared to see what Tynyrrt has to say.
             Have I met Tynyrrt?
             You’ve met Maalvaany, Tynyrrt’s captain.  Maalvaany came in for a day during your operations class.
             Dan had to smile at the memory, it was during that class that Dan learned the ins and outs of an augmented Ydyrn starship.  Learned how to care for them and the relationship that was necessary between the two living beings.  Active Ydyrn starships were relatively rare because perfect partners needed to be established, Dan never thought he’d end up so lucky.
             Enough nostalgia.  It makes me feel things. Brian teased.
             Would you like me to sing to you?  Dan offered afterwards.
             I would like that.  I only wish that I could muster the emotion to sing with you. Brian lamented.
             We’re also in space.  Soaring through the galaxy, not advised. Dan chided, letting his hand slide from Brian’s exposed flesh.  For a moment…  He wondered what he should sing.  Always the romantic though, he chose a tale from one of his history files.  The story of the first ydyrn and zilbyrgh captain to go into space together.  It was sappy and Brian had heard the tale many times, but it never got old to hear Dan’s lilting voice delicately caress each syllable.

             The melodious noises echoed through the dark halls up towards the cockpit.  Arin was curled up on his exam bed, cold again and spattered with his own semen.  He heard Dan’s singing, but knew better than to seek him out.  Sighing and rolling over, he grew restless, he’d been unable to sleep after Dan’s departure.  Over and over again he chastised himself for being ridiculous, it wasn’t like Dan was romantically affectionate with Brian, it wasn’t like that at all.  Brian was his friend, Brian was going through a difficult time.
             He inhaled again and sighed, closing his eyes and focusing on Dan’s singing.  It was faint, but it was still gorgeous.  With sleep now fast incoming, Arin needed to remember to thank Dan when he awoke.

             Arin was awoken by voices, however, a mere three hours later.  He groaned and tried to hide himself from the noises he didn’t understand, throwing his arms over his ears, but it was for naught.  He wasn’t getting back to sleep now and was destined to be irate for the rest of this period of wakefulness.  Arin pried his eyes open and groggily muttered under his breath.
             “Dan?” He squinted across the room and up at the man’s usual console.  The glowing, star-being alien stood before the usual window, a large image projected across it in front of the control boards.  Suddenly far more interested as Arin realized the screen had another zilbyrgh on it, he sat up, listening with great curiosity as the two beings sang to each other.  If Dan had heard him, he wasn’t responding.
             Dan made a pathetic warbling noise to the other zilbyrgh.  The other’s response wasn’t any less miserable-sounding and Arin didn’t have too hard a time of guessing that this news was anything other than positive.  Standing up from the table, Arin stepped towards the window where most his entertainment came from the past two days.  Out over the red planet, Arin caught sight of another ship in orbit.  Or, as he should have said, another whale in orbit.  The ship was big in the window, but knowing that ydyrn ships often held in excess of 100 crewmen, it couldn’t have been too close as Arin could see most of its body.
             Arin gaped at the far-off ydyrn, its massive, black body painted with symbols.  Along one side of the ship, a long, light-blue scar trailed from beneath one eye down to its belly, a flipper that would’ve intersected with the scar was missing.  Were ydyrn starships used in battle?!  Arin couldn’t imagine such a thing…  In the midst of his boggling over the idea of living war machines, the conversation between squishy aliens turned to having a distinctly curious tone.  Arin looked over from the window, up to Dan and found that both Dan and the other zilbyrgh were looking at him.
             “Uh…”  Arin felt himself blush, “Uh…  Am I interrupting something?”
             With excited urgency, the other zilbyrgh must’ve asked Dan a question because he turned a light shade of purple before it shifted to the pink of mounting worry, “Arin, “ Dan spoke to the screen, but that was all Arin understood.  Maybe he was explaining that he was from Earth?  Was taking a being from another planet, willing or not, seen as illegal to his species?  Arin couldn’t imagine that it was as Dan was rather casually explaining himself.  Though…  The color pink was slowly deepening to red, so there must’ve been something that wasn’t right here.
             “Arin, would you like to say hello to Maalvaany?” Dan asked, motioning to the screen.  The other zilbyrgh--Maalvaany--wasn’t any kind of disconcerting color, rather, they were the light blue of curiosity.  Arin supposed he had nothing to worry about, Dan’s species were peaceful and all.  Arin also didn’t think that Dan would ever intentionally put him in harm’s way.  All Arin had to do right now was not be rude.
             “Sure!”  Arin headed for the console, pulling himself up onto the pedestal with a bit of help from his friend.  As he made his way up, he could assume Dan was explaining his answer, or perhaps explaining more about humans.
             “I suggest a traditional greeting for a person you’ve never met before.” Dan told Arin, wrapping his three-fingered hand around his wrist.
             “Hello!”  Arin raised his hand to wave, but he didn’t know the last time he’d actually felt so formal about waving hello to someone.  “It’s nice to meet you.”  Or when the last time he’d actually said that was.
             Dan quickly translated both Arin’s words and gesture.  Maalvaany’s light-blue deepened to more of a royal blue, they responded by flashing a series of patterns over their skin and Dan happily translated, “Maalvaany is most pleased to make your acquaintance as well ‘Arin of Terra.’” Danny giggled, “They’re so formal.”
             “Dude, I’m feeling hella formal as well.  I probably would’ve said ‘what’s up space dude’ or something like that if you hadn’t specified otherwise.”  That probably wasn’t true, but, it was far more indicative of how Arin greeted new humans anyway.
             “Space dude?” Dan shook his head, “I don’t suppose Maalvaany would take well to your--”
             “Dude is a gender-neutral term of address.” Arin quickly cut-in as if this was something he had tried to drill into people’s heads for forever.  “If anyone else tells you otherwise, they’re wrong.”
             Dan pulsed many shades of bright green and laughed, “Okay, okay.”  Dan had to redirect his attention back to his fellow captain.  The gist of their conversation from there on out was his mission to study the inhabitants of Earth.  His findings were very positive so far though there were some points of contention.  Those points were not elaborated upon.
              “How’s uh…  Brian’s family member?” Arin questioned after it seemed Dan and Maalvaany’s back and forth had ended.  As he watched Dan’s body turn a deep purple, he already knew the answer to that.  “Oh…”
             “I don’t think you should expect to hear anything else out of him for the duration of our trip.” Dan supplemented.  “With his broodmother passed, he’s the last of his pod now…  And his being unable to re-propagate his pod comes with a certain amount of shame.” he gently explained before turning back to Maalvaany on his screen.  He thanked them for their time and requested that his likewise gratitude should be passed on to Tynyrrt for Brian.
             Maalvaany only wished that they could’ve been speaking under better circumstances.  They bid both Dan and Arin farewell before the transmission ended.
             Dan stood with Arin up on his console platform and completely deflated against Arin, almost going into a puddle.  The surface of his body was black and he was silent.  Arin just held him, letting him ruminate in his sorrow.  He wanted to say something to him, but Arin didn’t want to interrupt this alien ritual of mourning.  He also didn’t know if it was rude to try to talk to a person who was so overcome with grief that they wouldn’t be able to answer.
             They stood like that for awhile, the whole ship silent aside from the light, distant echo of mechanical hums.  Arin sucked on his tongue, he needed to say something…  He had shared in Brian’s pain earlier and knew how hard this was for him, but he couldn’t hug his massive body or provide any comfort.  In the end, he broke the silence to say, “I’m sorry for your loss.  Both of you.”  Dan didn’t move, Brian didn’t respond, Arin was growing uncomfortable with the silence.
              Arin shifted Dan’s pitch body in his arms, moving to climb down from the console and drag him with him.  The upset alien wrapped the rest of his being around Arin’s midsection like he was a long, thick snake during transport.  Arin kissed the portion of Dan’s head that was closest to him, the little palpators that served as his hair perking up to gently stroke at Arin’s cheeks.
             “I’m sorry, man.”
             “It’s not your fault.” Dan finally responded.
             “No, and I don’t know what it’s like to lose a parent.  I know what it’s like for friends and other family members, but I’ve been lucky so far.” Arin squeezed part of the bulk Dan had wrapped around him. “I just want to let you know that I’m here for you…  And as much as I can be for Brian.”
             “To think you hated him just yesterday.”
             “Yeah, well, first impressions are always entirely wrong.”
             Dan squeezed Arin as a nonverbal response.
             “Was she…  They…?  Was Brian’s broodmother sick for very long?”
             “Naamyrr wasn’t, but the rest of Brian’s pod was.” Dan pressed himself more into Arin’s warm skin, “One by one, they died…  Brian was…  With augmentation comes immunity to most diseases on our planet.  So, Brian never caught it.  Eventually all of his elders and his siblings died from the same thing.”  Dan nodded as if more to himself, or perhaps it was maybe to Brian, “Any ydyrn can become a broodmother, the figurehead of the pod, the one to keep the line going.” he shifted, “Ordinarily, when a broodmother dies, another in the pod becomes one.  Brian gave up such aspirations as offspring when he underwent augmentation.  The procedure renders a ydyrn infertile and the procedure is, as you would expect, irreversible.  He can’t initiate the hormonal changes for it as they’re all regulated and broodmothers are three times larger than the average mature ydyrn.  For Brian to grow to that size, all of his internal augmentations would be torn out of place and he would die.” Dan solemnly expounded and fell silent again, still curled in Arin’s arms.  “He needs me right now, is that okay?”
              “Can I walk you to your room?” Arin asked, resting his face on Dan’s head.
             “Of course.”  Dan waited for Arin to lean to put himself back on the ground, he didn’t stand up straight, it still seemed that he barely had the will to move.  He held Arin’s hand and lead him back and down into Brian’s halls.  Without Dan’s body shining, Arin struggled to not trip and clung all the tighter to Dan’s hand, afraid of suddenly falling into one of the tubes that lead to lower decks.  True to form, Dan never let him fall.
             Once the trek was over, however, Arin had no idea how he intended to get back up to the cockpit…  Plus, it was so much warmer in this part of the ship!  Arin cleared his voice as he let go of Dan’s hand and the squishy alien went to a spot of exposed, blue tissue on the wall.
              “Hey, would you mind if I just…” he looked about the room, “Chilled here?”
              Dan paused, his hand just before the flesh.  He looked back over his shoulder, “I won’t be speaking to you, is that okay?”
              “Yeah…  I was just…  Cold…  And lonely upstairs.” Arin blushed with the admission.
              “You’re always welcome in my room, Arin.” Dan assured him, his black body momentarily rippling with a wave of green.  “If you push that panel behind you, there’s a reclining chair in there.”
              “Thanks man.” Arin smiled, “I’ll leave you alone now.” he gave him a salutary wave and watched as Dan put his hand to the patch on the wall, all of his focus drawn into it.  Now…  Arin just had to figure out how all the pressure pads on this ship worked…

Chapter Text

              The flight back to Earth was lonely for Arin.  Brian didn’t speak, Dan largely spent his time comforting him.  Arin, however, had a chance to really get used to Dan’s living space.  The reclining couch Dan had suggested he use was very comfortable and he had fun sifting through Dan’s various doo-dads collected from all the different planets.  It was very Flight of the Navigator to Arin, except that most of the things Dan had plucked to bring with him on his travels, weren’t alive.
              “Is this, like, some kind of light source?” Arin enthusiastically asked, holding up a textured, clear ball with something floating in the center of it.  It was a rare moment that Dan was spending apart from that squishy, dark spot on the wall and Arin was intending to use it to its fullest.
             Dan’s attractive human face smirked, his eyes crinkling at their edges, “No, that’s an Ipiskir.” he giggled, reaching out to take the odd ball in hand.  “Used to supplement the reproductive acts of the Lodorians.” He squeezed it and it buzzed with motion…  The harder Dan squeezed, the louder the buzzing became.
             Arin stared at the object with new understanding, “So, it’s a vibrator.”
             “Yep.” Dan chuckled, “Just because we are incapable of masturbatory entertainments does not mean that other species aren’t.”  He eased up his hold on the object until the buzzing stopped, handing it back over to Arin, “I have…  Many items like this.”
              “You do?”  Then it clicked, “You fuck a lot of other aliens.  Yeah.”  Arin laughed.  “Do you keep something from everyone?”
             “No, not usually.”  Danny honestly answered, “I would have more things than I have space for in my ship.” he giggled before moving on, “Pleasure-supplementing objects make things more fun for everyone involved, so I keep the ones that seem the most useful.  You seem to have something similar enough on Earth to call it a ‘vibrator,’ I can guess this object is also useful on humans?”  When Arin sputtered for a few seconds, Dan smiled wider, “Speaking of which…” He reached an arm out to pull the flustered human close, “We still have ten hours of travel time left…  Brian is focused on keeping us on course and cannot dedicate much time to introspection…”  Not that Brian was speaking at all…  It was back to that same old silence of before.  Their minds were melded and twined with one another and comforting, but there had been no words aside from Dan’s.  His eyes fondly regarding Arin, he stroked his face, “If you want to get back to earlier.”
             Arin hesitated, but Dan’s smile was sincere, “Just another hot alien to you?” he joked, kissing his cheek.
              “No, not really.” Danny answered again as earlier.  “I don’t agree to monogamous relationships.  At least, I haven’t in the past.”  He tucked some of Arin’s hair behind his ear.  “I’ve never had a boyfriend before…” he muttered, tapping one of Arin’s lips as he leaned in.
              Arin slowly blushed.  He tried to suppress that feeling in his chest that he was special…  That Dan, out of all the other beings in four galaxies, thought he was the most captivating.  All Arin could push out of his mouth was, however, “I’ve not either…”  He lifted himself up onto his toes, initiating their kiss.  His arms tightened around Dan’s body, his lips growing insistent.
             Dan accordingly responded, cradling Arin against him.  He opened his mouth to Arin, lipping at his tongue before allowing Arin to tease and play with his own fabricated tongue.  When Arin groaned, he responded with one as well, feeling Arin’s feedback through his skin.  He felt Arin’s blood pressure rise, felt his lips tingle and felt the lower regions of his body grow warm.  Everything was so loud and acute with humans!  They felt things everywhere, not just in one place, it was like Dan was intercoursing with another of his own kind, but it was so much…  His whole body shivered at the intensity and he knew they hadn’t even gotten to the main event yet.  Arin’s mind told him that this was merely foreplay as the human’s hands trailed over his body.  Needing more information on the sensations he should be feeling, Dan’s arms went to the same places on Arin’s body.
              “Danny,” Arin broke their lips apart, trying to drag the taller man over to the reclining couch.  As he did so, he bit his partner’s neck, sucking on the skin.  Dan squirmed and made an undignified noise as he willingly collapsed on top of him on the soft surface.
               With Dan’s whole body positively vibrating in pleasure, it seemed like Arin could do anything to him and it would feel better beyond measure.  Driven by the primal knowledge in Arin’s mind, Dan positioned himself on his fours above the human, pressing his groin against Arin’s.  Having successfully mastered the aesthetic of an erection for Arin’s sake more than his own, he ground their erections together, listening to the way Arin moaned beneath him.  This was two parts enjoyment of pleasuring his partner, one part taking his own pleasure and one part scientific observation.  Many on his home planet only knew the sexual habits of some alien races because of his…  Research.  Ah, what he wouldn’t do for his job.
             Arin gasped and bucked his hips up against Dan, looking up at him as he saw the expression of extreme concentration on his face.  It seemed almost out of place considering that they were, in Arin’s eyes, right in the thick of pleasuring each other.  He raised his hands up and latched his fingers into Dan’s skin, scratching down him in an attempt to break him from the very serious expression.  Needless to say, with a wild moan breaking from Dan and the way he bent back low to kiss Arin again, the human banked that he had succeeded.  With a self-satisfied grin, he acquiesced to the kiss, rolling the two onto their sides.  He was rather surprised when Dan immediately rolled them back to where they had been with a vigorous shove.
             “Wow,” Arin breathlessly gasped, his whole body flushed, “you’re really into this.  But you have to get my clothes off first.”
             “Who says?” Dan smiled, his voice not the least bit affected by all the lust he was feeling.  It was as happy and bubbly as ever and Arin felt something that was definitely not a hand travel quickly up the leg of his shorts.  “You had a fantasy about this once, I think?” he smugly pointed out.
             That bastard!  Arin jerked back from the tentacle that extended from Danny’s hip, but found he couldn’t get away as it fished itself up into his underwear.  In the tight space, the tentacle wrapped around his dick and Arin moaned very loudly as he flopped back against the couch.  There were several reasons why this was so not fair and Arin was a blithering mess as he tried to get his feelings out, “You said you didn’t invade my privacy!” He said first, not meaning to sound as angry as he did.
              Dan stopped his squeezing of Arin’s dick, unsure of how to proceed anymore, “I-I hadn’t!  You had-had-had, had an intrusive thought then!  I…  I didn’t mean to see it and…  And you had thought about my tentacles before after that and I-I…”  Apparently Dan was now completely rethinking everything he had been wanting to do and Arin sighed heavily.
              “No, Dan, I just…”  Arin was really fucking horny.  None of his blood was in his brain and thinking was really fucking hard right now.  “I didn’t know you’d seen any of that.  I thought you would be…  Disgusted or disappointed with me.”  Ugh, he bucked his hips into the tentacle in his pants, it was cramped, the tentacle was warm, he was sweating heavily with all of this activity and the sudden lull for talky-talky time was driving him nuts.
             “I only saw the two thoughts…”  Dan informed, “There were more?” His face was completely nonplussed and Arin knew he had just unintentionally outted himself, “We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to…”  Dan quickly amended, feeling shame spread to him from Arin, he must’ve said something wrong.  “And I don’t think it’s gross, man.  I’ve thought…  Things about you too.”  He motioned down to the panting mess of a human being beneath him, “Obviously.”  Not knowing what else to do as Arin covered his face with his hands, Dan retracted his tentacle from the confines of Arin’s underwear and back into his body.  He heard Arin make a pathetic noise at the loss, but chose not to comment upon it.  “Uhm…”
             “Can you just…” Arin swallowed, “Just get me undressed?  It’s really cramped in these pants.”
             With this suggestion, Danny lit-up anew, “Certainly!”  his hands dexterously undid Arin’s belt and fly and pulled his shorts and underwear off him.  He deposited the clothing articles on the floor and observed Arin’s penis.  A clear fluid was beading at his head and Dan carefully played with the organ.  He listened to Arin moan again, moving past their earlier impasse.  Dan cleared his voice and spoke, “I’ve seen this fluid before, I know you refer to it as precum and I know the thicker stuff is called semen.  I understand the point of semen, but not this fluid.  I will need to collect samples of both at some point.”
             Arin went still.
             “I don’t mean now!” Dan quickly apologized, “I’m having fun with you.  Research can be saved for research time.” He assured him, but he felt a jolting pulse of blood through Arin’s penis that drove him to wonder, “Does the idea of… Ah…  My studying you… Arouse you?  Arin…?”  This was going to need to be logged for later use if his hypothesis proved true.
             Arin was silent, bucking his hips into Dan’s hand again and only just barely getting any friction at all.  Danny’s grip was not tight after all.  He supposed, as Dan didn’t understand what a kink was nor the development of human sexual behavior, that this was going to be a very long conversation later.  Gasping and trying to calm his breathing, Arin honestly answered, “Yes.  I think it’s because I like being tied-up.  Or that has something to do with it.”  He saw the look on Dan’s face and sighed, the embarrassment of the moment making his dick wilt slightly.  “Not all humans like it--a lot of them do though--it’s considered abnormal, but acceptable…  Humans like a lot of different things and this is going to take forever to talk about and my boner is dying…”
              Danny nodded, “Okay, we can talk later.” he smiled, realizing that this was probably not something Arin cared to share with most people or even most of his sexual partners.  It was a personal thing, Danny could understand that much.  Hiking up Arin’s shirt, he kissed over his stomach, more firmly gripping onto his penis and tugging.  He was rewarded with moans and his body shaking, this feeling was just incredible.  Arin himself was incredible, he didn’t understand why Arin seemed ashamed of so many things when he was just as wonderful as he was.
              Sitting up, Arin pushed their lips back together, wrapping his hand around Danny’s erection.  Dan gasped and latched more tightly onto Arin, putting an arm about his shoulders as they continued their heated kiss.  He moaned Arin’s name a few times, their passion all-encompassing in those last few moments.  Dan squeezed his eyes shut and saw white behind his eyelids as Arin shouted and came between their bodies.
             Arin’s panting was the only noise for a bit, other than the drone and gurgle and hum of Brian’s mechanical and bodily processes in the background.  He slouched against Dan and snuggled up into his fuzzy chest.  Squeezing him tightly, he took in a deep breath and sighed contently, “Will you cuddle with me…?” He murmured into him.
             Feeling the commonly described calm of “afterglow” bloom through him, Danny sluggishly agreed, “Is that standard?”  He didn’t wait for Arin to answer, pushing the man back and wrapping his arms and legs about him.
             “Yeah.” the human sighed, laying more into his living blanket.  Thinking for a second, he then mumbled, “You can use your tentacles if you want.”  Just as he had hoped for, all of Dan’s tentacles extended from his body and wrapped around him.  It was like receiving a full-body hug and boy was it ever so pleasantly warm.  “Fuck, yeah.” Arin giggled, feeling himself pulled all the closer to his alien boyfriend.  Or, if not boyfriend, his lover, his partner, his other of most significance…  He looked up, offering his lips for a kiss and Danny gladly took the opportunity.
              “You guys seriously have it made.” Danny chuckled, “Awesome sex and just as awesome after-sex.  I could lay like this forever.”
              “Can you believe some people don’t like cuddling?”
              “They must be crazy.” Danny couldn’t even comprehend that being a thing…
              “I think so too.” Arin settled completely into the embrace of Danny’s many arms, seriously, things didn’t get better than this.
              “How long does this traditionally last for?” Of course, Dan had to go be all scientific on this wonderful experience.
              “Until both parties fall asleep, or want to go for another round, or have other things to do.”  Arin’s stomach then grumbled, “Or get hungry.”
              “Shall we take a trip to the kitchen?” Danny suggested, looking down at his favorite alien in the whole universe.
              Arin supposed that he wouldn’t object to walking there, it wasn’t freezing like the cockpit.  Brian’s massive body did a great job at keeping everything an acceptable temperature.  All the same, he didn’t want to leave the warmth of Danny’s arms.  Jokingly, he asked, “Can you carry me?”
              “Of course!”  Danny stood, all of his tentacles supporting Arin easily against him.  The human blinked as he felt like he was being carried in the world’s most comfortable hammock out of the room and into the hallway.  He shifted a little so he could look about the ship, as Dan carried him through the levels towards the kitchen.
              “I keep forgetting how strong you are.”
             “Comes with not having to worry about breaking bones.  Humans are very strong too, but your muscles are so strong they can snap your bones into little pieces.” Danny remarked, “I suppose you have pain responses to keep you from reaching those points though.”
             “Yeah.”  Arin was sure he had heard that before somewhere, “I guess that’s why insects are so strong for their size.”
             “Insects?” Danny hadn’t done much study of the natural world, he focused on people and cultures.
             “Bugs, they don’t have internal skeletons so can lift things hundreds of times their own weight.”
             “Ah, like the Kriranrk have carapaces.”
             “Ross is a bug…”  Arin grumped, still not over it.
             “They’re not as different from humans, or the rest of us sentient beings as you think…”  Danny stroked over Arin as they entered the kitchen.  “They just seem different to us because their priorities and lifecycles are different.”
             “What are…”  Arin frowned, seeing that they had reached the kitchen, “What are most of them like?”  The room was just as warm and humid as ever, Arin also bet that Danny was going to need to feed Brian while they were in here.  The whale likely hadn’t eaten at all earlier.  His toes touched down to the tiling of the floor and Danny stepped over to the usual panel that extended the freezer.
             “They’re very straight-forward.” Dan explained, going into science-teacher mode.  “They keep to themselves unless they really like you.  Their culture is more…  There’s a bigger emphasis on family than friendship and the families are, of course, very collectivist.”
             “They’re like ants, then?  Or bees?” Arin went to observe all the foods.  He had largely just been living off the seaweed mash and it was time to try something new.  He fished out something with a deep-blue coloration, he wondered if it was plant-matter again.
             “I will require some extra information on these creatures…”
             Arin reached out a hand, Dan curling a tentacle around it as Arin considered what it was about that description that reminded him of such colonistic insects.  Dan also plucked up the wrapped package Arin had been holding, apparently it was edible for him!
             “Ah…  Your Earth insects… Those two anyway, sound more similar to the traditional family structure of the Ydyrn.” Dan commented, “It’s a little more complicated than that.  However…  Ross, as I’ve said, is very acclimated to Earth.  I don’t know if he’s told Holly about his real race, but I have the feeling that he hasn’t.  If he’s able to successfully fool a human with his displays and adequately expresses affection in a way that humans recognize and even elect to be around, I don’t think there’s much about his planet’s culture that applies to him.  Does any of his family even live in your part of the world?”
             “No.” Arin hummed, watching Dan prepare the food.  His curiosity piqued when Dan removed the blue hunk from its wrapping and it began dripping fluids all over his hands.  “He does go back to Australia sometimes to see them, but none of them live here.  Eh, there.”
             “See, that’s not accepted on their planet.  Unless a kriranrk has completely abandoned their Grove, or has been exiled, or the rest of them have died, they never separate from family.” Dan shrugged, watching the food cook.  “Ross’ separation and continual visitation of his family is…  Very odd to me.  If he did not visit his family, as I would expect, I would say that he feels accepted into your group as his family, and are the ones that hold his loyalty.”  Dan’s expression seemed deeply troubled, “I’ve never heard of a kriranrk that has dual loyalties.”
              “So, is it possible that he’s not one at all?” Arin asked with some home in his voice.
              “No, there’s no doubt that he is.  But he’s an anomaly for his race.”  The rethermalizer dinged and Danny removed the steaming object for Arin.  The coloration had darkened considerably and Danny offered it to Arin with the same tile scrape that Arin had been using..
             “Oh…”  Arin peered curiously down at the food presented to him, it smelled good at least, “What is this anyway?”
             “Uh…”  Dan thought for a second, “The flesh of some marine animal or another.  I’m not very good with food identifications.”
             “What?”  The what wasn’t at what the food was it was a what for something else. “Do you not like eating or something?”
             “It’s not that, it’s just oftentimes something that gets in the way of my research.  I’ve eaten the traditional cuisine of dozens of planets, the food of my homeworld is just boring now.  Or…  Maybe I should just say that my own cooking bores me.  I know close to nothing about food preparation.”  Danny self-consciously chuckled.  “I live with no one other than Brian and he can’t cook for me.  I miss my myrnrin’s cooking--the youngest of my parents--they can make anything taste good.”
              Arin cut into the food as Dan spoke, placing it into his mouth and chewing.  It was a bit tough because of its quick preparation, but…  It tasted very similar to crab!  It was sweet and Arin sucked on it in his mouth, “This tastes pretty good to me.” he made sure to tell him.
              “Don’t flatter me, I made the eldest of my parents sick for two whole…”  Dan had to think for a second…  “I suppose two….  No, four, days.” He laughed, “They never let me cook for them ever again, but my ustyrn thought it was the funniest thing ever.”
              “How do you keep your parents straight?” Arin laughed, eating more of the unidentified…  Fish?  Marine mammal?  He guessed there wasn’t quite anything on Earth that really compared, but he had no idea what the creature looked like when alive, so he couldn’t say.  “I can hardly handle having two, and I can just say ‘he’ or ‘she’ when talking about them.”
              “When it’s all you know, it’s very easy to get used to.  I’ve told you that many of us can have as many as six parents.”  Dan reached out with a finger to pluck some of Arin’s food and absorb it.  “Our words for them are set up to tell their ages.  There is my eldest, my middle and my youngest.  When you have more than that, the nouns that refer to them become complicated…  For a long time there was a fight on our planet for more than three parents to be recognized because there weren’t ways to refer to them.”
              Arin sucked on his tongue as he listened, of course no society was perfect.  Zilbyrghr didn’t appear to be all that different from humans after all.  “What do people say then?”
             “I know one is like… Zizyryyrllyaarustyrn, which, uh…  When translated for you means something close to ‘younger than my eldest parent but older than my middle parent.’ It’s complicated…  Very formal way of address.”
              Arin’s mind boggled at the whistled, long word that he had no hope of ever learning to pronounce properly.  He could hardly pronounce Lyrdaanaavydaa and it was relatively simple phonetically.  Arin shook his head, very thankful that Earth languages could at least be learned by him.  There were already so many after all.
              “Another one is kind of easier and makes more sense to me it’s a combination of two words rather than something that worries about being grammatically correct, ‘zizstyrn,’ which as you can imagine is like ‘eldest middle parent.’ Or, at the same time ‘myrnstyrn,’ or ‘youngest middle parent.’  With younger generations around creating more innovative words for things, it’s becoming easier.”
              “That sounds…  Yeah…”  Arin kept eating, “You guys only have one kind of pronoun though, right?  So…  How do you keep that part…  You know?  Avoid confusion?  Is it all contextual?”
              Dan sighed, “Okay, we actually don’t have them.”  Dan watched Arin’s eyebrows spike up his forehead, “Or we don’t have as many, anyway.  We have a pronoun like ‘I’ that refers to the self, ah…  We have also a pronoun for ‘you,’ of course, just for clarity’s sake.  For anything else though,” Dan shrugged, “we use names.”  Then there was a pause, “Plural pronouns also exist, but are only ever used for groups larger than three.  Though, it’s becoming more and more commonplace for people of the younger generations to use our analogous pronouns for small groups.  I’ll admit, it is tiring to always say the equivalent of ‘myself and this person and this person’ all the time, even for small collections.”
              “But…  What do you say if… Like…  You don’t know people?  Or the people you’re talking to don’t know them either?  Uh…  Like in a business situation?” Arin couldn’t imagine getting on in conversation constantly reiterating names…  Or being unable to just say “he” or “she” or “they” to make conversation faster. “Say, uh, ‘I’m waiting for x,’ um, ‘what is x like’?”
              “It’s not often that you’re in a position that at least someone doesn’t know a person’s name, but in those cases you have a sentence like ‘I am waiting for a person I am supposed to meet’ or ‘do you know what this person is like?’ It’s really very simple.”
               Arin frowned, “Is it hard to adjust to a language like mine, then?”  He picked more at his food, but he was almost done.
               “Ah, no.” Dan laughed, “I’ve dealt with significantly more frustrating circumstances than yours.  There is a planet in a neighboring galaxy where everyone’s pronoun is dictated by their social status.  Another where your term of address changes simply by your chosen career.  On that planet, as you can imagine, there are literally thousands of pronouns and it becomes necessary to give a pronoun upon introduction.  Your society’s designation of pronouns being dictated by phenotype does confuse me a little, however.”
              “I dunno…  Seems very logical to me.” Arin muttered, suddenly feeling as though Dan was talking down to his home planet.  He couldn’t help the way he had been raised…  He couldn’t help the way that almost the whole planet categorized people.  That was just the way things were, no better or worse than anyone else’s.
               “I would imagine as much, it’s all you’ve known.  I’ve just come across in my studies that on many planets designations are given depending upon what one performs in society…  Women and men seem to occupy the same space on your planet, both doing the same jobs, none more qualified than the other.  It doesn’t make sense to me to have more than one pronoun for all of you.”  Danny stood up straight then, “I do recognize that I have a bias.  My language doesn’t have them, so it’s an odd concept for them to exist at all as much as I know they exist for reasons.  The separation makes sense for you and that’s all that matters.”
              Arin picked at the last of his food, not sure what else to add to the conversation, “I guess I get it…  You’re all big science-y wonderboy, wonder person…  It’s good to know even you find things like that weird.”
             Dan smiled, “I don’t exist in a vacuum.” he then laughed. “I have cultural biases too…  Like…  I think the Kriranrk are very alien.  You’re very hard-pressed to find positive depictions of them in our culture…”  He admitted with a bit of self-consciousness. “They are all either ‘us’ or ‘them.’  Those are the only two designations they have for pronouns.  They have names, but they are all ‘we think this,’ and ‘they think that.’”  Dan continued after a few moments, “Reason why…  When a member of a Grove is murdered…  It’s more taken like if someone had cut your arm off.  They don’t do a one-to-one scale of revenge.  If you kill one of them, it gives them reason to kill your whole family.”
             Arin went pale.  He couldn’t imagine Ross ever hurting anyone really.  Ross might have had a sadistic streak, but he was still the type of guy to ask to make sure he hadn’t gone too far.  They were both silent for a long while, Dan silently taking Arin’s utensil to clean it.  In that time, Dan also forced Brian to eat something, throwing a good few pounds of food into his gut.
             “You said that, uh…  The Kriranrk are allies though…  Right?  Otherwise they wouldn’t tolerate you on the surface of their planet…”  Unless his stay there had been like what Dan was doing with Earth.
             “They are peaceful.  They do not delight in killing, generally.  They’re each unique, just like humans, albeit with very strong family-centric ideals.  Considering the consequences of murder on their planet, they cannot afford to be violent.”  Arin hadn’t quite thought of it like that…  “They are hospitable, but get tired of guests quickly.  I could not find any that were willing to host me while on the surface of their planet, which, I expected.”  Once the room had been cleaned up, Dan looked to Arin, “Ready to go back?  I need to attend Brian again.”
             “Cool.”

             “Wait, shit.” Arin grumbled halfway back to Dan’s room.
             “What’s up?”
             “I need to piss.  I need to go up to the cockpit.”
             “Can I offer an alternative?” Dan motioned to himself.
             “I’m not peeing on you, dude…”
             “I’ll just absorb it, it’s fine.”
             “No!  That’s gross!”
             “But it will just be absorbed into me, like everything else.  It won’t exist anymore.”
             “I don’t like people watching me pee, bro.”
             “Then I’ll turn my back to you.”
             “I’m not peeing on you!  Stop asking!”
             “Uuuhg, you humans and your modesty!”  Dan took Arin’s wrist and tugged him up towards the cockpit.

             When Arin next awoke from sleeping on Dan’s couch, he was in his own bed.  He sucked in a deep morning breath and squinted at the bright light of the sun.  Had he dreamed the whole experience?  Peering over his shoulder, he got his answer; Dan was snuggled up against his back, asleep.  Arin smiled and turned over onto his side beneath the covers, “Hey…”  He breathed, leaning in to kiss the end of Dan’s nose.
             “Mmmn,” Dan opened his eyes, it taking him a few seconds to process that Arin was all kinds of up in his business.  “Whoa, what?”
             “Morning.” Arin smiled, pressing their lips together and Dan not taking all that instantly to it.
             “Is this traditional?” Danny questioned tiredly.
             “Know how I wake up with morning wood?” Arin reminded him, giving Dan’s face a few more kisses, going down his jaw to his neck.
             “Yes,” Dan remembered, starting to get more up to speed and kissing Arin back, putting an arm around his shoulders.  “Is this often how it’s resolved?”
             “Not as often as I’d like.  It’s a lot of my hand usually.”  Arin moved so he was on top of his partner, kissing down his neck to his chest.  His body was already sending strong waves of lust over Danny’s alien form--a fact of which Arin was not the least bit aware of.
             “Arin,” Danny sighed, rubbing his hands over Arin’s back and down to his butt, “you’re so energetic this early.” He laughed, squeezing the human’s buns.
             “Mmmmm,” Arin pressed his butt back into Dan’s hands and grew curious just how interested in the proceedings Dan actually was…  “Do you… Uh…  Want to this morning?  Or was there something else you had to do?”
             “I would love to, Arin.” Danny grinned, “You’ve really got me going already.”
             Giggling, Arin rutted his chub against Dan’s groin, feeling the other man’s hard-on beneath him.  Arin didn’t even stop for a second to consider that Dan didn’t even have blood with which to fill a penis, this all just seemed entirely organic and natural, “You really are raring to go.” He bit Dan’s neck and licked it afterwards, loving the way his body tensed and he gasped, “Do you want to try…  Fucking me today?”
             “Isn’t what we were doing fucking?” Dan questioned.
             “Well…  I guess.  I mean, it was sex and it was intimate, but it wasn’t fucking.  You need to be in my butt for that…”  Arin was surprised at himself.  A man who so very rarely put things up his butt just talking about about taking another man so casually as if he had been doing it for years.  Danny was really something special, there was no denying that.
             “In your butt…  I remember…  Something about that, but…  Why?”
             Oh no…  “Uh…  It feels good?  This is another of those things you just have to go with, okay?”
             “There’s a lot of stuff you still have to explain.” Danny laughed, his hands resting on Arin’s thighs as he smiled up at him.  “But we can wait until after.  Just tell me what to do.”
             “I promise to give you all the explanations you could ever want while we snuggle, okay?” Arin tickled the space underneath Dan’s chin adoringly.
             “Two great things at once!?” Dan’s enthusiasm was more than apparent with this proposition.  He chuckled and moved a hand inwards, stroking Arin’s erection softly.  “Not that I seriously needed any more reasons to just roll with it.” Danny’s smile grew wider, “You’re gorgeous.”  His fingers gripped and began to tug.
             “Fuck,” Arin took in another deep breath, looking behind him to find Dan’s cock and rub his butt against it.  The effect this had was minimal, but Dan sighed, so it must’ve done something for him!  However, as Dan seemed to know exactly what he was doing after only two experiences with Arin’s penis, Arin’s reactions were anything other than subtle after that.  The human moaned and dug his fingers into Dan’s chest, his thumbs trailing to Dan’s nipples to rub them.  Dan’s hands answered Arin’s motions, or one of them did anyway.  “Shit!” Arin gasped as the other man pinched his nipple in tandem with his hands’ own motions.
              “These are erogenous zones?” Dan questioned in his very scientific voice that made Arin’s dick jerk with excitement.
              “More complicated than that!” Arin barked to dissuade Dan from asking more questions about it.  It really was complicated anyway.  Just like everything else dealing with human sexuality.
              “Care if I run some tests?” Danny teased, seeing instant results in Arin’s penis.  “Does dry feel any different from wet?”
             Arin yelped as he felt Dan’s finger excrete the same clear fluid he’d shot on his face last week.  It was warm, but the way it made Dan’s fingers smoothly glide over his captured nipple was maddening!  Shamelessly, he moaned as Dan “tested” on him and it got even worse as Dan’s other hand smeared the same lubricating fluid over his penis, “Goddamn,” Arin panted, “we’ll never need to buy lube at least.”  He writhed on top of him, “Which works out because I only have lotion and that’s going nowhere near my ass.”
             “Lube?” Dan tipped his head to the side, searching Arin’s mind for the necessary information, “Oh!  I-I hadn’t even thought of that…”  Just as Dan made his limited knowledge known, Arin yelped on top of him.
             “You can’t just stick the whole thing in there!” Arin immediately chastised, flinching away from the penis that was more like a butthole-seeker as it was literally reaching in the general direction of the man’s anus. “I need to be stretched first!”  Oh, wait, he probably should tell Dan that he had never taken a dick before--”Yeeg!” Arin jumped again as a lubed, thin tendril pushed inside of him.  It couldn’t have been any bigger around than a pinky finger, but it was still surprising.  Especially considering Arin was nowhere near where an anatomically correct, normal-sized penis should have been.
             “Is this better?” Dan asked, shifting as the new sensations echoed throughout his body.  It certainly was a special feeling.  He also helped support Arin’s straining thigh muscles as he held himself up off Dan.  His wet hands sliding tantalizingly over his squishy skin, his nails curled into him, making his partner squirm.
             “Yeah, that’s good.”  Arin sighed with a flushed face, “Is that one of your fingers?”  Wait, both of Dan’s hands were well where Arin could see them, was it a tentacle then?
             “It’s my penis.” Dan chuckled, “I figured that I can just--”  Dan cut himself off in a moan as he increased the girth of the thin appendage in Arin’s anus. “Ah my--Ah!  Arin…” Needless to say, the sensation was driving Arin insane as well, he’d never felt something so…  Wow, it sent chills up both the men’s spines.
             “Danny,” Arin slowly settled himself back down onto Dan’s groin, allowing him to push deeper.  He’d had small dildos from girlfriends and his fingers before, so he knew what most of the sensations were like, but…  He felt the pulse of a living being inside of him, moving about and it was so much better than anything he could ever do to himself.  “Can you make it your full size?”
             “What do you want my full size to be?” Danny asked through choked breaths, his eyes fluttering closed as he grew in size further, pushing back against Arin’s tight hole.  He made sure to also increase the production of the clear, slick fluid around his fabricated dick.  Boy, Dan was going to be hungry after this.
             “Don’t be ridiculous.” Was Arin’s only response, “Maybe like…  Nine inches?”  Don’t be ridiculous?  Come on Arin…
             “Like this?” Danny tested, growing his girth and length again.
             “Ah!  Okay!  No!  Smaller please!” The human whined, feeling himself stretched to his limits and not in a good way.
             “Better?” His partner asked again, sighing as he began to roll his hips up inside him.
             “Oh, yes…” Arin moaned, likewise moving his hips and making Dan’s penis brush his prostate, “Aah!”
             Dan jolted at the sudden wave of internal pleasure, “What was that?!”
             “My prostate?” Arin supplied, his eyes squeezed shut as he worked on gently riding the penis inside him.  It wasn’t until the organ inside of him curled itself to continually massage the spongy spot inside of him that he really understood that Dan’s penis was basically a tentacle anyway.  His penis wasn’t “real” and could do just about anything he wanted.  The man almost screamed, reaching to fist his hands into Dan’s hair as he too moaned with sheer enjoyment.  However, with the repetitive rubbing, Arin became aware of his penis beginning to freely leak, the clear and white fluids trailing down his shaft, “Wait, stop, stop.”
             “Hm?” Dan stayed his motions, admittedly able to feel the tapering of pleasure as well, “What?  Am I doing something wrong?”  He watched Arin uncomfortably shift on his glorious rod and felt a renewed wave of lust with the adjustment.
             “I think maybe less attention to that right now is better.”  Arin felt tense and frustrated.  He wanted to come already, but seeing his precum a little cloudy and dripping down his shaft, he wondered if he had accidentally ruined that fucking great orgasm he had coming on. “Shit.”
             “What’s wrong?  Tell me, man!” Dan nervously enquired, likewise feeling the hard knot in his stomach.  He bucked his hips, getting a pleasured yelp from Arin and another renewed jolt of pleasure.  At least there was no doubt in Arin’s mind that he was just as into this kind of sex as he was.
             “It’s my fault, I think we should’ve talked about--Aah!”  He shivered, taking one of Dan’s hands and curling his fingers around his wet shaft.  “This… Focus on this.” Arin gasped some more.
             From there, it didn’t take long at all for the two of them to get off.  Though, even with the release, Arin still didn’t feel completely satisfied.  Still sitting on Dan’s D, he huffed a little, grumbling at their misfortune.
             “What happened?” Dan asked, feeling a little ashamed as this was obviously, in his mind, his fault.
             “Damn it.” Arin sighed, pulling himself off Dan and flopping down to the bed next to him.
             “Please talk to me.” Dan wrapped his arms around Arin, pulling him close for a kiss.  He was reassured that Arin wasn’t angry or even disappointed with him so much as it was with his ruined orgasm.  “What did I do?”
             “It’s not your fault, you didn’t know that was going to happen.” Arin affirmed, leaning in to the kiss and just trying to relax with him.  “If you massage a prostate too much… You just start pushing the fluids out.” He explained with a laugh.  “Then you get what just happened.”
             “Ooooh,” Danny nodded, “Sorry… Then… I thought…”
             “Yeah, yeah, it’s like a Rubik’s cube.”
             “A what?”
             “A puzzle, it’s like a puzzle.” Arin clarified.
             “A Mario puzzle?” Danny giggled.
             “It’s just about as frustrating, yeah.” Arin laughed along with him.
             “I’ll make sure to sweet talk it next time.”
             “Ooh, yeah, talk dirty to me, baby.” The human nuzzled their faces together, smooching him firmly.  He really badly needed that smooching and all, so he paid him another, and then another.  “As much as I wish we could just hang out here all day…”  Arin swallowed, looking to his effects that Dan had piled up on the bedside table.  “I should probably turn my phone back on…”  He reached out and tapped the button, the phone screen instantly glowing.  The the vibration of a dozen missed texts and calls followed…
             “Being honest, I kind of forgot…” Danny admitted, sitting up in the bed, propping himself up on the headboard behind them.  He sighed, wondering if Ross was going to give him some kind of tongue-lashing.
             “Me too…”  Arin began to scroll through his phone.  It could’ve been much worse, he only had missed calls from people who wouldn’t have known he was out of town.  There were calls from his parents and a few friends, but nothing major.  None of them thought it necessary to leave voicemails.  His texts, however…
             “I got your note, but what was that thing last night?!”  Sent from Suzy.
             “I know you said your phone was off, but you can’t just up and disappear like this!”  Still Suzy.
             “Come on, man, just ONE response!  JUST ONE!”  Suzy again.
             “Suzy is worried about you, I don’t give a fuck if you’re boning, just text her back.” Barry.
             “Wtf?” Jon.
             “Sudden vacation my ass, this isn’t cool, man.  We got shit to do.” Jon.
             “Officially ran out of shit to do.  We’re WAITING!” Barry again.
             “Hope the D is worth it.” Ross…
             “You have a storm brewing back here.” Ross once more.
             “I swear to fucking god if you and Dan aren’t a fucking thing when you get back I will be so fucking pissed there was no goddamn reason for you to just up and leave with only this shitty hand-written note, Arin.  What the fuck.”  Wow, Suzy was certainly the most pissed and Arin supposed he understood that.
             “My nuts and ass are going to be on special when I see them…”  Arin murmured, leaning on Dan for support.
             “I take it I would’ve been in this position with you had you not gone looking for me…?”  Dan supposed, trying to lighten the mood a little.
             “Yep.”  Arin chuckled, standing from bed, “I need to shower…  You can come with me if you want…”  Arin’s face screamed all that Dan needed to know.  The past few days had been jarring for the human.  Though the development of their relationship had been a major high point, it was tiring to learn so much in such a short time…  Now that he was back from his intergalactic adventure, he was about to get chewed-out by all his best friends and would have no explanation.  He needed Dan’s support more than ever at this point
             Dan smiled, standing up from the bed and striding over to him, his puff of hair bouncing to and fro, “I’d love to.  And maybe then we can get some breakfast and sort all of this out.”  He caressed Arin’s face gently, his eyes adoring.
             “Yeah,” Arin leaned against him, burying his face into Dan’s chest, “I think I’ll be ready after that.”  He put his arms around him and squeezed, “You’re amazing.”
             “You’re amazing too.”  The zilbyrgh followed his lover to the bathroom, a very positive outlook on their day.  Arin’s friends would forgive him, what else could really go that wrong?

    

Chapter Text

             “What the fuck?”
             “Just fucking disappear like that!”
             “Inconsiderate and just what was that night?!”
             Yeah, Arin was in reamland…  Both he and Dan stood side-by-side, silent and apologetic.  They both dipped their heads, accepting the rebukes from Jon, Barry and Suzy.  Ross remained suspiciously quiet, sitting back just to watch them.  Arin was unsure if that meant he was angry beyond words or if he simply didn’t care.  Maybe there was also the chance he was getting off on seeing them be chastised for their “flippant” behavior…  It was probably that.  Or, it was weird alien stuff because Ross was a fucking space centipede .
             Once the initial yelling died down, the air was tense.  There were obvious questions to ask, but nobody was brave enough to.  The four present looked between each other, then looked between Dan and Arin, ideas on their tongues--come on, Arin had basically implied in his note to Suzy that the two were working out a relationship.  Not to mention that Suzy and Ross both had suspicions from the beginning…
              Suzy was the first to break the tenseness, however, “The yelling aside, I’m happy to see you’re okay, Dan.”
             “Oh, ah, yeah…  Arin yelled at me about that… I…” Dan chuckled self-consciously, “I’ve never been good at giving notice before I do something… Just…  Went out to do it.”
             “Just leave a note next time so we’re not out at a scary beach at night…”  She giggled, but her expression was one of confusion.  Dan evidently hadn’t tampered with her memory all that much and Arin was scrambling inside for some kind of explanation about that.  He had no idea what his excuse was going to be short of Suzy up and passing out which never happened anyway.
             “I’m sorry.” Dan seemed to deflate, his eyes big and sad.  He was surprised, however, when Suzy moved over to hug him.  Returning the hug, he grinned and lifted the short human off the floor, listening to her giggle some more and attempt to get back down.
             “So, what did you guys do?” She asked and the two men looked to each other as Dan sat her down.  Ross, Barry and Jon looked likewise curious about whatever stories this would bring because, come on, they had just up and left to drive around California in late January.
              Arin and Dan spoke of their adventures in the “country,” skipping over the parts about the handjobs and Brian being a space whale.  Other things had to be edited too, but with a bit of camaraderie, Arin and Dan managed to spin a pretty decent story.  Of lies.
             Ross, ever the intrepid soul, spoke once the story had concluded, “So, you said you wanted to be alone, but you brought his best friend with you?”  He sounded like he was pouting to be honest.
              “I wasn’t aware he was coming along…” Arin gave Dan a look, everyone else laughing in response, “He’s a fucking jerk.  Brian, not Dan.”
             “Th-That’s not what you were--” Dan was cut off as Arin hit his shoulder.
             “He’s an asshole.”
             “You’re both the same person, practically…”  Dan asserted, getting a laugh again from everyone. “He’s just a lot older and has a PhD.”
             “Great, so he’s Doctor Brian Whaa--Wecht.”  Arin was surprised at his own skills of stopping himself and apparently simultaneously coming up with a last name for Brian.
             “What the fuck was that?” Dan asked Arin alone.
             “He had some family stuff going on though, so I can’t be too hard on him.” Arin moved the conversation along with a mumble.  But we’re not the same person, I make more dick jokes.”
             Dan burst out laughing, “He was being polite !  And, you know, not feeling well.”  Dan’s laughter dialed back to contained giggling, “You should see him when we’re writing together.”
             “This is all good and heart-warming guys, but can we get to workin’?  ‘Cause, yeez, we need to do something .” Jon cut-in, getting some stares from the rest of the crew…  Uh-oh…  Arin suddenly had the inkling that something must’ve happened during his absence.  It made his skin tingle and his palms sweat and also explained Jon’s hereto silence.  Jon shifted under the looks, but only looked straight at Arin.
             “Yeah, I’m down.”  Arin answered, clearing his throat and smiling to Jon.  He was happy to save him from this incredibly uncomfortable situation, if only to find out just what had happened.  “Dan, do you want to hang out?” He respectfully asked, he imagined that he had reports to file or something.  Also, he wanted to give him an out from this extremely uncomfortable situation.
             Dan blinked at the question, “Ah, yeah, I-I’d be cool with that.”  The alien wasn’t oblivious to the tense air in the room centered around them.  As much as he wanted to escape this situation, he wanted to stay for the benefit of Arin.
             “Sweet!”  Ross jumped in, “I got something I wanted to show him.”
             Arin went still, Ross wasn’t likely to smile upon their jaunt…  Did he even believe that they stayed on the planet?  Or was he just overthinking this and Ross actually just had something he wanted to share with Dan?  Ross wasn’t an enemy just because he wasn’t human, nothing had changed…
             Arin smiled through his terror, motioning for Jon to come along with him.  He called back as he headed to the grump room, “Don’t scare him too much!  We gotta keep him around in case someone dies!”
             “Or for sucking your dick?” Ross questioned and the awkwardness in the room redoubled--someone had f inally said it.
             Arin breathed out, his writhing ego evident on his face as he tried to respond as easily as he could “Much more than that.”  And it was that simple.  He heard Suzy make an “aww” sort of noise and put her hands over her mouth in a giggle.  Jon said nothing, Ross just grinned.  Arin could say the feeling in the room was overwhelmingly positive, but he still looked to Dan, unsure of how to proceed.  It had never felt like a big deal before to announce he was dating someone.  This was the first time he’d ever dated a man though, he was sure Suzy was going to drill him for this later.
             Dan appeared to be blushing…  Purple…  As Arin looked back to him and seemed a little alarmed, he looked down to his hands and immediately corrected his colors. Thankfully, everyone’s attentions, apart from Ross’, were focussed on Arin.  He needed to really work on his skin turning pink when he was embarrassed.  That really wasn’t something he was going to have an easy time teaching his cells either.  To escape the awkwardness, he rushed to the office at the end of the hall, giving Arin’s shoulder a pat as he passed him.
             Ross followed after him and made sure to shut the office door behind him.  Now that they were alone, the grilling could commence…  He looked at Dan squarely as the alien plopped down in one of the chairs--the one that happened to be Arin’s desk chair, actually--and “melted” for a half second before correcting his shape.
             “What were you two actually doing?” Ross raised an eyebrow.  “Give me bullshit and I’m reporting you.”
             Dan swallowed and sat up straight, “We…  My partner, Brian…  He’s a starship and--”
             “You pilot a ydyrn?” Ross cut him off, “You brought what is essentially a warship on a study mission?”
             “How about you stop cutting me off like an asshole before I start questioning why an Irapraxiian gives a flying fuck?” Dan rebutted, not willing to just roll over for one pushy kriranrk.
              Ross sucked on his tongue, “I’m not Irapraxiian.”
             “Sure, yeah, okay.” Dan rolled his eyes in disbelief.
             “I’m a kriranrk, but I’m from Earth.  I’m Terran just like everyone else in this building except for you.” Ross divulged quietly, “I don’t want you fucking with my planet.”
             “So you were born here…” Dan sat back in the chair, thoughtful, “And your parents are?”
             “None of your business.”
             “Ah!” Dan reached up into his hair, “I’ve published entire…Entire….”  He searched desperately for a word, but the only thing he was coming up with was “Books on your people’s culture!  My curiosity isn’t personal.”
             “Still not any concern of yours.  My parents are from Irapraxiis if that’s what you were going to ask, but that’s all I’m telling you.”  Ross stepped over to his own desk and sat down, dropping his lanyard on the table top.  He stared at Dan across the room, behind Arin’s desk, “We’ve gotten off topic.  What were you doing, and why do you have a warship onplanet?”
             “Brian is not a warship, he has the capabilities, but he’s never been involved in anything of the sort. He’s strictly a research vessel, he’s been studying water quality and ecosystems.  His findings are anything other than positive, but I’m sure humans are well-aware of what they’ve been doing.” Dan waved his hand to dismiss his own snide feelings on that matter, “Moreover, he’s not a machine anyway, he’s a sentient being and is capable of making his own decisions about how to use his force.  To use anything more than his stunning equipment, he requires a crew to man him, I am alone.”
             Ross made a noise, sounding unconvinced, but Dan knew he had no other choice than to believe him as he seemed to have a very limited knowledge of his and Brian’s people, “Okay, and what were you doing with Arin?”
             “That’s…”  Dan sighed, “I found Suzy and Arin out on the beach, or Brian did.  Arin was clearly looking for me, so we took him aboard, but...  Brian was concerned that Suzy saw him, so we took her and wiped around twenty minutes of memory, I didn’t want to, but…”  He shrugged, “Brian was worried and I did it for his peace of mind more than anything.” Moving along, he explained his reasons for taking Brian up into space as well as Arin’s requesting to come along on the exercise jaunt.
             “And you never let him leave the ship…?” Ross questioned for clarity.
             “No, I found the possibility for infection to be too great.  All items brought aboard were sterilized several times over.”  Dan was partially offended that Ross would even consider him being so irresponsible…  Ross was very slow on the uptake of him being a professional researcher.
              “Well, that’s good, but, what you have done still counts as abduction.”
              “But…  Arin wanted to come.”
             “Humans are not allowed to be taken offplanet by extraterrestrials.”
             “But he wanted to come… He told me he wanted to.  Like… Explicitly .”
             “That doesn’t matter, it’s not allowed.”
             “But he consented to leaving Earth!”
             “If Arin had his own means for getting up into orbit and then crossing over to your ship, it would’ve been acceptable, but the way that things happened, it’s illegal.”
             “But…  He’s capable of making his own decisions, he’s sentient, mentally stable and--”
             “And lives on a planet that is trying it’s very hardest to fool all its inhabitants that aliens don’t exist whilst simultaneously allowing them to live on its surface and participate in culture.”  There was a spark of humor in Ross’ eyes and it was all Dan needed to see to understand that Ross too found these rules extremely ridiculous.  “The way the government likes to look at it is that they are protecting the best interests of Earth’s inhabitants when…  I personally see it being more about having control over the population.  Let too many humans up into space with aliens and suddenly everyone knows you all are out there and there can be no more cover-up.”
             “Are you going to report me…?” Dan tentatively enquired thereafter.
             “No.” Ross smirked, “I wasn’t even contemplating it after earlier.”
             “What?  A-After when?” Dan felt his skin flush purple, indignance blending with his embarrassment.
             “Arin likes you a lot.  And you like him.  There have been dicks involved, just don’t do it again.” Ross shrugged his new friend off, “I am a sadist, but I have my limits…”
             Dan made an indignant noise, “You…  Why did you…?”
             Ross chuckled to himself, reaching up to scratch at his nose, “Because it was fun.  Come on, Dan, you’re not dumb.”
             “Dammit, Ross.” Dan grumbled, standing up and seeing Ross was laughing yet again.  He was…  “You’re…  Very different from other kriranrk I’ve met…”
             “You don’t meet many that have held a shape so long that they’ve forgotten what they originally looked like.” Ross divulged, Dan assuming it to be some kind of peace offering after the earlier stress.
             “That’s…  Possible?” Dan responded with clinical curiosity.  “How long does that take to set in?  Can you not revert back?”
             “You’re here to study humans.  Not me.” Ross reminded him, waving off the further questioning.
             “You can’t just…  Just…  Just…”  Dan made a frustrated grunt, “ Dangle information like that in front of a researcher and not elaborate!”
             “But didn’t I just?” Ross answered smugly, that smirk of his never once faltering in the presence of Dan’s frustration.
             “You….” Dan pointed a finger at him, “Little shit.”
             “Ah!  You understand!” Ross laughed, his eyes sparkling with…  Fondness?
             Dan observed him, his expression quizzical, “You’re intriguing, Ross.”
             “I like you too.”
             “I never said that.”
             “You don’t have to.” Ross continued to smile, rather sincerely, Dan would add…  “I don’t need anything else from you, you can go pester Arin with your multitudes of questions now, if you want.”  He wiggled to and fro in his spinny chair.
              Dan stared at him for a few seconds longer, eventually deciding, “Thank you, Ross.” before leaving and heading down the hall.

              “Aeuuuughhhh, that was awful .”  Arin complained, installed on his couch, Dan sitting at the opposite side.
              “Was it?” Dan wondered, “None of your friends seemed to care…  Ross even said he wouldn’t report me because we’re…  Dating?  Is that word?”
              “I just…”  Arin put his hand over his face, “It’s embarrassing…  I guess.”
              “Am I, um…  Do I embarrass you, Arin?” Dan tentatively enquired.
              Arin sat up straight immediately, “No, Dan.  You don’t!  I just, um…  I…” he looked over his downtrodden boyfriend and reached out to take his hand, “There’s....  I said before, how, about Sailor Moon --”
              “Homosexual relationships are frowned upon, yes.” Dan finished for him, “Would it be more convenient if I presented as female?”
              On the one hand, Arin flushed pink at the idea that Dan could change his outward appearance to female at the drop of a hat.  On the other…  The way he said it…  More “convenient,” it made Arin feel guilty.  This was the way Dan had chosen to present to him and suddenly it seemed like he was saying that Dan wasn’t good enough.  No matter the circumstance that Dan truly didn’t look human at all and hence, his appearance as human was arbitrary, Arin still felt bad about it.  He was confident that even if Dan weren’t an alien, he probably would still like him this much.  He was charming, hilarious when given an opportunity to flex that part of himself, attentive and, well, adorable .
              “No, I like you as you are.”  Arin assured him, sliding closer on the couch, kissing his cheek.
             “Are you sure?  It really doesn’t matter to me.  One human shape is as good as another.” Dan tried to appeal again.
             “I’m sure.” He smiled, “Besides, I’ve already introduced you like this, not that…  If you want to be seen as female, that’s your choice, but…  I’m just saying, you know…  You don’t have to change anything about yourself for me to like you.”
             Dan smiled, kissing his lover on the nose, “I might give it a try someday, but, I’ve had the most practice with this shape, it is the easiest.”  Nonetheless, Dan did puzzle over whether or not Arin’s feelings were at all influenced by his human shape.  In the past, Dan never took on the form of his research subjects as in many cultures it was seen as mocking or rude.  Here, it was out of necessity…  It had never been a thought before that someone was sexually interested in the idea of him more than the reality.  As his feelings for Arin continued to wax, it behooved him to get an answer for this soon.  He steeled his nerves and dropped his human features, putting tentacles around Arin as he asked, “And…  Is this shape still as pleasing?”
              Arin blinked at the sudden shift, staring at the relatively featureless face of Dan.  His big orbits shined at him and the thousands of chemical reactions within his body twinkled on his pinkening body.  Pink might have been Arin’s favorite color, but not a color he preferred to see on Dan, “It’s you, why wouldn’t it be?” Arin nuzzled his face against Dan’s squishy form, careful of his eyes, “Just tell me where to kiss and we can get started.” Even without direction, he kissed the expanse before him that he called Dan’s cheek.  “Unless everywhere is fair game.”
             Dan tightened his grip around Arin, “That settles it.”
             “Settles what?” Arin wondered, pulling away from his his face just to look at him.  Though, he realized this was a somewhat fruitless endeavor because there was no expression to see.  However, Dan was turning green, so, he at least knew this was a positive thing.
             “We can talk about it later.” Dan assured him, lifting a tentacle to Arin’s mouth and pressing against it.  The sensation, to Arin, was almost identical to kiss, but with this being supplied by a tentacle, rather than Dan’s mouth, he was able to fully see the zilbyrgh’s body awhirl with all manner of bright, gleeful colors.
             “How do you guy’s normally kiss?” Arin asked as the tentacle moved on to plant more “kisses” on his cheek and down his neck.
             “We twine tentacles until our membranes become permeable.” Dan carefully explained, “From there, it often escalates into….”  He thought for a moment, leaving his tentacles in one place across Arin’s skin, “Sex sounds like the closest thing you have, but it’s a full-body sort of intercourse.  We have free-exchange of….  Hormones, I guess…  And thoughts and feelings. One cannot guard their feelings during intimacy, needs or desires of all partners are known once…” Dan made a noise similar to a sigh at the inadequacy of Arin’s language, “Intercourse begins.  Those that fear emotional intimacy do not get to experience our intercourse--though, I understand that in humans emotional and physical needs can be and often should be kept separate.  It is that way in many species.”
             Arin nodded as Dan spoke, getting comfortable in his lap.  He stroked over his body, human clothes ill-fitting to his much taller, lankier, alien form.  Curious, he reached a hand up to gently run his fingers through Dan’s many cranial palpators.  He smiled when they curled around his fingers, stroking his skin in soft, undulating motions.
             “So, does it feel good, to…  Um…  I don’t know, enter another person?  Or become one with them?  I don’t know how you guys, um…  Do you know what I’m asking?”
             “The meeting of two separate beings does set off a series of pleasurable chemical reactions, yes.  The more…  Dissimilar your personal chemistries, the better it feels.”  And Arin now understood how inbreeding was avoided.  If that was even a problem for his species.  “While in this state, if all parties agree, genetic information can be gathered and combined, but, in this state of…  As you would put it, ‘Oneness,’ if there are conflicting feelings, it won’t occur.”
             “Wow, if only it were that simple for humans…” Arin laughed, but, suddenly, he felt inadequate, yet again, “I’m sorry I can’t help you with…  Feeling ‘One’ or…  Or whatever.”
             “The…”  Dan musically laughed, “ Explosive nature of your orgasms makes up for it.” he assured with more laughter.  “At any rate, it isn’t so different.  Your skin is semipermeable too and a link with your mind and nervous system suffices” Dan laid all those worries to rest instantly, going back to kissing Arin’s exposed body with his many tentacles.  A few of them fished down beneath Arin’s belt level, into his pants to kiss.
             “And-- oh, dude --if--ah, geez--it feels so good to stay One with someone-- fuck --why don’t you guys just do that all the time?”
             Dan stared at Arin, somehow, the human didn’t have to be given any other cues to know that this must’ve been an exceedingly dumb question, “Imagine,” Dan began, a tentacle twining softly around his penis and beginning to tug inside of his pants, “that someone was doing this to you all day long,” Dan pulsed green as Arin yelped, a thin, slick tentacle slipped inside his anus, making the human quake in his grasp. “and you had a house to clean, business to conduct, people to meet with.”
             “I see your p-p-point.” Arin shuddered in Dan’s multiple arms, moaning and feeling rather helpless to the pleasure being brought upon him.  He wasn’t going to deny that this was hot for the sake of his ego.  Dan already knew the best ways to get him, damn he was quite observant and Arin loved it.
             He curled against his boyfriend’s body, his hands gripping at his rubbery “skin.”  He writhed and gasped as Dan seemed completely unaffected by what was happening.  On the one hand, it was hot in a dominating way, on another…  Even though they had just discussed this, Arin still wondered aloud, “Do you like doing this?”
             “Of course, I do.” Dan reassured, squeezing Arin tighter with great affection, “If it makes you feel good, it makes me feel good. Literally!”
             “O-Oh, good, I…” Arin tried to shift, but he found Dan’s tentacles wrapped around him tight-enough to restrict his movement.  At the same time, he felt the tentacle already in him grow in size and begin to move with more purpose.  He let out a loud, undignified noise, panting heavily and starting to struggle, “Dan…” He murmured pathetically.
             “Is everything okay?” The zilbyrgh slackened his grip and stroked Arin’s cheek as he looked up at him.
             “Yes, I’m fine.” Arin smiled, “I was only…  You’ve always made noise before.” He chuckled self-consciously.
             Apparently it was rude in human cultures as well to remain silent, “I did not mean to upset you.” Dan allowed for the free exchange of pleasure between the both of them, his whole body vibrating with a moan that made Arin’s insides quiver.  “But I cannot focus now.” Dan laughed, tightening around Arin and continuing to pleasure him while still clothed.
             The space where Arin’s penis was was a bit cramped, so Dan did open up his fly and push the pants and underwear down out of the way.  Arin’s whole lower body was covered in sweat and the clear fluid from Dan’s tentacles, as the cooling air touched Arin’s skin, he let out a squeak.  The noise came again, however, when Dan lifted Arin, penetrated and all, out of his lap to throw away his pants somewhere more convenient.  He felt Arin’s lust redouble at the show of strength and found himself moaning just as loudly as the human when he struck Arin’s prostate.  With his limbs trembling under the weight of the pleasure, he drew Arin back to him, squeezing him against his body and pressing a sucking tentacle to Arin’s lips.  When the human responded by opening his mouth, Dan rushed in at the invitation, yet, careful to leave space for Arin to breathe past his “tongue.”  He twined with Arin’s tongue in an alien version of a kiss, his body pulsing with brighter green light the closer Arin got to orgasm.
             “Danny,” Arin gasped, trying to tear his mouth away from the tendril and trailing saliva in the process.  His chest heaved a few times more, his eyes screwing shut and he came--with flourish--over Dan’s “chest.”  They both were left to recover their higher faculties after that.  Mostly there was a lot of clinging, Arin heard some nonsensical, alien babble and did some muttering of his own.  He nuzzled into Dan’s “shoulder,” contently sighing.  This moment was perfect, if he could experience the whole zilbyrgh “Oneness,” he banked that it would feel like this.
             Five minutes passed like this, Dan beginning to sing quietly.  Arin didn’t know the words, but he tried to mumble along anyway, “What’s this song about?” he decided to ask.
             “Ah…” Dan paused in his singing, giggling, “I wrote it.”
             “That’s not what I aaasked .” Arin giggled along with him.  “Now I just wanna know more.”
             “Um…  Well, let’s see…  It’s told from the perspective of the person singing, so, in theory, it’s me talking….”
             “ Yeah ?” Arin pushed for Dan to continue, eyes still closed, face nuzzled into him.
             “It’s just, um, the singer has moved into the domicile of their two partners and is expounding at length that they have attempted to achieve Oneness with nearly every object in their domicile…  Everything has their genetic composition left on it.”
             Arin, needless to say, lost it .  He pulled back from Dan to comment on how brilliant that was, but, instead, “Goddammit, Brian!” Arin winced back in Dan’s arms, said man was behind the couch, crouching to be at his eye-level.  He saw the silent man smirk to him and he began to splutter as Dan craned his neck back to look at him.  “I’m in the middle of a sensual embrace here!  Can you not be three inches from my face?!”
             Brian remained motionless, continuing to smirk.
             “Why are you even here!?  Piss off before I throw another lawn ornament at you!”
             “He’s lonely.” Dan told him.
             Arin spluttered, “How long has he been here?!”
             “Since about halfway through the song.  He helped me write it.” Dan explained, “He’s happy you find it so funny.”
             Arin grumped quietly to himself, but he recognized that Brian was going to stick around for as long as he felt like it.  Which, as it turned out, was going to be for the rest of the day.

             Three days and fourteen orgasms later, Arin was still grudgingly dealing with the presence of Brian…  It was like he just knew when they were getting it on.  He was just fucking always there either during or after!  Arin could handle a joke, but it distinctly ruined his horny as well as the intimacy of cuddling to know that Brian was watching him.  He wasn’t surprised anymore, but Danny’s tolerance of the matter was baffling to him.
             “Why is he always here?!” Arin finally fussed, at his wit’s end.  “Can’t you tell him to go away?!”
             “Arin, if he is lonely during this time of bereavement, I won’t leave him without attention.  He only let’s you see him out of courtesy.”  Danny reminded him, “He can still be around and you not see him, would that be better?”
             “No!  That’s still…”  Arin huffed, folding his arms and turning his back to Dan in bed. “I just want to be alone with you…”
             “I know.”  Dan inched closer to him, twining his arms around Arin’s body and resting his face in the crook of his neck and shoulder.  “He won’t always be around someday.  Understand, I have you, he only has me.”
             It wasn’t like Arin was unsympathetic, Brian could hang around and such, just…  Why was it always when they were having sex?
             “Does he normally do that with you?”
             “Do what?”
             “Watch you have sex?”
             “He finds it humorous.”
              “And…  That…  Doesn’t bother you?”
              “Yes, it does…” Dan admitted, “He just…  Delights in scaring people.  He is a ydyrn, after all…”
             “I don’t care what he is!  You don’t…” Arin huffed, “Ever thought of writing a song about that?”
             “Not really, but…”  Dan chuckled, “I am now .  That’s…  Genius!”
             “Funny my ass.” Arin grumbled once more, relaxing back into Dan’s chest.  “It won’t be so funny when I punch him in the face.”
              “He says he’d like to see that.” Dan chuckled.
              Arin opened his eyes and looked to the foot of the bed…  There stood Brian, he gritted his teeth and pointedly looked away.
              “He’s waiting for you at the bottom of the ocean.” Dan continued to laugh.  “How you would say ‘come at me, bro.’”
             “Punch you in your fucking big, fucking whale nose.” Arin continued.
             “He and all his tonnage of mechanical parts are just trembling.” Dan was having far too much fun with this translator business.  The only response Dan got was quiet, sleepy mumbling, “If you ever wish to go face your foe, I will gladly take you down with me.” He smiled fondly, carding his long fingers carefully through Arin’s hair.
               I’m certain, Bryrrna…  I’ve never felt like this before…  Dan relayed softly, nuzzling into Arin.
               Give it more time…  This is…  A very rash decision.  Observe more.  Then act. Brian reasoned.   Speak to him about this first.  He must be willing.
               I know that!  I will…  Soon…

             A month passed.
             A few weeks after that passed too.
             February was less momentous than January, but January had been a life-changing month for Arin, so nothing would ever quite live up to that month.  Dan discovered his first Earth holiday, largely American though it was.  A holiday similar to Valentine's day existed on his home planet, it was not hard for him to guess what lovers did most commonly on this day.  He took notes on the exchange of flowers and confections as well as these helium-filled, rubber--sometimes plastic--bags.  The bags were occasionally adorned with writing and were often shiny.  The holiday seemed to have two distinct reactions to it, either people absolutely loved it--he noticed a trend that many of those people were often in couple’s arrangements, but not always--or that people hated it.
             “I do not understand.” Dan commented to Arin as the human opted to hold his hand in public for once.  “What is this distaste for a day that celebrates your lovers?”
             “It’s more complicated than that.  A lot of people are bitter when they’re alone on Valentine’s day.” Arin shrugged, walking through the mall with Dan.
             “That’s dumb.” Dan pointed out, “To just be an asshole because other people are happy…”
              Arin had become increasingly impressed by Dan’s word-choice over the weeks.  It was almost like he was native!  However, during scientific explanations, he still did bring out the cold, clinical words.  Arin realized Dan’s vernacular was likely to be just how his mind was interpreting what Dan was saying, but surely Dan had some amount of control over what he heard.
              “It’s bigger than that, really.” Arin made sure he understood, “It’s more a holiday about spending money.  Why shouldn’t every day be lover appreciation day?”
              “True, huh…  Still nice the day exists.”
              “Dude!  Can we get our pictures taken?!”  Arin grinned, pointing a finger at the photobooth off yonder.
               Dan hesitated, “I’m… Not…  Arin,” he began with a frown, “I’m not allowed to leave any proof that I was ever here.”
               “C’mon, man.  It’ll just be for me.  Y’know, you’re not gonna…  Always be here…” his voice slowly tapered off near the end and as Dan felt Arin’s sadness bleed through their skin contact, he panicked.
               “We can take the pictures!” Dan amended just as Arin was about to suggest they just go to the video game store down the way.  “C’mon.” He smiled and tugged Arin over to the cramped photobooth.
             Before they began, Arin explained the nature of photobooths.  It took many pictures and it was traditional for those in the booth to make each as unique as possible.  They only had a few seconds between each shot, so they would just have to improvise.
             “ Improvise you say?” Danny loved it when he heard that word, a smirk curving his lips.  It was the smirk that always made Arin swallow, damn , Danny had no right to be as beautiful as he was.  “Let’s go!”  Dan dragged Arin into the booth and they got started.
             “They’re so small.” Danny commented afterwards, giggling as they examined the strips of photos together.  Their first looked more like the two of them had been stuffed into a sardine can because they hadn’t been expecting it to be that cramped.  The second was a melodramatic scream from Danny as Arin was slumped in his arms, tongue sticking out in a parody of death.  The next appeared to be Arin berating his teenage son.  Dan sat hunched over, arms folded, a moody expression on his face.  Arin had to admit, the “eyeliner” Dan had added under his eyes was a nice touch.
             “That’s part of their charm.” Arin laughed, “Small and pointless.”  He looked to their last photo.  It was cheesy and stupid and so not his style, but, Arin was sitting in Dan’s lap in the cramped space, arm slung around his shoulder.  They were both kissing, lips smooshed together with wild abandon.  “I love you, Dan.” Arin chuckled, leaning on his boyfriend and squeezing his hand.
             Dan paused, it was the first time he’d heard that directed at him in such a way.  What did he say?!  What did he do?!  He had no training for this!  Honesty, yes, honesty was the best policy here!  Danny squeezed Arin’s hand back, kissing his cheek, “I love you too, Arin.” it was muttered in the human’s ear, a warm whisper.
             Arin passed the second set of photos to Dan with a grin, still leaning against him, “Want to go get sushi or something?”
             “I would love to get sushi, man.” Dan replied with great excitement,  Earth’s oceans might have been terrifying, but its inhabitants were beyond delectable “Then, maybe one of your cinematic entertainments!”
             “You mean a movie.”
             “Yes, a movie.  Dinner and a movie.” Dan quickly repeated in a deadpan. “Followed up by a walk and then, maybe a light smattering of me getting to S on your D.  Sound good?”
             Arin laughed and grabbed Dan’s arm to pull him along, “C’mon, smartass.”
             “How can my backside be smart?”
             “Eugh, just shut up.” The both of them chuckled as they got on their way.

             Over the passage of the month, Dan also began to speak.  Arin attempted to teach him to read, but most of that boiled down to him aiding Dan in pronunciation and occasionally holding his hand throughout a reading.
             “What’s this book?” Dan questioned as he rifled through the boxes Arin had stored in his room.  Arin didn’t own a bookshelf that wasn’t overflowing with gaming equipment or video games themselves, so, most of his books were still in cardboard boxes.
             “What does it say?” Arin smugly asked at the question.
             “Uh… The…  Laast… Uni…  Unicoooorn.” Dan blinked and looked to Arin, “What the fuck’s a Unicorn?”
             Arin laughed at his puzzled friend, likewise sifting through boxes of books and setting side ones he felt Dan would have interest in reading, “Unicorns are magical, sparkling horses.  They have a single horn on their head and are white.  Ah…  Remember Pegasus from Sailor Moon ?”
             Dan looked over the yellowed cover of the book and read the back of it as Arin spoke, “Yeah?.”
             “Unicorns look like that, but without the wings.”
             “Are they real?”  Arin could totally say ‘yes’ right now and Dan would believe him...
             “No, but they’re pretty.”
             “I think I’ll read this.  Along with your…   Lord of the Rings .  I don’t know what a hobbit is.”
             “They’re, uh…  Short humans with hairy feet.”
             “Are they real?”
             Arin laughed at Dan’s seeming frustration, “No, they’re not.”
             “Your planet is so intriguing.  Massive reptiles once walked everywhere on your planet, but your people enjoy inventing creatures that look normal just with minor adjustments.”  Arin had flashbacks of Dan’s dinosaur enthusiasm, it was all he wanted to talk about at meals for days .  The search engine of his computer was filled with everything from “Dinosaur feathers?” to “Stegosaurus and T-Rex crossbreed.”  It was only after some uncomfortable questions that Arin learned Dan had been searching for pictures of a spinosaurus.   Arin stopped checking the history of his computer after awhile, it just wasn’t wise when The Horny Wonder That Came From Outer Space was involved.
             That being said, Dan endlessly searched the web for anything he had questions on.  Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary became his best friends during this time.  Files to Vysvaa were being written at such a breakneck pace, he had to split the information being sent into several “shipments.”  However, this sudden consuming of internet came with some issues.
             “Arin!  Arin!”  Dan shook his friend awake in the middle of the night.
             “What?!” Arin sat up, pushing Dan off him, “What’s happening?!  Is the building on fire?!”
             The jelly-like alien turned lavender, “Uh, no… But!  But!  Something equally concerning!”
             “An earthquake?” Arin blinked, it was fucking three in the morning!
             “You can’t go to the doctor tomorrow!”
             Oh no…  “Dan, this had better be good.   Why shouldn’t I go to the doctor tomorrow?”
             “Because didn’t you say you were getting some kind of…  Of inoculation?”
             “Yes, I’m getting a tetanus booster…”  Arin stared at him, daring him to say what he thought he was going to.
             “Did you know that vaccines have the ability to completely change the structure of your brain and neural pathways?!”  Arin had never felt more like punching him in his life.
             “Dan, because you’re not from Earth, I will give you a pass, but, under normal circumstances I would be calling you an idiot that needs to shut up and let me go back to sleep.”
             Dan’s skin deepened in color, “What… What do you mean?”
             “Not everything you read on the internet is true.” At his lover’s curiosity, he clarified, “If it were, then dinosaurs wouldn’t be real.”
             “There are people that don’t believe in dinosaurs?!” Dan’s body suddenly became a canvas of surprised, flashing colors, “But there’s so much proof!”
             “Yeah, and for every one article you see that reads that vaccines cause Autism in children, you’ll find around twenty articles that say they don’t.  People can be remarkably stupid and all bets are off on the internet.”
              “I’m sorry I woke you up…”
              “It’s okay.” Arin picked up one of Dan’s tentacles and kissed it, watching the wave of green that rippled through him disrupt the embarrassed purple.
              “I, uh…  Have some things to now go expunge from my report…”  He tapped Arin’s cheek back with a return kiss.
              “You go do that…  Uh…”  Arin really didn’t want Dan accidentally sending back wrong information to an alien race that otherwise knew nothing about his species, “If there’s anything else you have questions about…”
             “Yeah… I’ll just ask.  Good night…”

             As to be expected, all this learning and writing lead to Dan and Arin leading relatively separate lives.  Dan and Arin cuddled, sure, while Dan read and Arin played video games; quality time with one another, yet not stressful on the smothering part.  Most nights, however, Dan wrote reports and most days did the same.  There were many nights he passed out in his own bed, flattened over the expanse of the mattress.  There were nights Arin joined him, there were nights Dan joined Arin.  There were nights Brian joined them, and Arin yelled.
            Dan accompanied Arin to work only around twice a week and appeared at parties.  He really was beginning to understand being human!  He was also beginning to understand that differences occurred even amongst friends.  Jon and Arin didn’t so much fight all the time as much as have loud declarations of their differences.  These periods of declarations often ended quickly and gave way to far less hostile activities.  Dan tried to stay out of them, he understood what they were about as he was present during that first session and it was something he didn’t have a say in.  He liked Jon and hated to see his friends fighting with each other understandably.
             “Are you okay?” he asked Arin.
             “Fine, we’re just trying to work things out.”
             “By yelling.  I’m sure that’s getting a lot done.”
             “It’s complicated.  We’ll get things worked out and everything will be cool.  Just…  Have to…  Find someone to replace him.” Arin shrugged and drank more of his beer, “Maybe Suzy can do some episodes with me for awhile once he leaves.”  He puzzled and looked up to Dan, “Or… You could?”
             “This isn’t like the picture thing!” Dan stood up stark straight, red Solo cup in hand.  “It would be for viewers.  Thousands of people would hear me.  I can’t leave recordings, Arin.”
             “I know, I know, it was just a thought.”  Arin shrugged, once more, “I’m going home, you staying?”
             “Yeah, Barry said he was going to teach me about video editing!” Dan expounded with great enthusiasm.
             Arin raised an eyebrow, “Something you’re interested in?”
             “Yeah!  It looks really neat!  I see you animating on your computer and, well, I can’t draw, so…  I figured I could send videos for… My reports sometimes, you know?  Ones made with your technology.”
             “Hm,” Arin made a face of thought, “It’s an idea.  Maybe, if you get good enough at it, you can work for us while you’re here.  Earn some money.”
             “Wow…”  Dan’s mouth hung open for a second, “Really?  You think?”
             “Sure, why not?”  Arin gave him a short kiss, his breath tasting slightly of tequila. “Walkin’ home, come back whenever.”
             “See you at home.” The tall zilbyrgh smiled as he watched Arin leave.  His freedoms had increased significantly after getting a prepaid cellphone.  With his increased articulation abilities, Arin grew less and less worried about him being in public and so, Dan ventured into the world without Arin’s guidance.  It was marvelous…  All of his research was amounting to mounds and mounds of positive material, for every negative aspect of the human species, he found at least two things happen in the world that combated it.  Moreover, his superiors seemed hopeful on top of him.  It was very early in the research period, but, barring some kind of massive cataclysm on the planet, it would be hard to change his superior’s minds.
             As great as this “honeymoon” period of research was, Dan was beginning to feel a pressing need inside of him when around Arin.  They needed to talk desperately about the more alien aspects of his species.  At least, the aspects concerning relation consummation.  He needed to be frank with him and so the beginning of March, as it happened, brought changes.

Chapter Text

             “I love you.”  Arin murmured against Dan’s body, for once, Brian was not present.  His arms draped over his midsection, fingers coasting over his smooth skin.
             “Love you too.” Dan responded, long having mastered making his voice sound as though it came from his mouth rather than his whole body.  “It’s been…  So amazing here…” He hugged Arin tighter, “You don’t know how much I treasure you, Arin.”
             Arin wished he could pick up such loquacious language so quickly.  Dan’s people, from their memory-review stasis--as he had learned--had close to eidetic memories.  Information needed to be read once, stimulus experienced once for it to be committed to long-term memory.  They could choose to forget something--through complicated means--if it turned out to be wrong, or if years and years passed between a memory’s access.  Either way, this made the learning of languages extraordinarily fast for the Zilbyrgh people.  It wasn’t instantaneous like it was for the race of flower aliens that Dan had described before, but quick nonetheless.
             “It’s been a long time since I last felt like this.” Arin happily muttered.
             “I have something to ask you…” Dan enquired, stroking over his shoulders, “Would you…  Okay… Ah…”  Dan switched to accessing Arin’s language center as he often did when things became a little more complicated than he was comfortable with.  “I’ve been thinking about this a lot.  For a long time, really--listen, Arin, I’ve never felt about anyone the way I feel about you.  Not ever and you know everywhere I’ve been…”
             Arin pushed away from him for a minute, “Dan…  Um…”  Arin suddenly felt like a fool for never having asked if something like marriage was a thing on Dan’s planet.  He knew the bond between a ydyrn starship and their captain was like that, but he never thought to ask about Bonded groups…
             “Hear me out, I know this sounds weird…  But…  My species, we go through a series of chemical changes when we are, as you would describe, in love.  This allows us to…  Officially Bond with an individual…” Dan saw the discomfort on Arin’s face and frowned, “It’s… A long process…  That can take up to months of your time…  And can be aborted if feelings change before the Bond solidifies.”
             Arin stared at him, silent at first.  If there is one thing that Arin is good at, however, it’s speaking his mind “Dan, I…  This seems a little…  Rushed.”  He squinted at him, “It was you that said we are in no rush, so…  Is something wrong?”
             “N-No.  There is none, I’ve just…  M-Maybe it’s not-not really just a human thing to get ahead of ourselves, I’ve really…”  Dan sighed and looked away, rubbing up and down his right arm.  “I’ve just been thinking if…”
             “If…  What?” Arin blinked a few times, in that awkward, helpless space between wanting nothing to do with the idea of being permanently bonded to someone so early in life and wanting to comfort him.
             “I know I have a few years of research left.” Dan prefaced, turning back to face Arin, “But I was thinking, even if we don’t…  You, know, work out as a couple, I would still like for us to remain in contact with each other.  Even if my planet miraculously decides that we don’t want an alliance with you, I still want to come back.”
             The gears were turning in Arin’s head, but he wasn’t quite grasping what Dan was getting at, “Dude, I’m kinda stupid with alien things--I just don’t know about them, obviously, so, can you just say it?”
             “Ah, well, you see, my planet has laws about personal holidays.  You’ve told me that your society does as well, but while ours do have ones surrounding the deaths of family members as well as additions to the family, we have ones concerning partners.”  Dan’s human-looking skin began to give off a vague, green glow.  “While I could never…  Ask for someone to wait for me--I’ve told you this before--because I get wrapped-up in work and…  Things, yeah…  If we are officially Bonded to another, or a few others, then we are allowed to take leave every so often to be with them.”
             With such explanation, Arin was swiftly seeing where this was going, “So, you want to Bond with me, so you have an anchor to Earth?”  He wasn’t sure if he thought this sentiment was sweet or if he should be offended.
             “More to you and your friend group…  I’m fond of all of you.” He grinned, “This planet as a whole.”
             Arin hummed before answering, “Do you do this with every planet you go to?”  The human immediately regretted the question, however, because Dan’s hair deflated and he frowned.  The soft glow disappeared too along with that smile.
             “No…  I’ve never felt a need to before.  I have friends I stay in contact with.  Friends on Klesum, Miriodius--”
             “Irapraxiis?” Arin tried for a smile.
             “Psh, no.  I was t olerated , the Kriranrk are not known for making friends.  I already told you that.” Speaking of such abrasive space centipedes, “Ross is an anomaly since he was born here with you guys.  That’s the only explanation I can come up with.”  Dan began to glow again with a smile, “He says humans are like an invasive fungus.”
             “Ew, really?”  Well, if t hat was what the bug thought of them, he could just…  Go somewhere else.
             “‘They grow on you until you just want to be one’ was how he put it.”
             “Oh…” Arin stared up at Dan’s literally shining face, leaning closer.
             “I would have to say… I definitely agree with him.”  Dan closed the rest of the space between their lips, letting his eyes fall shut.
             “That wouldn’t happen to be my fault, would it?” Arin whispered, their noses bumping together, eyes closed.
             “You do have unique talents.  No one Fulfills me the way you do.” Dan responded in a likewise whisper, moving to kiss him again.  “No one I’d rather be One with either.”  The human refractory period was a nuisance to him as it was, but humans were capable of pleasures beyond the sexual during this period as well.  The soft, cuddly feelings of emotional bonding were just as good, he soaked it all up like a sponge.
             “This Bonding thing…” Arin paused, “What will it do to us?”
             Dan pulled away to settle into a defensive curl around his darling, “To you, I suspect nothing.  You…  Work more on a…  Ah…  I would say ‘chemical level,’ but it’s chemicals for us too.  Maybe the word I’m looking for is ‘physical?’ I cannot say…”  Dan searched long and hard for his words before eventually giving up, “The point is, as you aren’t a zilbyrgh, you won’t experience the same things we do.  It is difficult to say now whether or not it will affect you in some way as, obviously, we have never tried to Bond with members of your race before, but, like I said, it probably won’t.”  Seeing the nonplussed expression on Arin’s face, Dan chose to elaborate, “If it does, it will not be anything negative.  It cannot kill you, it cannot make you sick.”
             “How do you know you even can with me?  Aren’t you, like…  Silicone or something?  And I’m carbon?”
             “Ah, yes, you would figure, but bonding is possible with members of the Klesite race and they are carbon like you.  I have decent cause to believe that our Bonding is possible.  Or, my Bonding to you, rather.”
             Arin was still unsure about this, “What will it do to you?”
             “Well…” Dan sighed, “It, for one, will satisfy this feeling inside of me.  An… Obnoxious yearning--I only say obnoxious because it calls to me to be stuck to you while I should be writing reports and you’re at work--one that makes me fear the unknown about your day…”
             Arin was smiling, believe it or not, “You said your language doesn’t have a word for love.  That kind of sounds like it.”  Also sounded a little bit like obsession, but Danny wasn’t letting it rule his life or interfere with Arin’s, so, he shied away from calling it that.
             “Your word is nebulous, encompassing many factors.” Dan laughed, “My language requires precision, we have different words for things, like, to like something and to only like something in passing.”
             “We do too…”
             “Yes, but you would still say ‘I like this thing’ we would say, basically, ‘I only like this thing in passing, it is not important, but it is also not insignificant to myself at this moment in time.’” Dan stared at Arin as the human slowly processed the complexity of that sentence.
             “So, okay…  I guess… That is very different.  Though, you’ve still not said what else this Bonding thing will do.”
             “You’re the one that got us off topic.”
             “You’re the one that answered the question.”
             “How can I leave a question unanswered?”
             “Just don’t answer it?”
             “But that would be rude!”
             Arin laughed.
             “Stop laughing at me!”
             “Or what?” Arin wiggled his eyebrows at the human-shaped alien.
             “Is that a question I’m not meant to answer?”
             “I dunno, is it?”
             “I understand rhetorical questions, but I’m not sure about these kinds of questions.”
             “If you did answer that question, what would you say?”
             “To which question?”
             “Which one do you think?”
             “What I’ve been trying to say, Arin, is that if I Bond to you, the feeling will go away.  I will be able to know whether or not you are suffering in your day and I will be able to find you to provide support.” Dan finally got his words out, a bit of bluster in his voice as Arin was proving amusingly frustrating.  He and Brian really were the same person in some ways.
             “Really?” Arin asked with a good deal of surprise.
             “Are you really starting that again?”
             “No, that was a serious question.”
             “I told you what it would do, why would I lie or misdirect you on this?”
             “You won’t be able to read my every thought, will you?”
             “No, of course not…  It’s more for…  Moments of intense stress.  If you hurt yourself, or experience extreme emotional trauma.  Sometimes, heightened moments of joy can be remotely felt as well.  There will be a certain amount of directional pull as well.  It enables me to find you, wherever you are.”
             “At all times?” Arin raised an eyebrow, unsure if he was okay with that.
             “No, just when you need me most.” Dan explained, stroking Arin’s cheek and kissing him again.
             “So, like, if I’m really horny?” the human facetiously replied.
             “Arin…”
              “So, you said it can take months?”
             “Yes…  If you decide that, at any point, you don’t want it anymore... I can always break it.”
             “Would that hurt you?”  As that was a bit too vague for Arin’s taste, he figured more clarity would be best, “I mean, physically.  Not just emotionally.”
             Dan considered his response options before deciding on honesty as always, “Yes.  Not grievously, but it would.”
             “Okay…” Arin laid back on the bed, snuggling up close to Dan, “I love you, I don’t want to risk hurting you.”
             “I know…”  Dan curled more into Arin, stroking a hand down his side.  “You know my point of view already, it’s your decision.”
             “I don’t want to think I’d be keeping you from something either…  Adventures, more,” he paused to chuckle, “more hot aliens.”
             “You wouldn’t be.  Though…  I fear much the same.  When I must eventually leave, I cannot tell you how long I will be gone.  If it is too long, I would not like for you to remain alone.”
             “If you Bonded to me, you wouldn’t be gone long, would you, though?”
             “No.  It would also ensure, when the time comes, that I will be stationed here to stay in contact with you.  This is only one of many vastly different cultures on your planet.  My people will want to know about as many as possible.  I could end up in China, or Russia, or Egypt, or Nigeria if they even do choose me to come back to Earth in the second stage of study.”
             “I thought you said that you’d be calling others to come here… Not leaving for that…”  Suddenly, Arin was beginning to wonder just how truthful Dan had been about the whole “it wouldn’t be for years” thing.
             “That’s up in the air.  Depending upon how things go, I will either be able to plead my case from Earth in a report, or I could be called to stand before my superiors to convince them of the safety of the other researchers.”
             Arin wholly realized that that wasn’t something Dan could guarantee…  Given the unpredictable nature of his own people, that did seem dangerous.  Especially if they were going to continue this research in secret.  Arin doubted their presence would remain secret for very long anyway if they did come in fleets and abduct humans the way Dan did in order to find amicable hosts.  What would happen if one of their ships ended up shot down?  Or if one of the hosts was deceitful?  Or worse, was forced to give up information about them?
             “I understand your worries…  Believe me, that’s…  Something I too have considered much of.  Which is why I feel it may come to me needing to leave for home to properly explain the situation.”  Dan spoke to assuage Arin’s many worries, “That decision won’t be made soon, there is plenty of time.”
             “What will happen if you go and you can’t convince them…?”  This was not a subject Arin would willingly let go of.  There were many variables here that he didn’t like.
             “I…  Suspect…”  How to put this?  “That your planet may be classified as too dangerous at present to approach, or, perhaps a lost cause altogether.  I could be assigned, from there, a new planet to survey or culture to research.”
             “I would never see you again…?”
             Dan breathed a tiny sound, one Arin recognized as pain, “Possibly not; no.”
             “What do you have to do to Bond with me?”
             Dan sat up from their cuddle puddle, slowly, almost like he was too heavy to move, “I need your DNA, that’s it.”
             “I’ve got plenty of it spattered on my stomach still if you want it.” Arin joked, trying to set aside the fear that had gripped him mere moments before.
             “No,” Dan laughed, “I need DNA from a diploid cell, not haploid.”
             “You know, because you’re no-longer using my head to talk to me, there are words I don’t know the meanings of now.” Arin reminded him with a playful slap on the wrist.
             “Your penis sauce has only one half of a human being in each cell, your everything else has a whole in it.”
              “Oh,” Arin chuckled, “so, will blood work?”
             “Cheek cells will work fine.”
             “My cheeks?” Arin raised his hands up to stroke his fuzzy facial landmarks, “Are you just going to--mmf!”  He didn’t get to finish his sentence as Dan weaseled a green tentacle into his mouth while he spoke.  Of course, Arin couldn’t be expected to not take advantage of this…
             “I just need to swab the insides of your--you stop that!” Dan shivered, feeling Arin start to suck on his appendage and roll his tongue around it.  “Ariiiin, this is serious!”
             “I’m serious too, baby.” Arin said around the tentacle probing his mouth.  What he tried to say, anyway, it mostly just sounded like garbled gibberish.
             Dan retracted his tentacle from Arin’s mouth, absorbing it and whatever else was on it into his being, “I’ll need more, since you licked most of them off…”
             “Oh, I’m going to have to submit myself for more tests, that just sounds so awful.” Arin giggled, happy in knowing he had just given Dan more reasons to stick his tentacles places that he wanted them.
             Dan deadpanned at him, “Just let me get the hypodermic needles I left on Brian and--”
             “Nooo, man!  Come on.” Arin flopped on top of him, bucking his hips against him.  “You still haven’t fucked me on that exam table yet, or…  Or really done anything of that sort.”  Though, Arin supposed that maybe, just maybe that was a bit too weird for even Dan.  That sort of research was his job after all, if he did use all his alien research tech to “violate” Arin, that likely was the only thing he would be able to think about whenever he examined another subject from then on.  Why did it have to be so fucking hot though?  His boyfriend that he trusted so much just strapping him down and performing all kinds of “tests” on him--needing to test reactions over the span of hours and seeing how it affected how pliant he was and just--
             “Arin, darling,” Dan interrupted the sudden assault of sexual thoughts, “we will get to that sometime, I promise.” He kissed his temple and nuzzled his nose into his hair, “But for now, I would just like to obtain enough DNA to begin the Bonding process.  Okay?”
              “Okaaaay.”  Arin sighed in mock sullenness.  “I guess we should do the important thing first.”
             “I appreciate your…  Dedication to the thoroughness of my research though.” Dan winked with his trademark smile.
             “Oh, yeah, so totally dedicated.  Dedicated to your research at your top secret Sexatorium.”
             Dan laughed, giving Arin a small shove, “You mean Brian?”
             “Nah, man, that guy’s a dick.”
             “Oh, totally, just between me and you, I hate that guy.”
             Both men shifted to look at the foot of the bed, “Hey, Brian!” Dan waved at the telltale silhouette.  “Testing out new shapes?”
             The black shape glared at them with the same icey-blue eyes as always.
             “You know, if I didn’t know you were just a big whale, I’d probably be legitimately terrified right now.” Arin commented, sitting up off Dan to rest against the headboard.  However, right as he said that, he had to wonder at the twists and turns his life had taken in recent months that he wasn’t terrified of a disembodied mental projection of what was a whale that could survive the vacuum of space and safely transport other lifeforms inside it.
             Brian just stared, motionless.
             “Y’know, if you two could figure out how to make it work, you could seriously have a great act.”
             Dan sighed, “I wish.  No time to even consider that, though.”  Dan stood up from the bed, noticing the way Arin frowned, “Chill, I’ll be back, I need my sample collection kit so I can get enough of your DNA.”  The tall zilbyrgh left the room and Arin fixed his attentions on the figure close to his bed.
             “ You’ve agreed to Bond with him ?” Brian asked with Arin’s mouth.
             “Yeah, is this the part where you threaten to kill me if I hurt him?” The smart-mouthed human joked with a smile.
             “ No, but, now that you mention it, if you do, I will.
             Arin felt chills run throughout his body, Brian’s words were not empty in the slightest, “I would never…  Intentionally, you know…”
             “ Yes, I know.
             “Cool… Just…  Checking…”  Arin wished Dan would return already, “Do you…  Not want him to Bond with me?”
             “ No .   It’s nothing personal.  I understand fully how much you mean to him and the other way around, but, I cannot help but be apprehensive.  He is not from this world and I immediately assume the worst could happen.
             Arin nodded in response, understanding now that Brian was, likely, trying to convince him to turn Dan down, “He’s all you have, I know…”
             “ The last that I have.
             “He can’t…  Die if our Bond breaks… Can he?” Arin swallowed.  “He said it wouldn’t hurt him very badly, he wasn’t lying, was he?”
             “ It can.  However, those incidents are always very specific.  A Bond was removed forcibly rather than intentionally on the part of the holder.
             “Are you talking to yourself in here?” Dan interrupted, strolling back into the room with something that looked like a scrape and a knife…
             “Ah, just Brian.” Arin explained, getting a short laugh from Dan.
             “Does he talk back?”
              “Sure he does.” Arin laughed, but it was an unsure one as Dan stepped over with the lancet in hand, “What’s that for…?”
             “Well, this,” Dan held up the tongue scraper, “Is for your cheeks!  There’s still some loose ones left, I’m sure, and this,” he then showed Arin the knife…  “is to prick your finger so I can collect some blood.”
             “I thought we weren’t going to do that?” Arin inched away slightly, “Don’t you have my blood and tissue sample on your ship already?  From that implant?” he swallowed again.
             “Oh, I have a lot more than that, but, those are for research.  The ones I could use to take your DNA have, unfortunately, been rendered useless by said research.  Dissolved and thoroughly examined.”  If it was any consolation, Dan at least seemed willing to use the samples, were there any left.
             “I really don’t want to do this, Dan…” Arin impressed, giving a terrified eye to the sharp implement that had procured for the express purpose of drawing his blood.
             Dan deflated once more and eyed the scrape, “Cheek cells it is…  Or I could pull out a few strands of hair and collect the DNA in the follicles.  Or swab your mouth for white blood cells as well as cheek cells…”
             “I know that’s the more difficult route, but…  You know I don’t like getting cut or needles.”
             “Yes, I know, just hold still.”  Dan approached Arin’s mouth to hold it open, but paused just before inserting the scrape, “Brian, was there something you needed?”  He looked to the foot of the bed, but just as his eyes got there, Brian’s form disappeared.  “Hm…”
             “What?” Arin questioned, Dan’s fingers already parting his lips.
             “He seemed on edge about something.”
             “Probably just that he doesn’t want us to Bond…”
             “Oh…  So, you could tell too.”
             “He’s just worried about you.”
             “I know.  Now hold still.”  Dan inserted the scrape into Arin’s waiting mouth and went to work.

             “Hey, Dan?” Arin asked once he saw his lover collect all the various samples into one clot in a petri dish.
             “Yeah?” Dan didn’t look up from his work.
             “What will your parents think?”
             “Hm…” He still didn’t look up, but his hands paused in their prodding of the samples.  “I don’t know…  What will yours?”
             “Shocked…  I don’t think they’ll be mad…  Just it’s unexpected.”
             “I don’t know if mine will be mad, but I don’t know if they’ll be shocked either…  I think they have just assumed by now that I won’t ever Bond.”
              “Is there a pressure in your culture to, uhm, have kids?”
              “Very similarly to yours, yes.  My sibling has already had two offspring.” Dan smiled, “Their, ah, my sibling’s partners are both…  Interesting people.”
              “And what of your… Uh…”  Arin sucked on his tongue, “what do you call genderless children of your sibling?”
             “The word ‘nibling’ seems to exist in English.” Dan supplied, “My niblings are adorable.  I love being an ommer, or pibling…  Your language is difficult to describe myself with…  Anyway, I love it, I send them souvenirs whenever I can.”  Not that he could for quite sometime anymore, no offworld ships making jaunts to Vysvaa to dump things into what they had for a mailing system.
             “Making words up?” Arin chuckled at Dan’s frustration.
             “No, someone else made them up before me so, I suppose that means they’re more valid or something.” Dan shrugged, “Your species has less of a need for it than mine does, though, I understand these words are in use by groups of individuals that don’t ascribe themselves to your ideas of gender.”
             “Aaeh, well…”  Arin never thought too hard about that, he waved off Dan’s concerns.
             “Keep in mind that I’m not the only one that finds them funny.” Danny reminded him with a hint of smugness, “Even amongst your own people you realize it’s silly.”
             “Maybe it is a little, I don’t think about it, really.”
             “I guess it doesn’t concern you.”  Danny finished poking about the wet mass of DNA, “I think I have enough here.”
             “Good, now…  What do you do with it?” Arin sat up, curiously watching as Danny reached a tentacle out and scooped up the, to Arin, disgusting ball of spit, tissue and hair follicles.  “You… Eat it?”
             “No, digestion has nothing to do with it.”  Dan shivered, a bright, glowing, green wave emanating from the site where the ball of material had been absorbed.  His whole body waved again and he gasped, making Arin scoot closer to him.
             “Are you okay?” Arin enquired, stroking a hand down one of Danny’s arms.
             “I’m…  Hot balls, I’m awesome .” Danny declared, wrapping his arms around Arin’s body.  “I’m with you…”  The black spheres protruding from Dan’s relatively featureless face shimmered with adoration.  His many arms squeezed Arin tighter and he smooshed his soft face against Arin’s cheek in a replica of a kiss.  “Ooooh, this is going to take some getting used to.”
             “Is it like having perma-sex?”  Arin sniggered at the sudden influx of affection.
             “A l-little, aaah!  Kind of… Ah… Like…  D-D-Do you have tiny vibrators?”
             “None I’d want to get stuck anywhere, but yeah.” Arin supplied, caught somewhere between finding Dan’s disheveled state sexy and being sympathetic, “I thought you guys said this is why you don’t walk around as One all day long?  This doesn’t seem like all that better of an alternative.”  Well, depending upon who you were talking to, he supposed.
             Dan’s body let out a little puff, “I-It gets better, just…  Hang on…” There was a tiny, high noise of effort, “I see why this takes m-m-m-months!”  Arin watched Dan’s body turn a whole mess of colors in a hurry.  “I just need to….”
             “Need to…?”  Arin’s face turned thoughtful as Dan had more difficulty than normal arranging his dialog.
             “I’ll explain later.” More shuddering, “Wow, I need something to di-di-distract me.”
             “Hmmm,” Arin smirked, running a hand over Danny’s soft body, “now, what would distract you?” He kissed his cheek, then down his neck to his shoulder, marveling at how the touches of bright green on Dan’s skin lingered where his lips had been.
             “Arin,” Danny gasped, his tentacles all at once reaching for less innocent territories. “I’m sorry.”
             “Sorry for…?” Arin hesitantly asked.
             “I hate to…  To…  Ask, but,” As his many arms were already wet and going places, Arin wasn’t going to be focused on talking for much longer either, “Could you…  Not go to work for a few days?”
             “Is it--ah!” Arin sucked in a sharp breath, “Is it necessary?”
             “Perhaps not, but…  I would like it.”
             “Okay, sure,” Arin looked over to the bedside clock, “I’m not going in today anyway, it’s almost four.”
             “I’m sorry, thank you…”
             “It’s no problem, just kiss me.”  Dan happily obliged as the rest of him also kissed Arin, albeit, in many different ways.  By the end of all the “kissing” it was nearly six AM.

              Arin had to say, the following days off had been…   Funny .  Dan was funny, Brian was even funnier, albeit, while one funny was endearing the other was…  Concerning, to say the least.  Dan constantly giggled or seemed like he was in a state of orgasmic bliss or was just all kinds of stuck to Arin’s much shorter body.  There was a point where he suggested making himself into a dress for Arin!  Arin couldn’t really say he disliked the idea, but wearing his boyfriend as a clothing article was not something he had ever imagined doing before.
             Brian’s funniness was more his penchant for standing around and saying absolutely nothing.  Not that that was necessarily different from normal for Arin, but he wasn’t even sending waves to Dan.  He was just there for no reason.  More--less?--of no reason than normal!  He wasn’t even there to annoy them, he was just…   There .
             Brian gave Arin the creeps and Dan was working on his last good nerve.
             “Dan, I thought you said the Bonding would make you calmer ?”  Arin pointed out as Dan was, yet again, wrapped all around him, intentionally flushing his body a pastel pink as Arin walked around the apartment in him like he was a flouncy house dress.  As the house dress was actually alive and in the constant process of kissing him, Arin still felt very naked.  Dan hadn’t been clingy at all prior to this and while Arin didn’t really hate it--how could he?  Dan was adorable!--it was very different from what he had grown used to.
             “It will.” The dress-like alien answered, “You might call this a ‘honeymoon’ period.  It’ll pass.”  With Dan describing it as a “honeymoon” Arin felt equal parts guilty for trying to bring his mood down and also uncomfortable.  “I said you could describe it as that, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”
             There were definitely parts of this that Arin wasn’t complaining about.  Instead of staying up late every night to work on reports or experiments, Dan had been in bed with him.  The sex had been great and the fuzzy afterglow had a distinctly stronger hold than normal.  It wasn’t just at night either, his wearing Dan as a clothing article was largely due to the pattern of the moment that Arin was dressed again, Dan also wanted another go.  It was just more convenient for him to already be naked.  The only parts of this that he really disliked were…  Well, he couldn’t find those parts exactly.  He supposed the lack of personal space was in there, but as Arin was always up in Dan’s business whenever they played video games together, it was time for some payback.
             “I want to do this, don’t worry, Dan.” Arin reassured with a smile, stroking down his sides, and by so doing, also stroking over the constantly-shifting landscape of his boyfriend.  “Want to nap?”
             “I’m down with it.  I’ll sleep for fucking forty-four years.”
             “Wouldn’t your pod, or whatever, come looking for you if you slept that long?” Arin giggled, plopping down in his bed.
             Dan shifted the flatness of his body around to cover Arin more like a blanket than an encompassing garment as he answered, “I was using comedic hyperbole to--”
             “I know , Dan.  Yeez.” Arin chuckled, still widely smiling, “So, I have a question, if Brian’s…  Um… The Ydyrn, if they live in pods, like family groups, why is your work also referred to as a ‘pod,’ man?”
             “It more refers to the hierarchy of work.  The name is homophonous with the family chain-of-command of the Ydyrn.”  Dan described, getting comfy.
             “Chain-of command?”  Arin laughed, imagining the giant whale that was Brian in a centurion-style set of armor with a sword in one of his flippers, “You make them sound like--”
             “Militants, yes.” Dan cut in, “They’re always regarded as…  Fighters, not lovers.  That’s complete shit, as you know.”  Dan likewise laughed at the mental image Arin passed along, “There is a Broodmother of sorts at the head--my ultimate boss at work--the elders of the pod who are the most knowledgeable, they work alongside my boss, they’re my higher ups.  Ah…. Then are the people like me!  The adults of non-elder status.  We do the most work.  For the Ydyrn, these are the ones that defend the pod, Brian would’ve been one if his pod were…  Uh, they also have the job of communally raising the young when they are born.  After that you have, um…  You would call them ‘interns,’ I guess.  Prospective researchers, or the young and adolescents of the Ydyrn.”
             “They only have one sex too?”
             “Yeah, all the same.” Dan nodded studiously, his head raising out of the flat plane of his body.  “Standing and address is dictated by age or whether or not one can bear young.  The Broodmothers make all major decisions for the pod.  Even who gets to leave to pursue other careers...”
             “What do you mean?  Don’t they live in cities like you?”
             “No, most of the time.  Though our aquatic cities are constructed to accommodate the size of ydyrnr, they are less present in them than you’d think…  Though we…  Both of our species owe each other a great deal.  Because of the protection the Ydyrn provided us, we were able to grow out of our shells and become upright beings and--”
              “Whoa-whoa-whoa, stop… Say that again?”
             “Originally, we zilbyrghr were shell-bound creatures, much like your oysters or…  Um…  I guess a better analogy would be nautiluses.”  Dan flailed a few of his tentacles for emphasis. “But, we began to inhabit the insides and surfaces of the Ydyrn.  They gave us the shelter of their bodies, we gave them increased cleanliness and an easier time collecting food.”
             “You guys were…  Worms…?”  Arin tried to not let the disgust show on his face.  Needless to say, Dan caught this immediately and was silent for a few seconds.
             “You’ve had not-very-wonderful moments in your evolutionary history.” He reminded, Arin flinching a little, before continuing, “Once we began to build our own dwellings, however, we split off.  The Ydyrn prefer open water, we don’t.  Thusly, while we are able to communicate mentally with the Ydyrn, we are not always on the same wavelength and have different views on almost everything.”
             “So you guys are more coral reef people is what you’re saying.”
             “To put it in Earth terms, yes.”  The blob that was Arin’s boyfriend let out a sigh, “So, ydyrnr are active in our culture and cities, obviously, but are a minority.  Out in the open spaces, Ydyrn culture likewise accepts us in the minority.  Some still live within or on their body surfaces.”
              Arin lay in starry-eyed bliss at these various explanations.  Perhaps, at first, Arin had considered the beginnings of Dan’s species disgusting, but they had their own history.  It was only gross because it was not something he could personally relate to.  There was just so much to learn about Dan’s planet!  This wasn’t a place that was just made up, it existed in truth.  This was a vibrant culture with a full history and so much to share!  How he wished he could go there!  So far, all he could do was live in the realm of Dan’s explanations and stories of Vysvaa.
             Dan’s body pulsed green, “That’s how I see your planet.” he reminded softly.  “What’s granted for you is new to me.”
             “I hate to keep bringing this up…  But…  Would your parents ever want to meet me?”
             “I think…”  Dan fell silent for a few moments, “I think they would.  You are pleasant beyond your race.  You aren’t nice or captivating for a human , you are those things as just a being that exists in this universe.  They would like you.  You meeting them though, is…  I can’t take you to Vysvaa and it would be dangerous for them to come here.”
             Arin frowned, but he wasn’t all that disappointed, “I knew that already.  It was a stupid question to ask.”
             “Shut up, dude.” Dan chuckled, “You’re interested in my family, I’m flattered.  What’s the realm of possibility of me meeting yours?”
             “Happening.” Arin laughed, “But… I kind of need to work up the courage to tell them first.”
             “You don’t have to, but I’m with you babe.” Dan squeezed his lover with his entire body.
             “Thanks, baby.” Arin closed his eyes with a grin on his face before settling in more to get to that nap.  “You seem calmer now.”
             “Oh, yes, I finally got our bond contained in a single layer of nacre.”
             “Uh…  What?” Arin pried an eye open to look at the alien on him, “What’s that?”
             “You know pearls?”
             “Yeah, oyster tonsil stones.”
             “Ew,” Dan chuckled, “but it’s like that.  I’m encasing your DNA in nacre.  Once it’s solid, it can’t be removed from my body without either deadly force or I willingly eject it.  Bonds between zilbyrghr break when another ejects their ‘pearl’ from their body.  It’s an extremely painful process from what I hear.”
             “Oh…  Is it…  Is your Bond not, like…  Mega- awesome because I can’t do the pearl thing?”
             Dan shrugged, “I don’t know, I’ve never experienced any other kind of Bond.  It feels perfect to me.”  he settled in to snuggle more, “I can’t imagine anything that can feel better than this.”
             “Oh…  Cool.”  It didn’t feel all that cool…  Arin couldn’t help but feel like he was keeping Dan from something else that was better and, moreover, complete.
             “Stop that.” Dan mumbled, “You’re who I want.  No one else.  Don’t worry over it.”
             “Sorry…”
             “Do you want to see what Vysvaa is like?” Dan offered, he needed to get Arin’s mind off the subject.
             “Sure!”  Arin didn’t bother disguising his enthusiasm. “But, uh, how, exactly?”
             “I have memories I can revisit for you.”
             “Whoa…  Really?  How can…  How are you going to do it?”
             “Humans are open to suggestion while asleep, right?”
             “Yeah?” Come to think of it, Dan hadn’t yet “listened in” on one of his dreams yet.  Or, if he had, he never told Arin of it.
             “If you sleep, I can guide your dreams.”  Dan’s body happily rippled, “I can already guide your thoughts somewhat while awake, and give you images, I hypothesize this will be even easier while you’re unconscious.”
             “I’m so down to clown with that!”
             “Sit your clown down to sleep, then.” Dan added, chuckling once more. “The sooner, the better.”
             Arin shifted…  Arin turned…  Arin grumbled.  Arin did just about anything other than sleep.
             “Dude, I’m too excited now.” he chuckled.
             “Do you require my help getting to sleep?”
             “Oooh?  How do you plan to help me, eh?” Arin waggled his eyebrows and Dan made a noise of amusement.
             “Like this.”  The last thing Arin saw was one of Dan’s tentacles pressing against his face, instantly drawing him into sleep and the land of Dan’s memories.

             The rest for Arin was momentary, non-existent for Dan.  Arin sat up, torn directly from sleep by a force that was not him.  He choked and tried to yell, but found his mouth and lungs and whole body out of his control.  With a panicked expression his mouth spoke very calmly, “ There is an emergency Lyrdaanaavydaa.
             Dan, about to settle into stasis, gave Arin a quizzical look, “Arin?”
             “ Bryrrna .” Brian corrected, clearing Arin’s throat.
             “You can’t just spring this new-found ability on me now!  Not when you open up with ‘emergency!’  This is so fucking like you!  I can’t--wait, Arin, Arin are you okay?”  Dan’s body flashed all manner of ridiculous, busy patterns in his franticity.
             “I’m fine,” Arin was allowed to answer, “but make him stop!”
              “ I am sorry, Arin, but this is of the utmost importance and I need the two of you to understand. ” Brian explained quickly, pressing a soothing feeling upon Arin.
             “What’s happening?” Dan questioned from there, resting a hand on Arin’s shoulder.
             “ I had been rather hesitant to tell you before.  I didn’t want to disturb your happiness over something that could’ve, in fact, been nothing. ” Brian tentatively began.  A chill worked itself into the human body he was controlling--what Brian had to say was of far more importance than his or Danny’s need for sleep.
              “You’re here now, out with it.” Danny ordered, apprehension in his normally professional tone.
             “ I’ve… ”  Brian cleared Arin’s throat, “ I’ve been hailed by an Earth communication line…  And have been pursued these past weeks by several crafts.
             Arin went pale, Danny was speechless.
             “Wh-What are you…?”  Arin stumbled through his words, reaching out for Dan.  He wanted to protect him from everything horrible in the world.  What could he do against this?
             “Bryrrna, are these craft hostile?”
             “ Not yet .”  Another throat clear, “ They’ve given me what I’m taking as a final warning.  I have been peaceful so far.
            Dan hummed, dropping his human facade, his body a deep, royal purple.  He stared long and hard at Arin; or was he staring long and hard at this mouthpiece of Brian?  Arin hoped Dan was taking him into consideration, but without human features, it was less evident if that was so.
             “Dan?”  Arin swallowed, inching closer, but he was stopped by a firm press to his chest by one of Dan’s hands.
             “Bryrrna, do you feel like we have any other option than responding?”
             “ Leaving this continent.
             “No!” Arin cut into the conversation, feeling remarkably weary all the sudden.  It was difficult to arrange most of his thoughts and while Brian probably didn’t mean to do it, it was clearly his presence causing this confusion.  While Arin understood that Dan remaining alive and free was more important than how badly he wanted him near, he couldn’t think straight to properly arrange that line of thought.
             “Shh, Arin, please, calm down.” Dan cautioned the younger human.  “We’ll figure this out.”
             “ We only have Ross’ testimony that our reception will be less than violent.  He was born here, even then. ”  Brian reminded Dan.  As Brian was a ydyrn, Dan understood the sudden skittishness caused by thoughts of diplomacy with a nearly unknown race.  As it was, they were prone to acting before thinking.  Brian was gentle and thoughtful as a person, but Dan could never discount the gut reactions that had kept both of their races free of enslavement for millennia.  History often told more accounts of ydyrnr pushing back would-be invaders, even the terrifying Gekur of centuries passed.  Dan knew that diplomacy wasn’t always the correct option.
             “Responding with violence will lead to greater problems.  Our options are leaving,” Dan looked to Arin, “or peaceful interaction.”
             “ We have no reason to believe they won’t imprison and torture you.  Human history does not look bright for you.
             “Yes, we have reason.”  Dan reassured him, “Ross has given us a reason to believe that there are enough extraterrestrials onplanet that it would be unwise to be unkind to us.”
              “Dan, I’m starting to feel sick.”  Arin spoke before Brian could.  The disorientation of earlier was becoming dizziness.
             “Let go of him, speak to me directly.” Dan ordered, curling a few arms around Arin and pulling him to in bed.  In this process, Arin gripped Dan’s arm tightly, no intention of letting go.
             “What is he saying?” Arin enquired once his stomach had calmed.
             “He’s cautioning me against direct contact with your government.  It compromises our position as covert researchers.”  Dan shook his head, “He’s saying that you’re clouding my judgment.”
             Arin couldn’t speak, but he held Dan tighter.  He couldn’t deny that fact.  Just as much, he didn’t want to be left out of consideration either.  Still, he wanted Dan safe, even if that meant he couldn’t hold him for awhile.  He hoped Dan understood.
             There was silence for awhile.  Arin clung to Dan’s ever-changing body with baited breath.  He couldn’t bring himself to ask what was happening, but he also couldn’t stand not knowing.  Eventually, Dan shifted, squeezing Arin’s arm and looking down to his lover.
             “Well?”
             “We have to leave.”

Chapter Text

Arin’s Dreams


              ”Lyrdaanaavydaa?” A deep, singing voice called from somewhere.  This voice was familiar, but unwelcome in this setting. “Lyrdaanaavydaa!  Get up!”
             “Nooooooo,” they, the Lyrdaanaavydaa that was actually Arin, responded.  The syllables didn’t feel at all like the sensation of saying ‘no’ and yet, Arin understood this word for the negative response that it was.  “Sleepiiiing.”
             “Bryrrna is here…  Seeking you.”  The deep voice explained, finally rousing Arin from the comfortable flatness of sleep.  From the self-pool, Arin formed their cranial palpators first, immediately taking stock of the pleasantly warm temperature of the room and the calm whirl of liquid about them.  The shell-like structure around them protected their photoreceptors from the gleaming morning light flowing in from a nearby hole in the domicile that could be described as a window that allowed water to pass through it.  It was such a hassle to get up in the morning, but by what the radio-sensitive cells in their skin told them, it was already past the day’s zenith.
             “What does Bryrrna want?”  Annoyance, that was what Arin felt as their body produced these words, “To give me more flak for yesterday?”  Arin’s zizyr, that was who they were speaking to.  There was no answer at first, “Aavydaa!” Arin called, hoping their namesake was still close at hand.  With no further answers forthcoming, Arin vibrated their skin with annoyance, causing a low rumble in the water around them.  “Tell Bryrrna I’m coming, please!”
             Undulating their body perfectly, Arin left the protective comfort of their slumber shell.  The world outside was bright, as always, obnoxiously so.  Everything was a burst of colors, nothing was drab or boring, everything sparkled and shined with radiant light.  From there, Arin used their many tentacles to pulse and propel them towards the center of their domicile.  The halls in this area of the home were relatively thin, only large enough for two swimming zilbyrghr to pass through side-by-side at a time.  Since Siraayny had moved out from the family dwelling to be with their two Bonded, household traffic jams had significantly reduced.  This didn’t stop Arin from missing Siraayny.
             The hall, which was more of a tunnel in rock by Earth standards, opened up into a rotunda of sorts.  Light from all angles flooded the room--this was the center of the domicile and large enough to fit an entire ydyrn visitor inside…  This had somewhat become the bane of Arin’s existence as it meant that they could not refuse their past instructor from visiting when the mood struck Bryrrna.  Arin had yet to comprehend just why Bryrrna insisted upon visits when the two could hardly stand one another.  As expected, said visitor was already inside.
             Across their skin, Arin flashed a greeting pattern which was somewhat obscured by the intense rays of light from Vysvaa’s primary star.  As they were well aware of this, Arin then spoke, “Good day, Bryrrna of Far Depths, to what do I owe this…  Visitation…”  It took everything they had within them to leave out something snide.  All three of Arin’s progenitors were present in the room and they didn’t much want to upset them.
             As this dream was a memory, it was impossible for Arin to not think of just how small Bryrrna was at the time of this conversation.  Before all the painful augmentations that would stretch and mangle their body shape, Bryrrna could, perhaps, only house around fifty total zilbyrghr inside their body.  That was also if they were packed in plas-wrapped containers like linyri--a commonly-eaten creature similar to a tubeworm.  The multi-flippered, winged person focused their dorsal and ventral eye sets from the three other zilbyrghr in the room to Arin.
             “Lyrdaanaavydaa,” Bryrrna beautifully sang in greeting, the structure around the group vibrating, “nice for you to finally leave bed.”
             “I was in the middle of reviewing yesterday’s findings…” More like obsessively ruminating over yesterday’s notation error.  “You’re ruining my ability to do the job you trained me to do.” Arin grumpily reminded, keeping their language as appropriate as possible.
            “Lyrda…” Ylinyaa--Arin’s Ustyrn--cautioned them from their comfortable pile amongst Aavydaa and Vaaylili.  Arin made the equivalent of a sigh before readdressing Bryrrna again.
             “Are you here to request a consultation on findings?  You are my superior, after all.”
             “I am here to seek your company, nothing more.” Bryrrna flatly explained as if this should’ve been an obvious request.
             “My…  Company?”
             “I have something I want to discuss with you.”
             “Work-related?” Arin hoped.
            “Nope.”
             “Then…  Sorry, I just…  This is unexpected. Is this unprofessional?”  As a new inductee into the research program for exo-galactic planets, Arin had no idea how to proceed.  Was this normal?  Arin frequently hung out with other new inductees as well as classmates from their schooling, but…  Spending time with a person who was both their previous instructor and a superior in their career seemed…  Odd.
              “Nope.  The rest of the pod couldn’t care less.”
             “R-really?  Ah…  Is this…  Company you’re seeking a Convenience Friend?”
             “Personal Friend.” Bryrrna corrected.
             Well, Arin was floored and no-longer had any idea of how to respond.  All this time, Arin had been convinced that Bryrrna hated them!  Gave them endless amounts of trouble and harsh words just for the fun of it!  Had none of that been true?  Off to the corner of the room, Arin registered Vaaylili giggling to theirself, whispering amongst Arin’s other progenitors.  Arin’s whole body flushed purple with embarrassment.
             “Sorry, it just never seemed…  Possible for that.”  Arin stated their case.
             “Why not?  You’re bright, I’m a complete genius  it only seems right that we should hang out.” Bryrrna switched their tone to even more casual than normal.  Arin had never known Bryrrna to be remarkably formal, but this level of informality was still new to them.
             “Should you and I…  Then…?”  Somehow, Arin doubted that this upstanding professor and researcher would delight in frequenting the venues that Arin did so often…  This was going to be one of the most forced and awkward friendships they’d ever have to bear through, they just knew it!
             “How about you and I start somewhere that’s not in your home.”  Arin then felt a pulse from Bryrrna…  The first time their instructor had ever attempted anything else other than verbal communication with them.  Arin felt…  Awkwardness?  Mostly directed towards Arin’s progenitors watchfully observing the back and forth.
             “I know exactly what you mean…” Was the general impression that Arin sent back.  At least they were agreeing on something.  Perhaps they did agree on more than previously thought, Bryrrna did shape much of what Arin knew about the field in which they worked.  Looking back up at Bryrrna as the ydyrn informed Arin’s progenitors of their departure, the crushing feeling of this being, potentially, the most awkward thing in the world became the only thought in their mind.

             The dream was a whirl for a second, thousands of moments whizzed before Arin’s mindseye as a guiding hand leafed through them with a meticulous eye.  If memory could best be described as a book of vocal pictures, someone was fanning the pages before the discerning finger laid itself into a page and turned to it.
             Arin sat on the shore of the closest landmass to their city, staring up at the night sky.  Behind them was a dense forest, beyond that was a slumbering city of his own people.  The artificial light of this area was low nonetheless.  In spite of the bioluminescent flora and fauna behind him having their way under the protective canopy of the crystalline “plantlife” the sky was undisturbed.  Arin saw their home galaxy up in the sky creating streaks of colored dust and stars; oh, to go off planet someday…  To just….  See Torbidim, Miriodius, and Asvarlik without having to hitchhike on a transport vessel or paying an exorbitant amount of currency to vacation offworld.  They knew that someday they would be up there…  It just seemed so far away.  Only just now beginning secondary schooling, they had three whole cycles to get through before they could think about that work.
             Arin continued to watch the sky, unaware of the bright beacon their body had become whilst whimsically watching it.  Excitement built within them and they just couldn’t hide it.  Even with all the glowing lights behind them, Arin stood out for their whirl of greens and curious blues.  Perhaps, not the best of ideas when Arin was in a relatively unfamiliar place…
             A heavy footfall behind Arin startled them out of their contemplation.  Body flashing with surprise before darkening to an inky purple, they stood.  Arin spun around at the same time to catch this would-be intruder as they advanced.
             “Did not mean to scare.” A clicking voice spoke.  It was clearly Arin’s own dialect of Vysvian, yet…  Oddly spoken, closer to a low grinding or screeching than singing.
            “Where are you?” Arin answered back, body still dark as they considered fleeing into the relative safety of the rolling ocean behind.
             A form stepped out from behind a stalk of pink, glowing leaves.  Arin cringed in upon theirself, but tried to not run--to run would’ve been exceedingly rude.  The broad shoulders, wide, black, shining eyes and mandibular pincers framing a set of sharp teeth told Arin instantly that they were in the presence of an ostracized Ger’gekurick.  Or, more properly, just a gekur as Ger’gekur was the name of its home planet.  They were peaceful this recent century--by force--but Arin had never met one in the flesh before.  They were said to be unpleasant, twisted, evil even…  Only a handful of them existed on the entire surface of Vysvaa.
              “W-Who are you?”  Arin was still hesitant to flash friendly colors, they couldn’t afford to let their guard down around this…  Soldier.  That was what they all were.
             “It is…  It only has gekurick designation.” It responded, taking a tentative step forward onto the beach Arin had been relaxed upon.
             “So…  A number?”
             “Number and rank.  No rank.  Number.”  Arin tried hard to decipher its Vysvian.  Just as zilbyrghr had difficulty with the Torbian language, gekur lacked the ability to create some sounds in Arin’s mother tongue.  Not to mention, in the old days, no gekur lived on a planet they hadn’t already subjugated, this one must’ve not fully picked up the language yet.
             “Did you…  Ever have a-a rank?”
             “Had…  Adolescent rank.”  With such simple words, Arin relaxed.  This one hadn’t even hatched yet by the time Ger’gekur had been partitioned.  That being said…
             “If…  If you weren’t involved in anything, why are you here?”  Arin’s body brightened ever so slightly from sickly purple to a darker shade of blue.
             “Resistance.  Eggsac was stolen.  Very intrusive, you.”  It let out a very quiet growl, the lights of the forest reflecting off the hard, angular points of its maroon face.
             Arin tensed again, color once again going black, “I-I-I didn’t mean any offense!  I was just-just…  Curious…  I’ve never met a gekur before.  I never thought I would…”  Arin examined it carefully, it wore the traditional tight, stiff, black uniform of its species.  Once a symbol of military rank and respect, now used to single the race out on any planet.
             “Don’t want…  Live here.  Never seen Ger’gekur.  Can never.”  It stepped even closer to Arin, standing up at its full height, seeming to be proud of its race’s daunting stature.  “Must make…  Good of bad circumstance.”  It folded its four limbs over its broad chest, critically peering down at Arin.  With its limbs raised, it once again took great self-control on Arin’s part not to cringe or beat an escape.  The shiny, bright-red carapace on the eight-fingered paws was sharp and formidable enough by itself, but each of the digits were also tipped with black claws.  The claws, sharpened to fine points, could extend from the fingers the full length of the finger it was attached to.  Its claws were retracted, of course…  But it would only take one swipe for Arin to be obliterated.
             “Are you…  Saying you want someone to talk to?” Arin supposed, trying to keep a smug, amused tone out of their voice.
             “No…  Perhaps…  It….  It benefits.”
             “Um…  It benefits from… What?”
             “Conversation.”
             “You’re….  Lonely, then?”
             “No.”
             “Are you sure?  Because, you know, I can just swim away?  It’s late, I need sleep too and--”
             “Speak…  To it.  Please.”
             “Sure!  Ah, do you want to sit and look at the stars with me?”  Arin’s body brightened further, this was an amazing opportunity!
             “It…  Sees no…”  It looked up to the sky, “Why?”
             “Well…  I guess for you it’s not as big a deal is it?  I’ve never been offplanet before though. So…  You know,” Arin giggled, “it’s still very interesting to me.  To know that everything I’ve read about, and heard about, and seen scans of is up there.  I want to travel and go everywhere.”
             “Not difficult.  Not for…  Vysvian.”  It told Arin, it sounded just the slightest bit sullen.
             “I…”  Arin’s whole body drooped, his light dimming, “I suppose, it’s easier for me, yes…  Um…  I’m called Lyrdaanaavydaa, do you have something I should call you?”
            “It…”  It growled with frustration, “It…  No rank.  Serial incomplete.”
            “A nickname?”  Arin curled back up on the rocks from before, settling their body into the nooks between each rock comfortably.
           “What is?”
             “A name a personal friend, or professional friend, or family member, or Bonded gives you.  Or one you give yourself.”
             The mandibular claspers around the gekur’s oral orifice clenched together, its already massive orbits growing wider, “Never!  Never give…  It own serial.”
             “Ah…  Do you mean… You can’t give yourself one, or others can’t give you one?”
             “It is it.  It without rank.  It…  No serial.  It…  Worthless.”
             “But can I give you a name…?  Just to call you by?  I want you to like it.”
             “It is it.”
             “Okay…  So…  Your name is  Aay?”
             “Aay is it.”
             “It’ll take some getting used to, but I’ll do that.”
             “Vy understand.”
             “Is that what you’re calling me?” Arin chuckled.
             “Vy serial too long.”
              “An Aay and Vy.”  Arin giggled once more, watching as Aay joined them on the rocks.  As it sat, Arin couldn’t help but look at the fine tips of the claws that poked just outside of the tips of each finger.
             “Fret not.  For war.”  So, Arin’s staring hadn’t gone unnoticed.
             “Oh-Oh,” Arin looked away, body turning powdery purple, “I was only curious.  You hear stories and all…”
             Aay nodded, turning its head up to the sky to look at the Andromeda galaxy paint across the sky.
              “Could I…  See the claws?”  One of these days, their curiosity was going to get them in trouble.
              Aay curled its fingers in towards its palm, “Consequences.  Claws are aggression.  Can be…  Reprimanded.”
             “Even if I ask to see them?”
             At first Aay was silent, never having been faced with such a request before, “Why want?”
             “I’m, uhm…  I’m training to do something in research in space.  I don’t know exactly what yet, but…  I’m just…  I love learning things about everyone.”
             “Objective study?” It wondered.
             “I guess so.  I’m just thinking…  Ah…  If it’s rude, never mind.”
             “Rude not.  Unexpected.”  Aay raised one of its paws towards Arin, letting them scoot farther back to be a safe distance away.
             “Thank you…”  Arin’s whole body glowed brighter.  As bright as it had before while contemplating the stars.  This was really happening and they weren’t about to be shredded in the process!
             The palm of Aay’s paw flexed minutely, the black, serrated claws sliding outward from their slots.  Each claw gleamed like shined glass, all the more so before Arin’s excitedly whirling body.  They wanted to get closer to the paw, but knew better and stayed back.  Instead, they asked, “What does it feel like?”
            “No words.”
            “They look…  Useful.” Was the mild way to put it, Arin supposed internally.
            “Integral.” It made sure to emphasize.  “Important for…  Battle.  For procreate battle.”
             Arin found his body blushing at the comment, “W-What? Do you…”
             “For display.” It made sure to clarify at the probing from the curious alien.
             “Ooooh…”  Though, there was far more that Arin wanted to ask…  The intriguing features of Aay’s face were enticing and they wondered.  These wonders, as Arin would come to see, would never cease whenever they would meet a new race.  Others were not pleasure objects, no, not at all, never that, but the pleasurable habits of other races were nonetheless very interesting.  They were so unlike their own rituals of pleasurable bonding and procreation--each of them!--what if they could take part in those?  How did pleasure and interpersonal relationships play into their culture?  They surely couldn’t have been all business all of the time.  They surely had downtime.  Even with such a…  Bellicose and narcissistic race as the Gekur were characterized as, Arin wondered.
             “After…  Partition.” Aay spoke again, “Heard stories.  Seen scars.”  It contemplated its claws, an expression that Arin assumed as being thoughtful on its face.  It was somewhat difficult to tell as the carapace of the Gekur face was not all that malleable and did not change color.  “Elders…  De-clawed.”  It made a motion to the root of the body part in particular.  Then, Aay made a yanking or snipping motion and Arin cringed.
             “R-really…?”
             “Dangerous to peace.  Usurpers said.”
             “The Alliance then… Cut claws out?”
             “If innocent, were…”  Aay paused, trying to figure out a word to use that was both appropriate and pronounceable.  “Cannot…”  So it motioned with another paw, covering the tips of the claws of a third paw.  It was clearly trying to convey the alternative of having the claws removed, but with only motions where words failed.
             Arin, only wanting to help, asked, “I can make this easier.  This…  Communication.  You can just show me.”  If Aay had been onplanet for awhile, it must’ve known what Arin was offering.
             “Accepted.” Aay answered, reaching to its uniform to peel back the fabric and fish out a soft, fleshy protuberance from underneath an overlap of carapace panels.  Arin didn’t know what the body part was, but it seemed receptive to physical touch, unlike the rest of the solid, natural armor.
             Arin wrapped a tendril around it softly, unsure of just how sensitive this protected collection of flesh was.  Unexpectedly, it was hot and slightly wet, but, that described everything on Vysvaa already, so, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for Vysvaa at least.
             Obviously, from that point, communication became slightly easier with a more direct route to understanding between them.
             Unhindered by the barrier of language, Aay explained, “ If one had committed what the Alliance deemed a ‘war crime,’ one had its claws removed.  If one had been civilian, if one had been innocent, its claws were capped.  It was hatched offplanet and so, never had to endure such treatment.  By the time It had been apprehended and set to be sent to Its exile world--here--such treatment had since been deemed cruel and unusual punishment.  It still has its claws because of this.”
              That’s…  Horrible… ”  Arin was partially in denial, but Aay supplied mental images of the elders it had met.  Their fingers hollowed-out husks…  Arin shuddered and fell silent in mourning.  Though, they had to remind theirself that those who had such a procedure done had killed thousands of innocents…  As that was what the race did in those days.  Somewhere, Arin wondered why they weren’t executed…
             “ It would’ve been viewed as killed by one of our enemies.  It would’ve been seen as a triumphant outcome… ”  Aay informed then, “ No small victories could have been allowed.  Vy understands .”
             “ Yeah, I do …”  Arin felt the pressing need to change from this somber topic.  Aay had come here seeking company, not to rehash old wounds.  “ Can they really cut through stone ?” They, therefore, enquired, trying to bring more light curiosity back into this exploration.
            “ Yes, it is how our statuary is made.  Skill with one’s claws can be measured in more ways than how many they can extinguish in a sweep.
            “ Statuary ?”  Arin’s body brightened once more, turning the brightest shade of blue his cells were capable of, “ You have statuary?  We were always taught there was no art in your culture!
             The claws retracted back into their sheaths with a snap, Aay growling, “ Likely. ” It likewise tried to tug its protrusion back inside its body.  Arin, however, tried to gently keep it within grasp.
             “ That’s just what we’re taught!  You obviously know more about this!
             Aay paused, but the flesh in Arin’s grasp was beginning to feel a bit wetter and squirm with the increased tightness around it, “ It needs you to let go…
             “ I’m sorry…  I only want to learn… ”  Arin gently slid their tentacle off the wet, hot body part.  However, it was not before Aay made an undignified rumbling noise at the wet slipping that Arin tried to move forward with the conversation.  After said noise, however…  It occurred to Arin just what the only soft body part on this whole person was for.
              “Forgive!” Aay entreated, shifting away from Arin, “Only part can…  Connect.”
             “Don’t apologize…” Arin soothed, “I only hope I didn’t…  Make you too uncomfortable.”
             “Did not.”  Aay tucked the piece of itself back away, replacing the fabric fold afterwards.  Aay, however, did reach into a pocket of the uniform to pull out its particle viewer.  The green light spread upward from the device and displayed what hour of the rotation it was. “Vy require stasis?”
             “Yeah, ah…  Here.”  Arin reached inside theirself and pulled out their own particle viewer, holding it up to Aay’s, “Trade information with me.”
             “Gladly.”  Aay bumped the two devices together, receiving contact as well as basic personal information of Lyrdaanaavydaa.  Likewise, Arin got Aay’s information on their viewer, making them pulse with satisfied green.  “Vy need not…. Grrrrr.  Not…  Here…  Up here.  Can swim.” It pointed to the water, then pointed up to the space that was best described as its neck.  There were the tiniest slits in the sides of its carapace there.
             “I’ve heard of the…  Augmentations your people are required to go through…  Did it hurt?”  The stories said they were able to change the very genetic makeup of the subjected soldiers.  If that was true, it was seen as less barbaric than if they sliced open their bodies to shove new body parts in where they didn’t belong.
             “Excruciating.” Aay assured, “Can respirate beneath surface.” it nonetheless nodded as this was a positive outcome.
             “It’s been a pleasure meeting you…  Perhaps we could…”
             “Aay like.” it nodded, stiffly standing up before giving Arin a sort of farewell salute.  “Most enjoyable.”  As Aay disappeared back into the forest from which it approached, Arin rippled with excitement and curiosity.  What would becoming One or Fulfillment feel like with Aay?  Maybe…  Maybe someday they could find out.
             As that memory ended, Arin thought past Dan’s memories, “Dan, you fucking horn-dog.”

Chapter Text

             Arin was fine.  He was sad, but he was fine.  Arin had cried a little, but he was fine.  Everything was going to be okay.  He wished he knew how everything was going for sure.  He needed some reassurance that Dan wasn’t just lying about having evaded his pursuers.  It had been a week since Dan’s departure, he was hopeful, but didn’t know whether or not he should plan for Dan’s return.  At least, as far as work went, Arin could tell everyone he went home for his birthday.  To be with family, of course.
             Suzy hadn’t entirely believed Arin and still didn’t.  She had a sixth sense about when he was lying and as they had been friends for so long, Arin didn’t question how it got that way.  The lie lead to a shakedown after work the first day.  The shakedown had then lead to that aforementioned breakdown and crying.  The lie that followed was not entirely a lie, just an ambiguity of language as Dan would’ve called it.  Said lie was that Dan had been forced out by immigration police.  He promised to return and set things right once he lost them.
             “Really?”  Suzy’s mouth hung open in astonishment.  “You do all this for him and he hasn’t even been trying to get a green card?”
             “It’s a lot more complicated than that, Suz.” Arin sniffled a little, trying to reel in his emotions.  He was never unstable in the past, what was happening to him?
             “Okay, okay…  I see that.”  Even Suzy found the behavior weird.  “You love him and he’s gone and you don’t know if he’s coming back.  I understand.”  She frowned, the worry for her friend coming back tenfold, “My god, Arin.  He’ll be okay, right?”
             “I hope so…”  He sniffled once more, looking away from her at something else.
             “He’ll be okay.  It’s probably nothing he hasn’t been through before.” She logically concluded.  Damn how much Arin wished he could tell her.  He wanted to tell her everything, she had been his best friend for so long and it wasn’t right that she didn’t know the intimate workings of everything.  That must’ve been why Arin was something of a liability to Dan though.  He couldn’t tell her no matter how much he wanted to.
             More than anything, however, he wished he could talk to Ross.  Ross had a look of concerned knowing and Arin wished he knew why.  As far as Dan had put it, Ross had no connection to this.  Brian had, inevitably, been discovered independently.  There was hope Ross could understand his anxiety at least…  Surely all extraterrestrials live in some sort of fear as they were one of the best-worst-kept secrets on the planet.  He hoped that Ross would approach him on his own time and tell him, but Arin knew enough about this situation to know Ross would never do that.  So, he was, instead, left to mull over his last conversation with Dan in his apartment.

              " Leave?  Leave where?”  Arin had tried not to panic at those words.  “Leave the city?  Leave the state?  Country?  Earth?”
             “The continent would be best.”  Dan responded, moving from bed to gather his things.
             “Where?”
              “I don’t know, somewhere warm.”  Dan left the room, Arin following after him in a near panic.
             “Will you be back?”  Arin leaned in Dan’s door frame, barely containing himself.
              “Of course.” Dan responded swiftly, but his body was pink…  Arin didn’t like that.
             “Dan, how long will you be gone..?”
             “I….  I don’t know that either.”  The waving alien hesitantly divulged.  “I will be, though.”
             “Can I go with you?”
             “No.  I couldn’t take you from your work and friends.”
             “But I want to go…”  It seemed logical to Arin, it wasn’t like Dan was kidnapping him.
             “Arin, I don’t want you tangled up in this.”  Dan paused in his frantic gathering of items to attend his boyfriend.
             “Too fucking bad.  I already am.”
             Dan sighed, “Darling,” he reached a hand out to stroke Arin’s face.  A pulse of dark purple overtook him as the human caught his limb instead.  Flexing his digits, he wrapped them around Arin’s hand and wrist, “I know you’re worried…”
             “Someone is driving you away from where you want to be.  Fuck yeah, I’m fucking worried because it’s this big, nameless, faceless thing that I can’t do anything about!”  Arin huffed, trying to not be angry at Dan as this wasn’t his fault, but Dan was just going belly-up and running away.  Though…  Dan had zero rights on Earth.  Brian was right.  If they wanted to do something horrible to Dan…  It was far worse than anything someone could get away with with a human.
             “I know, Arin.”  Dan’s coloration darkened further, “But I can’t…  I’ve risked…   You’ve  risked enough just being with me and making me happy.”
             Arin scoffed, trying to hide how much he just wanted to yell at his lover.  Try as he did to hide it though, Dan knew.  He felt the alien squeeze his hand tighter and he bit his tongue against a rude remark.
              “I know you’re frustrated with me…  You want me safe and happy most of all.  As well as here with you…  Unfortunately, I’m going to have to trade two of those things for one right now.”
             “I’m scared you won’t be back…”
             “I will be.”  Dan stepped closer, curving his body down over Arin.  “The sooner I leave, the sooner I can come back.”
             “Can you at least call me sometime?”
             “I’m…  Not one-hundred percent sure I can adapt my equipment to--”
             “I bought you a phone, you know…”  Arin reminded the scatter-brained alien.
             “But it won’t work out of the US, will it?”
             “You’re…”  Now Arin felt like panicking all over again.
             “Chill!  It’s a maybe!”  Dan patted his shoulder with another hand and squeezed.
             “Okay…  Just…  Call me, okay?”
             “I will.”  Dan reassured, green spreading over his surface, “I hate that this feels…”
             “Like a big deal?”
             “Yeah…  I’ve not, uh, not felt so, eh…  Upset at having to relocate before.  I mean, beyond the irritating circumstances of having to move all my research.”  Dan looked back over to his equipment.  “I think I might leave all that here if that’s okay.”
             “It’s cool.”  Arin smiled, “just ensures me you’ll be back.”  It was a joke, but maybe it also kind of wasn’t.
             “Because I have no reason other than that.”  Dan facetiously answered with a bright, zilbyrgh smile.
             “Do you need help packing?”
             “I don’t think I’ll be taking much.  Just make sure that no one comes in here.”
             “Okay, let me know where to take you when you’re done.”

             Arin couldn’t say it was dull without Dan, but he did miss him.  In some attempt to locate Dan--as the asshole forgot so far to call him--Arin spent a good deal of of his free time looking at UFO sighting forums and reports.
              How does an asshole with photographic memory forget to call?  Seriously, remember the tiniest of facts about what the plates on a stegosaurus are for but can’t remember to dial one of six numbers in his phone?  Dan was probably up in research heaven in away, Arin assumed.  Getting cutely lost in his findings.  Damn, he wished he could see Dan actively engaged in research that didn’t involve Arin elaborating personally every five to ten minutes.  He was so accustomed to the little squeaks of interest whenever Dan found some tidbit or behavior more interesting than the rest…  Oh, who was Arin kidding?  That Bonding thing they were going through had more than some kind of effect on him.  Dan probably would’ve loved to have known…  
             Anyway, Arin’s non-existent hat went off to Dan because he mostly found nothing.  A lot of what he found were grainy photographs of silver objects and space junk.  Still more of what he found turned out to be missile testings or paper lanterns.  While his affiliation with Dan might have made him skeptical, he wasn’t going to jump at every report of a so-called UFO.  There were some things that were either obvious hoaxes or just complete mistaken identities.  Speaking of which…  Why hadn’t Arin ever thought to ask about crop circles?  He didn’t really believe in them being of spaceship origin, but…  Then a possible idea hit him…  What if…  All crop circles were a giant inside joke with all the aliens living on Earth?  They just did it to fuck with the humans and laugh?  That would be so perfect…
             That thought aside, there had been one thing…  An article caught Arin’s eye between videos.  With Jon talking to Ross about how stupid technology was, Arin stared at his laptop screen.  He clicked the article and skimmed it briefly.  It had a foreboding title like “New Evidence on the Black Knight!” just screaming out into the internet.  Now, first off, Arin had only recently come to understand just what this Black Knight Satellite thing was.  As far as most critics had to say, the most recent photo was nothing more than a thermal blanket floating out in space with other junk.  As far as what some folks believed, it was an alien ship left behind to monitor Earth.  Nonetheless, Arin decided to bite.
             “Oh…”  Arin muttered.  This…  Created some problems.  Not only was there a single picture, but there were three pictures.  Pictures that, from Arin’s memories passed along from Dan, looked suspiciously like a certain black-hulled and multi-flippered, and winged space whale.  Brian was floating up in orbit, nose pointed down--or up?--at Earth.  Thankfully, he was far-enough away to be just out of focus, but there was no denying that he was there.  Lights, a row of them, seemed embedded in each flipper and on the ends of his wings.  Those certainly explained the floating lights in the sky that LA citizens had video of.  To make this worse, there was a note that the taker couldn’t get any more photos because the UFO disappeared from view.   Wow , Dan was shit at this subtlety thing.
             “What’s goin’ on over here?”  Ross popped up, making Arin jump.  “Oooh, looking at more conspiracy theories?” he teased.
             “Ah…”  Now, Arin had some options here…  Ross knew about Dan like Arin and Arin knew about Ross, but Ross didn’t know that Arin knew about him, but did know that Arin knew about Dan.  “UFOs, actually.”
             “Pfft,” Ross jostled his shoulders, rolling his eyes, “really?  Decide to join in oof-o mania after January?”
              “Kinda, I guess.”  He was getting boned almost nightly by an alien and all.
             “What’s the flavor of this week?  Dingdongians of the Horsehead Nebula invading Earth and impregnating some dudes?”  Arin almost asked if that was real or possible.  Dan would probably be best to ask about that though...
              “Something about the Black Knight.”  Ross looked quite clueless, even as Arin wasn’t sure about whether or not this was real or imitated confusion, he was willing to bank that it wasn’t even a real thing.  If other aliens didn’t care about it or know about it, that meant that it was fake, right?  “I think it looks like a whale.”
             The minute twitch in Ross’ face after that didn’t go unnoticed by Arin, “No shit?”  Ross leaned over Arin’s shoulder to get a look at the pictures.  “I don’t know about whale.  It’s probably space junk.”
             “Yeah, I know.  Whale-shaped space junk.” Arin chuckled.
             “Sure, space whales.” Ross laughed along, “Come on, this isn’t Star Trek.”
             “Those weren’t space whales.  Those were Earth whales put in space.”
             “Nerd.” Ross sniped playfully.  Arin really had no excuse other than Dan had wanted to see how Earth people portrayed space travel.  That had turned into watching all the original Star Trek movies…  Even the horrendously long one where they were all wearing what appeared to be space pajamas with tumors growing off them.
             A bit of silence followed as Ross read the article that Arin had just finished.  He scrolled the page down and eventually shrugged.
             “It is ridiculous.” Arin nudged him after the silence became too much to bear.
             “Did Dan really go home for his birthday?” Ross questioned.
             “No.”
             “Oh, so, are you two just--”
             “Did Suzy tell you?”
             “Tell me…  What?”
              “About Dan’s immigration status?”
             Ross narrowed his eyes, “No…”
             “Dan’s from Jersey.  As in Jersey in Britain…  And…  Doesn’t have a green card yet.”  Arin carefully spoke, he didn’t want to give anything away, but surely Ross knew what this lie meant.
             “So, he’s got the cops after him.” Ross assumed from there.
             “Yeah.” Arin bit his lip.
             “Will he be back?”
             “He promised me.”  Arin felt Ross’ hand on his shoulder, squeezing.  “I want to help him, you know.”
             “Me too.” Ross patted his shoulder, stepping away afterwards.  “Maybe when he gets back I can get him information on paperwork, or something.”  Arin had no idea if he was saying that to follow-up the conversation in a human way or if he genuinely meant something.  If he was talking about getting the government involved, Arin couldn’t say he agreed with that.  However, he had to play this off as a normal, human conversation even though they both were heavily reading between the lines.
             “That’d be cool.  I think he’d appreciate it so he can stay here.  Not have to run all the time…  I’m scared he’ll get deported and I’d never know.”
             “It’s not like he’s going to die.  He can immigrate properly if he really wants to after that.”
             “Just worrying…  You know…”
             “You got enough to worry about.  Lay off the sci-fi while you’re at it.”  Ross cautioned, patting Arin’s shoulder once more and walking away.
             Humming, Arin pulled out his phone.  If Dan hadn’t called him--and, admittedly, Arin hadn’t tried--maybe it was because he had no service in orbit.  It was possible he had been up there for the last week.  The pictures on the ‘net were at least a day old.  There was no guarantee that Dan was still up in space.  There was a chance, therefore, that he would be able to send a message with ease.  Would it even send if Dan was in space?  Arin couldn’t say, but he sent his warning anyway.  Eventually, he smiled at the note of “message sent” on the glowing screen.
***
             Dan’s phone vibrated.  It sant on one of Brian’s many consoles and gathered his attentions from his work.  Reaching back with a tentacle, he opened the flip phone and read as two other tentacles palpated their subject strapped to an exam table.  He was as diligent the researcher as ever.
             “Be careful up in space, someone on the station got snapshots of Brian.  Love you, hot alien slut.” The text read.  Dan’s whole body was a mishmash of lavender and green.  How was it possible that such harsh words struck a soft chord within him?  Ah, he was hopeless.
             “Thank you for the warning.  Love you too Big Cat.” He responded quickly, putting the phone back down to continue his work.  Dan wished he could say more, but Arin only gave him so much cash for interacting with humans.  Each letter typed on the phone for a text counted as a full minute of talk time!  It was just highway robbery!  He would have to buy minutes all the sooner to assuage Arin’s worries about his safety if he texted all the time.
              “Subject Forty-Eight-A is unresponsive to most stimuli.  Looks to be the same age as subject as subject Thirty-Two-B--twenty-five Earth cycles--yet is…  Disconnected from attempts to stimulate cycles of wakefulness.”  Dan noted in his home language to the recording device above the exam table.  “In recent rotations, my Travel Conveyor, Bryrrna, has show an aptitude in syncing with the nervous systems of the Terran race--humans.  See report number sixty-eight-dash-seven for a quick understanding of the human nervous system and its basic workings.” Dan made sure to add for clarity, he had no idea of which superior had seen what report and what efforts were being made to collect all of them into a cohesive document.  “In this manner, Bryrrna is able to bodily control a conscious human being, influence thought processes and speak verbally through them.  Bryrrna has told me that Bryrrna utilizes the human language center to properly speak.”  Dan paused, trailing fingers over the female body before him.
              He recognized that there was a part of these studies that was wrong.  It was hard for him to continue in abducting humans to take notes on physiological processes.  It was just as hard to wake them up and speak with them about their own culture.  So many were afraid of him and screamed at him still.  No matter how many times he took up the same human, he had to erase their memories before sending them back.  Each time it was meeting them anew, even if he had already spoken to them three prior times.  However, with a human form to take…  He had begun to lie to the humans.  He was part of the Human race.  He too had been abducted.  The alien meant no harm and just wanted information.  It made the humans much more willing to divulge information.
             He felt like such a dick.
             He wanted to go home to Arin.  He wanted to stop, just…   This, it seemed so wrong now.  For his work, however, he could not cease some form of research.  It saddened him.
             In his moments of quiet contemplation, he had forgotten his recording device was still running.  He would have to edit it for length later before sending it.  All the same, he began speaking again.
             “Humans have a concept of self, much like our own race does.  A self that is… Incomplete without another to be perceived by.  Unlike us, however, their consciousness is not on a cellular level, it’s all within their brain structure.” Dan began again, “It’s terrifying to imagine what that’s like.  Their bodies can continue to live without a conscious, active, perceiving and thinking brain.  It can exist without a self.  This is expressed in this subject in what the humans call a ‘coma.’  At the same time, the self, excuse me, the brain, can become separated from its connection to the body.  The body becomes a prison with a mind inside of it fully aware of everything and unable to interact…”  He paused, seeing Brian’s mental image cast over the table, staring down at the human female with his usual, unreadable expression.  “Thusly they observe something of a separation between their bodies and who they are.  They are not their bodies, they are a self that pilots a body.  Some call this a ‘soul,’ a somewhat spiritual term like what the Miriodians have in their connection with the vibration network beneath the surface of their planet.  Humans, nonetheless, have this self, something that they identify as, in that sense, they are a body…  A real person that can interact with the media in their lives.” Dan sighed out of his cells, tiring of his research for the night.  “Their mind is their self or their soul and many feel limited by the bodies that they have.  So, in that, you could say, they simultaneously have a body…  Have a body and are a body at the same time, unlike our ideas of only being our bodies, there is no separation…  Destroy our nucleus and we are gone.  We are constantly our bodies.  Our selves do not exist without a body and our body does not exist without our self.”  Dan removed his hands from the girl’s abdomen to brush some of her blonde hair out of her face.  “With this knowledge, the brain being separate from the body, and this human in a coma, I wish to run a few tests…”
***
             Arin drew more than ever to pass his time while not working.  Dan had shown him so many things and how could he not draw the miraculous things that didn’t exist on Earth?  He sketched the angles of Dan’s long-time friend, Aay--whom he now understood to be Dan’s inspiration to pursue cultural studies.  He was having difficulty getting the exact hue of Aay’s carapace correct.  It almost seemed like it was a red that didn’t exist on Earth.
             Arin realized that his memory-dream had not been the first time he had seen the red, glossy alien race.  Upon first seeing the black-clad pair sitting on the beach on Cazty, Arin had likened the race to spiders.  Their faces did have a distinctly spider-like organization with large, wide eyes with several tiny eyes flanking the main ones.  The oral pincers were more like pedipalps than anything and Arin couldn’t help but wonder if they passed food up to the pedipalps to eat and keep their hands free.  Or the ends of them looked sharp, maybe they injected poison?  The possibilities were endless!
             Arin also drew Brian.  Small cartoons of the snarky, self-adulating space whale decorated sticky-notes about his desk.  After not very long at all, his desk was beginning to look like the collections of some conspiracy-theory addict.  It kept Arin busy and it kept his worries at bay.  Somewhere, deep inside, he knew Dan wasn’t in danger.  He only wished he could say how he knew exactly.
             Arin’s head was in the stars and it certainly showed when he was at work.  Suzy questioned most of the small marginal doodles Arin would leave on papers.  Arin probably should’ve done a better job hiding them as leaving them out on his desk inevitably lead to Ross finding them.
             “What is this, Arin?” Suzy tapped a scribble of a fat rollypolly curled up in a ball.  It had a star-shaped something in its many legs and was chewing on the something.  “It’s cute, whatever it is.” she giggled.
             Arin looked away from his computer to attend Suzy’s question, “Oh, it’s a centipede.”
             “You hate centipedes.” She reminded with a shiver, “They are kinda gross.  What’s it eating?”
             “I dunno.  It just looked like it needed to be holding something.” Arin shrugged as Ross strolled in.  “Hey man, decided on what we’re going to call your show yet?”
             “Haven’t been thinking about it that much.  Been busy with everything you’ve been breaking.” The tall man pointed out, his eyes drifting to the page Suzy was still looking at.  “What’s…  That?” he leaned over Suzy.
             “Ah,” Arin casually took the page off the desk and crumbled it up to throw away, “nothing, just an alien thing.”
             Suzy arched a manicured eyebrow, “You told me it was a centipede.”
             “Fine, a centipede alien, then.” Arin chuckled uneasily.  “It was just a little doodle, this shit’s boring, you know.” He motioned to the excel spreadsheet on his screen.  “I feel like the numbers are swimming behind my eyes.”
             “Speaking of that, you missed one.” Suzy, ever the accounting mistress, pointed to an empty cell with a glossy nail.  “You’re also missing a few purchases…  I’ll go get the receipts, hold on.”  As Suzy disappeared to gather the missing pieces of the finances puzzle, Arin groaned.  Even after promising to do something for Suzy he still ended up needing her help.
             “You’ve really been into all this alien stuff recently.” Ross spoke, diverting Arin’s attention from his misery back to him.
             “It’s something to do.” Arin shrugged, realizing how stupid it had been to draw a kriranrk when he worked with one.  “Just trying to not worry about Dan.  I can’t be at work twenty-four-seven.”
             “Found anything else new on those sites?” Ross then smirked, leaning on the desk.  “Anything about tentacled aliens coming to molest and enslave the human race?”
             Arin found his face turning red inexplicably, “You’re thinking of 4chan.” he tried to laugh it off, “Most of the alien forums are just a bunch of shut-ins with nothing better to do.”
             “And one Transformers nerd.” Ross continued to prod, “That draws baby alien centipedes.”
             “I never said it was a baby.” Arin pointed out Ross’ mistake.
             “It looked too cutesy to be anything else.” Ross rebutted seamlessly.
             “What if it’s a race of cute aliens that lulls their victims into a false sense of security?  Then like, I dunno, lays eggs in them or something?”
             “Does this t errifying race have a name?”
             “Something all crackly maybe.”
             “A race of creatures that all sound like candybar wrappers when they talk?”
             “Nah, I was thinking more similar to the sounds of a condom being unwrapped.”
             Ross laughed, Suzy returning then with her glasses on and everything, sifting through a handful of receipts.
             “I don’t know if you missed all of these, but they were underneath the box.  So, better to just check.”  Business resumed as usual.  All the same, Arin didn’t miss Ross’ sidelong glance as he left to go attend his own computer and busy work.
             Things were okay, more or less.  Arin was calm, if not extremely bored.  Though Dan’s prolonged absence gnawed at his sanity ever so slightly, he felt like everything was going to be okay.  Someday, Dan would return to him and everything could resume as normal.  He hoped, anyway.

Chapter Text

             As Arin was left to agonize the past few weeks, Ross looked on with worry.  He didn’t want to get himself involved with all of this--there was the possibility that he would be blamed for some of it--but, at the same time, it was hurting his friend.  Okay, hurting his friends / plural .  Arin wasn’t the only one affected by Dan’s prolonged absence.  Ross had witnessed some irritation from Barry that was common when he was worried about something.  Jon asked frequently after Arin and Suzy, well, Ross suspected that most of Arin’s worries were directed at her.  Needless to say, a fretting Arin lead to a fretting Suzy when Suzy was unable to quickly fix whatever his problem was.
             Not to mention…  Okay, yes, he missed Dan too.  As a person that was aware of what could possibly happen to him, the longer Dan’s absence held out, the more he had to worry about.  He told himself to calm down, Dan was fine, but after his brief conversation with Arin earlier on that week, he wasn’t so sure.  The internet had what some would call proof, the government had verifiable proof.
             While Ross gave Dan his credit for being a researcher, he clearly was more of the / open sort of researcher.  Meaning that Dan had never had to hide his studies before.  At least, Ross hoped this was the first time he was trying.  If it wasn’t, Dan was fucking terrible at this part of his job.  It hadn’t even been three months since his settling upon the surface and this was going down.  Though, from the information that Dan had given him, he had been orbiting the Earth somewhere between four and three months prior to settling on the surface.  So, in that sense, Dan might have been better at it than Ross was giving him credit for.  Mistakes were mistakes though, no matter when they happened.
             Drumming his fingers on his desk, he listened for noise in the house.  Holly had gone out with Suzy and a couple of other friends a number of hours ago.  He didn’t know just how much longer he had left alone and the tension was biting at him so hard, he just had to get some answers by himself.  With the assurance that Holly wasn’t home at least for the moment, Ross got to work.
             Being honest, he always thought the methods people of his--Ethnicity?--background had to use in order to access government aid were needlessly complicated.  It wasn’t just the small population of Kriranrk that called Earth home--somewhere in the low 200s area--that had to go through this.  Members of his…  Race?  Members of his...  Okay, there were tens of thousands of other extraterrestrials living on Earth.  Ross always found it a serious injustice that they all got lumped together into one super category--regardless of what nation one lived in.  All of them received around the same kind of aid whether or not something applied to their specific situation or means for maintaining homeostasis.  Humans and the culture of his parents’ planet weren’t all that different.  There was only “us” and “them.”
             Anyway, the process to access the pages he needed as a non-human citizen of Earth was tiring.  He was sure that it was just another way to discourage people like himself from doing too much research or expending too much government money.  Non-human citizens--a term only recently created as the offspring of immigrant extraterrestrials were now starting to really have a voice--needed just as much help sometimes as human citizens.  As a verified “Earthling,” Ross did have access to things that some of his immigrant friends did not and he attempted to use that to their advantage.  At the same time, it meant that all human laws applied to him, he was never allowed to leave planet by any means other than human.  Which was fine with him, the stories his caregivers told him of their home planet were gruesome…
             The first things that Ross looked for, once accessing his accounts, were ads put in the personals or information offers on the behalf of the government.  Think of this as a little bit like an alien Craig’s List.  There were far more official sections of the website, but this particular one had been arranged for the creation of support groups.  Many aliens that lived on the surface of Earth were in exile from their own kind and occasionally had difficulty adjusting to human life.  His caregivers--as well as the one who had been consumed by their procreative stalks in order for Ross and his sister to be born--had all been exiles.  Even if it was a self-imposed exile, it was either flee somewhere and live or die because a member of a neighboring Grove had been slaughtered completely by accident.  As far as Ross’ caregivers knew, their entire Grove back on Irapraxiis had been eliminated.
             Ah, yes, there was a call for information about the lights above and beneath the waves.  There were questions about whether or not the rest of the community believed it to be of extraterrestrial origin or if they were nothing to worry about.  From the large amount of answers on the thread, this had been the subject of much debate.  A couple of names, Ross recognized himself and most seemed to be in favor that it was a ship.  All that agreed that it was a ship likewise agreed that they probably weren’t doing anything overtly untoward.
             One such comment on the matter read “This planet is classified as ‘underdeveloped’ by most of the Unified Sectors and Industrial Clusters inside and outside of the bi-galaxy area.  If they had any intentions of posing a threat to Earth, they wouldn’t have danced around the issue for months.”  Ross had to agree with that assessment, nodding to himself.  He didn’t often engage with other non-humans in his daily life, beyond Dan, sometimes it just became necessity and was overall unpleasant in many cases.  He hated that term “underdeveloped,” even Dan had used it.  Whether or not any other races in the neighboring sectors and clusters knew or cared, there was a certain pretentiousness that came with them.
             Ross leaned on one hand as he browsed the forum.  There was a note issued in the more recent pages that the ship had been chased off.  All the same, no one was any the wiser to the race the ship belonged to.  Most of the races that lived in LA appeared to be from the Milky Way and had little to no contact with the peoples of the Andromeda galaxy.  Drumming his fingers, he still wanted to know if anyone else other than himself was aware of the unthreatening position Dan was in.  It might have been rooting about too much and risking Dan’s exposure, but nonetheless, Ross posted one of the pictures of Brian taken from the space station.
             Once the post had gone through, Ross clicked away from the forum, feeling a pulse of pain in his head.  He closed his eyes with a groan, moving his fingers up to rub the bridge of his nose and between them.  From behind his closed eyelids, he saw the white heat of his computer’s processor and the cooler heat of his own fingers.  The whole house was covered in shades of heat or the lack of it.  His “double-vision” he experienced with his eyes open often created searing headaches.  Holly was aware of this and suggested that Ross look into getting glasses, but no corrective lenses could ever fix his problem.
             A naturally ten-eyed being seeing out of two eyes was bad enough, but presented little issue relative to what happened when the same eyes were forced to see what another body part was supposed to be used for.  Sighing that Holly at least wasn’t home, Ross slumped, his long, sectioned antennae sprouting from his hairline.  He winced as the hard carapace pushed and slit the skin he had grown over his scalp, but the freedom was nearly heavenly.  With the shift, the pain was relieved and the lights behind his eyelids gone.
             Steeling himself, he opened his eyes to look up at his twitching, blood-speckled yellow organs.  He cringed at the sight of them, but it was he who chose to keep them instead of just letting them die off with the rest of his original form.  Ross wondered frequently just what in his youth made him absolutely unable to let go of his heat vision.  He’d had no problem being unable to see behind him, nor had he cared about having telescopic vision.  Going by the usual standards of human twenty-twenty vision had been just fine for him, but without his heat-seeing abilities…  He’d felt exposed and vulnerable.
             Had he known at the time that hiding his antennae beneath his skin and leaving his eyes to see all of what he had to see would cause such frequent, splitting headaches, he might have changed his mind.  Whatever though, his form had solidified, there was nothing he could do but bear with it.
             Even now, he could just shift away the antennae into oblivion, but it took effort to maintain a form that wasn’t his default, also, he was used to seeing the heat-signatures of the world.  It was still weird to not see the warmth of a human as he looked at them.  It was weird to not see the way Holly’s face literally lit up when she smiled at him or when he made her blush.  It was weird to be unable to see her rising body temperature when they were together in bed, see the parts of her that burned hottest when they touched…  It was also convenient for telling when she was sick and had a fever.
             Getting up and moving to the bathroom, he grabbed a length of toilet paper, wiping the lines of red blood away from his fissured skin.  Then, gently, he looked up to the stained body parts and ran the tissue down around them.  All the while, he refused to look in the mirror.  With the yellow appendages clean, he flushed the paper and returned to his desk.
              “Stupid things.” He grumped, looking up at them as he bent one down to trail over the leading edge of his computer’s monitor.  Not wanting to dwell on it for too long, Ross picked up his phone and texted Holly.  He needed to know when she was going to be back, as relieving as this time was, it could only last so long.
***
             “Test results have been overwhelmingly positive.” Lyrdaanaavydaa entered into their log.  “Bryrrna has been able to successfully bridge gaps in the comatose type-A’s brain.  This has, therefore, allowed Bryrrna to…  Animate the body.”  Lyrdaanaavydaa was distinctly pleased with this outcome, however, as the vessel Bryrrna controlled snorted at them, they had the distinct feeling that they weren’t the only one with doubts about this experiment.  Lyrdaanaavydaa turned off the recording device, “Is there a problem, Bryrrna?”
             “This isn’t like you.”  The body was a female human, five feet and six inches tall, long, blonde hair.  She had been raised in an English-speaking household, allowing Bryrrna access to the language.  As Lyrdaanaavydaa had also noted in their recordings, her muscles showed significant atrophy from laying in a bed day-in and day-out.  This had, therefore, lead to many problems in movement and bodily function.  “What would Arin say?” Bryrrna reminded.
             “I’m…  Sure Arin wouldn’t…”  Lyrdaanaavydaa slumped, “I can’t just…  I can’t abduct the conscious, why not--”
             “Someone who’s more helpless?” Bryrrna supplied, clearing the human female’s throat to make way for their grinding speech.  “The humans can’t scream at you, or physically intimidate you--this isn’t cultural examination and you won’t tell me why you’re doing this.”  From down on the exam table, Bryrrna shrugged the woman’s shoulders, “I can only assume that you must be suffering from the beginnings of insanity.”
             “I am not going crazy.”  Lyrdanaavydaa excused, turning an indignant shade of red.  “I wanted to do some…  Different research in the meantime…”
             “Is objectifying the body with no one home in it somehow better than a--”
             “I want to help the humans…” Lyrdaanaavydaa excused, “Is there really no one home?”
             Bryrrna didn’t answer, staring up through the body’s eyes at the ceiling.  It was a very different experience to truly see their own insides rather than merely have a sense of the space.  It was…  Borderline unpleasant.
             “Have you found why the woman in this state?  Is the woman there like…  With Arin?”  Lyrdaanaavydaa’s methods were…  Perhaps a little unorthodox, but they just wanted to help.  No concept seemed to scare them as much as the idea of a separation between body and self.  Somehow humans handled the idea with ease and many even took comfort in the notions that they weren’t their bodies.  It was strange to them.
             Bryrrna made the body sigh with irritation, “Yes, Melanie is.”  Bryrrna cleared her throat, “Melanie can’t communicate, but Melanie is in here.”
             Lyrdaanaavydaa’s body sparkled brightly, “Melanie!  The human is called Melanie!  Really?!  Can you find a way to fix the pr--”
             “Lyrda,” Bryrrna cut them off mid-sentence, shakily sitting the woman’s body up.  “This isn’t my place or your’s.”
             “Melanie’s in there, Bryrrna!  You and I could help the woman!  Melanie can be with Melanie’s family again!”
             Bryrrna closed the woman’s eyes, “You and I should not be doing this.”
             “Why are you so against this?” Lyrdaanaavydaa puffed, frustrated by this opposition, “I want to make things better for these people!  You’re just…”  Lyrdaanaavydaa puffed up their body and deflated.
             “Your lack of regard for code and rules is startling.”  Bryrrna commented, laying the woman back down.  “I have to wonder if that’s Arin’s fault, or merely a side-effect of this planet.”
             “Or maybe that I’ve always found some of it to be nonsense?  Why not get involved if I can make something better for someone?”
             “You are a researcher.  You observe, you don’t taint the findings.”
             “You sound like the pod leaders.”  Lyrdaanaavydaa stepped away from the exam table, staring out the window of the cockpit down at the clouds.  Through the clouds, shined up the lights of the city below.  The two of them couldn’t remained parked here for much longer, they were both aware of the heavy monitoring humans did of their skies.  This particular area had shown almost zero air-traffic, however.  They had been able to conduct their research in relative peace for the past few days.
             “I was your superior before we decided to cohabitate, Lyrda.” Bryrrna reminded them, “As you are my captain, we are, socially, on equal grounds, but I still am your superior in the sphere of our employment.”
              Lyrdaanaavydaa stiffened, tentacles curling towards their body, “Are you really doing this?”
             Bryrrna didn’t answer at first, “I just don’t want something to happen that will get you and I caught.  Or…  Or discharged.”
             “So, you don’t want to help a suffering being because you’re afraid of losing your rank?” Lyrdaanaavydaa accused flatly, still watching the clouds float by below.
             “I am no gekur.” Bryrrna spit through the woman’s body.  “Nor am I the unfeeling, warmonger your people are taught we are.”  With the force of the indignant anger, Bryrrna dragged Melanie’s body upright on the table and turned it as if to climb down.
             “I know that.  I’m just…  Bryrrna, Melanie needs you and I.”  Lyrdaanaavydaa finally peered back over his shoulder to see the weakened woman being dragged closer to him.  Realizing the effort needed, they rushed over to meet the shambling, controlled body, gladly offering support.  Lyrdaanaavydaa looked down into the woman’s eyes, “You and I can help Melanie.”  Beneath their fingers, they thought they felt the pulse of the body increase, how…  Unexpected…
             “This body is…  Different.”
             “Different like how?” Lyrdaanaavydaa delved, this was an experience they could never have, being in control of a body that wasn’t theirs.
             “Arin is conscious, I feel Arin’s push and pull inside when the two of us commune.  I can…  Assert my emotions upon Arin and Arin can do the same in turn.  Melanie is…  Incapable of asserting this force.  The body is…  Alive without context.”
             “That sounds terrifying…”
             “Without a consciousness to help me make sense of this body’s experiences…  I am…  Experiencing it in Melanie’s place.”
             “Sorry, I don’t follow…”
             “Arin’s consciousness provides a filter for me.  Everything Arin’s body experiences goes through Arin’s viewing lens, so to speak.  I don’t have Melanie to make sense of all this for me…  It’s like…  I am this body, not a passenger within it.”  Bryrrna looked up at Lyrdaanaavydaa, “I can’t stay here.”  And the body went limp in the other Vysvian’s arms.
             “Bryrrna?”  Lyrdaanaavydaa questioned, “Are you okay?”
             Humming at the lack of response, they looked back down to the human in their arms.  She needed to be returned to the hospital before sunrise and that was well on its way.  Too bad for Lyrdaanaavydaa and Bryrrna that it was a lot harder to steal a patient night after night without anyone taking notice…
***
             “If you have any knowledge of undocumented aliens on the surface, I need to know, Ross.” Sarah, dressed in her usual black suit, crossed her legs at Ross’ kitchen table.  She picked up the provided spoon and stirred her coffee, watching Ross amble about his kitchen as he decided what he wanted to do.  “If this theoretical person you’re worried about is peaceful, then you know there will be no issues dealing with them.”
             “I don’t have any proof, this is a ‘what if’ situation, Sarah.” Ross deflected, “Just to make sure if anything of the sort ever did occur.”
             Sarah rolled her eyes, picking up her mug of coffee, “The last time you called me out here, you were getting married.  You needed information on cohabitating with a human you had feelings for and wasn’t a government agent.  It was a big deal is what I’m getting at, Ross.  You don’t just call for willy-nilly matters.  That’s never been like you.”  As her antennaed client didn’t respond to her, she sighed and took a sip, “This person must mean something to you and thusly, I understand that you’re worried for their safety.  Are they another fleeing member of your family?”
             “This is a hypothetical situation, all a product of my imagination.” Ross impressed, sitting down across from his caseworker at the table, “but, this non-existent person isn’t family.  Wouldn’t even be from Irapraxiis.”  He raised his eyebrows, antennae flopping backwards like a pair of flexible, curly horns.  Ross waited for her to acknowledge with a “Yes, this isn’t a real situation and I understand that.” before moving along, “This person might not even be from this galaxy.”
             “What galaxy would this hypothetical being be from?”
             “Andromeda, most likely, that sounds like a cool place to be from.  Triangle galaxy is too far away anyway.” Ross chuckled to himself, “They might have been sent here to study humans as allies.  They want to establish a dialog with us--um, with humans, I mean.”
             Sarah nodded, not seeming all that alarmed as she sipped the coffee Ross provided her with, “And they, in this situation, have no plans for if we were to refuse their olive branch?”
             “I’m thinking they would just leave us to our own devices.”
             “How sure of that would you happen to be?”
             “I would be one-hundred-percent positive on that if this were real.”
             “Okay, continue.” Sarah uncrossed and recrossed her legs under the table. “Or, before you do, how much time do you have until your wife comes home?  I want to be able to give you a definitive answer on this hypothetical situation.”
             “Holly should be back by…” Ross looked to the clock, “Two at the soonest.”
             “We’ll make 1:50 my leaving time.” Sarah nodded, motioning for Ross to go on.
             “Okay, not from this galaxy, completely harmless.  They became my friend, a work-associate even.  They would want to live on Earth and still provide information for their planet as per their employment.  How would that be received?”
             “Not positively, I can tell you that much.” Sarah nodded, sipping her coffee, “We don’t exactly offer work visas to off-worlders.”
             “Why is that?”
             “We have no way of knowing true intentions.  Just because the Y’p’sil people can’t lie doesn’t mean any other race would possibly have such constraints.  It would be a breach of not only national security, but of our whole planet.  We wouldn’t know if they were spying for war purposes or if they had already contact and made a deal with our enemies existing on-planet!”  She sighed and drank more coffee, “We have a hard time trusting our own species, you must understand why we would be a little hesitant about something like this.”
             “Yes, I understand.  And…  What of the possibility of accepting their proposal for being allies?”
             “We’ve had many such offers in the past.  We are not accepting any at this time, it would cause planet-wide panic.” Sarah knowledgeably answered.
             “Okay, so, the ending to this situation is looking grim.  What sort of choices would this person be met with?”
             “Either leave planet and bring news of this project’s failure to its own people, or agree to work towards Earth citizenship and abdicate its place in its home-planet’s society.”  Sarah sat her coffee cup down, “We are more of a neutral refugee planet for this galaxy, it’s imperative for the human race’s safety as well as the safety of all those who have fled here.  With it becoming more and more common for prospective allies to try to contact us, it’s more important than ever that we remain neutral.”
             Ross nodded, he understood, to a certain degree, why Earth was safe for his own family.  Other kriranrk couldn’t hop over here from Irapraxiis to finish the job...  Even if they were outcasts and thusly didn’t count as part of that Grove anymore.  Being on this “underdeveloped” planet had many safety benefits.
             “I appreciate your humoring me, Sarah.” Ross sat back in his chair, flicking his eyes to the clock that read only 1:30.  “Sorry I called you out from business.”
             “No, I wasn’t in the middle of anything really, its been awhile since I’ve gotten a new client.  Everything is running very smoothly these days.”  She stood up from the table, getting all of her papers back together to put away.  “If this…   Does turn out to be a real situation…”  She bit her lip, “I will not implicate you.” Her eye-contact with Ross was quite significant in that moment and Ross almost outed himself and said “thank you,” but he said something far smarter instead.
             “Most of us don’t really need the same kind of help anymore.  Not exactly every day you get a new immigrant.”
             “I suspect that will change one day.” Sarah closed up her suitcase and smoothed out her suit, “Was there anything else you needed from me before I leave?”
             “I would say a chance for lunch or coffee, but, I can’t even tell Holly about you, and I don’t want any misunderstandings.”
             “I understand.  It is difficult not being able to tell your spouse things…”  She sighed, “It would be amazing if I could just tell my family I work with the non-human residents of California on a daily basis.” She laughed, leaning in to hug Ross as he offered one in salutation.  “Take care, Ross, I hope I don’t need to see you again soon.”  And out the front door and to her car she went, needing to get along to her next client.
             Upon hearing the door click shut, Ross sighed and rubbed his forehead, up into his hairline.  He massaged the bases of his antennae and realized he needed to absorb them again soon, lest he forget entirely that they were there.  Holly had ended up getting drunk and spending the night with Suzy, she was supposed to be on her way home very shortly.  He couldn’t risk any accidents, the American government had ways of making people forget things and none of them were pleasant.
***
             “Bryrrna describes the experience as…   Being the human when Bryrrna takes control.” Lyrdaanaavydaa anotated a finding as they arranged all the information to be sent.  “This is fascinating for a number of reasons and I will be proposing future experiments per Bryrrna’s approval.  Overall, however, Bryrrna does not seem willing and so, this line of research may remain inconclusive.  I understand Bryrrna’s reservations completely and it really is Bryrrna’s decision to make, not mine.”  Lyrdaanaavydaa turned from the console once pressing the equivalent of “send” on the message.  They reached for their phone and sent a short text message.
             “Love you, babe.  Be coming home soon.”  They pressed “send” on that as well and turned the device off to conserve battery.
             “Bryrrna, can I convince you to take control of Melanie’s body again?  To try to call the human awake?”
              I want no part of this.  Was the gist of the pulse Bryrrna sent back to their companion.
             “I am sorry.”  Lyrdaanaavydaa looked back down to the comatose woman, the dark purple of a zilbyrgh frown coloring the surface of their body.  “Is there no hope of you fixing Melanie’s neural pathways?”
              None.
             “I can’t imagine anything more…  Doesn’t the idea scare you, Bryrrna?”
               It does.  Melanie has been gone too long.  Melanie cannot be called back .
             “Shouldn’t you and I try to tell someone that?”  Lyrdaanaavydaa slumped their whole body, turning darker and darker shades of purple.
              Humans are stubborn.  You know it would be met with opposition.  You observed Melanie’s family directly in the hospital.
             It took Lyrdaanaavydaa a few seconds to parse Bryrrna’s complex meanings from the mental images and feelings.  In the end, their body almost melted to a puddle at the foot of the exam table, “It’s so sad.  I just want to help.”
             Lyrdaanaavydaa’s moment of self-pity was cut short by a verbal, low bellow from Bryrrna’s large body.  The whole structure of flexible metal and other hard materials vibrated with the force of the sound, sending Lyrdaanaavydaa swiftly up to their console, “What happened?!”  The Zilbyrgh felt their body tossed with the momentum of Bryrrna’s rapid head movement to view an oncoming pack of helicopters.  “Shit!” The alien cursed in their adopted language, “Could the humans hear your voice?”
              Too low for ears.  Technology, it’s possible. Bryrrna quickly responded, undulating their body and flapping their wings to begin flight away from the scene.
             “Stop!  We can’t take Melanie with us!”  Lyrdaanaavydaa ordered, “If the humans are going to catch you and I trespassing they’re not going to call you and I kidnappers too!”
               Not enough time!  Must leave now!
             “I said no !  Send Melanie back first!”
             Bryrrna released a loud, rumbling noise that made Lyrdaanaavydaa’s whole being wiggle.  However, eventually, the slur of Ydyrn expletives came to an end and they acquiesced, Should I open hailing channels while you send Melanie back…?
              “Not like you and I have any choice.” Lyrdaanaavydaa admitted, looking out Bryrrna’s windows at the approaching human vehicles.

Chapter Text

             Arin couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.  Nothing at work was different, most of home was the same.  Most of home, but even the things that were different weren’t what Arin would classify in the “wrong” category.  Mochi woke him up at night hunting for butt-pats and Mimi--who Suzy had dropped off to be Kitty-sat while she was away with family--was horking up hairballs on the floor.  These were minor disturbances, but nothing Arin couldn’t grow used to.  Having cats, after all, was having cats.
             Maybe the cats were the reason why things seemed off.  He considered that option, but dismissed it quickly as most of the things that were wrong didn’t seem attributable to cats.  Imagine, two furry, adorable beings creating household instability…  Nah.  Mostly, it seemed Arin was just misplacing things.  While he had never been a particularly organized individual, he was usually very good at keeping track of things.  It was possible that the cats had been taking things, but the things that were missing were not things cats were usually interested in.
             The first things Arin had noticed missing were drawings.  Specifically, drawings of Aay.  His intrigue surrounding the big, spider-like, red beings was enduring.  He blamed Dan for the fascination, to be completely honest, his interest in the procreative habits of the Gekur burned within him.  Anyway, drawings of Aay were missing, the very alien, very fascinating person that only wished to be called the Vysvian stand-in for the objective pronoun “it.”  Arin wanted to learn more and he…  He knew somehow that Dan had studied the culture extensively.  Arin wasn’t sure how he knew Dan knew, but he felt Dan’s deep connection to the memory of meeting Aay during that dream.  It was a defining moment for Dan for more reasons than one.  It was only expected that something that had such a deep effect on Dan had imprinted itself forever in Arin’s subconscious.  It made him angry that these drawings were missing and as the days passed, they weren’t the only things he was misplacing.
             The second thing he noticed missing upon returning home from work, was a package of used colored pencils.  These weren’t pencils he had used recently, all of them had been ground down to mere sixths of their original lengths.  They were irritating to use in his large fingers and so he had stopped using them.  Nonetheless, he kept the tiny pencils in the bottom drawer of his art desk.  At first, he hadn’t even noticed they were gone until he seriously stared at the drawer and thought hard about why it looked different.  At first, he considered that he might have thrown them out, but searching the garbage cans of his home told him otherwise.
              He thought of Ross, who likewise drew as much as he did and had been over recently, but Ross wouldn’t have just taken his things.  Neither would Holly or Suzy who had also visited in the past week.  Unless Suzy was trying to get him to clean his home, there wasn’t a reason for them to be gone.  Moreover, even if Suzy had been doing that, it wouldn’t have been his used colored pencils she would’ve focused on.  She was doing a terrible job of it anyway as she departed town quickly after that visit.  More likely it would’ve been the horrendous, haphazard pile of half-filled sketch books he had in the corner of his room.
             Which brought Arin to the third odd thing.  Not only had loose drawings on his desk gone missing, but random, blank pages were gone from his books too.  The sketch books didn’t show too much evidence of being rifled through--the cats had knocked the pile over one night, actually and scared the shit out of him--and most of the prior drawings were still contained within.  Pages had been unceremoniously ripped out of all of them, the only missing drawings had been incomplete doodles on otherwise blank pages.
             It was plain baffling…  Arin couldn’t spend all day contemplating the missing items though, he had to get to work.  Just because weird shit was going down didn’t mean life stopped.

             “Maybe you have gnomes in your house?” Ross shrugged, likewise stumped by the missing objects.  “I would suggest the cats, but, you would find stuff mostly either in pieces or peed on.”  By the face Ross was making, Arin knew Orph had been a bad kitty sometime in the past.  There was a reason that Ross asserted, once upon a time, that his own cat hated him.  What else was new, though?  Cats, right?
             “Maybe it’s ghosts by that same logic.”  Arin snorted, seeing Jon walk by in the hallway.  It was time to get recording if he was finally here.  Damn though, he didn’t know whether or not he should panic about this stuff happening.  If he had a serious problem wouldn’t the burglars be stealing things that were of value ?  Not drawings of colorful aliens?
             “Aliens?” Ross laughed as if reading Arin’s mind.
             “You know, I hadn’t considered that…”  Arin made a thoughtful face, “Why would they want my art supplies?”  Sure, the pictures of aliens going missing was one thing, but the blank pages of sketch books and colored pencils?
             “Why would ghosts?” Ross logically posed.  As if there was even any real logic to this conversation.
             “I’m sure I’d know if it was aliens.”  Arin shrugged.
             “How?” Ross played along.
             “Figure I’d notice, like…  I dunno.  There haven’t been UFO sightings in quite awhile.  No sea monsters.” Arin shrugged again, leaning back on the couch with a deep sigh, “Besides, wouldn’t they want weirder stuff than my drawings?”
             “Maybe your drawings are just that weird?” Ross sniggered, prodding Arin’s side.  Said man made an uncomfortable squeaking noise, trying to evade the tickling fingers.  “They could be!”
             “Oh!  What if, like, government agents are taking my stuff?!”  That was even less likely than Dan having come back without telling him.  All his alien equipment was still in the spare bedroom.  Moreover, Arin hadn’t been arrested and carted off yet.  Or… Had he?  How was he completely sure if the government could erase minds?  Could they erase minds?  How did Arin know he was even awake?  His dreams had been weird recently.  Not weird in the “I’m being abducted nightly again” kind of weird, but just…  It was difficult to explain.
             “No offense, but aliens sound more plausible.”  Ross offered.  Well, Arin could at least count that Ross wouldn’t lie about that.
             “Really?”  It never hurts to check.
             “Really.”  Ross assured with absolute, unfabricated certainty.
             “Cool.  No men in black questioning for me.”  Arin rumpled his brow, “How are those sketches coming?”

             [ Tu aa tillyuu~vaa’ aa laa~myli’ y qytaav--- Y lmyn ]

             The fourth thing missing, became another set of drawings.  These drawings were of the Irapraxian Kriranrk.  Drawings of little, creeping rolly-pollies were gone.  Even a doodle of what Arin imagined an angry one to look like was gone.  Also, a small, incomplete sketch of Brian was gone.  Arin sifted through piles of papers on his haphazard desk, unable to find anything centipede-like anywhere!  Growing worried, he traversed the apartment to Dan’s room.  He took stock of Dan’s equipment and all of it was present.  All of it was also undisturbed.  Dust had even settled upon all of it, no evidence of touch or tampering.  A sense of heavy unease curled up in his stomach.  He didn’t like this.  He felt…  Invaded.  He didn’t just lose things like this.  If this wasn’t a reason to get organized, he didn’t know what was.
             Whatever was happening to his artwork, he was going to find out.

             “Any luck with the art gnomes?” Ross had asked.
             “None, there are cat pawprints on everything, though.” Arin had answered.
             “Heard anything about UFOs?”
             “No, why?”
             “Just checking, you’re the one that pays attention to all the forums and stuff.”

             Arin gasped, their tentacles wrapped around the hard, unyielding carapace of Aay.  The gekur made a low, grinding noise, its fleshy protuberance firmly grasped in one of Arin’s arms.  A milky excretion flowed freely from it over the digits of Arin’s…  Lyrdaanaavydaa’s?  Who was…?
             “Vy…”  Aay clicked, grasping strongly onto the squishy body against it.  “Vy…  Go.”
             “What?” The zilbyrgh body wriggled--or writhed--with pleasure.  Not ready to part in spite of a very pressing need to.
             “Go!”  Aay ordered, its mandibular claspers grinding against each other to create a harsh scraping noise.  Its teeth gnashed to drive this point home all the clearer.
             “Right.”  Lyrdaa--Arin--whomever--released the hard body and went to almost liquid to avoid a set of vying fangs.  Aay roared at this turn of events, ordered though it was.
              Arin was in a cold sweat when he woke.  He reached up to rub his face, sighing as he pushed the dream aside.  He reached for the empty space on his bed and felt like crying when there was nothing there.  Arin almost thought he was having a heart attack by this pain he was feeling.  Though it was centered in his chest, cold and searing, his heartbeat was unhindered.
             “Dan,” he sniffled, clutching a pillow with which to cover his face.  For as long as the pain inside surged, he uncontrollably sobbed.  It only seemed to get worse as time went on, sobs developing into the keening of the bereaved.   Fuck , this hurt!  What was happening?
             Blinking his tears away, he sat up in his bed, groping for his phone.  He dialed Dan’s number and waited, listening to the ring.  The pain pulsed within him once more, he couldn’t describe it.
             “Arin?”  Dan’s voice, poorly captured by the phone’s receiver answered.
             “It hurts!” Arin wept without preamble.
             “I know.” Dan stated.  “Though…  You feel it?”
             “Why!?”
             “I can’t say.”
             “Dan, are,” Arin tried to calm down, but it was proving difficult. “Are you okay?”
             “I am fine.”  Dan assured.
             “Then, what…  What is this?!”
             “I cannot explain it.” Dan immediately informed, his tone sterile and clinical, “I can’t even pretend to know how you’re doing this.”
             “Can you come here?”
             “I cannot.”
             “Why…  Agh!” Arin took the phone away from his face as he kept crying.
             “Arin, it’s going to be okay.  I promise.”
             “Daaaan, make it stop!”
             “I will try.  I love you.”  Arin swore he felt one of his squishy limbs touch his face.  “We’ll be together again soon.”

             Arin gasped, throwing himself into a sitting position in bed.  His face felt sore, crusted in dried tears.  It was all a dream?  He looked around, his phone was nowhere near.  In fact, it was on the edge of his drawing desk.  He’d left it there after doing a few storyboards before bed.  Groaning, he rubbed his face, glaring at the wall.  It was all a dream.  The weird experience with Aay, the…  Had Dan been talking to him in his sleep?  Could they…  Across such distance…?  Arin rubbed his chest, knowing somehow the pain hadn’t been imagined.  Was the Bond they shared the reason?  He didn’t know whether to be inconvenienced by this or to smile at the sustaining connection.
             He got up to snag his phone, dialing Dan and waiting for him to pick up.  Unfortunately, unlike his dream, Dan didn’t answer.  In fact, if the automated voice was to be believed, the number had been disconnected…  Arin didn’t want to worry so quickly, but…  He didn’t like that.  Not one bit.  Especially after that dream.

             “I don’t know, man, it was freaky.” Arin expounded to Ross, wishing Suzy was near.  He had called her on the phone, paraphrasing the occurrence as succinctly and non-incriminating as possible.  There was so much she didn’t know, however, and so, it was only so helpful.  Ross wasn’t going to be much of a help either as he would never be transparent about his alien parentage, but, perhaps he could at least understand a little.
             “Are you on drugs?”  Or he could say unhelpful things like that.
             “No.” Arin sighed, “I’m stressed, I guess.”
             “Yes, you are.  You need a break.”
             “I don’t know if it’ll help.” Arin stood up, “It’s been so…” he then shrugged, “I can’t describe it.”  He gave Ross a pleading look, wanting to say “I’m not allowed to,” but all that passed between them were glances of wordless desperation.  He knew that Ross wanted to help, badly , and was equally restricted from doing so.
             “You’ll work this out, I’m sure.” Ross nodded, flicking his eyes to Barry who was trying to gather his attention.  “What?”

             “I read about this while on my study sojourn to Ger’Gekur.”  Arin--Lyrdaanaavydaa--Dan--Arin…  Confusion…?  “I think it will prove a useful addition to our couplings.”  Their tendrils each curled in on one another, a sense of devious titillation and excitement being taken from this action.
             “It…”  Aay’s eyes flicked to the thick, woven cords of the rik’rrg’nar “tree” wrapped and slung over one of Arin’s arms.  “Does not…”  Aay made a gesture to indicate the negative of what Arin was asking.
             It had been many years since their first experience together; Arin had completed their instruction, tied with Bryrrna and already gone on their first exoplanetary study by this time.  There was experience beyond Aay within their body, yet the gekur fascinated them so.  Their experience with a torb was not half as exhilarating or Fulfilling as the mere cusp of Oneness Arin had achieved with Aay.  Perhaps it was the thirst they held for achieving full Oneness and Fulfillment with Aay.  They both had danced around it several times with varying results of success.  Arin lusted after that feeling’s entirety, but there were dangers involved in it if care was not taken.  All successful procreative couplings among the Gekur ended in the dominant partner consuming the other as nourishment in order to form the host of hundreds eggs afterwards.  At least, in prior centuries that had been the case.
             “Are you scared?”  Arin reached out an arm, wishing for a fuller understanding of the gekur’s worries.
             Aay, carefully, pulled out the tender flesh of its gonadal structure and allowed Arin to touch it, “ It doesn’t understand the point of the binders.
             “ You are obviously the dominant partner in our couplings, I am merely trying to add a level of safety.  The binders, as you call them, are what is most frequently used between coupling gekur to avoid accidental death. ”  Arin gently explained, gaining confidence as Aay did not pull away directly after such exposition, “ It has become tradition, in fact, for the smaller partner to restrict all the arms of their…  You and I shall use ‘beloved’ here even if such an equivalent doesn’t exist in your home language--before making any other advances. ”  Arin waited and saw the queer ticks of confusion just barely wrinkle the unpliant carapace of their friend’s face, “ Obviously, all parties have to be consenting in order for this to work…  Naturally, the smaller partner would not otherwise be able to overpower the more powerful one…  Both go into the agreement knowing that the smaller partner will not try to consume the larger in the throes of passion.
             “ How…  Trusting the people have become… ” Aay contemplated, looking down at Arin,  “ No doubt from continuous intervention from the usurpers.
             “ Yes, I suspect that the influence of other cultures has caused this…  Or, as my study was about the development of your planet’s cultures post partitioning…  I know this for certain. ”  Arin admitted with somberness.
              “ Is…  Death no-longer required for eggs?
              “ Death, no, nourishment from gekur flesh…  Yeah…  Willingly autotomized limbs most of the time. ”  Arin continued to educate.   It leads to smaller egg-yield, but larger yields are less important nowadays as adults do not need to perish in order to procreate. ”  Not to mention the race was not constantly throwing its warriors at entire planets anymore...   The limbs just grow back anyway.
              There was silence between them.  Arin released the clump of flesh as Aay tugged it back into the protection of its shell.  The two beings stared at each other for a while after that, Aay’s eyes eventually flicking to the black ropes of the incredibly durable plant fiber.
             “It trusts Vy.”  Aay tipped its “jaw” to the sky, bearing the sensitive panelling of its “neck.”  “With life.”
             “I cherish and trust you beyond all possible expression; emotional, verbal, physical or otherwise as well.” Arin completed the gesture of affection by softly touching the side of Aay’s neck.
             “Bryrrna not watch…  Yes?”
             “I can’t guarantee that.”
             “Fuck.”
             Arin was getting tired of these heavy-ass dreams.  Where were they even coming from?  They weren’t his memories, they were Dan’s.  Dan never even…  Was Dan giving him these dreams from afar?  He wished he knew.  It was drastically different from the first time Arin had experienced Dan’s memories nonetheless.  Before, he had been able to fully identify with Dan’s being and self.  In these dreams…  It was like seeing through a filter.  Arin felt like a powerless spectator within the body performing the actions.  It was not his body.
             He knew one thing for certain though… Gekur were kinky as fuck!

             Arin wandered down the hall of work, unable to shake the sense that something was wrong.  His dreams allowed him to speak to Dan, or so he assumed, but his phone had been disconnected.  This didn’t make any sense.  Unless dan was in some kind of mortal danger, he wouldn’t let--

             [ Zyyi ly aanyr~mmaa y aan~yyllir u ]

             --his phone be incapacitated like that.  Wait…  That…  Wasn’t…  That didn’t happen.  What was that?

             The fifth thing that went missing from Arin’s home was hardly even noticeable.  A detail so likely to be overlooked, that Arin couldn’t be sure exactly how long it had been gone.  It could’ve been the first thing in his whole house for him to misplace and he would’ve been none the wiser.  It was a book from the table in front of his television.  An older book, yellowed with age and intrigued hands.  He couldn’t for the life of him remember which was…  It…  Ah…

              [ Y un y qyrn~mmaa y aan~tuyylaa ]

             Yeah, The Last Unicorn , Arin realized, reaching up to ruffle his hair.  Dan loved that book, read it several times.  Which was probably why it had been out here to begin with.  Arin dismissed the happening, it was very possible Dan had just brought it with him when he left weeks ago.  Wow… Weeks…  He had been gone so long already…  Arin sighed, clutching at his chest through his shirt, he ached again.  It was dull this time, but it was still there.  He missed him more than he had thought possible.

             [ Aa ’yn~mmaa y aan~qyyl aa mviaa yr zlyaa’aayt~ aa taa~ Aa rin ]

             It was nearly April.  Most of his drawings were gone.  Sketches and depictions of Dan were all gone.  Everything alien was gone from his desk.  How had he let this get quite so out of hand?  Surely he would’ve noticed more than he had…
             Feeling panic rise in his stomach, it all caught up to Arin at once.  He wasn’t crazy.  He wasn’t misplacing things.  They were being taken.  He tore his desk apart and rifled through all of his room.  Tears pricked his eyes and his anxiety mounted.  He’d been so stupid !
             “Fuck!” He chucked everything off his desk to the floor.  They were gone.  His pictures were gone.  The pictures from Valentine’s day were…  No…
             Arin rushed out of his room to the adjacent bedroom.  This wasn’t happening.  Dan would never…
             “No…”  He squeaked, sinking to his knees.  He tried to say something, tried to externalize all the hopeless turmoil within him and…  All that came out was “Dan.”  The equipment was gone.  All of it.  He sobbed, pounding his fist upon the floor.  He hurt, he was betrayed.  This was agony and he hoped Dan felt it too.

             [ Hix~ Aa rin--- Aa ’yn~mmaa y aan~ hy rity’aa~ aa taa]   No declarations of emotion could fix this… [ X it ] the English curse was the only way to describe all of this.

Chapter Text

             Lyrdaanaavydaa stared down at the planet Earth, both contemplative and fond.  The planet had so quickly become a favorite; of all the so-called “developed” worlds of the Andromeda, Milkyway and Triangulum galaxies, this “underdeveloped” planet was fascinating like no other.  It had its problems, for all worlds did, but Lyrdaanaavydaa’s love for it was uneclipsed.  Not only did Arin live upon it, but many humans whom they adored did as well, humans they would never see again.
             Lyrdaanaavydaa turned to face the recording device suspended above four exam tables, “Recording number fifty-eight,” they began in their home language, “in the season of Qaahaagil:  My most esteemed Podmates, there is much that I must expound…”

             “Do you have a preferred designation?” A faceless voice asked, the alien sitting alone in a dark room, their body they only light.
             [Lyrdaanaavydaa~ly~Bixyaalaan] The glowing alien answered, “However, during my time on Earth, I have been referred to as ‘Dan’.”  Thankfully Dan’s “captors” were able to assess immediately that their grasp of English was fluent.  The humans had also not bothered to ask just how they had learned it, perhaps this detail was common.
             “Very well, Dan.  Which planet and which galaxy do you hail from?”
             “I am from Vysvaa in the galaxy you call M31.”  They amicably answered, “My travelling companion is from the same.”
             “The warship?”
             “Bryrrna is not a warship.  They are a research vessel, my career superior and my best friend.”  Dan was not comforted by the following silence.
             “What can you tell us about Bryrrna?”
             “Bryrrna, designated Brian while on Earth, is what you would consider a doctor of theoretical physics and space aeronautics.  Brian and I are in a legal partnership of sorts on our homeworld, a partnership only granted to the lifelong pairing of a Ydyrn starship and a Zilbyrgh captain, such as myself.”
             “You are the master of this starship, then?”
             “No, it is partnership based on mutual respect and feeling, all decisions are made jointly.  Bryrrna is sentient and regarded as one of the brightest minds on Vysvaa.”  Dan had to be careful, one misstep and it was likely Brian was going to lose their shit and kill everyone.  Or try to, at any rate…
             “What was your purpose on Earth?”
             “I am what you would call a cultural xenologist.  My directive on Earth was to study your culture; my people believe you to be suitable allies for trade and information exchange.”
             “How long have you been here?”
             “On the surface?  It is verging on three months.  We were in orbit for nearly four months prior to landing.”
             “You have learned English well for such a short time.”
             “I have been living with a native-speaking host whom I will not incriminate.”  Silence followed.
             “Since you are now at our mercy, you do not get to decide anything.  Who is the native you have been speaking with?”
             “I will not say.  That is final.”
             “Where is this native from?”
             “Florida.” Dan stated as if it were the most unlikely place to be from.  Evidently, this answer was good enough for the faceless parties questioning them.
             “You care about this native, correct?”
             “I fail to see how that changes anything.”
             “What are your plans now?”
             “I plead for the right to remain on the planet and…  Register.”
             “Do you know of what you ask?  You will abdicate your place in your own people’s society by asking for this.  Your ship will be confiscated and kept in a holding bay.”
              Dan stayed silent for a few moments, thinking over their options, “What if I stayed and Bryrrna left?”  Dan didn’t even know why they came up with such a proposition, Brian would never agree to something like that.  They were all Brian had left…  The two could not be parted.
             “Could your partner be convinced to leave you behind peacefully?”
             Smart question, “No, I suppose not…  Though I cannot bear to think that I would remain free while you hold my best friend in bondage.”
             “Why is your desire to stay so strong?”
             “I…  I am chemically bound…  It is an emotional bond of what humans would understand as romantic love…  To the human who has allowed me to live with them.  I do not wish to be parted from them, but neither do I wish my best friend to suffer because of me.  I plead for your understanding of my situation.”
             Silence for around five minutes followed.  Dan was getting nervous, Ross said it was unlikely for the humans to harm them, but this was…  Unpredictable.
             How is it going?  Dan received a pulse from his far-off friend.
             I cannot say…  The humans aren’t confrontational, but they are not speaking to me face to face.  I…  I am requesting to stay onplanet.
             Where you stay, I stay.
             Does my decision anger you?
             I have nothing on Vysvaa.  I have you.
             Once Dan successfully parsed the images for their meanings, they deflated with a very human sigh.  Not out of sadness, but relief.
             “We will need some time to discuss what to do with you and your companion.  We also need some extra information.”
              “Anything.”
             “Does your partner shape-shift as well?”
             “No…  But…”  Maybe this was going to far…  “My companion has the ability to…  Inhabit, sort of, the bodies of comatose humans.”  Best to leave out the part about conscious humans though.  “I know it is morbid, but they have shown aptitude for it from great distances and…  It would give them a chance, I feel to experience life, even if they must be kept in a holding bay.”
             “That is…  An odd request.  Do you understand moral implications, Dan?”
             “Yes, I do.  I really do…”
             “Will you need to confer with your partner?”
             “I would appreciate the chance to.”
             “You have one hour.  We will likewise reach a plan of action by the end of it.  Use your time wisely.”
             Dan jumped as a door at the far end of the hall slid open, a larger human holding what Dan recognized to be a gun was waiting.  Dan’s body wriggled nervously, turning mottled dark purple and red as they approached the human.  To make things all the more terrifying, a gekur of all things was accompanying the agent.  Why hadn’t it ever occurred to Dan that a planet that seemed to collect refugees would likely collect other sorts of refugees as well…?
             “Vrrir’ziik.” Dan greeted the red-plated soldier, tipping their “chin” to the ceiling as they exited the room.
             The gekur growled back at Dan, nothing very polite or worth translating.  It was somewhat expected, Dan could only imagine that gekur could live in secret on Earth or in places humans didn’t go.  They were taller than Dan’s own species, more robust and brightly colored-- generally very noticeable…  This gekur…  Even had two pairs of black horns sprouted from its head.
             Dan stiffened all the further, body turning almost black, “Good…  Evening… Sir.”  They greeted the human with the gun, shying away from the huge, terrifying soldier.  “Where will we be heading..?”
             “Down the hall.” The man with the gun jerked his chin, prompting Dan to step between them.  Dan had never in their life before felt like some kind of war criminal…  It was downright insulting to treat a scientist like this!  At the same time, they understood the humans’ apprehensions…  They flicked their eyes up to the gekur escort.
             “Whaaat?” It growled back at them, gnashing its teeth, arms folding over its chest.  The glint of white on the ends of its fingers caught Dan’s attention and made them move even faster.
             “It doesn’t like being stared at.” The man with the gun explained.
             “Many don’t, but I know my way around a rssskt’k.”  Dan responded with a hint of smugness, not missing the offended click of the gekur’s pinschers.
             “A…  What?” The human asked, Dan turning his head to observe their “captor,” the green of amusement plain as day over their body.
             “I believe you should ask your co-worker for the answer to that.”
             The human, taking Dan’s advice, quirked his brow at the significantly taller being.  As expected, the gekur growled loudly, Dan understanding the noise as one of embarrassment.  Ah yes, it felt good to win.
             “Well, if you won’t tell him, I will.” Dan was really pushing the envelope here.  They never liked being a total dick to someone, it wasn’t good practice.  However, with this being, they had good reason, “You see, my good human, humans have geni--”
             “Hrrr’graaaah!” The gekur roared, essentially making Dan trip forward and nearly lose their balance.
             “All right, Red, that’s enough.” The human chastised, turning his attentions back to Dan, “And that’s enough out of you.  Shut it.”
             Chided though they were, Dan remained the twinkling green of amusement for the rest of their venture to Brian’s holding room.

             The room was large and made of concrete, an expansive pool of seawater reached all the way to the opposite side of the room.  By the bays built into the floor, however, Dan guessed that this room was mostly used for docking submarines or other such crafts.  Given how often this facility seemed to deal with extraterrestrials, however, it was also possible it was meant for holding watercrafts not from Earth.
             “You may converse freely with…  Your companion.  I will return to collect you when your time is up.” The human explained, standing in the doorway.  The gekur stood as far away from the door as it found appropriate.  Dan couldn’t blame it, its strengths were worthless against a foe as sizeable as Brian.
             “Thank you.” Dan nodded, heading for the still waters of the man-made bay.  A giant shadow rested beneath it with barely visible lights shining up to the surface.  “Hey,” Dan reached an arm into the water to touch the black, reinforced skin of their friend.
             “What’s happening?” Brian rumbled back in their own mother tongue.  The floor Dan sat upon vibrated with the strength of the voice.
              “We’re…”  Dan switched to their home dialect of Vysvian, “The humans are deliberating on what to do with you and I.”  They explained, stroking the tiny patch of skin.  “The humans want to ‘confiscate’ you from my ‘possession’.”
              Brian rumbled beneath the water.  It was a noise of humorous contempt.
              “Well, hey, all of their machinery are inanimate objects.”  Dan shrugged, “I mentioned your ability to sync with the nervous systems of comatose bodies…”
              Brian didn’t answer immediately.  Dan knew they were angry.  Brian hadn’t been a proponent of such research ventures after all.  Though, that had not been their original intent in the research, rather, they had been trying to find a way to cure their disconnect.  As this line of conversation was yielding nothing positive, Dan moved on.
             “There is an Elder gekur here.”
             “That’s impossible.”  Brian answered the assertion.
             “It had both sets of horns…  And claw caps.” Dan easily refuted.
             “The Elders are forbidden from leaving Ger’gekur…  That should be impossible.”  Brian reflected.  “Do the humans know they are harboring a war criminal?”
             “Its claws were capped, not amputated.  It could have only been an adolescent.  In training during the partitionin--”
             “It’s breaking ordinances being here, Lyrdaanaavydaa.”
             “One is out of place, but relatively harmless.” Dan wanted to believe as such anyway. “Unless there are more than a few of them, I don’t think there is too much to worry about.”
              “Elder gekur are never to be dismissed.”
              “I know…  I, nonetheless, am in no place to alert any kind of authorities to obtain it.”
             “We cannot leave.”  Brian asserted, “Not knowing it’s here.  A traditionally-trained Elder, even if it hadn’t completed its training--”
             “We don’t even know if it had the breeding to be anything else other than a drone, Bryrrna.  It’s uniform was unadorned.  It could’ve just been breeding fodder for all we know.”
             “It lives on a planet that has no law about identifying them and still wears its uniform…”
             Dan remained silent for a time, “I see your point.”
             “You don’t think there might be a faction on this world…?  Do you?”
             “No, I…  I hope not…”  Suddenly the creature’s marked distaste for Dan made all the more sense.  They were of a race the gekur attempted to subjugate long ago, the Zilbyrgh and Ydyrn people remembered…
             “Perhaps you should try to achieve Oneness with it?” Brian made the ydyrn equivalent of a snigger.  It would certainly be one way to gain knowledge, but Dan did not wish to be eaten in the process.
             “No,  Aay was different.  This one…  It would have no qualms eating me.”  Dan shivered, “I can’t imagine I would get out of it alive.”
             “You need to warn the humans…”
             “I don’t know how long the gekur has lived here.  I will have to wait.  They will trust it more than me as things are.”
             “Fools.”
             “They are in a galaxy separate from ours, Bryrrna.  They are young and ignorant.”  Dan tried to ease, but it only made them more nervous than before, “The humans hadn’t even discovered Uranus yet when the Gekur attacked us.”  They made a human sigh and thought for a few moments, “Perhaps I could spend some time wi--”
             “You will not!” Brian shouted, the whole structure around them both shaking. “Capped or not!”
             The door to the bay flung open, the human with the gun rushing in at the ready.  Dan whirled around, throwing all their tentacles into the air and dropping to where a human would consider their knees to be.
             “Don’t shoot!” They begged, fighting to be heard over Brian’s booming voice.
             Brian, however, was not so happy about this intrusion.  Their two dorsal eye stalks extended and poked above the water, locking on to the threat.  With a flap of six great wings slapping the water, huge waves rushed out of the bay and across the floor of the room.  Dan was nearly staggered by the force, but the human stood firm, gun still pointed at the peaceful alien.
             “Stop!” Dan screeched as Brian beached their truly massive head and first set of flippers onto the floor.  The tile and concrete cracked beneath their weight and they opened their mouth.  Their rows of stalagmite-esque teeth were on display to the “enemy,” ready to be used at a moment’s notice.
             Dan, noticing the human had been stunned momentarily by the sheer mass of Brian, took advantage of the confusion.  Brian just kept posturing as Dan explained, “You surprised my friend.”  Dan kept their arms where the human could see.
             “Red!” The human called back into the hallway, the gekur did not answer.  “Red, get in here!”  Alas, the human realized he was alone and grabbed for his communicator.
             “Wait, wait, wait!” Dan begged, trying not to panic.  Brian growled, making the room shake again and successfully regaining the human’s attention, “My friend doesn’t like the gun!  That’s all!  They’re not going to hurt you!”
             The human’s words had been drowned out by the force of the roar, but he thought twice about re-signaling for back-up, “What is it doing?!” He motioned with his gun to the monstrous whale-thing.
             “Um…”  Dan turned back to see Brian’s jawset slowly creeping out of their mouth towards them.  “Brian, stop that.  I’m okay.”  They reached an arm out slowly to stroke one of the crystal-like black teeth that was almost as large as they were.  As Brian let out a series of curses and continued to reach the blue and black projectile jawset towards them, Dan sighed, “If I get in, will you stop?”  Brian indicated the affirmative, prompting Dan to turn back to the human, “One second.”  They squeezed in between several of the teeth to sit inside the collection of sharp, crystalline body parts, “Happy?”
             No. Brian answered, retracting their jaws back into their orifice, but keeping it open.
             “Well, deal with it.” Dan went back to addressing the human, “Please, ah, forgive them…  They are just nervous.”
             “Is it satisfied now…?” The man asked as his communicator crackled to life, “Lieutenant Styles, do you need back-up in Bay Six?”
             Dan tensed as the human still hadn’t put down his weapon, “More or less, yes.”  They answered quickly.
             “This is Lieutenant Styles,” The human began, “False alarm.”
             Dan almost melted in relief at the admission, the human lowering and shouldering his gun, “Thank you.”
             Lieutenant Styles nodded, but did not move to leave.
             “Are you permitted to converse with us?”  Dan questioned, much to the displeasure of his over-protective best friend.
             “I am not forbidden from it.” Styles responded, eyes flicking up from Dan to the huge, daunting maw of the space whale.  “Why is it…  Why are they doing that?”
             “Ah, the teeth of the Ydyrn are one of the hardest substances known to our galaxy and their jaws can close at a great velocity.  My friend intended to shield me from your bullets.” Dan explained with a shrug.
             “No kidding?”
             “I shit you not, sir.”
             The lieutenant chuckled at the colorful affirmation, “What brought you two here?”
             Dan was intrigued by the casual tone, it was most unexpected coming from a person who, moments ago, didn’t seem to have any qualms with shooting them dead, “To this facility or Earth?”
             “Either is fine.”
             “My people are interested in speaking with yours…  We felt alliances and trade agreements could be possible.”
             “Mn, that’s too bad.  I’m sorry you wasted your time.”
             “It doesn’t feel all that wasted.  I just came here at an inopportune time.  Perhaps, someday, it will be possible.”
             “Maybe,” Styles shrugged.  “Want to explain why Red doesn’t like you very much?”
             “It allows you to call it that?”  Dan would’ve raised an eyebrow if they had one, but instead they turned powder blue.
             “It is…  Not fond of it, no.  It claims to not have a name though, and we cannot just call it ‘it’ all the time.”
             Dan nodded, “They do not have names anymore.  Only higher authorities are allowed to issue them.  Higher gekur authorities.”
              “Why not?”
              “It would not be appropriate for me to say that here.  I do not know that one, I cannot presume to know its past.”  As Dan spoke, Brian grumbled behind them.  “It does not like me, I assume, because our races have a centuries-old, deep-seated dislike of one another.”
              “Why is that?”
              “I cannot say.  It would be impolite of me at this time.  It would need to be present and I know it will avoid the company of my companion for as long as possible.”
             “Are your planets warring?”
             “No.” Dan answered honestly, “There are some gekur living on my home planet as things are.  Those of a younger generation than that one, however.  That one is well over a century old by your count.  Closer to two centuries, by the horn sets.”
             Styles whistled appreciatively, “How long do they live?”
             Until they are killed.  Brian answered in Dan’s mind.
             “We do not have exact statistics of their potential lifespans.” Dan took a few moments to convert time measurements before adding “Some are as old as five centuries, so that’s our current guess.”
             “What about you guys?”  Styles motioned between the two lifeforms in front of him.
             “Ah…  By my current understanding, our life cycles, ah, the Zilbyrgh, I mean, are comparable to yours.  Maybe we’re a bit longer-lived by a decade or two.  One of the parents of one of my parents is around 121 by your count.  Which is very exceptional.”  The zizyr of Dan’s zizyr remembered the time before the Ger’gekur partition…  Boy did they have stories.
             “Tell me about your planet.”  Styles leaned against the wall behind him.
             “Well…”

             “I do not believe the humans understand what they are playing host to, my colleagues.”  Lyrdaanaavydaa concluded.  “I do not want to call any authorities here unless entirely necessary.  The humans are protective of their planet and will believe it to be my fault.”  They then continued to explain their course of action to the recording device.  “I cannot afford to tarnish our people’s name with these peaceful beings.  At the same time, I cannot leave them with this threat present upon their surface.  I have been given a choice…”

             “We have a proposition for you.”  The faceless voices began with Dan resituated back in the dark room.  “Our very own Lieutenant Styles has given us enough reason to believe that you are sincere.”
             Well, that explains it.  Dan commented internally, Brian catching the threads of their thoughts.  “I would like to hear this proposition.”
             “You will be granted the right to work towards citizenship, your companion too.  We will go through measures to procure a body for them.  All we ask for this is that you separate yourself from communication with your home planet, cease all communication as well with your human companions and take up residence elsewhere within the United States.”
             Panic gripped Dan, they had to make them understand that there were alternatives, “My equipment has the ability to erase memories, both short and long-term.  If I wipe the memories of my friends…  Can I stay here and in contact with them?”
             Silence followed.  Dan fidgeted nervously, one hand tapping their cheek, their other rubbing up and down an opposite arm.
             “If you reveal your identity after that point, we will be forced to handle the situation as we would with any other case of exposure…  This can sometimes result in the termination of an individual.  Are we clear?”
             That’s barbaric!  Dan would’ve shouted, but instead they said “We are clear.”
             “The only other option we can give you is for you to voluntarily leave Earth and never return.”  They didn’t even necessarily need to tell Dan that, they figured it was just sort of a given.
             “I will take your offer of my gaining citizenship with the qualification of erasing my friends memories…  When should I begin?”
             “First we need to assign you a caseworker and get together some paperwork for you to sign and agree to.  Welcome to Earth, Dan, it’s going to be a lot of signing documents.”

             “I wish that I could say that this is an entirely altruistic endeavor.  Alas, I cannot.  During my time studying, I have Bonded with a member of the Terran race.  This person fills me with more joy than I had ever previously thought possible.  My Bonded love for this person, marked in my reports as subject Thirty-Two-B, Designation Arin Hanson, drives me to likewise stay on this planet and protect it from the potential harm this Elder gekur presents.
             “This will be my last transmission, any remaining research I have stored will be sent along.  Make sure all of my family members know that I love them and there will come a time that they will see me and speak to me again.  I am not in danger and I am not being threatened to stay here.  This is a choice that I have made that Bryrrna and I have both agreed upon.  It breaks me to leave you in this position, but I cannot just leave this planet ignorant of what could be its own demise.  Many of our people have made sacrifices as these in the past and I…  I am willing to for the safety of this planet, its people and its galaxy.  Goodbye for now.”  Lyrdaanaavydaa ended the recording and stepped over to their many computers.
             How sure are you that you and I will ever go back?  Bryrrna questioned, Do you really believe that the humans will let you and I go if something happens?
             “I don’t know…  I would not…  I don’t want to leave them hopeless.  That would be cruel…  I love them, Bryrrna and I don’t want them to mourn me.”
             They will yet.  Bryrrna reminded.
             “Yes…  I am….  Trying not to think about it.”  Dan’s body darkened and they fell silent, pressing the “send” button of their last report.

             Arin’s head hurt, it hurt like there was something inside of it.  He felt sick and he also felt restrained.  He cracked his eyes open to the dark atmosphere of a familiar ceiling, with a groan, he tried to sit up, but that didn’t work.  While he was a wash of many conflicted emotions--anger, sadness, joy, betrayal, confusion--the only thing that really vied for his attention was “why does Dan always strap me down like this?”  His head wasn’t fixed to one side for once, he could say, so he looked around, squinting at the other exam tables that were out of the floor.  Counting his own, there were four, but the other three were empty.  Dan was nowhere to be seen.
             “Brian…”  Arin croaked, waiting for a response.
             There was none.
             “Brian.”  Arin called, louder.
             Nothing once more.
             “Brian!  Come on, dude, you don’t get to pretend you don’t hear me!”  He took in a deep breath when there wasn’t a response after that either, “I’m in your fucking head!  By your auditory processor!  Do you know how I know that?  Because I sure fucking don’t!”
             Arin fought against his bonds, but found them yielding for once…  Not metal…  They held him firmly down, but they had a certain amount of give.  Confused, Arin looked to one of his wrists, seeing a black, woven material wrapped around them.  He recognized the stuff from his dream earlier this week… Ah…  He couldn’t exactly remember the word for it--even if he did, he wouldn’t be able to pronounce it--but he knew it was made from the fibers of a strong tree that grew on Ger’gekur.  It was used in mating rituals…
             “Dan, are you in here…?”  Arin asked, calmer, but still angry.  He deserved an explanation after this past week.  This kind of behavior was just…  “I thought I was never going to see you again.” He murmured, “I thought you were leaving me…  And you weren’t going to tell me.”  Arin spoke into the darkness, turning his head so he could look out at Earth, “I almost thought you were dead at one point.  I didn’t know what to do.  I was scared that I had lost you, again.  I always jump to worst-case scenario, right?”  Figuring he was just talking to himself past that point, he went quiet, watching the Earth turn and clouds swirl.
             Arin flexed his cold hands and feet, assessing that they hadn’t gone numb yet.  Dan had taken some great care in tying these knots.  They were tight enough to restrain him, but loose enough to not cut off his blood circulation.  Knowing Dan’s past now, however, Arin banked he wasn’t the first one the man had tied up like this before.  It was still bad form to leave him like this unattended, nonetheless.
             Arin gasped, jumping slightly on the table as he felt something nudge the bottom hem of his shirt up and begin to stroke his stomach.  He tried to look at it, but whatever it was was invisible.  The touch went to his fly and unbuttoned it along with unzipping the zipper.
             “Dan.” Arin stated, starting to squirm a little at being unable to see his tentacles touch him.  The unseen force paused for a second, but kept going about its business once the moment passed, opening his pants to play with the tender skin of his hips.  “Dan, stop.”
             “You’re angry.”  The invisible alien answered, removing his hands from Arin.
             “Yeah, I am.” Arin responded flatly, “I want to see you too.  I thought you were dead.  It felt like you were...”
             Dan dropped the facade, revealing his human form, one arm nervously running down the other.  On his face was the unmistakable expression of shame, “Yes, I saw that…  I have a theory why.”
             “Saw… It?”  Suddenly Arin’s headache and really weird memory dreams made sense, “You were going through my memories, weren’t you…?”
             “Yes, I’m sorry…  I got, um…  Overexcited about knowing how you had been these past few weeks.”  Dan’s face flushed purple.
             “I heard you talking.” Arin cracked a smile, “It sounds really pretty.”
             “Ah, thank you, yeah…  Um…  The pain you felt, I think I must’ve…  I don’t know, left a fragment of myself inside you when I gave you those memories of Aay and Brian.”
             “Whoa…  Really?” Arin blinked, trying to comprehend such a thing.
             “We store our memories on a cellular level.  It’s not like there’s a central part for memory storage for us.  You have your brain, we have…”  Dan motioned to his whole being, “I should have thought of the possibility to leave behind…  Associated pieces of me.” He chuckled lightly.
             “Like fucking Big Red?” Arin sniggered, trying to reach to pat his arm, but remembering he was tied up.
             “And leaving…  Sort of an open link between us.” Dan steered the conversation to safer territories.  “What you were feeling was…  I was terrified of never seeing you again.”
              “You’re here now though.” Arin pointed out.
              “I’m sorry I scared you… And-and didn’t tell you anything…  I-I-I just…  I thought it would be easier this way.”
              “Thought what would be easier?” Just like that, the comfortable, casual feeling between them was dashed.  Arin tried to sit up, grunting as the bonds pulled at him “Are you gonna untie me?”
             “I…  Arin, this is a very hard thing for me to do.” Dan pursed his lips, looking to the squares on the floor, gripping Arin’s wrist.
             “You have to leave…  Don’t you?”
             “It’s…  More complicated than that.  And…  I-I wish that I had had the chance to talk to you about it first, but…”  He stepped over to the knots holding Arin’s wrists.  They were undone easily by his dextrous fingers and Arin sat up, hands in his lap.  “I was doing research out over Arizona.” Dan shrugged, “I took too many risks, I got caught and escorted to…  I’m assuming it’s a naval base.”
             Arin reached out, taking Dan’s hand, “I’m glad you’re okay.  You escaped, right?”
             “No… I…  Arin…  I made a deal with them.” Dan squeezed his hand, Arin’s face becoming skeptical.  “They…  Offered me a choice.  They’re going to let me stay…  Going to let me remain in the area and still have contact with you all…”
             “There’s a catch…” Arin knew he wasn’t going to like it.
             “I have to erase all your memories of me…  And destroy any evidence that I was ever in your life.”
             Arin was stunned speechless.  He pursed his lips, staring at Dan, but not knowing anything he could say.
             “It was either that…  Or never talking to you again or seeing you again.  I would remain on planet, but never in your life.  Or, the last option was leaving Earth and never coming back.”  Dan looked to the floor as Arin still couldn’t find the words to express himself, “I thought…  Maybe this way would be better because…  Then only one of us would be in pain.”
             “Dan…  You can’t just…”  Arin groped for anything.  He had so many feelings and none of them could be easily described, “That’s fucking bullshit!”
             “Which would you prefer?”  Dan dropped his hand, stepping back, “Never seeing me again?  I know humans move on, so maybe that would be fine for you, but…”  Dan touched his chest, feeling the still hardening pearl inside him floating around.
             “That’s… Not what I meant.” Arin sighed, leaning on his thighs, “I just…  I won’t remember you at all…  And…  Everything we’ve done, everything I’ve seen…  I don’t want to forget any of that, Danny.”  He felt like he was going to cry, the tears were coming all right.  “I love you.”
             “I love you too and… I…” Dan sucked on his tongue, “What do you want to do?”
             “I don’t know.  I can’t imagine just never having known you.”
             “Well, if I erase your memories, you won’t have to imagine it.  I’ll just have never been there.  You won’t be sad, because you won’t know.”
             “But that’s so shitty to you!  This whole situation!” Arin gripped his hair and ran his fingers through it.  “I fucking…  Fucking…”  He looked over to the other exam tables, “You’ve erased everyone else’s memories by now, haven’t you?”
             “Yeah…  It took some time and they didn’t spend every day with me.” Dan gave Arin a humorous, albeit, pitying expression.  The human looked away from him, out at the rest of the ship.  “You’ll have to forgive Brian’s silence…  He’s in mourning again.”
             “Did someone else die?” Arin questioned, trying to reject the situation he was faced with.
             “No…  He is merely sad that this is something that must…  He thinks this whole thing sucks too.”
             “Oh…”  Arin looked around, but the projection of his massive friend was nowhere to be seen, “Hey, man.” he said anyway, but he couldn’t follow up with a usual “It’s going to be okay” because even he wasn’t feeling like it was going to be.
             “I wanted to give you, um, a gift, kind of.  To say how sorry I am about this.”  Dan made a sweeping motion with his hand to the ropes that had been around Arin’s wrists.
             “Pssh,” Arin looked down to his still tied ankles and the table, “thoughtful.”
             “I did promise you that we’d get to do at least one of your fantasies.  I know it’s…  Not much consolation.  All things considered.”  Dan rubbed up and down his right arm, frowning and realizing, in retrospect, that it probably wouldn’t help anything.
             Arin leaned against Dan’s shoulder from on top of the exam table, “I don’t want to say goodbye.”
             “It won’t be goodbye…” Dan tried to console, lifting a hand to stroke through Arin’s hair.  “That’s why I feel this way is best for us.  Not ‘goodbye,’ but ‘hello’ all over again.”
             “That sounds worse, almost.”  Arin shook his head.  “To shake your hand someday, not knowing how you changed my life.  The things you’ve taught me about the universe and…  Even about...”  Arin stared off into space, “Guess I’ll be back in the closet I didn’t even know I was in.”
             “I’ll be there to drag you out again, don’t worry.” Dan laughed, trying to cheer his Bonded’s mood.  “We’ll be friends again, Arin.  I know it.”
             “But I won’t know you…” He sat up off Dan, looking at him.  “I’ll know this face, yeah…  And the human things you’ll tell me you’ve done.  I won’t know you though.”
             “Do you feel that way about Ross?  Is his human facade any less him?”  Dan posed, watching the gears turn on Arin’s face.  “Does knowing he’s an alien, really change anything about your friendship?  The things you’ve been through, the things you’ve done, or have interests in?”
             “No…”  Arin looked down to the floor, “He’s still Ross.” The man sighed and rubbed up and down Dan’s arm.  “When…  When do you have to have this done by?”
             “As soon as possible.  But I couldn’t…  I couldn’t do it without talking to you first.”
             “What did you do with all my drawings?  And the pictures?”
             “I have them.  They’re in my room.” Dan motioned towards the long, dark hallway.
             “Oh, wait, why did you take blank pages and my old colored pencils?” Arin raised an eyebrow at him.
             “Ah, well, you see,” Danny flushed purple again, “I wanted to try drawing… And I was bad at it.” He laughed, Arin following suit.  “I don’t think I have any talent for it, really.”
             “That’s bullshit.” Arin waved him off, “Anyone can learn something if they try hard enough and really want it.  Remind me later,” he smiled to the taller man, “I’m sure I’ll be just as willing to teach you.”
             “R-Really?  You’d…  You’d do that?”
             “Sure, just tell me you’d like to learn sometime.  If I’m not a total dickbag to you, I’ll probably want to help.” He laughed, eyes trailing back to the ropes around his ankles.  “Are these the same ropes you used on Aay?”
             “Um… No, actually.  Aay was bred for the upper echelons of command, so it’s…  Very strong; the sets of bindings I procured while on my study sojourn wore out quickly.  These are ones I more recently bought, they’re good to have around.” Dan winked at Arin, “Never know when you’re going to run into a lifeform that enjoys such activities.”
             Arin smirked back at him, “Always prepared, aren’t you, spaceboy?”
             “Resourcefulness is a good quality for a scientist to have.”
             “I imagine that being trustworthy is too?”  Arin quirked his brow, shifting on the table.
             “Yes…  Do you think I’m trustworthy?”
             “I trust you.” his eyes flicked to the ropes Dan held in his opposite hand.  He cleared his throat, “You…” he swallowed, “Gonna use those for something?”
             “I was thinking about it.”
             “What for?”
             “Ah, I got some tests to do, you know.  Science-y things.”
             “Oh, really?  What kinds of science-y things?”
             “Wanna find out?”
             Arin grinned, “Fuck yeah.”

             The human’s body trembled, gasps breaking from his lips with each twinge of pleasure that overtook him.  His body was slick from the green and blue tentacles that dragged over his bare skin.  Two of the appendages, currently, were engaged in sucking on his nipples, another carefully stroked over his erect, lower protrusion and fourth was sliding its way inside of him.  His back arched and he moaned loudly, his voice echoing off all the other hard surfaces in the room.
             “The human responds well to physical stimulus.” The, ah, “abducting” alien announced as if his voice was being recorded.  Which… Well… It was, actually, but it was a pity that this being didn’t have the ability to masturbate, because, wow, yes, he was thoroughly enjoying this experience.  “I have become aware of an extra fluid that I have not previously been able to collect for examination.  And I suspect I shall require a great amount of it.”  Dan kept going, feeling quite silly, but nonetheless aware of the impulses of lust Arin sent out at the words.  Whatever he was doing, it clearly was exactly what his boyfriend had been wanting.
             “What are you--Ah!--going to do?”  Arin rasped between moans and gasps, almost ready to come just from this whole set-up.  He looked up to the shimmering alien with a pleading expression, but the attempt at garnering sympathy was cut short as a second tentacle pushed inside of him.  His back arched off the table again, squeezing his eyes shut as he moaned and tried to press his face into his arm.  The alien never answered his question and picked up something similar to a petri dish, holding it to the head of his leaking dick.
             “You’re doing well.” Dan praised, stroking the underside of Arin’s cut length as the erection dripped clear precum into the waiting dish.  “Good boy.”  Dan giggled to himself, giving an especially hard suck to Arin’s nipples and listening to his voice grow hoarse with pleasure.  Once he figured he had enough of this precum stuff, he removed all his limbs from the human subject on the table.  Arin made a bereft keening noise, eyes following him as he labelled the sample.
             “What do you need it for?” Arin panted, playing along, but the drying tentacle stuff on his body made him cold without Dan touching him.  He shivered, his sensitive, erect nipples remaining hard in the cold atmosphere.
             “I intend to study it.” Dan answered truthfully.
             “Why me?” Arin pitifully questioned, trying to fight against the ropes around his limbs, but, just as before, finding it made no difference.  Ah, it was so…  Wonderfully hopeless.  He would never escape the clutches of this sex-crazed space alien!  Oh, the humanity!
             Dan flushed a series of bright greens, “Just because.”
             “And here I thought I was special.” Arin snidely huffed back, still trying futilely to escape.
             “No, just another test subject.” Dan assured him, “Now shut up or I’ll have to find someway to keep you quiet.” He ordered, wiggling a green arm at the human.
             “You brought me up here to fuck me, I’ll make as much fucking noise as I want!” Arin petulantly declared, regretting his words as he felt a tentacle push him solidly against the metal table.
             The alien loomed over him, it’s body just as green as ever, but its voice low and threatening, “I suppose I’ll just have to get creative, then.” It chuckled in a way that made Arin’s whole body tingle.  Oh please, please get creative!
             “Whatever.” He snorted at the alien.  However, he soon ate his words as he saw a shiny metal instrument held in the alien’s fingers.  He found no word for it other than a “mouth prop” in his memory, the only place he had ever seen one of these was in a dentist’s office, “Where the fuck did you get that?!”
             “You would be surprised what a researcher like me is able to find easily.” Dan answered, not breaking character.
             “You used Amazon, didn’t you?”
             Dan didn’t answer--he used Amazon--pushing Arin’s head into position to insert the uncomfortable tool.  Naturally, Arin kept his mouth shut against the intrusion, so Dan had to get creative.  Without much preamble at all, he shoved a tentacle inside the human, listening to him moan and rushing a few of his smaller arms inside the human’s mouth to hold it open.  He hummed happily to himself as he inserted the prop into Arin’s mouth, making sure his teeth rested on the rubber end covers before extending the scissor mechanism to lock it open.
              Arin continued to make some noises, but Dan couldn’t really understand them as words.  They were more of the “Oh hi huck his hink hurrs” type of sounds.  This meant one thing for certain, with an open orifice, as most tentacle creatures were wont, he had the urge to fill it with a limb.  The human gagged a little at first, but gradually began to suck on it, twining his tongue around the limb’s tip.  When the tentacle inside the human’s other end began moving again, the arm between Arin’s lips muffled the noises.  No matter how much Arin yelled or moaned, it didn’t matter.  Though, with a major airway blocked off, Dan made sure to pay close attention to the stream of Arin’s thoughts.
             “Now, be good and give me what I want.”  Dan ordered, pushing two more tentacles inside Arin, listening to and watching him struggle.  All the struggling of his hips did, however, was serve to push the three twined tentacles deeper inside of him, grinding them against his prostate.  Arin tried to grit his teeth and gasped for breath around the playful tentacle inside his mouth, but the metal instrument in his mouth prevented it.  Which was a good thing as Dan would not have appreciated the damage to his poor arm.  “C’mon boy.” Dan encouraged further, feeling Arin’s hammering pulse in his whole body as he fucked him with his many arms.
             “Touch.  Me.”  Arin tried to groan past the tentacle in his mouth, rolling his hips into the other thrusting tentacles.
             “No.” Dan giggled, loving the high, frustrated whine that broke from Arin at the refusal.  “You have to fuck yourself to get what we both want.”  Dan gave his own version of a wicked chuckle, knowing how he frustrated his lover so.  Oh, why hadn’t Dan ever considered doing this sooner?  He long knew from past experience he loved being the one in control during blind moments of passion, but no one made it look more beautiful or enticing than Arin.  The way he rolled his eyes back, or begged him with them, his sounds, the way his body tensed and he writhed...
             Just as ordered, Arin shifted his hips in tandem with each of Dan’s inward thrusts, his crying dick bobbing over his abdomen.  He could see it just barely past the tentacle he was sucking on and it was screaming to be touched.  He yanked at his wrists, trying to get to it and begging his alien Master to touch it had yielded nothing.  Fuck, he wanted to come, he was on the verge of tears here!  With a sudden burst of determination and energy in his tiring stomach muscles, he picked up the pace, happy that Dan rose to the occasion and matched that speed until the knot in his stomach snapped.
             Obviously, Dan completely forgot to collect his sample straight from the source as a gratuitous amount of the desired fluid shot over Arin’s stomach.  He was lost in his moment of Oneness with Arin, enjoying the communion of their minds.  Being a zilbyrgh, he would never in all his years forget this feeling.  He knew Arin deeper than anyone in those precious moments of Oneness with him and he was loathe to be torn from him again when the time came.
             Dan?  Arin thought to his alien lover, who had basically moved to sit on top of him.
             Yes, one second.  Dan grabbed the mouth prop and closed it, removing it and dropping it down to the tray of other collection instruments, “My love.” He warbled, snuggling into him.
             Arin closed his mouth and rolled his jaw around, trying to remove the stiffness from the uncomfortable position.  He did have a request, “Kiss me?”
             Dan shifted up Arin’s body and smooshed his face against his, fabricating a pair of lips as he did so.  He shined brightly, drinking in the wonderful afterglow of the moment, “That was amazing.”
             “Yeah,” Arin agreed, pulling at the ropes around his wrists again, “can you untie me?”
             Just as before, Dan easily relieved Arin of his bonds and let them fall to the floor.  The two wrapped their arms around each other and cuddled for what seemed like an eternity.  They could remain like this for eternity for all either of them cared.  Arin dragged his fingers over the star-like chemical reactions inside of Dan’s body with a fond expression.  He was so beautiful…  He couldn’t imagine not missing him.  Whether he remembered him or not…
             Their bodies curled around each other, the two silently enjoyed what they suspected to be their last chance to be so intimate.  Arin wanted to fall asleep in Dan’s arms, kissing the jelly expanse in front of him.  He didn’t want his growing sadness to bleed into Dan, but by the spots of purple in the green of happiness, he knew there was nothing he could hide from him.
              “You will reintroduce yourself to me, right?” He asked, unable to move past the possibility that he just wouldn’t have Dan’s wonderful personality around.  Dan needed to be around him too anyway…  They were Bonded and all.
             “Yes, of course.  I want to be with you, Arin.” Dan planted a few more kisses over the man’s body, “And…  My technology is meant for erasing memories on a cellular level.  Your processes for memory, hereto, have only been proven to be in your brain.  There are some…  Possibilities that there will be things left behind.  But…”  Dan stroked over Arin’s hair, feeling the hope rise in his body, “I have been told that consequences will be dire if I am not thorough.”
             “There’s a possibility that I’ll…  I’ll remember some of this?” Arin mumbled against him.
             “Yes…  Our methods do not really account for some of the miraculous things your brain can do.  We don’t have a single unit for memory storage.  There is not much we know of your brain, only that we can easily disrupt your short-term memory.  Human long-term memory is…  Tricky…  Removing things is difficult, but not damaging, really…  There is always a possibility for retrieval from long-term.  That is why I must be careful.”  Dan kissed him again, “The government has threatened termination of you that…  That will remember my origins.”
             Arin clung tighter to Dan at the admission, “What about…  What about Ross?”
             “We have no idea how Kriranrk memory functions.  However, as Ross is not human, I saw no reason to perform any sort of procedure on him.”
             “That’s not fair.” Arin croaked, pushing back tears.
             “No, it isn’t.” Dan tried to console him, using a tiny tentacle to remove the tears from the corners of Arin’s eyes.  “It’s barbaric that they choose to enforce this kind of ignorance through threat of death.”
             Arin sniffled, “Can you wait until I fall asleep?”  The tears Dan had just wiped away fell from his eyes and dripped down to his chin.
             “Shhh,” Dan wiped his eyes and cheeks, “anything for you, Darling.” He squeezed him tighter as Arin’s body shook.  “I’ll always be here for you.  I promise.”
             “But I can’t be there for you…”
             “You will be.  You’ll be my friend again.”  Dan kissed his forehead, stroking the blonde streak in his hair.
             “But, what if I’m just an asshole?”
             “I don’t think that’s possible, man.”  Dan chuckled, still trying to soothe him.  “Contrary to what you believe, you’re not an asshole.”
             “You don’t know.”
             “Yes, Arin, I do.”
             “Are you going to be okay?”
             Dan thought for a few moments, “I think so.  It’s going to be rough, starting from nothing.  I will still have Brian though, and my caseworker to help me.”
             “Are you sure?”
             “I will be trying to get back to you as quickly as possible.”  Dan pointed out, “Make no mistake.”
             Arin hid his face in Dan’s dimly-glowing body.  he wished he could say that he’d miss this, but instead, he just wouldn’t remember it.  That was worse…  Unavoidable nothingness.
             “It’ll be okay.  I’ll think of something.”
             Arin took a deep, steadying breath.  he sighed and relaxed against his lover, “It’s out of my hands here.”
             “It’s not for me.  I will help you in anything you ever need.”
             “Thank you, Dan.  I love you, so don’t forget it or I’ll have to beat you up, okay?” Arin sniffled, “And I don’t want to have to beat you up.”
             “I cannot forget anything unfacilitated.”  Dan jokingly pointed out.  “And I would never want to forget this.  Right now.  I know you love me, no matter what.  I love you too.”
             “I’m scared to fall asleep.”
             “It’s going to be okay.”
             Arin swallowed, “It’s going to be okay.”
             “Everything’s okay.” Dan stroked his skin, feeling Arin’s pulse gradually slow.  He squeezed tighter, knowing it was coming soon.
             “Everything’s…  Okay.”  The sleepy human mumbled.  “I’m…  Okay.”  His eyes slipped closed and he was asleep, the light in his lover’s body turning a pitch, mournful black.
             I’m going to be okay...

Chapter Text

             The weeks following the obliteration of his self from Arin’s life, Dan mostly lived at the naval base.  Brian was kept in a temporary holding bay while potential bodies were “procured” as the staff had called it.  Dan, meanwhile, was given a small room, similar in size to a college dormitory--not that he had ever seen one of those before, but he understood they were small.  In the time he lived in the cramped space, he was issued a birth certificate for March seventeenth, 1979.  He was from New Jersey.  His full name, after some back and forth with his caseworker, was decided to be “Leigh Daniel Avidan.”

             “Lyrdaanaavydaa…”  Jackson had stared at the rudimentary--see: terrible--handwriting Dan had accomplished with his left arm.  “Is there… Any part of this you want to keep?” The greying man raised an eyebrow at his human-appearing client.
             “Well, my name counts as a trinomial designation, don’t humans here have three names?”  Dan had questioned at the man’s confusion.  “Um…  Like ‘Dan’ comes from the middle of my name!  So…  Daniel can be my middle name?”
             “Ah, well… Yes…  They won’t really sound like your real name, but…”
             “I’m fine with that.  A more… Um… Spiritual successor to my birth name?” Dan chuckled, watching the old man shake his head and go to work.  He was really beginning to understand some of the humans’ “turns of phrase” and so on.  Damn did he ever love the queer ambiguity that was the English human language.  He had attempted other languages, having heard that this German language or French languages were more specific.  All he had found, however, were that there were even more things to learn about gender with objects.  How was a stool masculine?  He just didn’t know.
             “All right, how does this one sound…?”

             According to that visit with Jackson awhile ago, Dan had also gone to college!  However, his true dream was always going to be playing music.  Even on Earth, being a musician appealed to him the most.


             “A YouTube page…?” The human in charge of fabricating Dan’s past raised an eyebrow.  She sucked on her tongue and shrugged as Dan nodded, a hopeful expression on his face.  With experienced fingers, she tapped away on her keyboard and clicked around a bit.  Eventually, she fixed her glasses higher up her face and leaned in to rest her chin on her knuckles, “Uhm…  Okay, we have an abandoned page a few years old…”  She nodded to herself as she realized this would be sufficient in many ways.  “And we can always alter timestamps on the post times of videos.”  What couldn’t the government get their hands in with little fuss?  Looking back to Dan, she tucked some of her hair away behind her ear, “What did you have in mind?”  She was well-aware that this alien was quite the creative type, this was going to be good.
             “Well,” Dan smiled, “Brian and I have, um…  In our offtime been making some videos.”  Seeing the shock on the woman’s face, he quickly amended, “Not on base, of course, but, when we get clearance to go out in public.”  As that quickly assuaged any of her fears, she nodded for him to continue.  Brian, actually, had not found a body he had properly meshed with yet.  Apparently it was a lot more complicated of a process than Dan was giving it credit for, however, he didn’t have the same abilities as his friend.  Dan could see into a human’s brain and root around in it, but it was mostly like a television and trying to find the correct channel.  Brian experienced being the human, having all of the body’s memories and holding to them as if they were Brian’s own.  Dan couldn’t imagine being himself but also, at the same time, being another person.
             As Brian and Dan had wanted to get things rolling as soon as possible with their musical career, they had wasted no time in writing music.  Though, it was very sad that no matter how Brian tried, he never seemed to have a body that could sing.  However, Brian had a natural aptitude for Earth’s many musical instruments.  Partially this was from interest and continuous practice, but it was also partly possible because of the strange memory-osmosis of sorts that happened when Brian took upon a body.  Knowing that physical representations of his self would cause some issues, he wasted no time in purchasing the most obscuring garment he could.  This turned out to be a hoodie with some interesting yellow markings on it…
             “I believe Arin would say this looks a lot like a ninja suit…” Dan commented and at that moment, the name of their band hit them, “Brian, does Ninja Sex Party sound like a good name to you?”  Brian had felt not one way or the other on the name at first, but eventually found it very apt as Dan discovered this amazing human fabric known as “spandex.”  Dan was positively glowing with the discovery!  No, literally, his grin was glowing as he held the stretchy, bright blue fabric out before Brian’s current body.  He would have to work on that.
             Anyway, with a bit of finagling, the two had found their way back to what they had always enjoyed back home on Vysvaa…  Writing music and entertaining.
             “Let’s take a look.”  The woman behind the computer screen smiled.  When Dan offered a flashdrive, she readily took it and plugged it into the computer.  She waited for it to upload and saw there were many more videos--complete ones!--than she had been expecting.  Where did the two find the time to both do this and learn the ins and outs of human society?  Little did she know.  “You’ve been busy.”
             “Yeah…” Danny laughed self-consciously, watching her face as it went through many emotional phases.  He finally got what he wanted when she began to laugh.
             “You’re serious about these?” She gave him an unsure look, still grinning from the force of her previous laughter.
             “Yep!” Dan answered with great excitement.
             “I’ll make sure Brian’s caseworker cross-references these, then.”  She nodded and chuckled, getting everything set-up as she posted them one by one.  The meeting continued for awhile after that as she then needed to know how much time Dan needed between the videos.  It would look strange if they were all posted the same day a few years ago.  Views needed to be fabricated as well, but that would be significantly easier as now everyone on base was going to need to watch these things.  It seemed like everything was falling into place for the new Earth resident.

             April rolled on into May, and May was soon becoming June.  Dan settled in with Brian on their “dorm” couch.  With his head resting on one arm of the couch, his long legs poked off the end of the piece of furniture.  Brian, when Brian had a body, most of the time slept in bed with Dan, or on the couch.  Brian actually had a room just down the hall, but in this state, Brian claimed it felt more separate from Dan than ever and, of course, didn’t like it.
             Many of the staff in the area of base in which they lived frequently asked what their relationship was on planet.  Many liked to bank that they were in some sort of relationship of the romantic variety, but none could figure out how that worked given that Brian was thousands of times Dan’s size.  It was occasionally funny to lead the staff on when they asked, Brian finding it particularly humorous, but it eventually became a frustrating circumstance.
             As Dan found most of the staff to be heterosexual, he understood this confusion a lot more understandable during the days that Brian inhabited female bodies.  He noticed a distinct change in demeanor, however, from those same people on days Brian had a male host.  Suddenly Brian opting to hold his hand or cling to him became unacceptable on such days, Dan never acted any different, it made no difference to him, but to the humans, it seemed to make all the difference in the world.  Moreover, many of the staff were uncomfortable with the idea that Brian did not prefer one presentation over another.  A body was a body to Brian, they all functioned relatively the same, the only problem was that one type was often much shorter than the other and Brian therefore needed to ask Dan for help retrieving high objects.
             During this confusing period, Dan tried many times to explain their situation.  Most chose not to listen to Dan’s explanations of gender not being a thing on their home planet.  Most just said “well, you’re on Earth now, you have to pick one,” Dan found himself missing Arin’s easy acceptance of almost everything all the more.
             Taking a deep breath and sighing, Dan trailed his fingers down Brian’s current body as Brian shifted to sit on top of him.  This body was nearly a foot shorter than him, short-cut, brown hair, slim build.  The span of Dan’s human hand took up most all of the space between the body’s shoulder blades.
             “This body is mature?”  Dan questioned, raising an eyebrow as Brian began to doze.
             “I was told as much.” Brian answered, nuzzling into Dan’s chest.  Dan was used to Brian always having a deeper vocal range that ranged into higher pitched whistles; it was odd for Brian’s will to be coming out of such relatively higher voices these days.
             “Do you ever wonder how they get these test bodies released to you?  They do come out of hospitals after all…”  Dan uneasily mumbled.
             “I try not to think about it.” Brian admitted.
             “Who was this one?”
             “Her name is Sarah.  She caught something called meningitis.  Caused by a bacterium.”
             “A bacterium?”  Dan pulled his eyebrows down curiously.  Bacteria were far easier to be rid of than viruses…  Why had it rendered this girl comatose?  “How old is she?”
             “Eighteen.  Her body has only been like this for a few weeks.  It’s an odd candidate for my…  Needs.”
             “You don’t like this one, do you?”
             “I don’t like any of it.  It feels like I’m stealing something.”
             “Is Sarah still there?”
             “No, meningitis is a disease in the outer casings of the brain.  It has done… Considerable damage.  There are many parts of this body’s functionality that I am having difficulties accessing.”
             “But…  It was caused by bacteria…  Couldn’t antibiotics have done something about it?”
             “Yes…  She appeared to have an upper-respiratory infection at first.  She thought nothing of it and thought…  She didn’t have time to go to the doctor.”  Brian thought hard for a few moments, trying to get the memories back, “She had just started college, she didn’t like her roommate…”  Brian shrugged and gave up, “The onset of the disease is fast at any rate.  A matter of hours once the bacteria is inside.”
             Dan huffed and grumbled, looking down at the smaller body on his chest.  The damage was done, however, they were both powerless to do anything.  Brian had yet to find a body that “fit” and there had been many by now.  Due to their necessary status in order to procure them, they each had their own sob story of sorts.  Each time, it seemed their comas were entirely avoidable.
             “Human society still confuses me.”  Dan closed his eyes and shook his head, remembering what Arin had told him about this place while in space.
             “Same.”  Brian sat up off Dan, “Do you want to approach them with the album?”  Brian motioned behind himself to the computer on the desk.
             Dan pulled out a phone to check the time, “We have our American government class soon…”  As if Dan hadn’t already learned enough about this place.  Though, as he understood, even immigrants from different nations still on Earth had to take something similar to this class.  He and Brian were going to be “naturalized” soon, they just had a few more classes to get through.  Then they would be expected to learn everything else by themselves.
              “Afterwards, then?  We’ve been here for months…  I at least want you out of here.”  Once the government had found Brian a body to mesh with, neither of them was entirely sure what they were going to do with his actual body.  It was still going to be alive, functioning, in need of food and exercise and routine tune ups from Dan.  That was another kettle of fish for another day, however.
             “There is still much I have to learn.”  Dan excused, though, he realized a lot of his unwillingness to get his own apartment away from the compound was Arin.  If he was free…  He would want to search for him.  Things wouldn’t be like it was before, ever again, “And I have no job yet.  How would I even pay to live off base?”
             Brian nodded, sighing as he accepted the truth in Dan’s words, “I’ve heard the YouTube videos have made some money.”
             “Only a little.”  Dan shrugged, seeing this detail as inconsequential.  “I’m splitting the revenue with you.”
             “Keep it.”  Brian jerked the body’s chin towards the room’s exit, “My services to their military haven’t come for free.”  Really, it was amazing that the government that was holding them here was willing at all to pay him…
             “It really surprises me, considering they forged your PhD…  Our birth certificates and other legal things.”  Not that the forging of Brian’s PhD made it any less valid, Brian had gone through plenty of schooling and research back home on Vysvaa back in the day.  In fact, Dan banked that the PhD held less meaning than Brian’s own certification back on Vysvaa.
             “It’s not a full salary, but my know-how is irreplaceable to them.”  Brian had a point…  Hopefully he hadn’t been forthcoming in any information about weapons.  Brian had asked before that no humans touch his exterior and none were allowed inside either.  As Brian was an autonomous being, not a machine, the humans had been respectful of such requests.  The Lord knew the last thing humans needed more of was ways to destroy each other.
             “True.”
             “I need a different body soon.  This one isn’t receptive at all.  There’s a definite dissonance.”  Brian stretched, but the body’s movements were halting, like a robot with jamming servos.
             “Go talk to Gerald, I’ll get to class.”  Dan patted Brian’s frail-seeming shoulder.
             “I’ll see you later.  Don’t forget to drop off that album.” Brian gave him a short hug and left, leaving Dan to languish on the couch.
             This was life…  This was what he had willingly reduced himself to.  Dan sighed and pulled his body up to his feet, dragging them to the hallway.  He was tired of this hallway, filled with cameras and other people he really didn’t care about.  All this time he had kept his eyes out for the Elder gekur that had been there his first day.  He was aware of when the soldier was around, its attempts at English had a very specific sound to it, but he hadn’t seen it anymore.  It must’ve been avoiding him like the plague (whatever that was).  At least Dan didn’t have to worry about getting jumped, but it also gave him further cause for suspicion.  He seemed--and Brian--to be the only one on the compound that knew anything of the fallen Gekurick Empire.  Did it fear him outing it?  Was it simply too offended by that first day to approach him?  Dan wanted to know, but he didn’t want to risk pressing the Elder gekur to take action.  That had the potential to be disastrous for everyone.
             As Dan went on his way, his phone buzzed.  Plucking it from his pocket, he noticed it was from his caseworker.  He was asking for his presence in his office, something about an email.  Jackson wanted Dan in his office as soon as possible to answer the email, but Dan saw very little rush as things were.  He got emails quite frequently these days as it seemed that part of being human was being bombarded with dozens of useless emails daily.  That wasn’t so different from Vysvaa though.
             “I’ll be by when class is done.”  He texted back, heading down the hall and around the corner.  With that resolution in hand, Dan entered the bland room the class was scheduled for.  Dan had initially been surprised that he and Brian were not the only students in this class.  They were the newest students, for sure, but also the fastest-advancing.  Though, given the circumstances of the two other students in the class that “fast-advancing” part wasn’t much of an achievement.  Anyone would have a difficult time learning if half of their memory storage had been removed.  That being said, the two other students with Brian and Dan in this class had been in the education process for around two years…  The Y’p’sil were unable to lie or understand anything beyond the literal, and, unfortunately, had poor memory capacity without the presence of their symbionts…  Symbiont was a somewhat loose term for the other half of what the Y’p’sil had for a brain, it was more like an external hard drive of sorts that talked.

              “I should not be asking and I beg for forgiveness at my extreme presumptuous behavior, but, where is your symbiont?”  Dan had asked one of them as the two entered into the room.
             “It is an understandable question to be had, but very rude.”  The first one answered.  The second followed up, “They are both dead.”
             “My condolences.  How?”
             The two shrugged.  Or, shrugged as best they could with their shoulderless bodies, “We don’t remember.”  Of course…  Dan didn’t know why he expected anything else.
             “Did you have them when you came to Earth?” Dan pressed on.  It was not often that a symbiont was removed and killed separately from the rest of an Y’p’sil body.
             “Yes.”  One answered.
             “I don’t know.”  The other said.
             Dan nodded, “Why did you leave your planet?”  The Y’p’sil were from the same galaxy as Vysvaa, they were a very far ways from home.
             “War.”  They answered in unison, again.
             “Uh…  What?”  There had been no war that he knew of…  “How…  Long have you been on Earth?”
             “Our caseworkers tell us three years.” The one said, looking to the other as it began to speak, “I don’t know.”
             “Do either of you remember what you planet was like?”
             The two looked to each other, clicking between their selves and touching their marble-white hands together.  The Y’p’sil with more memory difficulties appeared quite upset by the progression of their conversation.  Unfortunately, this was not a race Dan had all that much experience with.  He had spoken to ambassadors on different planets and knew the basics of how to not offend--for the most part--but the language was a mystery.  In the end, only one answered Dan, “We…  Feel…  That it would not be in our best interest to answer that question.”
             “Oh…  Are you…  Being threatened into this position?”
             “Yes.”  The same one answered.
             “By whom?”
             “It is not in our best interest to answer that question.”
             “Okay, so, is this because of…  The war?  I didn’t know about there being any war.”
             “It was kept a secret.”
             “How?!  Why?”
             The two clicked again.
             “It is not in our--”
             “Yes, yes, I understand.  Your symbiont deaths though…  Is that related to your being threatened?”
             “We don’t know.”  They both said.
             “Related to the war?”
             “We don’t know.”
             “Is it possible for you two to…  To get new symbionts?”
             They both shook their heads, “We only have each other.”
             “I know that feeling.”
             “You are not us.”  One logically reminded, “No, you do not.”  The other followed up.
             “Ah…  Yes, uh, you’re right.”
             “Yes, we are.” They both responded together.
             Geez…

             The Y’p’sil remained silent as they waited for the instructor to arrive and class to begin.  Dan’s lust for knowledge made him want to interrogate them further, but they had stonewalled all other attempts.  It seemed that they were still in some kind of danger, even on Earth, of opening their proverbial mouths about the war on their planet.  Dan doubted that they truly remembered all that much anyway, severely impaired as they were.  Nonetheless, this war they spoke of upset him, there had been no news of unrest on their planet to his knowledge.  Especially not in such a recent timeframe as the last three Earth years.  It was baffling…
             The door to the room opened then, Dan looking up from his phone.  The two Y’p’sil turned to peer at the newcomer as well, but as it was not their instructor, they quickly dismissed the happening.  Dan, meanwhile, smiled at the salt and pepper man who entered.  His eyes were blue, he looked extremely unimpressed by the lines around his eyes and mouth, but he also seemed very relaxed.  No matter what body Brian had, Dan would always recognize him.
             “Gerald already had another for you?”  Dan smiled wider when Brian casually sat on the edge of the desk.  This body appeared far older than the previous one, perhaps even older than Dan.
             “Yes, he said… This one was one he had been trying to get for awhile.”  Brian raised the hand and tested his fingers, curling them into a fist before relaxing, “This one is…  Different.”
             “Different?”  Dan leaned forward on his desk.  “Who was he?”
             “Harold Wecht…  He has a mate, he was an educator…  There is almost no damage in here, yet he has been in a coma for…  Quite some time.”  Brian made a face of deep thought, an expression very well-suited to this body.  “There is a lot more I need to look into about this body, but,” he began to nod, “I like this one.”
             Dan grinned at this news, but was curious about the “Wecht” last name…  Arin had used it quite some time ago and Dan now wondered where the man had gotten it from.  Dismissing it as mere coincidence, Dan questioned “What now?”
             “I don’t know.  I’ve never liked one before.”
              That was good news in some ways at least, “You seem very strong for that body’s state before.”
             “I know.”  Brian stretched his body, only dressed in a hospital gown, wiggling his fingers for the ceiling, “It’s both odd and very welcome in comparison.”  Brian grinned, seeming…  Almost giddy?  How strange.
             “You’re very excited about this.”
             “I can’t explain it.”  He gestured widely to Dan with his hands, prompting Dan to sit back away from him a little.  As if realizing his behavior, Brian retracted his hands to fold them in his lap, “I feel like…  Running through a field or climbing a mountain.  Or…  Or something…” And then, Brian seemed disturbed by something, the calm lines of his face twitching ever so slightly.
             “Are you okay?”
             The instructor for the class enter the room then, giving everyone a wave.  As usual, he paused and pointed to the new face in the room, “Brian?”
             “Yes, instructor.”  Brian responded with uncharacteristic respect.  Hereto, Brian had not been incredibly fond of the man.  As most Ydyrn were wont, he expressed this disdain rather openly whenever it was “appropriate.”  Which was, of course, never, but it didn’t stop him from doing so.  “I’ll sit down now.”  Brian stood from the edge of the desk, not caring about the nudity of his ass to the instructor.  Nonetheless, there was a conflicted expression upon his face.
             “Are you alright?”  Even the instructor noticed this odd behavior.
             “Yes…  I am fine…  I…”  Brian looked around, but shook his head, walking around to sit next to Dan.  “Please, begin.” Brian raised a hand to motion the instructor on, but, again, seemed internally disturbed by his own action.
             “Mn, all right, if you say so.”  Their instructor answered, Dan reaching for Brian’s hand.  Worse than all of this sudden queerness was that Brian gently deflected Dan’s hand, “We’ll talk about it later.” Brian assured instead.
             “If you’re sure…”  Dan uneasily mumbled, spawning a glowing, pink tentacle to reach out and wrap it around Brian’s forearm while he was paying more attention to Dan’s face.  Brian didn’t try to dislodge him, but Dan also didn’t attempt to access his emotional state.  Dan had grown used to the emotional distance between himself and Brian’s consciousness that was brought on by Brian’s taking host bodies.  That acceptance of it did not necessarily mean he liked it in the least.
             “Yes, I’m sure.”  Brian gave dan a small smile as the instructor began the lesson.

             Upon the conclusion of that day’s class, both the pairs of aliens left together.  Dan held out the CD and flashdrive backup that contained the album they had been working on the past few months.
             “Here, I have to go meet Jackson to answer some emails or something.” he passed off the items to Brian, “When I get back to the room you will tell me what’s wrong.”
             “Of course, Lyrda.”  Brian accepted the objects and laughed as Dan shoved him for the use of his nickname.  He stumbled back a little from the force--even if it was playful--of Dan’s significantly stronger, inhuman body.  Brian had not yet come to terms with having a human body meaning that he was no-longer physically indestructible…  Though… This wasn’t really his body.. He wasn’t really a…  “You know I love you.”  He could ruminate on it later.
              “Of course.”  Dan chuckled, giving Brian a hug before trotting off for his caseworker’s office. “Go drop that off!”  He called back, missing the confusion on Brian’s face entirely.

             Arriving at the door of Jackson’s office, Dan knocked before being told to enter, “You wanted to see me?”  He quirked his eyebrows as he poked his head inside the room.
             “You have an email.”  Jackson motioned to his computer monitor.  “I’m guessing you just came from class?”
             “Yes, sorry I couldn’t get here sooner.”  Dan entered the rest of the way, closing the door behind himself.
             “How do you want me to respond to this?”  Jackson motioned to his computer screen as he pulled up Dan’s email account.
             “I get emails a lot…  Why is this one special?” Dan blinked, shuffling in behind Jackson to look at the monitor.  It was a forwarded message from the Ninja Sex Party YouTube page, according to the header.  He got notifications frequently from comments posted to the videos and shares on this “facebook” or other such social media outlets, but this was unexpected.
             “Sent by YouTube User Egoraptor:” The intro to the email read…  “Hello!  My name is Arin Hanson and my friend on here, RubberNinja introduced me to some of your work and I love it!  I’m an animator and creator (with JonTron) of the let’s play channel GameGrumps and would be very interested in working with you sometime.  If you’re ever in LA, hit me up, if you’re interested, send me an email!  We can get lunch!  Or whatever you like!  It’s on me!”
             Dan was speechless.  Of all the emails he could have gotten…  What were the odds?
             “Dan?” Jackson tried to get his attention.  “A response?”
             “Uh, oh, uh, t-tell him…  Uh…”  Dammit he could not fuck this up!  “Tell him I’ll b-be in LA next week, and um…  And it’s great to meet him!  Uh, uh, I think his channel and, his, um, animations are really sweet!  I’d be interested in getting to know him and work with him!  Um… Um…  Shit.”  Dan fumbled for words, joy literally blooming within his human-shaped body as he glowed bright green.  As he grinned and chuckled and Jackson wrote--much more eloquently than Dan was speaking--he looked to who Arin had said told him about the page, “Ross…”
             “What?”
             “N-Nothing…”  Dan giggled, of course this hadn’t been mere coincidence, Goddammit Ross.