She had met an alien on this excursion, alone on a planet, an octopodal sort with glimmering skin like a jellyfish.

“There’s a question I have for you,” she said.

Very well, he said, in her mind. He turned to her expectantly, his eyes glimmering. You may ask.

“Well, my people come from up there,” she pointed, and his eyes turned upward. “And we usually like to study other beings. Harmlessly, of course, but we like to learn. Your environment is… a little hard on me, even with the filter. But really the question is, may I study you?”

Perhaps, he said. I am torn. I would like to share my home with you, and repay you for your kindness, but I should also very much like to see your ship.

She was startled for a moment, till she remembered he picked up on projected thoughts, and she had been thinking of her ship.

“How about both? I could go with you- although you don’t have to repay me, honestly- and then you could come with me?”

Agreed, Lux said. It will be best for us to leave at nightfall. Days here are excruciating. It is very bright and dry, and you would not like it.

She couldn’t imagine how it might be for him. “Sure. That’s fine. Let me just let them know.” His whole body rippled, but she knew it was a nod.

She took out her communication relay, and spoke to her captain about this.

The alien, called Lux, led her across the landscape. After a while, she realized this method of transportation would be tiring for her, and offered to let her ride on him, at what she guessed would be shoulders, behind the globe of his head.

It took her a while, as he undulated across the landscape, to work out that he didn’t really have a definite shape. His body and head were almost entirely just a shapeless blob that formed whatever he needed it to, and she couldn’t quite figure out just how many tentacles he had.

By the time they arrived at a large bubble that rose out of the pink and peach and blue colored sand, she’d determined that he must have at least twelve tentacles.

And then he let her down, and rose up to open the “door” into the bubble, and he only had six. She blinked.

I have what tentacles I need at any given time, he said, with some amusement, and led her into the bubble, which was iridescent, but also somewhat opaque.

“I see,” she said. “I hope my people can contact me even inside this…” She looked around as the bubble closed. The air seemed less thin here. It was a relief.

Of course. Worry not. I do not wish you any harm, especially after you helped me.

Inside of the bubble, which seemed to almost be an airlock, was a building crafted of quartz and what looked like seashells or coral, or something similar. “Is this your home?”

He nodded again. Indeed it is. Come inside. It is more comfortable there.

She did as he asked, following him in through the door. Everything looked soft and smooth, and some of it shone faintly in the light. Little plants hung here and there or sat in pots and cast soft light.

There were seats, or something similar. He slid onto one and coiled into himself, becoming nothing more than a blob with two tentacles almost like folded arms, and his great shining, blinking eyes. Please, he said. Sit.

She climbed onto one of the seats and crossed her legs. “This is nice. I like it.”

It seems that you are able to compare much of what I have with much of what you are familiar with. That is good.

“There is a lot,” she said, smiling a little.

Intriguing. Happiness accompanies that movement. What is that called?

“Oh, it’s a smile,” she said. “A form of body language.”

I find I am fond of it. Does your species appreciate pleasure? He was so forthright and candid, her stomach flipped over.

“Uh, yeah, we do,” she said, “some are more hedonistic than others, that is to say- they enjoy pleasures more than others, but yes we do.”

I see. He wanted to ask her more, but she seemed uncomfortable. Perhaps I will ask different questions of you.

“No no, it’s okay! I’m sorry. I’m not used to candid discussions with people, Lux. It’s not your fault. You’re different. It’s fine.”

Is it because we do not know each other well? Or is it because I am Tethyian?

A name for his species. She quickly took out her tab and made a note. “No, it’s not that you’re Tethyian,” she said. “Humans have funny taboos, and while I don’t really have them, I’m still getting to know you. But please- don’t worry about that. Ask me what you like.”

Very well. What sort of pleasures do your people seek?

“Oh all sorts,” she said. “Visual pleasures, like reading, or watching movies, or looking at the water… auditory pleasures like music. Um. Chemical pleasures like adrenaline rushes, or in some cases substances that replicate that feeling, or that give them other pleasures. Bodily pleasures like food, or sharing touches with others, and sexual or romantic pleasures as well.”

His patterns seemed intrigued, and his words confirmed it. How interesting. You are quite alike to us in that manner. Touch is exceedingly important amongst our people. It is how we communicate private matters, as well as how we indicate trust and express emotions such as love and grief. One who does not touch others is one that is trusted less, at least amongst us.

“Wow. But… don’t you live here alone?” She suddenly had a sinking feeling in her stomach, a sudden compassion for him.

I do. His tone had turned soft and distant. It was originally not my doing, but eventually I could not bring myself to return to the others. The idea of touching them, sharing my emotions, did not bring me peace or joy, but only sorrow, and distress. So I resolved to stay here.

“Oh I’m so sorry,” she said. There was something in his voice that spoke of loss, and she didn’t want to ask. and cause him more pain. He was clearly lonely. “You let me touch you earlier… may I now?”

He was silent, rippling in his seat, the blue and black patterns on his glimmering skin shifting and changing. Yes. You may.

For a moment she’d been afraid he wouldn’t allow it, and she would have understood. She got up from her chair and knelt on the floor next to his seat. She laid one hand on him, and he rippled beneath it. His eyes closed partway, and he unfolded one tentacle and touched her wrist with it.

Nervous that she might hurt him, since you weren’t supposed to touch fish or other sea creatures without your own skin being wet, she ran her hand slowly over what she assumed was his side.

He didn’t seem bothered, and in fact, his tentacle flattened over her wrist and stroked lightly over her arm.

You cannot hurt me just by touching me, he said, probably able to read her fear. As a silicone being, your carbon skin will not abrade mine. His focus narrowed on her arm, as he drew his tentacle back down toward her wrist. Your skin is quite soft, actually. He sounded almost wondering. It is quite similar to ours.

For some reason, that observation set her blushing, and her in-uniform makeup didn’t hide it enough.

Your color changes, but you do not seem frightened. One tentacle lifted to touch her cheek, and his eyes held the same wonder his voice had at the softness of her skin.

“Oh. No,” she said, wishing she had better control of her blushes. “It’s more along with shyness or embarrassment. We don’t really change colors the way you do. It’s not a very efficient system. Especially since sometimes we turn red out of any number of emotions.”

Do I embarrass you? I am sorry.

“No,” she said. “It’s not that. I blush easily, and I’m a little shy, and you’re very kind and sweet.” Blue and black rippled along the skin under her hand.

Sweet. Outside of flavor, this is a foreign concept. He studied her again.

“Oh, it’s just another meaning for the fact that you’re kind, pleasant, and agreeable. Our language can be very silly.” She wrinkled her nose at him.

I see. There is a shadow of something else in your mind, but I do not understand it. And isn’t all language silly, in it’s way? My name has many syllables, but in the end merely means Light. That is quite silly. He reached up a tentacle and touched her wrinkled nose. This is like a smile, yes?

She nodded. “Yes it is. And it’s because sweetness is sometimes tied with romance, but I didn’t want to confuse you.”

I see. He wrinkled up a spot under his eyes, where it bulged out slightly almost like a nose. I can do it too! I cannot smile but I can do this.

She giggled, covering her mouth with one hand. “You’re cute,” she said. “But yes, I guess languages are silly. I’m sorry you’re alone. But at least you won’t be while I’m here.”

He reached up with a tentacle, intrigued by her hair. No, I will not be. It will be a welcome change, I think.

She sat still, her hand resting on his side, while he explored her hair, patting it lightly, and then pulling out the tie that held it back.

Oh dear. I apologize. He sheepishly held out the tie, and she put it on her wrist. This is a crest, I think? It is very unique. And soft. May I continue to touch it?

“Sure,” she said, with a careful nod. “It’s called hair. Humans wear it differently, depending. In our species, there are several genders, and some can grow hair on their faces. I can’t.”

Fascinating! Lux said, winding his tentacle over and through her hair, and absently stroking it. Will you picture it for me?

She nodded, a bit distracted by the sensation of him touching her hair, which somehow felt almost like a person doing it. She pictured several different men in her head with beards of different lengths.

I see, he mused. I like your spots. You have so many. Some larger, some small. There are many on your face, and your arms.

“Oh!’ she said, and took off her coat so he could see more of her arms than just above the wrists where her jacket had been shoved up. “They’re called freckles, but you could call them spots, I don’t mind.”

Freckles. This is a good word. It is cute, like you are. Do these spots cover your entire body? He looked up at her with clear curiosity.

He called her cute, and then asked if she was spotted all over. She was a hundred percent sure she was red all over again. “Not as much, but that’s because freckles come from exposure to the sun.”

I see. You could not have freckles from our sun. It would hurt you, and I should not like that. He stroked her arm lightly with one tentacle, and then quickly withdrew and tucked it under himself.

Was he embarrassed? Violet rippled here and there amidst the blue. “I wouldn’t like it either, to be fair,” she said. “But it’s okay, really.”

Lux was quiet. He rippled a nod so that she knew he’d understood, but he was withdrawn into himself. Thinking.

Already her kindness (and ability to push him into touch-sharing and emotion-shifts) had him fond of her.

She was odd-looking, no doubt, with four limbs that did not change length, that strange mouth full of what looked like bones, that glinted when she spoke, with a crest of pale hair, and spots. And her skin was soft, but she was not. She had bones, like some of the wild beasts here.

But that only made her more interesting. How did humans express affection, fondness, romance, love? Were there things they could never do? He scolded himself at that thought. He didn’t even know if she would have any sort of interest in him beyond possibly being friends, and yet here he was, wondering these things about her.

Ten years alone was a long time.

Ariel, he said, and then faltered, and fell quiet. Wanting to ask. Fearing it was too soon for such intimate questioning.

“Yes?” she asked, shifting to bend one knee up and folding her arms around it.

May I ask you a rather personal question? You do not have to answer.

“Sure you can,” she said. Her stomach knotted, but he’d given her an out. She tied her hair back up so it wouldn’t fall into her eyes, and then folded her arms around her knee again.

In the right situation, would you… he let out a sound like a heavy sigh, which startled her. Would you consider an alien partner?

She blinked at him.

“I’ve… had relationships with non-humans before,” she said, slowly. “I’m not too picky if someone’s willing to treat me well.”

Sensible, he said, and fell silent. No mention of any non humanoid aliens, but humans hardly met those sorts. His sort. Thank you for answering such a personal question.

“Of course,” she said. “I did say you could ask what you like.”

It felt invasive, he replied. Are you hungry? I can provide you with food, if you need sustenance.

Her stomach growled, and his eyes grew wider than they already were. She saw a faint silver-gray diamond like a pupil in the center. She laughed. “Oh that’s just my body telling you it’s hungry.”

It was nearly frightening, Lux said, but there was amusement in his tone.

The array of food was rather vast. It all smelled good, even if some of it looked strange. She was going to try a tiny bit of everything, and see what she thought.

Lux, she discovered, as she sampled the foods he’d provided, did, in fact, have a mouth. He just didn’t seem to use it for talking. As he spoke while he ate, she discovered he had what appeared to be gills. Since he was breathing while he spoke, it seemed that explained the soft watery, almost rushing sound to his voice.

He was, of course, surprised to discover that her nose and mouth were basically her “gills” and that she ate and breathed and spoke from the same place.

That seems dangerous, he said, eating another morsel.

“Well, you’re not wrong,” she said. “But it’s not terribly dangerous, we did evolve to technically become the apex predator on our planet. We’re fairly peaceful though, and we like to explore and learn.”

As do my people. I wonder if… he set down his platter. Would you indulge me a selfish question?

“Yes,” she said, finishing the last of what was on her plate. She’d eaten it all. Though some of it had been unusual, none of it had been unpleasant.

Do you think I would be allowed to travel with you? He fidgeted with his tentacles, tapping them on the table that currently held the platters of food.

“Maybe,” she said cautiously. “We’ve been allowed to study you even though you aren’t interested in warp travel, because your technology is equivalent to ours. But coming with us is a whole other thing. But the Captain might say yes, I don’t know. I can’t really speak for him, but you’re welcome to ask.”

Thank you, he said, relieved. He rose and began the task of ferrying the uneaten food away, and cleaning up. I did not expect you to allow me to ask.

“I certainly wouldn’t stop you. But asking me first does mean I can vouch for you if the Captain asks.” She handed him her plate when he came back. He was tall despite his unusual form, and towered over her as she sat.

He took the plate away and came back, resuming his seat across from her. Will you tell me more about yourself?

They talked for what felt like hours. He told her about himself and listened to her talk about herself. They compared styles of storytelling (his people wrote more poetically) and styles of art, and he was fascinated to learn that she could create art, some of which was quite beautiful, with only one limb.

He shared some of their music, and she, some of hers. He was fascinated, again, this time by the fact that words were included in music. His people’s songs consisted only of vocalizations so that the meaning was plain, if words were used, it would obfuscate the meaning. Music was meant, for them, to stand on its own.

And so he was surprised to discover that humans also had music without words. Some pieces so beautiful that he developed ridges along his upper tentacles. Ariel told him the same happened to her, but called them goosebumps. He wasn’t sure what a goose even was.

He was infatuated with her. It was embarrassing, and he ruminated in his restpod, almost entirely violet from it. She was kind and pleasant, and she had such passion for her interests, which was something he’d found appealing in his own kind.

And he was starting to find her beautiful, in her strange way. He wanted to ask her a thousand questions about romantic touch between humans, to find out if there was enough in common for them to share a–

He folded his tentacles over himself, over his head, over his face, trying to stop his thoughts. Trying not to think of more intimate partnerships. He had made the mistake, when she had gone to sleep, of looking through her pad (with permission!) to learn more about humans. His kind knew a little about humans, but not enough.

And now he knew too much. He could not shut out the thoughts. It wasn’t just that they were apparently built for pleasure, which didn’t help, but also, they had fantasies about creatures similar to him, that existed in their art and storytelling!

He burrowed into the bedding, trying to escape from his knowledge. Trying to think of coral fields and quartz pillars, of caves and of the desert. It was no use.

Maybe…

Maybe he could just… ask?

*

She awoke suddenly, disoriented for a moment when she discovered that she wasn’t in her quarters, but somewhere comfortably dim, warm, and soft. And purple. Then she remembered. Of course, she was in the rest pod in Lux’s spare room.

And then she realized he was in the room, near the doorway, crouched there quietly. She was pretty sure he’d said her name.

Are you awake?

She sat up slowly. “Yes, I’m awake,” she said. She yawned but wasn’t exactly sleepy. She could sleep more, certainly, but she could get up now if she had to.

I… should like to ask you something… but I fear you may take it… poorly.

Her heart beat faster, and her stomach knotted. “O-oh. Um… all right. Go ahead.”

Please do not think ill of me. And should you not agree, I will not be angry.

“Please just ask me, Lux.” She folded her arms over herself, her legs crossed. There was no blanket, so she had nothing to hold in her nervousness.

The tone of his voice trembled slightly. I have read about your species. And. I am… fond of you. May I… he broke off.

MayIbeintimatewithyou? He had entirely sunk in on himself curling into a ball on the floor, glimmering eyes shut tight. He was frightened, with a being he could not read well, to ask such a personal and potentially offensive question.

“Lux?” She could hardly see him in the dim light, and slid carefully to the edge of the bed, dropping lightly to the floor. “Are you all right?”

He was silent for a long time, wanting to crawl away to his room and hide in his restpod forever, but he owed her a response. And the chance to reject him. It didn’t cross his mind that she might accept his request. No, he managed, finally, quivering all over.

She found the light quartz, touched it just enough to make the lights rise slightly, and then found him, in the corner near the doorway. She barely recognized him in this state. “Lux, don’t be afraid, I’m not angry.”

She touched the quivering ball of Tethyian, and he unwound a little. She ran her hand lightly and slowly along his side, just quietly, not speaking, until he finally unrolled almost entirely.

I am sorry. For the question and my behavior. I should let you rest.

“Where,” she said, grabbing him around the middle as he tried to slink away, “do you think you’re going? I didn’t even get to answer your question.”

I understand that the answer will be no, he said, leaning in the direction he’d been trying to go, knowing he could just slip under or over her arms, but arrested largely by the sensation of her holding him.

“Oh I see, answering for me, are we?” She let him go, and he slumped to the floor, an ashamed puddle with tentacles.

I am sorry, he said again, wanting nothing more than to crawl away.

“Oh stop that! Quit apologizing, or I will say no, and then you can go sulk in your restpod. I was going to say yes, but you’re sitting here fully ashamed of doing something few human men do still.”

He rose up suddenly to look at her, glimmering eyes fixed on her face. You would say yes?

She blushed, then, realizing what this meant, but she wasn’t going back on her word, because her first response when he’d asked had been excitement. Among other things. “Yeah, I would.”

His whole form flushed with violet under the black markings that shifted and patterned rapidly. I am a fool.

She laughed and shook her head. “No, you’re not. If I’d been the one asking, I’d have been dumb about it too.”

Ah. He sighed. I am sorry though, that human males do not like to ask first? Do they try to read body language? Is there…. his tone turned suddenly sour. Force?

“Unfortunately, yeah. It’s less than it used to be, and consent is highly encouraged and taught in schools, but some still think it’s dumb.” She patted his head.

They are the dumb ones, he said, in a tone that was almost a grumble. Then he reached up touched her cheek lightly with one tentacle. I will not harm you.

“I know,” she said, smiling a little.

*

Her skin was soft all over. Her form was stranger without clothing, but no less appealing than it had been with. He knew that humans’ anatomy was different from theirs, but it astounded him that there was such a difference.

He couldn’t help touching her, smoothing tentacles over skin here and there, listening to the soft sounds she made. Watching her skin tint red here and there. He explored here and there, touching, stroking, even pinching.

She let out soft sounds as he did, sounds that encouraged, especially with what he could read off her her. One of her hands rested on his side, but she was too wound up in what he was doing to do much on her own. He didn’t mind.

He found, so far, the most interest in pinching and tugging on nipples. Her reaction was perfect, a hiss or soft cry, and a shiver. The skin would grow hard, and they would jut out. And then they would slowly subside again.

But there was more to her than just that, and he shifted along the restpod’s mattress (which was her name for it), and wound his tentacles gently around her thighs. The skin here was softer, just like her breasts, almost delicate.

He could detect heat between her thighs, almost like her mouth, and he was curious to see just what lay there. He had only done very cursory research, and this was, well…

Rather hands on, to use a human term, and more his preference. He gently pushed her legs apart and was intrigued by the flower-like shape of her.

Hesitantly, he reached one tentacle, formed to a small tip, to touch her. There was a nub like her nipple, but smooth and wet when he touched it. She moaned, and he tipped his head and continued to stroke that spot.

He had learned words for these spots largely from her own projections, as she was (probably unintentionally) projecting rather loudly about them.

Stroking her clit at varying speeds made her tremble and quiver, and while his face area had flushed purple, around his gills and down his sides was streaked green and teal with arousal.

He tried a pinch there as well, and she jolted and cried out softly. Still, he could only read pleasure from her, and she said nothing, but her breaths came faster.

He stroked lightly down over the folds there, and as he’d read about, found the opening there. Humans had two, and both were used for pleasure. That had surprised him. He curiously pushed the tip of his tentacle into the opening there, and she moaned again, her legs shifting further apart.

Fascinated and aroused by this, he pushed in deeper until she took no more. Her body folded around his tentacle, making him shiver. He slowly increased the size until she whimpered, and he detected a hint of pain, though the majority was still pleasure. The sensation of her clamped around his tentacle was extremely enjoyable.

Friction seemed a common pleasure between their species, so he alternated pulsing along the length of the inserted tentacle, and sliding it in and out of her, bringing in another to stroke and curl over her clit.

She was so wet that it was dampening her thighs, and his tentacle was slick with it. He withdrew it, and she let out a sound of protest. But he decided he would use that tentacle to try the other entrance, which seemed smaller, and use another for where he had been.

He thrust a new tentacle into her, feeling her hot folds close around him, and then teased the first lightly around the smaller opening. When she let out a soft moan, he pressed against it and was pleased when it allowed him entrance.

Very little of his natural coloration showed. He was mostly a softly swirling combination of the colors of arousal and his blushing.

She moaned as he filled her with the second tentacle, increasing its size until, as before, he noticed it was time to stop. Her breathing came fast again, and she gripped the padding with one hand, and several of his tentacles with the other. Like them, humans appreciated touch during an intimate act.

It took him a bit to coordinate the movements of his tentacles, two inserted deeply into her, two massaging breasts and occasionally pinching and tugging nipples, and one stroking her clit.

He didn’t know how humans peaked, but he was going to do what he could to have her reach it, because she had allowed him this.

He stroked and thrust, starting slowly, his glimmering eyes watching her reactions, her quick breaths and heaving chest, her writhing body. He had never expected that things would turn out this way with a being not of his species, but here it was.

Her gasping breaths turned to soft moans, and to her finally gasping his name. He found that extraordinarily arousing. His species did not speak during intimacy, so he had never experienced this. His tentacles moved faster, those unoccupied by holding up his weight curling around to hold her and stroke her body affectionately.

And then her thighs began to quiver, and he felt her body bearing down. For a moment, he almost chose to reduce the size of his tentacles, but then remembered human males participated in this action as well, and had no option to do so.

He was quite close to his own peak, feeling a tingling rumbling over the inserted tentacles, so he was glad to know that the signs indicated she might be near to her own.

He quickened his thrusts, though the movements were short with how much her body had tightened around his tentacles. And then she let out a short, sharp cry, and shuddered hard, her body pulsing around him and clenching.

That was familiar to him, and with a quiet sound of his own, he peaked, the tingles exploding along his entire form, silicone fluid flooding into her, and leaking slightly from all but the two tentacles touching her face. He quivered, feeling her body going again. And then again. Finally, after a sixth time, she fell limp, breathing hard.

He did the same, leaving his tentacles where they were for a long moment before withdrawing them. He almost apologized for the mess, but she didn’t seem concerned.

“Wow,” she mumbled, and the surprise at the pleasure she’d received made him flush violet again.

You are welcome, he said softly. Perhaps a bath would be in order. Should I carry you?

“Can you? After that?” She murmured, and he let out a quiet sound. It wasn’t a laugh like hers, but it was an expression of amusement.

Of course. I have no muscles to tire, after all.